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(A8) The National Scientists of the Philippines

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 5:52 pm    Post subject: (A8) The National Scientists of the Philippines Reply with quote
































Current Members of the National Academy of Science and Technology

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2006 4:12 pm    Post subject: Rizal, the scientist Reply with quote

Rizal, the scientist
STAR SCIENCE By Ben O. De Lumen, Ph.D.
The Philippine STAR 07/20/2006

Jose P. Rizal was a man of many talents and interests. For a man who lived only 35 years, his achievements are remarkable and numerous. The Rizal Centennial Commission listed 278 written works of Rizal, including his two major novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

Although Rizal is well-known for his literary prowess, perhaps his accomplishments as a scientist are not well publicized. At this age where science and technology play a major role in economic development, his scientific achievements are relevant and inspiring. To talk about Rizal as a scientist, it is difficult to separate Rizal the natural scientist (one who practiced the natural sciences) from Rizal the social scientist and political reformer because he believed that knowledge should be used for enlightenment and liberation and not for oppression. In his choice of medicine as a career and during his education in Europe, he never lost sight of his goal: to serve his people and liberate them from years of oppression and injustice by the Spaniards.

Here are some highlights of Rizal’s scientific accomplishments.

After five years in Europe, he went home to the Philippines in 1887. He operated on his mother’s eyes to remove her cataracts – the surgery was successful and was the first of its kind ever done in the Philippines. His fame as an eye doctor spread quickly and people began coming to him for treatment from all over the Philippines and even from as far away as China. He opened a clinic, sent away for equipment, charged moderate fees and treated the poor free.

After only six months, Rizal had to leave the country because his novel Noli Me Tangere had circulated and the friars were out to get him. He went back to Europe via Japan and the US. Here again, Rizal made some perceptive observations of the US then. After 15 days crossing the Pacific, their ship was quarantined in San Francisco for a week although none of the passengers were sick and health clearance had been given. The authorities cited smallpox as a risk. He noted that there were a number of Chinese immigrants, the cargo silk had been unloaded without fumigation and the customs officers were not afraid to eat aboard. Rizal discovered the real reason for the quarantine. He wrote: "America was opposed to Chinese immigration and since it was election time, the administration appeared strict to the Chinese to obtain the people’s votes."

He took the train across the US and made a number of stops along the way. He wrote about his impressions of the US: "Undoubtedly America is a great country but it still has many defects. There is no real civil liberty. In some states the Negro cannot intermarry. Because of the hatred toward the Chinese, other Asians like the Japanese, being confused with them are likewise disliked by the ignorant Americans."

In London, he undertook a project that he had wanted to do. As a boy, one of his uncles told him about a book written in the 16th century by a Spaniard that gave a truthful picture about early Philippine history. All accounts he had read thus far were written by prejudiced Spaniards seeking to justify Spain’s colonial rule on the ground that the natives were "child-like savages." The book Sucesos de las Islas Pilipinas written by Antonio de Morga and published in Mexico in 1609 was available only in a few libraries, and a copy was in the British Museum in London! His plan was simple. He would study Morga and other writers who dealt with pre-Spanish Philippine history, compare them all and publish a new edition of Morga, with notes and comments by himself. Thus the truth about the Philippines would become available to his people and the Europeans who had learned about the early Filipinos through the prejudiced eyes of the Spanish colonizers.

Going through Morga’s volumes, Rizal found that the Filipino people had been historically wronged. In the coastal regions where most of the islanders lived, their arts, industries and energy had been at a high level when the Spaniards arrived. Morga described their skills in weaving, in metal work, in agriculture, in commerce, in navigation, in government, their fine ships (better than Spain’s), their busy marketplaces. It was a civilization that Rizal and the Filipino people could be proud of. More, it cut away the basis for Spain’s claim to colonial rule. Rizal wanted to give the Filipino people back their past for he believed that a people without a proper understanding of their past was a people without a future.

The last major episode of his life was spent in exile in Dapitan, in northern Mindanao, where he was sent by Spanish authorities after he returned to the Philippines in 1892. As one author wrote, it was one of the most extraordinary exiles in human history. In Dapitan, there was no water system, no school, no street lighting, no hospital, the land was fertile but farming techniques were primitive. But Rizal with his characteristic creativity and self-discipline, tackled these problems. In his four years in Dapitan:

He established a large and well-known medical practice where his patients came from all over the Philippines and from Hong Kong and other Asian cities.

He built a hospital.

He built a small house for himself and a large one for his family and visiting friends.

He bought lands and practiced scientific farming.

He set up a water supply system based on gravity.

He set up and taught a school for local children.

He paid for the first street lighting system.

He beautified the town plaza and made a giant relief map of the Philippines which is still preserved today.

He obtained from Kalamba an improved type of fishing net that helped the Dapitan fishermen improve their catch.

He imported farm machinery from the US for himself and local farmers.

He subscribed to the magazine Scientific American and ordered medicines and pharmaceuticals from the US.

He collaborated with foremost scientists from Europe at that time. With his students, he collected specimens of plants, animals and ethnographic materials from Mindanao and sent them to his colleagues in Europe.

Some of the animal specimens were rare and named after him: A new species of frog named Rhacophorus rizali, a new species of beetle named Apogonia rizali, and a new species of lizard named Draconi rizali.

In Dapitan, as everywhere he stayed, Rizal followed a disciplined schedule. He had a brilliant mind, but the key to his productivity was planning and self-disciplined execution. He wrote to his Austrian friend Blumentritt how he spent a typical day in Dapitan: "I get up early at 5:00, visit my fields, feed the chickens, I wake up my people and start them moving. At 7:30 we take breakfast. Afterwards I treat my poor patients who come to my land. Then I dress up and go to town to treat the people there and return at 12 noon for lunch. Afterwards I teach the boys until 4:00 and I spend the afternoon farming. Evenings are used for studying and reading."

Finally, Rizal shared with us his philosophy and thinking about education and science. Within the limits of the circumstances in Dapitan, Rizal gave his students the key elements of his educational goals: academic knowledge, industrial training, ethical instruction, and physical development. He believed that moral values were as important as knowledge itself; indeed, they were the only assurance that knowledge will be used to help and enlighten, rather than oppress men.

Einstein echoed similar ideas when he addressed the students at California Institute of Technology: "Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interests of all technical endeavors – in order that the creation of our mind will be a blessing and not a curse to mankind."

P.S. I have used a number of books and other publications at the UC Berkeley library for this write-up. I would be happy to share these titles with anyone who wants to do further research on Rizal, the scientist. One of the few remaining original copies of Sucesos de las Islas de las Filipinas by A. Morga annotated by Rizal is at the rare book collection of UC Berkeley Bancroft library.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 21, 2006 6:40 am    Post subject: The making of a Genius Reply with quote

The making of a Genius

This book tells how 22 Filipino scientists achieved greatness on their own terms

20 August 2006

Odds are, not a whole lot of today’s young people know who Agapito Flores is, or what is it that he did.

For those not in the know, Agapito Flores was an electrician and a machine shop apprentice, who during Manuel L. Quezon’s presidency, presented the idea for the fluorescent light. This would have been an astounding discovery and a source of immense pride for the Filipino people, if it weren’t for the tiny fact that General Electric, Co. (GE) had already presented fluorescent light to the public.

And it simply wasn’t a matter of GE beating Flores to the punch. Scientists from as far back as 1857 had already done studies on fluorescents and already had patented prototypes out in the market. While the majority of Filipinos still believe that Flores was indeed the one who brought the fluorescent light into being, it is a piece of trivia that is often questioned in other circles.

It’s not just Flores and the controversy surrounding him that is slipping through the minds of young Filipinos today. They may know who Marie Curie, Thomas Edison or Albert Einstein is, but a blank stare is probably all you’ll get if you ask them about Fe del Mundo, Eduardo San Juan, or Gregorio Zara. And depressing as it may sound, today’s youth probably cannot imagine a Filipino invent something or excelling in science.

The book "In Love with Science: Outstanding Young Filipino Scientists Tell Their Stories" hopes to remedy all that by delivering in one slim, compact volume, the lives of 22 Filipino scientists who have all garnered the National Academy of Science and Technology’s Outstanding Young Scientist (OYS) award, and who, despite the lure of higher pay abroad, have decided to stay in the country and work for its improvement.


The book, aside from being an enlightening read, is bound to stir curiosity among those who want to foster a child genius among their family as well.

For instance, more observant readers will notice that nine of the 22 featured scientists often come from large families, with children numbering at least five or more.

Of course, there isn’t any concrete proof that having a large brood will yield an outstanding scientists, but it is certainly entertaining to speculate.

"In Love with Science" also shows that not all of these scientific whizzes were born with a chemistry set in their hands and a laboratory in their basements, like Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory. A lot of them either came from poor families or families with only a single parent, and every step they took to get them where they are was certainly not a walk in the park. More of ten than not, the decision to become a scientist came out of a very material need to support their family, even if it meant foregoing their initial life plans.

For instance, 1997 OYS winner Rhodora R. Aldemita had to forego her dream of becoming a medical doctor when her father died when she was 11. As the second of five children, Aldemita had to change all her plans so she could get into a career with "reasonable pay" so she could help her mother in raising her siblings.

Victor B. Amoroso, who became an OYS in 1991, also had to step up to the plate and help his mother support the family when his father, a sanitary inspector, was gunned down when he was 22.

For 1997 winner Orville Bondoc, it was the death of his mother when he was 10 years old that pushed him to excel and help out his father.

What is also interesting to note is the amount of discrimination that most female scientists are up against in Filipino society. One would think that times would have changed since the 1950’s, but apparently that is not the case.

Christina A. Binag, who became an OYS in 2001, was initially discouraged by her father to enter into the academe as a teacher. In an effort to please him, Binag had to take a job in a multinational company, something she had no interest in. 2003 OYS winner for Chemistry Mary Ann A. Endoma was discouraged from her early love for mechanical engineering by her parents, who told her that the course was "for males only."


Editing this volume are two scientists who have made their own mark in the local scientific community, OYS awardees themselves, and whose stories are also featured in the book.

Dr. Leocadio S. Sebastian got his award for his work in plant breeding, and is also the executive director of the Philippine Rice Research Institute and president of the Outstanding Young Scientists, Inc. Dr. Queena N. Lee Chua, on the other, got her award for clinical psychology, and is a Palanca and a National Book awardee.

The care and dedication they have put into editing the book certainly shows, as each story fleshes out what used to be just the standard image of the scientist: Lab gown and boiling beakers and test tubes, maybe a hunchback for an assistant, if one has seen too many horror movies.

From each one of the 22 stories, we find out that greatness is not achieved so easily. All these people had something to rail against, be it poverty or World War II. More importantly, these people had to work hard to even start out on the road to greatness.

If there’s anything to nitpick about, it would probably be the fact that the book would be a bit more attractive to the layman if it had an accompanying glossary. Yes, maybe to their fellow scientists, a couple of pages talking about "blackgram mosaic virus(es)," "transgenic plants" and "heuristics in cobinatronics" is the most engrossing thing in the world, but more than a few people would be left scratching their heads and complaining of a migraine, myself included.

But technical terms notwithstanding, "In Love with Science" is a book that should be in every young person’s library. Not only does it tell the stories of people who have accomplished things that make us proud to be Filipino, but it also imparts important life lessons as well.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2007 3:51 pm    Post subject: Georg Joseph Kamel, SJ (1661-1706): First biodiversity scien Reply with quote

Georg Joseph Kamel, SJ (1661-1706): First biodiversity scientist in RP
STAR SCIENCE By Benjamin Vallejo Jr., PhD
The Philippine STAR 01/04/2007

Camellias are one of the most sought after ornamental plants. While not very fragrant, the blooms are spectacular. These flowers are grown by plant fanciers worldwide, especially in its native land, China and Japan. There are many cultivars of camellias, one of which is named after the Philippines' national hero, Jose Rizal.

While many people are familiar with camellias, very few know that the plant genus is named after a Jesuit lay brother missionary who worked in the Philippines from 1688 until his death in 1706. Georg Josef Kamel arrived in the Philippines in 1688 and spent the remaining part of his life describing the taxonomy and systematics of Philippine plants and animals as part of his scientific practice of pharmacy and medicine. To understand the world in which Kamel did his work, we have to recall that during this time in history, the medical sciences were just emerging from medieval superstition and alchemy. Kamel, who trained as a botanicus et apothecarius (botanist and pharmacist) in the Jesuit College in Brünn, Moravia (now Brno, the Czech Republic), was one of the first medical practitioners to use science in the treatment and management of disease.

Kamel's scientific work in the Philippines cannot be understood without reference to pharmacy. European colonists in Asia and tropical America had to contend with unfamiliar diseases for which drugs from native plant sources were needed. The Jesuit historian Murillo Velarde describes how Kamel went about his task of dispensing medicines made from Philippine plants. He experimented on new formulations and noted the right dose for his patients through experiment. His success in treating diseases and concern for the poor made him beloved by the citizens of Manila.

From his arrival in 1688, Kamel began collecting and describing Philippine plants. In 1698 he shipped specimens and botanical reports to England but these were lost at sea which Kamel regretted. His reputation as a physician and pharmacist was well known even to the British in India. Kamel published his book entitled Herbarum Aliarumrque stirpium in insula Luzon e Philippinarum from 1697 to 1698. Copies of this book which we know now as the Herbarum Philippinarum in three volumes were sent to the eminent English naturalist John Ray in 1698 through an English medical doctor in Madras. This was lost together with Kamel's botanical specimens that year. The following year, he sent another volume and this was the one published as an appendix to John Ray's Historia Plantarum of 1704. This is how Kamel became an internationally renowned scientist.

Herbarum is Kamel's major contribution to science. Parts of the Herbarum were published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society by another eminent English naturalist, John Petiver. Kamel's work on Philippine natural history went beyond botany. He wrote scientific papers on birds, corals, fish, crustaceans, and large animals entitled de Monstris et Monstruosis; quadrupeds, Turbinid mollusks, Bivalvus et Univalvus; insects and fossils. These works are evidence of the keen interest that Kamel had on biodiversity.

Among the more significant papers Petiver published in the Transactions is the one entitled De Igasur seu Nox Vomica Legitima Serapionis subtitled, "An account of the virtues of Faba St Ignatii." This paper relies on Kamel's description of the Saint Ignatius bean, a plant that is the source of strychnine. Kamel noted that this poison in low doses has medical properties. When he first collected this plant, he noted its distribution - its absence in Luzon but existence in abundance in Samar. The plant is named after the Jesuit order's founder since it was first collected in Jesuit mission territories in the Philippines. Kamel was also interested in ethnobotany. He recorded the local names of Philippine plants from Luzon and even from the Visayas and Mindanao. Linnaeus noted this important fact in his works.

Kamel was foremost a scientist. His skepticism regarding numerous myths has been recorded. In the colonial Philippines of the late 1600s, praying mantises were believed to arise from leaves and twigs became worms. Kamel said, "I do not accept this because I have observed that the sexes are distinguished and the young are born from eggs."

The world now remembers Kamel for camellias. Linnaeus renamed the plant from the original genus Thea to Camellia in his honor. History does not record whether Kamel sent a specimen of the plant to any botanist in Europe at the time. This was unlikely since Kamel never went to China and Japan. There is no record that Jesuit missionaries in these countries ever sent Kamel a specimen. Linnaeus also never received a specimen from Kamel since Kamel died a year before he was born. Linnaeus named the plant simply in honor of Kamel's excellent work in botany.

Kamel died on May 2, 1706 in the San Ignacio College in Intramuros apparently of dysentery. He was 45 years old. He was buried in the first San Ignacio Church (a site now occupied by the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila). This church no longer exists and fell into ruin after the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Philippines in 1768.

What does Kamel's life teach us about how science is done? While the historian Leo A. Cullum emphasizes Kamel's religious vocation, he also writes that Kamel placed his scientific work fully within his apostolate and the Christian virtues of charity and humility. Thus he writes: "Even the science he had loved without loving himself in it, playing an obscure role of unselfish charity with the poor at his door and the English savants of the Royal Society."

However, we can also learn from Kamel's life that science is essentially a communication and collaborative activity that transcends nationality and religion. This is why he corresponded with the leading scientists of his time. It is true that he did not have sole authorship of any of his works and he was content to collaborate with other scientists. Perhaps he viewed his scientific work in the context of his Catholic missionary work. Nonetheless, his scientific skills were clearly recognized and cited. Kamel's science teaches us that proper documentation and international publication, then as now, are the key to scientific credibility and progress. Kamel also shows us perseverance as a key scientific virtue. He was not discouraged by the loss of his scientific specimens and publications. (A year later he rewrote his manuscript and sent them again.) He challenged the medical and natural history myths of his time by experimentation and empirical observations. Aside from his botanical work, today he is remembered as one of the earliest exponents of pharmacy as a science. It is for this reason that the Czech Republic, UNESCO and his hometown of Brno commemorated his 300th death anniversary last May 2.

However, in the Philippines where he did much of his science, Kamel has all but been forgotten. I hope this essay makes some amends for our neglect of his memory. Even if I may be criticized for doing so, I call Kamel the first Filipino biodiversity scientist. Yes, he was Czech, but I cannot help but recall another "alien" Jesuit in the 1950s in the Philippines, Fr. John P. Delaney, who famously asked the regents of the University of the Philippines, "How much more should a man give before he becomes one of you?" I think in Kamel's case the answer is clear. He gave so much to the Philippines and its people. This first biodiversity scientist is certainly a Filipino.

* * *
Benjamin Vallejo Jr., PhD, is an assistant professor of environmental science at the University of the Philippines Diliman. His research and teaching interests are in biogeography and the evolution of Philippine biodiversity. He can be reached at
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