Monday, May 9, 2011

Philippine high school students compete in the international science & engineering fair

Team Philippines 2011. Front, l-r: Sean Cabiles, Angeli Dy, Regine Arcenal, Mark Dapar. Back, l-r:  Benedict Priela, Jeffrey Abulencia, Miguel Reyes, John David Caburnay and Edgardo Alegre  

There are ten of them in Team Philippines 2011, but one could not make the trip to Los Angeles for this year's edition of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF 2011) at the Los Angeles Convention Center on 08-13 May.

For the past decade, we've been involved in the selection of the country's delegates to this global event from among the best of young science  researchers in our private and public high schools.  They successfully passed three levels of screening from the local and regional to the national science fairs.

This year, the '10 best' comprises four individual and two team projects (each team composed of three members) selected from the short list of 'bests' from the Department of Education secondary schools and the Philippine Science High School System.

Individual finalists & their project titles. Top to Bottom:  Mark Lloyd Dapar, Angeli Joyce Dy, Benedict Priela and Miguel Reyes.

The individual researchers are Mark Lloyd Dapar from the Bayugan National Comprehensive High School (Agusan del Sur), Angeli Joyce Dy from the Capiz National High School (Roxas City), Benedict Priela from the Holy Infant Academy (Calapan City, Mindoro), and Miguel Reyes from the Philippine Science High School-Main Campus (Quezon City).

This is the second time that Dy and Priela are participating in the ISEF.  They were in the Reno, Nevada event in 2009 when they were still high school sophomores.

Research teams & their project titles:  Janina Guarte & Edgardo Alegre (top); Jeffrey Abulencia, Sean Cabiles and John David Carburnay (bottom).

The two team finalists are those from the PSHS-East Visayas Campus (Palo, Leyte)--Janina Guarte, Edgardo Alegre and Regine Arcenal-- and from the Victorino Mapa High School (Manila)--Sean Luke Cabiles, John David Caburnay and Jeffrey Abulencia.

Our delegates are among the more than 1,500 student finalists from 64 countries vying for awards in the ISEF, the world's largest international pre-college science competition program of the Society for Science & the Public supported by the Intel Corporation and the Intel Foundation.

There are 17 research areas in the competition.  Our individual finalists are in four:  Dapar in Medicine & Health Sciences, Dy in Biochemistry, Priela in Environmental Management, and Reyes in Engineering (Materials & Bioengineering).

While the two team projects are classified under Energy & Transportation (that of Cabiles, Caburnay and Abulencia) and Plant Sciences (Alegre, Guarte and Arcenal), they will be in the separate competition of 256 team finalists from around the world. 

Mark Dapar and Angeli Dy share interest in the human lung and colon cancer cells. 

Dapar wanted to check if IR64 rice bran extract is effective against the two carcinomas. Indeed, his work showed that the extract is a "promising source of treatment for chemotherapy and chemoprevention" because it has bioactive compound/s of cytotoxic potential against both human lung and colon carcinomas, and of antioxidant potential against free radicals.

On the other hand, Angeli Dy was looking for an alternative media supplement to the expensive fetal bovine serum (FBS) that is used in the culture of the two cancer cells. She experimented on the milkfish serum, which she found to be rich in proteins.  Her study indicates that milkfish serum, its mannose-binding proteins and albumin are potential replacements of FBS.

In her prize-winning work in 2009, she tested the cytotoxic potential of milkfish bile against the same cancer cells.

Benedict Priela constructed a prototype model of a portable solar-heated vacuum desalinator, which he found to be cost-effective, energy-efficient, and environment-friendly.  "The device," he said, "can also be a vital source of potable water in disaster areas where water contamination and scarcity is a major problem."

His sophomore year project entry in ISEF 2009 was a numerical chart that he tested to detect amblyopia among pre-school children, which can lead to blindness if not corrected. This was intended as an alternative to the alphabetical chart used by ophthalmologists.

Miguel Reyes was looking at producing biodegradable plastic for film packaging from a composite of thermoplastics from cornstarch and nano-sized calcium phosphate particles. While the project is more on materials engineering, the impact is on the environment. 

Jatropha curcas is more associated with bio-fuels. In fact, there is a company in the Dept of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) umbrella whose thrust is to develop jatropha plantations in unused public lands for bio-fuel production.

The PSHS-EV team used the bark extracts of this plant to produce a bio-pesticide against the larvae of cutworms, the bane of many important economic crops .  In their tests, they found out that the methanol extracts at pure and diluted concentrations were highly effective than the synthetic pesticide.

Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) use synthetic dyes as photosensitizers. The challenge today is to find natural dyes to replace them.  The team from Victorino Mapa High responded with a study using the extracts from the flowers and stems of the edible purslane weed (ngalog to Ilocanos, gulasiman to Tagalogs). They found that the ethanol-extracted natural dyes from the flowers generated the best photoactivity (photovoltage and photocurrent).   

We all wish that our delegates will come home with prizes for their scientific projects, special awards and/or the coveted grand awards. 

Special awards come from 64 organizations in the form of educational scholarships, cash awards, summer internships, scientific field trips and equipment grants.

Every finalist hopes to bring at least one of the Grand Awards in his/her category:  (a) the Best of Category, $5,000;  (b) First Place, $3,000; (c) Second Place, $1,500; (d) Third Place – $1,000; and (e) Fourth place - $500.

For more than a decade of participation in the ISEF, the Philippine finalists have not come home empty-handed.  There were always special and grand awards to show off.  There had been delegates who've gone on stage to receive a First Grand Award.

We've yet to have a finalist receive a Best of Category award, which is the key to the competition for the two Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards of $50,000 each, and the lone Gordon E Moore Award of $75,000. Thus, the winners are the top 3 of the "Bests" in the 17 categories.

Our finalists will face the judges for the whole day of Wednesday, 11 May, in their professional attire, or in their national costumes, in the case of our delegates.  The next day, the exhibition hall will be open to the public.

Team Philippines 2009 coming out after the day with the judges in their national costume.  Angelica Dy (2nd from right) and Benedict Priela (4th from right) were sophomores then. They're in the ISEF this year for the second time.

For sure, they're having some fun too amid the anxiety of meeting several sets of judges . They'll swap pins with other delegates, go to parties organized for them, and enjoy an exclusive night at the Universal Studios.

One event that finalists enjoy is their encounter with Nobel laureates. Every year all delegates submit a question that they would like to ask one of the laureates.  Those whose questions deserve an airing are given a chance to stand up before the "Excellence in Science and Technology Discussion Panel" of Nobel Prize winners and shoot their questions. They'd be surprised that these scientists behave very much unlike the geeky persons they're pictured to be.  They're very much available for the photo-ops seekers.

Photo-op with a Nobel laureate.  Delegates from another country in ISEF 2009 pose for a souvenir photo with Dr Dudley Herschbach.

We'll check on our delegates if they had fun in their personal/pictorial encounters with Paul Berg (Chemistry, 1980), J. Michael Bishop (Physiology or Medicine, 1989), Martin Chalfie (Chemistry, 2008), Dudley Herschbach (Chemistry, 1986), H. Robert Horvitz (Chemistry, 2002), Douglas Osheroff (Physics, 1996), and Richard Roberts (Physiology or Medicine, 1993). 

We keep our fingers crossed that Team Philippines 2011 will bring home honors for our country.

Update:  YouTube video clip on Philippines Team Experiences at Intel ISEF 2011.  

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