A Brief History of the Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of Physics: From Manila Observatory to Padre Faura Hall

by Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, S.J.

(Note: this article was prepared last February 2009 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Commission for Higher Education (CHED.  Ateneo Physics News subdivided the article into two headings for clarity.)

I.  Manila Observatory

MO Executive Director Dan McNamara, SJ

The Department of Physics of the Ateneo de Manila University traces its roots from the early scientific research work and services of Jesuit scholastics inthe Manila Observatory-Ateneo Intramuros in the 18th century.  Federica Faura, Fracisco Colina, Jaime Nonell, Juan Ricart were among the scholastics.  The MO was formally founded in 1865 with Fr. Federico Faura as founding chairperson.

The Spanish government regarded MO as the official Philippine institution for weather forecasting; the American era regarded it as the Philippine Weather Bureau in 1901.  The Second World War (WW2) left the MO with all of its equipment and documents destroyed.  It then ceased its designatied functions until it resumed operation in Baguion in 1951 with research work on seismology and study of ionosphere.  Before long, it went back to Padere Faura.  It was in 1962 that the MO transferred to the Ateneo de Manila University in Loyola Heights.  It continued research on seismic, geomagnetic, and radio and solar physics.  Since physicists worked at the MO, it started to offer various courses in physics in conjunction to its research work.

In 1965, MO celebrated its 100 years founding anniversary.  the Jesuit Society saw the need to develop competent scientist to make a significant impact in developing science in the country.

The Department of Physics under the administration of the College of Arts and Sciences, held training for science majors in Physics inside two (2) classrooms in the main building of MO.  The program focused particularly on solar and upper atmosphere physics, electronics, radio propagation, terrestrial magnetism, and geophysics.

The Bachelor of Science in Physics was designed to give Physics majors a thorough understanding of the basic principles of the physical sciences that underlie all engineering practices.  Its first batch of graduates marched in 1967.

Among the faculty members of the Department of Physics in academic year 1965-1966 were Fr. James J. Hennessey, S.J., Charmain; Mr. Norberto Tecson, Assistant Chairman; Fr. Francisco Glover, S.J., Fr. Richard Miller, S.J., Mr. Robinson, and Fr.  Sergio Su, S.J.

Towards the early ’70s, the Department of Physics evetually opened the first graduate programs in the country–Master of Science in Physics and the Master of Science in Teaching Physics.  Laboratory facilities included microwave, electronics and optics equipment, and aq well-stocked library with 100 science periodicals, and 5,000 boooks in Physics, Geophysics, and Mathematics.  The department had engaged more faculty members into teaching physics.  Additional faculty members, aside from those who have been mentioned abover were Fr. Victor Badillo; Mr. Danilo Galang; Fr. Alfredo Navato, S.J.; Fr. Richard Miller, S.J.; and Fr. James Waterbury, S.J.  Mr. Tecson was then the Chairman.  The teaching and laboraty materials developed by mr. Tecson are still usable up to the present.

By 1979, the Department of Physics acquired its own building with sufficient laboratory space to hold large equipment on the second floor of the Gonzaga Hall with the primary aim of advancing the Physics program in Ateneo–a risk undertaken by Fr. Jose Cruz, S.J., then Ateneo-President and Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, S.J., who served his first term as the Chairman of the Department of Physics.

In 1981, engineering became a program under the Department of Physics.  it then called itself the Department of Physics and Engineering.  It launched the Bachelor of Science in Applied Physics.  it aimed to give students a strong background in electronics, computer, and laser work.

II.  Padre Faura Hall

In 1985, the department offered the double-degree course in Bachelor of Science in Physics and computer engineering (BS Ps/CE) and Bachelor of Science in computer Science (BS CS).  The B.S. Ps/CE conferred the students on the 4th year of studies the B.S. Physics degree; and on the 5th year, the B.S. Computer engineering degree.  The number of students had notably increased.  Through the financial assistance of USAID, Faura Hall was built to accomodate the growing number of students and new equipment.  The new Faura Hall marked the dedication of Fr. Federico Faura, S.J., founder of the Manila Observatory.

Another breakthrough in the Department of Physics was the setting up of fields of specialization in Physics and the installation of specific research laboratories.  Financial assistance secured from the Purchasing Departmnet of Fordham University in New York financed and shipped out various instructional materials and equipment to the department.  Acquired laboratory equipment included Vacuum equipment, aluminum benches for optics, and various teaching materials that are now in the Prof. Tecson Laboratories in the Science Enducation Complex SEC-C.  International networking and linking started to prosper.

The mid-80;s also witnessed the creation of the Engineering and Science Education Project (ESEP) program through the funding of Australia, Japan, and the World Bank.  The Department of Physics-Ateneo with two (2) other big universities in the country formed the Consortium under the ESEP program.  The consortium designated the Department of Physics to develop its capabilities in laser.  The government of Japan through the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) became the principal contributor of the Consortium in its intention to develop the sciences in the Philippines.  It successfully realized on of its components for students who were sent abroad to pursue graduate programs published their research work in the international level.  The World Bank and JSPS funded the ESEP program in the late 80’s  it targeted to train and assist other schools in developing their own Physics programs.

The development of curricula and upgrading of equipment continued up to the 90’s.  In the mid-90’s , the Commision on Higher Education (CHEd) awarded the Department of Physics for the very fist time the status of Center of Excellence in Physics (COE).  The CHEd 3-year program brought the department the most sophisticated research equipment and bostered its outreach program.  The first phase of the program sent faculty members to cross-teach Physics in different schools in Metero Manila and provinces.  This eventually led to the holding of various workshops, seminars, and training for physics teachers in selected schools.  laboratory technicians attended diploma training on the use of the equipment acquired through CEHd.  The CHEd program made it possible for the department to develop and fabricate in-house equipment for laboratory exercises and research purposes of faculty and students.  It yielded a variety of laboratory equipment and teaching materials now housed in the Physics Resource Center on the second floor of Faura Hall.

The CHEd program ran from 1997 to 2001 with Dr. John Holdsworth as Chair of the Department.

To make the course program closer to the world, the curricula in the undergraduate and graduate levels undertook some major revisions.  The Master in Physics Education replaced the Master of Science in Teaching Physics and the Doctor of Philosophy in Physics program was officially started in 2001.

In close partnership with the UNESCO Basic Sciences Unit (under the auspices of Dr. Minella C. Alarcon, former Physics Department Chair) and the Asian Physics Educ ation Network AsPEN), the department ahs reached out to the local and international community by promoting the Active Learning Pedagogy in Physics through seminars, conferences, and workshops.

In 2001, tduring the second term of Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, S.J., the Bachelor of Science in applied Physics with computer Systems replaced the Bachelor of Science in Physics with Computer Engineering.  The Ph.D. in Physics program was officially accredited.  Financial assistance was awarded to the various research laboratories (Photonics, Vauum Coating, materials Science, and Atmospherics).  The first batch of Ph.D. students came in 2002.

The Bachelor of Sciencein Physics with materials Science and Engineering (in collaboration with the Departmnet of Chemistry) and the Master of Scinece in atmopspheric Science have been offered as degree programs in 2004 and 2007, respectively.

The department has continued to live up to its status as CHEd-CEOwith excellent students and quality research output competetive in the global arena.  Distinguised students graduates as class valedictorians, with honors, BPI Science awardees, and landed jobs in prestigious institutions.

The department undertakes revisions of its coursework from time to time to fit the need of the changing times.  Today, the department is fully- equipped with modern facilities in Photonics, Vacuum Coating, Materials Science and Atmopsheric Science.  Other facilities include a fully-functioning Machine Shop, an upgraded General Physics Laboratory (the Tecson Laboratories).  Research output have been showcased and presented in conferences, seminars abroad and locally through the Samahang Pisika ng Pilipinas or SPP, the Philippine Physical Society.

The Department and the Manila Observatory have continued to work hand in hand through Physics research and Physics teaching.  From its humble beginnings at the Manila Observatory, the Department of Physics strives to be a community of scientists and scholars committed to the service of the nation through the Ignatian tradition of excellence in teaching and research.


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2 Responses to A Brief History of the Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of Physics: From Manila Observatory to Padre Faura Hall

  1. Ramon B. Murillo says:

    I was googling Fr. James Waterbury, S.J. and was led to this site. Would anybody know his whereabouts and/or how to reach him? I was a member of Ateneo HS62 and we were one of the first batches that he taught. We are celebrating our golden jubilee and are trying to trace our High School teachers.
    Thank you.

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