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Last update: 20:22 UTC 29 April 2013
Previous update: 13:00 UTC 27 April 2013

Palma Hall Pav 3: The Llamas Science Hall. Courtesy of Celine.

Palma Hall Pav 3: The Llamas Science Hall. Picture courtesy of Celine Catalan.

This post has been in my queue for a few weeks already. I have written much of the body of this post based on an email interview I did with Dr. Christopher Bernido. I also had some conversations with Dr. Jose Perico Esguerra but I think he is still too young to remember most things during that time. A week ago, I ask some people from the NIP, Dr. Arnel Salvador and Dr. Vince Daria graciously replied. Dr. Salvador remembers the atmosphere, the events, and the excitement. However, I think much more history can still be fleshed out.

The timing of the writing of the history of NIP or of the other institutes is critical. I believe now is the most opportune time – the initial players are still alive and lucid! I like my history from the history makers themselves.

So I’m making this post wikipedia-style but with a strict moderator. Let me crowdsource NIP’s history. How does it work? If you have important history or facts you want to share about the NIP during this time, please leave a comment below or email me, imphscience@gmail.com (for those who are shy). Once verified, I will revise the text below, and put a last revision date in the post. Of course, you will have my never ending thanks. By the way, I am responsible for all editorials that will come out in this post.  

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The 80’s science is headlined by a rare form of disease that afflict mostly gay men [1]. This disease would come to be known as AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).  Two decades after, a Nobel Prize in Physiology was awarded to Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier “for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus [2]”, the virus responsible for AIDS (2008). Two more science research from this decade earn Nobel prizes – the ribozymes’ discovery (1982) and the buckyball’s discovery and preparation (1985).

Other science news in the the 80’s include the NASA report about the Ozone hole depletion (1981), the first successful artificial heart implant (1982), the first evidence of a brown draft (1984), and the never confirmed cold fusion experiments (1989). It is also the decade when there was a meltdown in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (1986) and the explosion of the Challenger (1986) [1].

pav3-3211

From on top of up diliman blog.

“In the 1980’s, the University of the Philippines was just a teaching University: there was no real research culture,” says Dr. Christopher Bernido, the National Institute of Physics’ first Director [3].

“In the Physics Department of the UP Diliman, nobody was publishing in international journals except, perhaps, for two new PhD’s who just returned from abroad. There were only 4 or 5 PhDs (holders) in the Department of Physics.”

A year prior to the establishment of the National Institute of Physics, there was no PhD degree program in the whole Philippines. Dr. Roger Posadas proposed a PhD in Physics program as a consortium between the Ateneo de Manila University and the De La Salle University [3,4]. The program incidentally coincided with the Executive Order establishing the National Institute of Physics.

Dr. Emil Javier, then Ministry of Science Secretary, initiated the establishment of the 6 national institutes. “He (Dr. Javier)  should be given credit, ” says Dr. Bernido. Dr. Javier would later become the 17th President of the University of the Philippines.

The creation of the national institutes occur at the same time with major reorganizations in UP – UP Diliman became an autonomous unit and the College of Arts and Sciences were split into three separate colleges: the College of Arts and Letters, the College of Social Science and Philosophy and the College of Science.  According to Dr. Bernido however, these were independent events.

From a Department to an Institute

The transition from a department to an institute was not really felt except for 1) the extra budget which the new institute allotted to research, and 2) the renaming of positions such as Chairman to Director, asst Chairmen to asst. Director.

An NIP Newsletter, a brochure, and a preprint system for research papers were also put up to record the progress of the Institute. Unfortunately, the publication of the newsletter was stopped after Dr. Bernido’s term as Director.

Initial challenges

Dr. Bernido lists three challenges that the new institute encountered. The first is to instill a research culture with publications in international journals as a target since the faculty had always been focused on teaching.

With the aim of developing a research culture, the institute formally identified and set up research groups based on the institutes’ capacity and on global trends. The line of research were chosen based on two modes:

1) If a PhD or a faculty member with expertise is available to carry out and direct research in an area.  This is the case for the Fields and Particles Group.

2) In the absence of a senior faculty member, and in view of the importance of a research area, junior faculty members (non PhD degree holders) were tasked to form a group as in the case of the Laser Physics Group (now, the Photonics Research Laboratory) and the Instrumentation Physics Laboratory.  Visiting professors from the USA, Japan, Wales, and Australia were then invited to beef up the research groups.

Membership in the three original research groups – the Fields and Particles, the Laser and the Instrumentation Physics groups,  were porous as there was no formal application process [6]. There was also an Electronics laboratory which was formed to try to be en sync with developments in the Silicon Valley according to Dr. Vince Daria. It was eventually incorporated to the Instrumentation Physics Lab when its head, Carlos Perez left.

International visitors

“We had many Japanese professors visiting that time and the junior faculty were in charge of  joining them for the field trips , entertaining them with the senior ones – Roger (Posadas), Joey (Magpantay) and Chris (Bernido),” recounts Dr. Arnel Salvador

Dr. Arnel Salvador remembers that there was a professor from Swansea (Wales) who helped in the construction of the first laser in the country. Linda Posadas and Minella Alarcon were sent to Swansea to train in laser physics [5].   

Prof. Shigeo Minami visited the NIP many times as well as Prof. Hajime Ozaki (?) from Japan who talked about amorphous superconductors. Caesar Saloma and Roland Sarmago would later join Prof. Minami and Prof. Ozaki (?) , respectively, as recipient of the sandwich program. More on this later.

A theoretical Physicist from Waseda, Prof. Mikio Namiki also visited the new institute. Namiki ‘s work was on Quantum Mechanics and Stochastic Quantization [6]. 

Dr Gene Stringer, an American professor, also visited NIP as a Fullbright Senior Scholar [5,6]. He taught solid state physics and did some instrumentation work. This probably influenced Caesar to specialize in Instrumentation physics according to Dr. Salvador.

The first Lasers and a “supercomputer” in the NIP

 The Laser group made the first laser in the country, a Nitrogen laser. The team who made the laser is composed of Peter Chua, Sam Peralta, Jerry Dadap and Wilson Garcia. A second laser, a CO2 laser, was also made. Dr. Salvador joined the group with this project [5].

At the Electronics Lab, the group planned to build a supercomputer in the late- 80’s  based on a hypercube geometry.   In the hypercube geometry, microprocessors are arranged such that processing is done “massively parallel”The final design of NIP’s supercomputer used 16 microprocessors (Inmos T2 Transputers) with programmable serial interconnects and 2 graphics processor units (GPU, Texas Instruments, TI) as interfaces to an IBM XT computer. The construction of the supercomputer was funded by PCASTRD [7].  

“We initially hand-wired the GPU interfaces and programmed the generation of the Mandelbrot set (think Fractals) to demonstrate its performance,” says Dr. Vince Daria.

“In comparison with computing technologies in those days, top of the line computers at that time were only running on Intel 80286 CPU.  Some didn’t have a math co-processor nor a floating point unit and computing of the Fourier Transform (FT) took hours (and even days with 2D FT).  Even with just one GPU interface, the prototype performed way faster than the Intel 80386 CPU when calculating the FTs. Numerical computing using signal and graphics processors were kinda hot during those days. Even when the Intel 80486 CPU came, our prototype was twice faster.”

When Carlos Perez left the institute to pursue graduate studies in the US, Vince Daria (still an undergrad at that time) moved to the Instrumentation Physics Laboratory bringing all the computing resources with him.  Dr. Daria’s first paper with Dr. Saloma and Dr. Munoz made use of their prototype to calculate the FT.

Several research group were formed in the succeeding years – the Plasma Research Laboratory, the Liquid Crystal Laboratory (now, Structure and Dynamics Group) , and the Materials Physics Laboratory (now, Condensed Matter Physics Laboratory).

The publication list of the NIP during its first decade is mostly composed of theoretical papers until 1991. This fact reflects the initial composition of senior researchers of the institute who are mostly theoretical physicists.

The second challenge was recruiting PhD holders who could boost research and advise students in the PhD program. The problem was bypassed according to Dr. Bernido, by a sandwich program where PhD students were matched with foreign professors (mostly from Japan) who could be their thesis advisers. The program was proposed by Dr. Roger Posadas, then the Dean of the College of Science.  Prof. Caesar Saloma, UP Diliman’s current Chancellor is a product of this sandwich program.

The Japanese connection

Dr. Roger Posadas initiated the Japanese tie-ups.  He went to Japan to look for professors who could host some budding talents from the new institute.  He also liked the Japanese model in which the research laboratory was headed by one senior professor with several associate professors as opposed to the American system wherein the laboratory is one-professor-one group system [5].

Linda Posadas was sent to Prof. Suematsu in Tokyo Institute of Technology (TIT) while Jun Yco to Waseda University.   Roland Sarmago joined Prof. Ozaki (?) also in Waseda while Caesar Saloma went to Prof. Minami’s laboratory in Osaka University.  

While in Japan (1990-92), Saloma published papers on applied optics and instrumentation with his mentor (Prof. Shigeo Minami). By 1993, Saloma had fully established the Instrumentation group with 4 ISI publications and maintained research output onwards [7]. As a matter of fact, the Saloma-lead laboratory had the highest publication output in a year (17 publications in 2002) among the research laboratories a decade later. But this is jumping to the third decade. I will write a separate post about the Saloma academic family tree soon.

Until now, there are still a lot of NIP graduates who are pursuing their PhD degree or taking postdoctoral fellowships in Japan.

The solution proved to be a good strategy in raising the research capability of the experimental laboratories. By the end of the institute’s first decade, several experimental groups have started to be productive in terms of publications. The first experimental paper came out from the Instrumentation Physics Laboratory in 1991. Click here (First decade) for a complete list of the first decade’s papers.

Probably, the most difficult challenge for the institute was to give substance and true meaning to the word “national”.  To Dr. Bernido, this would mean that the influence of the NIP should go beyond the UP System.  I’ll reserve a discussion on the influence of the institute on the country in a separate post.

Curriculum change

The undergraduate curriculum was also changed. The most drastic of which was the lengthening of the BS Physics and the BS Applied Physics courses into 5 years in 1984 [6]. This is most probably to accommodate the changes in the curriculum that was revised by Dr. Roger Posadas a few years before.

The then Department of Physics strengthened the program by adding more courses.  During that time, a physics major would only have 1 class each of Quantum Mechanics, Statistical Mechanics, Modern Physics and Electromagnetic Theory according to Dr. Salvador. “Imagine that had we graduated with that program we will only know half of what the current students know (now)”.

The department put 3 Mathematical Physics subjects, 2 Modern Physics courses with 2 Quantum Mechanics courses. They also expanded the treatment of Statistical Mechanics, Classical Mechanics, and the Electromagnetic Theory by adding second courses on these fields.  Experimental Physics and Computational Physics were also added [5]. 

Dr. Salvador thinks that the MS program remained the same but the students are now more prepared because of the changes in the undegraduate curriculum. 

In 1992, the undergraduate curriculum was ripe again for a revision.

The early 1990’s science stories include the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope (1990), the cloning of the human embryo for the first time (1993) and two Nobel prize winning research on the role of the bacteria H. pylori on stomach ulcer (1991) and the detection of the cosmic microwave background (1992) [8].

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I started this post to frame the new National Institute of Physics in terms of research and events happening around the world during its first decade. However by doing so, the new institute appeared to be disconnected, not at par with the rest of the world and was struggling. This is absolutely wrong and unfair. On the contrary, there were a lot of international exchanges and visitors. There were research papers coming out from the institute, albeit trickling, since the new institute was still building research capabilities.  Surely, there are birth pains and it takes decades, centuries even to build a reputable academic name.

In this decade, most of the foundations of the institute were laid thanks to the visionaries (Emil Javier, Roger Posadas, Christopher Bernido, Jose Magpantay) who knew where the institute should be steered. We have seen the results of their hard labor in the institute’s succeeding years.

We also see that there was no dearth of talents either (M.V. Carpio, Caesar Saloma. Arnel Salvador, Roland Sarmago to name a few).  The institute was fortunate that these talents had the willingness to continue what was started. Fast forward in the future, we meet them again as movers not only within the institute but also to the whole Philippine science community as well.

NIP’s first decade was surely exciting.

I will visit the current status of the NIP near the conclusion of this series.

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References
[1] Siegfried, Tom (Ed). “90th Anniversary Issue:1980s.” ScienceNews 9 March 2012. Online.
[2] www.nobelprize.org.
[3] Christopher Bernido, Personal Communication.
[4] The consortium produced graduates who are now in key positions in the academe. It also cemented the close relationship between the three universities’ physics departments. I’ll write more on these in the concluding part of this series.
[5] Arnel Salvador, Personal Communication
[6] Jose Perico Esguerra, Personal Communication
[7] Vince Daria, Personal Communication.
[8] Siegfried, Tom (Ed).”90th Anniversary Issue:1990s.” ScienceNews 9 March 2012. Online.

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