MANILA, Philippines – Iloilo professor Alexis Belonio is the first Filipino to win the prestigious Rolex Award for inventing a stove that converts rice husks into environmentally friendly cooking gas. Founded in 1976, the Rolex Award is given to "visionaries" who have undertaken groundbreaking projects. As an Associate Laureate, Belonio received $50,000 and a steel and gold Rolex chronometer at the awarding ceremony. His invention turns agricultural waste into purified gas in a top-lit, updraft and biomass gas stove. The low-cost stove powered by rice husks--the most abundant of farm wastes--reduces fuel costs and minimizes greenhouse gas. Stoves fueled by rice husks have been used before, but are sooty and unhealthy and do not generate enough heat to cook food quickly. Converting husks to gas provide a much hotter, cleaner flame for cooking--not to mention a cheaper source of energy. A ton of rice husks contains the same energy as 415 liters of petrol or 378 liters of kerosene. A few handfuls of rice husks can boil water in six to nine minutes. Belonio is an associate professor of agricultural engineering at the Central Philippine University in Iloilo City. He intends to use the funds from the award to set up a demonstration center in Iloilo to disseminate free information and to provide training and technical advice about technologies he has developed. Belonio joins nine other awardees from India, Jordan, Mexico, Paraguay, South Africa, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the United States. The 2008 Rolex Awards for Enterprise winners were chosen from nearly 1,500 applicants in 127 countries by an independent panel of scientists, educators, economists and other experts.
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By Anna Valmero INQUIRER.net PASAY City, Philippines -- Green colors local inventions and research in this year’s National Inventors’ Week, which happens every third week of November. “Going green is not a choice,” said Jean Lao, chief operating officer of Chemrez Technologies, which launched an award that will identify scientists, inventors, professionals, industry practitioners and members of the academe who have developed eco-friendly products and processes. “Normally in the country they use green products if it is less costly and does what it promises. But today we are seeing more informed consumers who are beginning to see the benefits of green products and are ready to pay the premium for it,” Lao said. The Chemrez Green Chemistry Awards aims to highlight Filipino inventions -- product or process -- that can help reduce or eliminate the use or generation of substances that are hazardous to the environment. Green chemistry describes the whole life cycle of a product, including design, manufacture, use and disposal, Lao said. Lao said the entries will be judged based on innovation of indigenous resources, impact on air, effluent and solid waste, industrial application and commercial viability. “The award aims to encourage inventions that lower the carbon footprint. We also want to bring this green consciousness to the public because after all, it is the environment that we all live in,” said Lao. Encouraging inventors and visitors to go for green innovations, Chemrez Technologies has displayed several of its green products in this year’s National Inventors’ Week event. The company has developed a biosolvent and oil spill dispersant, BioActiv fuel enhancer for diesel and gasoline and polycol unsaturated polyester resin. The award will have two categories: the Green Chemistry Special Awards for the general public, individuals, profit or non-profit organizations and the Sibol Special Award for high school and college students. Winners will receive trophies and cash prizes of P60,000 and P40,000, respectively.
MANILA -- Filipino Physicist Caesar Saloma and Singaporean virologist Lisa F.P. Ng didn't see themselves as heroes when they were younger. They were only interested in pursuing their interests. Saloma liked how light works while Ng had a keen sense on biology. Their work bordered on laboratory science that very few knew would have an impact on industries and society. Here's a video interview I did with Ng and Saloma. This page requires a higher version browser Saloma's concentration on photonics (light energy) led to the invention of a system to generate high contrast images of semiconductor sites used for electronics manufacturing, while Ng had helped develop the first miniaturized handheld detection system for the dreaded avian Flu virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome. For their scientific contributions Saloma and Ng were awarded with the Outstanding Scientists and Technologists Awards by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) during the recently held ASEAN Science and Technology Week in Manila. Ng received the Young Scientists and Technologists award in the below 40-year-old category. Ng has been in the biomedical field for at least 10 years focusing mostly on infectious diseases. She has especially concentrated on SARS and the avian flu, which had attacked several Asian countries a few years back. Ng worked closely with clinicians, virologists and public health workers to deliver a system for disease preparedness. Ng is currently the senior scientist at the Singapore Immunology Network under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research. Meanwhile, Saloma is the current dean of the University of the Philippines Diliman College of Science. His research is one that requires pure science as he works in the background, developing new technologies that can be used for various industrial applications, particularly in manufacturing, imaging and microscopy. He is also no stranger to awards. He has published several researches in various scientific publications. He is the first and only Asian to receive the prestigious Galileo Galilee Award in 2004. Both Ng and Saloma said that their work as scientists entail a lot of trial-and-error. They take years to find a solution to problems in their researches and most of the time they have only their colleagues in the same field to help them out. "It's not an easy venture but the fruits of one's labor far exceed the problems that came with it," Ng said, adding that women in particular should also continue contributing to science and make a difference. Likewise, Saloma stressed that science may have its hardships and fun. He cited Albert Einstein who said that imagination is an important element in science, which is why he had developed some of the world's most notable theories and formulas. Saloma said that young scientists should also focus on collaborating with each other to find a common goal and focus their energies in achieving these. "It could save lives," he said.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net GRACE Christian High School won a gold medal at the 6th World Robot Olympiad held on Nov. 18 in Taiwan. The team’s project called Operation Security Guaranteed is composed of a city diorama that has a group of security-based robots that fight fire, catch criminals and ensure building protection from would-be terrorist attacks. The Grace Christian High School team is composed of Bryan Lao, Alyssa Sheena Tan and Mark Ian Tan. They won the gold medal in the Open Category for the Junior Level. The team also presented their winning entry at the newly opened Science Discovery Center at the SM Mall of Asia. This is the second time that the Philippines won a gold medal in the annual robotics competition. First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities won the first gold medal for the Philippines last year. The Philippines also won five Excellence Awards for the rest of the Philippines representatives to WRO 2007. Awardees included teams from Grace Christian High School, First Asia Institute of Technology, Humanities, and Philippine Science High School-Bicol. The Excellence Awards varied from the Open Category Primary Level to Junior High School. Over 170 teams, composed of 800 students from 18 countries, joined the competition. Lego is a major sponsor of the event. Its computer-programmable Lego Mindstorms robot machines were the primary equipment used by the participants. The Philippine Robotics Olympiad was sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology and Lego distributor Felta Multimedia. The complete list of winners can be viewed at the WRO website.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net THE FILIPINO delegation to the 3rd International Mathematics Invitational Competition has garnered the most number of medals and awards in all the math competitions joined by the Philippines this year. Forty-four out of 59 Filipino elementary and high school students won a total of 11 gold, 12 silver, 21 bronze and 15 merit awards at the 3rd IMC held in Singapore on August 18. The Philippine team, trained by the Mathematics Trainers' Guild Philippines (MTG), competed against China, India, Malaysia and Singapore. The names and details regarding the 3rd IMC can be seen on the MTG website. In an interview with INQUIRER.net, MTG president Simon Chua said the Philippines was among the leaders in medals and awards won during the event, with China taking home the most. "According to the organizers, they gave 52 gold medals, more than 100 silver medals and more than 200 bronze medals. We're blessed because some of the other countries did not garner as much," Chua said. He noted that China sent over 226 students while Singapore had 346 elementary and high school students. Seventy percent of the contestants have the opportunity to be awarded with medals, though they have to meet the cut-off score specified by the organizer, which is the Beijing Hecate Center of Cultural Communication. The contest was divided into three parts, with 10 multiple choice, 10 fill in the blanks, and three problem-solving questions that required a presented solution. The contest aims to promote mathematics awareness and encourage young people to take the subject seriously. The contest is also a step in preparing for the prestigious International Mathematics Olympiad.
HERE'S a video of me receiving a plaque of appreciation from Science Secretary Estrella Alabastro and Science Undersecretary Fortunato T. de la Peña on behalf of INQUIRER.net. INQUIRER.net was the lone recipient in the online category, while our mother company, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, was among the newspapers cited in the print category. Video taken by INQUIRER.net reporter Alex Villafania on July 16, 2007 at the Dusit Hotel Nikko in Makati City.
By Jaymee T. Gamil Inquirer Southern Luzon Bureau DARAGA, Albay--No one else was doing it, so she took it upon herself to pursue research on embryo-cultured makapuno (ECM), the "mutant" coconut with the soft, jelly-like meat commonly used for sweets. The conventional growing of makapuno has been hit-and-miss and has proven to be low yielding. But Erlinda Paje-Rillo of the Philippine Coconut Authority Albay Research Center (PCA-ARC) said "it is now possible to achieve purely makapuno bunches from ECM palms when they are planted together and isolated from other coconut palms." She persisted with her research even when she was initially criticized by her colleagues for doing something that was not her job as a plant pathologist in the early 1990s. To Rillo, it was simply a show of initiative and she is now reaping the rewards. This month, Rillo will be awarded Outstanding Agricultural Scientist in the 2007 National Gawad Saka Awards at Malacañang Palace. The awards project is an annual search by the Department of Agriculture for exceptional innovators in farming, animal-raising and fisheries. Of 22 categories, most of which deal with farming and fishing, only one award is reserved for a scientist. Rillo has dedicated her 43-year career to plant research, working for the PCA since 1964. Now chief of the PCA Tissue Culture Division, Rillo her 14-man team at the ARC is most known for refining the coconut embryo-culture technology first demonstrated by Dr. Emerita de Guzman of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños in the 1960s. The ECM protocol made it possible for the non-germinating embryo inside a makapuno nut to be transplanted and artificially grown in a specially formulated nutrient medium. This procedure is the most effective way for makapuno palms to be mass produced. As a former PCA plant pathologist, Rillo had also contributed key findings on the transmission of the coconut diseases cadang-cadang and bud rot. Her PCA-ARC team is currently developing a coconut cloning technique that aims to artificially propagate coconuts from the tissues of parts such as flowers and leaves. With only one year left before she retires, the 65-year-old joked that this year's award was somewhat overdue. "I actually didn't think I'd be considered for the award anymore," Rillo said. The scientist from Guinobatan, Albay is the first Bicolano to receive the national Outstanding Agricultural Scientist award, which comes with the Rizal Pro Patria medallion and a project grant of P1 million. Rillo described her love for plants as a natural inclination already evident since her high school days at the Roxas Memorial Agricultural School, now the Bicol University College of Agriculture and Forestry, where she graduated valedictorian. Although like her, the majority of her eight siblings landed managerial positions in government offices, she was the only one who showed an interest in agriculture. "Even my husband is related to plant study. I met him at the UP Los Baños College of Agriculture. I was studying plant fungi, he was studying plant bacteria," she said. Her husband Alfredo also works for the PCA as Region V manager. They have two children, both in their 30s and with their own families. When not culturing coconuts, Rillo breeds orchids and ornamental plants in a laboratory in her home in Ligao City. Unfortunately, like most plant life in Albay, these were lost to the Mayon volcano eruptions and the typhoons late last year. "I used to have around 2,000 butterfly orchids and 6,000 anthuriums," Rillo recalled. Rillo hopes her ECM research will trigger a makapuno industry in the country, with her home region, Bicol, as the biggest supplier. At present, government and private embryo culture laboratories are producing ECM seedlings in Albay, Cavite, Pangasinan, Leyte, Davao, Zamboanga, Tiaong, and Lipa. Rillo said the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) had also funded significant ECM plantings in Davao, Zamboanga, Tacloban, Pangasinan, Albay and Cavite. "The most productive plantations with laboratories today are the private Philhybrid Farm in Los Baños and the Philippine Coconut Research and Development Foundation Farm in Pasig," she said. She said the Bicol region has the biggest land area in the country -- 82 hectares across the provinces -- turned into ECM plantations. "I'm sure there will be a makapuno industry. It will bring diversity to our coconut products and it will be something that's unique to the Philippines," Rillo said. The makapuno’s meat is largely used for ice cream, pastries, preserves and other delicacies. Rillo also said makapuno can be used as an ingredient in pharmaceutical and beauty products. With the makapuno nut’s having a current market value of, at most, P60 per kilo, it has proven to be a high-value crop and an expensive commodity, a fact attributed to the plant’s rarity. "Since the embryo-cultured makapuno seedlings are produced under laboratory-controlled conditions, these seedlings are currently sold for P500 and above, depending on the size." Aside from the difficulty it takes to produce the seedlings, Rillo said there are at present only 30,000 makapuno palms throughout the country. Unfortunately, supply is still so low it has gone below the level of demand. As of 1998, the DoST found that the domestic market needed 4 million kilograms of makapuno a year, but only three percent of the demand is being met, Rillo said. She added that at least 2,000 hectares will be needed for raising ECM but there is less than 100 hectares nationwide. The shortage also means less opportunity for export. "Food manufacturers have expressed interest, but without consistent supply, they cannot export," she said. Rillo hopes the government can subsidize makapuno prices but admitted that funding from the national government for coconut research and development has been dwindling. "Our financial support now primarily comes from the independent funding agencies and the local government units we submit our project proposals to," she said. At present, the PCA-ARC has been focusing on makapuno product development and has produced a recipe book detailing the dishes that can be created using makapuno. The book is scheduled for launching during Coco Week in August. Rillo's team at the PCA-ARC has also been continuously monitoring the 17 coconut clones they have planted in their field. Although the procedure only has a 10 percent yield now, Rillo remains optimistic of the study's progress and potentials. "The cloning protocol has yet to be perfected and the clone fields evaluated over the years, but given that coconut is a very difficult crop, I still consider the development a breakthrough," she said. Rillo has no plans of abandoning her research even after retirement. She plans to use the P1 million project grant from her award to develop an irrigation system for a makapuno plantation in an area where there is a dry spell every year. "People are laughing at me again and saying it's a ridiculous idea. But I've actually seen it being done in Thailand and China, so why can't we? It could prove useful, especially in the hot and dry regions of our country," she said. She added that if an irrigation system could be developed for coconut, the area between palms could be utilized for other crops at the same time, in effect, maximizing the use of land for high-value crops. She said that the main obstruction to her plan was to find land to experiment on. She doubts the government will back her up, so she has been eyeing a private farm. She urged the government to be more supportive of the coconut industry. "Everything else we seem to import, but when it comes to coconuts, other countries look to us as their source," she pointed out. "If only the politicians would donate the funds they use for vote-buying, the industry would be much better by now," she joked.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net BALDOMERO OLIVERA'S name may not ring a bell for many Filipinos. He is not an actor or a politician -- and he certainly is not a criminal whose name lands in the headlines of local newspapers. Yet he has given Filipinos all over the world a reason to be proud by being named Harvard Foundation’s 2007 Scientist of the Year. Dr. Olivera is a distinguished professor of biology in the University of Utah. The man is so popular and respected in that institution that a research laboratory is named after him. Olivera’s scientific research into the medicinal aspects of the ubiquitous but deadly cone snails landed him the distinction of being named Scientist of the Year. In keeping with his modesty, Olivera did not expect to win the award but merely worked hard to come up with comprehensive studies on the cone snails. Luckily, Dr. Olivera is back in the Philippines to talk with fellow scientists and aspiring students regarding his work on the viability of cone snail venom for medicinal purposes. His foremost research has already become the basis for a commercial drug called Ziconotide (Prialt), which blocks out extreme pain. Ziconotide is considered more effective than morphine and does not result in addiction. The soft-spoken Olivera was the key speaker during the quarterly Innovation Forum held by the Ayala Foundation and Information Development Program. Olivera, who comes back to the Philippines at least twice a year, spoke to a small group of scientists, businessesmen and journalists regarding his work and the potential of Filipino scientists in the field of biotechnology. Olivera was a summa cum laude graduate from the University of the Philippines in 1960 and moved to the US to take up his graduate degree in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology. Long before his days in college, Olivera already started wondering about cone snails, which are common in Philippine seas. Cone snails are among the deadliest animals in the world, with a harpoon-like proboscis that injects lethal doses of venom that could kill a person within hours. The deadliness of the venom left the young Olivera wondering why the venom of such small creatures could be so deadly to humans. His curiosity took on a different form when he wanted to learn if the venom of cone snails could actually have pharmacological purposes and, after college, Olivera worked on various aspects of cone snail venom. The genus Conus magus, a more common and bigger type of cone shell, was the main focus of Olivera and he produced over 150 publications on the cone shell toxin. Olivera said during the Innovation Forum that his research only involved a handful of cone snail species and he estimated that over 10,000 species of the sea creatures reside in the Philippines. He also said that in each cone snail, one can find at least 700 compounds that each have different potential efficacies for medical uses. "Scientists are researching on useful medicinal compounds from hundreds of thousands of plant species but there is also so much to acquire from cone snails. It's one of the least understood creatures of the sea but it may hold the key to solving many of today's diseases," Olivera stressed. Olivera added that very few scientists like him are focused on cone snails and he went on to invite aspiring young scientists to enter the field of biotechnology research. Likewise, he also invited potential businessmen to focus on providing assistance to Filipino scientists who can do research on commercially viable projects, not just on biotechnology, but also in other fields of research. "Our work as scientists does not involve just winning these [awards] but to find ways to make lives better. I would like our Filipino scientists to strive hard in their chosen field and be proud of what they do no matter how small it is," he said.
By Erwin Oliva INQUIRER.net DR. Baldomero Olivera, a Filipino award-winning scientist who has discovered new drugs for pain, Alzheimer’s and epilepsy in the Philippine wildlife, is set to visit the country next month. Technology Business Incubator and the Brain Gain Network have invited Dr. Olivera to an innovation forum in Filipinas Heritage Library on July 6 to speak on his discoveries of new sources of painkillers, including deadly sea snails, among others. Olivera was recently awarded by the Harvard Foundation as Scientist of the Year following his three decades of work in developing drugs from the animal wildlife, according to a copy of his brief profile. Dr. Olivera has published about 158 works on Conus toxins, and is co-founder of Utah-based startup Cognetix. A summa cum laude graduate from the University of the Philippines in 1960, he eventually took his PhD in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology (1966), and did postdoctoral work at Stanford University from 1966-1968. Olivera then returned briefly to the Philippines to become a research associate professor of Biochemistry at the UP College of Medicine before returning to the US to become an associate professor at the University of Utah in 1970. He has held the title of Distinguished Professor of Biology since 1992. His work on conotoxins was eventually picked by Forbes Asia which published it on its July 2007 issue. Olivera and his team made a breakthrough when they discovered a family of biomolecules they collectively called conotoxins from Cone shells found in tropical waters of the Philippines, another online biography said. “As a boy in his native Philippines, Baldomero Olivera spent countless hours scouring for seashells on the beach. Once he’d made his finds, he’d rush home and pore over marine-life books to identify his treasures. He was particularly intrigued with cone snails, beautiful but deadly sea snails that kill their prey with venom. Thirty years later Olivera’s fascination with cone snails would open a new pipeline of drugs for discovery,” the Forbes article, penned by Dennis Posadas, said.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net A FILIPINO project called the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc (AIDFI) won second prize in the 2007 Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, an international contest instituted in the United Kingdom that identifies projects related to efficient energy management at small community levels. AIDFI’s innovative "ram pump" technology won it the Ashden Awards second prize worth 10,000 British pounds (P928,000) for the Education and Welfare category. Ram pumps are devices that draw ground water up to certain heights without the need for external power sources such as diesel pumps or manual pumping. Instead, ram pumps use the kinetic energy of falling water to draw up more water. AIDFI's project consisted of using an innovative ram pump design that allowed hillside villagers to collect water more efficiently. AIDFI's Dutch-born co-founder Auke Idzenga designed a new and cheap model of the ram pump and had 98 of these devices installed in 68 communities in the Philippines. One of the key design features of Idzenga's ram pump is the use of locally-available parts that allowed users to immediately make replacements of damaged or non-operating parts. Idzenga's design allowed 200 to 1, 000 liters of water a day to be continuously lifted up 200 meters vertically and poured into village reservoirs. After AIDFI installed more of the machines as early as the 1990s, more hillside villagers have been able to collect water without risking going down slopes to collect water and carrying these up back to their villages. Likewise, Idzenga’s ram pumps have also allowed villages to irrigate their farms and maintain livestock. More enterprising villages who have the AIDFI ram pumps can also sell their surplus water to nearby communities who also require water. The ram pumps are also cheap to maintain with maintenance cost amounting to just P7,500 to P9,000 per month, or just a fraction of the cost when using diesel powered water pumps. The pumps are also said to last at least 20 years. AIDFI has been pushing for the widespread installation of Idzenga's ram pump design as it costs much lower compared to diesel-powered water pumps, and have parts that are easily replaceable with locally-made materials. The other winners of the 2007 Ashden Awards were announced during the awards ceremony last June 21. More information regarding AIDFI’s winning project can be found on their website.