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Pinoy Kasi

Small and great

/ 05:07 AM October 10, 2018

An underwater system for a fish census — numbers, species, length and weight — using artificial intelligence. Aerial maps using sophisticated lidar (light detection and ranging) for 262 of our rivers. A microsatellite named Diwata and a nanosatellite named Maya. An all-in-one kit to teach the natural sciences in secondary schools.

Those are just some of the outputs from among hundreds of science research projects conducted at UP Diliman and which we boasted about in an Agham-Bayan in July, sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The event targeted industry and business to get them interested in using these outputs.

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Early this year, I thought it was high time we did a bit of bragging in our own backyard in UP Diliman. For several years now, we’ve had a Diliman Arts Month showcasing our talents in music, dance, sculpture and theater. Our slow but sure ascent in athletics is also in the watchful public eye (“whew” was the mood in the last two weeks, with UP Maroons losing a game by one point, and then winning just last Sunday by one point, too).

Which leaves our achievements in science — and it will not be an exaggeration to say they are legion — so dismally unrecognized. Now we have our first, and it will not be the last, Diliman Science and Technology Month, with, among others, an exhibit at Palma Hall (AS building) for another Agham-Bayan.

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I wanted to describe the Maya satellite, launched only in August. It’s a “small but terrible” satellite, with a volume of only 1.1 liters and weighing a mere 1 kilogram, yet it has several computers built into it — to steer the satellite in space, to run programs for the camera (when to shoot, what to shoot), to store and transmit the voluminous data back to earth. That data can then be used in agriculture, disaster preparedness, infrastructure planning, communications, public health and much, much more.

I asked my daughters if any of them had heard of the satellite. Sadly, they all answered “no.” After I explained what it was and what it could do, one of the daughters, aged 9, was almost
incredulous: “And we made it?”

I gently retorted, “Of course, we did, with some help from the Japanese, but we’re moving to have a space program for the Philippines, and it will be based in UP Diliman.”

Kids these days are hard to impress, but the wow factor had hit them, with the message that we Filipinos have our fair share of achievements in science and technology.

I thought of how, many years back, a writer had decried some of our national symbols — the bahay kubo (nipa hut) and the maya (sparrow) — as reflecting our “culture of smallness.” The maya was dislodged in favor of the monkey-eating eagle.

But our engineers remain proud of the maya, recognizing that in this age of the microchip and nanoparticles, the maya can symbolize the greatness of small things.

I thought, too, of the metaphors of rivers. UP’s lidar group, headed by the College of Engineering’s Dr. Eric Paringit, produced a book called “All Rivers Great and Small.” The title emphasizes that all rivers are of value, as sources of life and pride for our towns and cities. I was impressed that the book incorporated stories about Philippine rivers, including origins of names and dates of great floods — the latter important in creating a historical memory for disaster response.

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Lupa, laot, langit — on earth, in our seas and in the skies and outer space — nothing escapes the curiosity of our social and natural scientists. Our educational philosophy emphasizes, too, the spirit of people and institutions working together. The river mapping, funded by the DOST, was a joint effort of UP Diliman and 14 other public and private universities in the country.

It’s the spirit of inquiry, and the value of collective effort, that we want to inspire in our students, in classrooms, in the field, and through events like a Science and Technology Month.

That inquisitiveness is not without risk.

Valedictorian again, I sighed, looking at UP Diliman at the top of the military’s list of universities, released last week, where communists are said to be recruiting students, supposedly through the showing of antimartial law films.

We are accountable to our taxpayers, and we are proud of how all that hard-earned money is put into producing students who not just ask, but question; who not just wonder, but dare to imagine change.

We’ve been doing that for decades, and if that earns us the tag “aktibista,” then we will wear it with pride, for our country.

mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: Agham-Bayan, Diliman Science and Technology Month, DOST, Michael l. tan, Pinoy Kasi, up diliman
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