Miguel Sulangi and Michael Andrews: A tale of two physics shiftees

Miguel Sulangi (V BS Physics) and Michael Andrews (I MS Physics)

In the second floor of Manila Observatory is a room with glass walls like an aquarium.  Every MWF 0930-1030, if one passes by, one would see two students taking notes in a lecture.  One student looks like Bud Spencer; the other looks like Terrence Hill.  No, they are not cowboys in the Wild, Wild West.  They are physics majors taking a tutorial class in Ps 195 Calculus in Manifolds for Physicists under Dr. Quirino M. Sugon Jr.

Michael and Miguel.  Mike and Miggy.  M & M.

Miguel Sulangi stands head and shoulders above other physics majors–not just in physical size but in also brain power.  Almost all of his physics subjects are A’s. Surprisingly, he never intended to become a physics major when he entered Ateneo; he was an Economics Honors major.  But after a semester in the Economics program, he changed his mind and went to physics.  He is now in his fifth year as physics major and he is working on the quantum mechanics of geometry-induced potentials of catenoid and helicoid surfaces under magnetic fields.

Michael Andrews, on the other hand, is smaller of the two.  He is soft-spoken but thinks deeply.  He finished his BS Management Engineering (2008) in Ateneo de Manila University.  But after a year in the corporate world and in Gawad Kalinga, he decided to take up M.S. in Physics.  He is currently taking up his back subjects in physics.  He is also working on his thesis on the vibrational spectroscopy of molecules using symmetry groups in geometric algebra.

After last Friday’s class on how to translate electromagnetic field tensors in terms of different dialects of Clifford algebras in spacetime, Dr. Sugon interviewed them on why they shifted to physics.  This is their story.

1.  What was your conversion experience?

Miguel Sulangi: I at first wanted to work on finance.  That is why I entered the Ateneo Economics Honors program. I read all economics and finance books that I could find.  But in the middle of my first semester in my freshman year, I felt unhappy.  By chance I went to the Physics Department and I met there Dr. Jerrold Garcia.  Dr. Garcia showed me how economics uses concepts in physics, so I might just as well study physics first.  I was convinced.  The following semester, I was already in the Physics Department.

I think Dr. Garcia forgot about that short conversation.  When he became my teacher, he still asked me, “You, where are you from?”  “Economics Honors, Sir,” I answered.

Michael Andrews: For my case, it was a long route.  I finished my B.S. Management Engineering in Ateneo last 2008.  In one of our projects in our senior year, we were asked to analyze a company.  Our topic was the least interesting, but we worked hard on it and got a very good grade.  That was when I realized that I have a talent for consultancy.  I worked in a consultancy firm, but after six months, I left.  I also joined a bank, and I was sent to the finance department.  That was already my dream job, but after a few months I also quit.  I went back to work on our family business–a construction firm.  I also worked in Gawad Kalinga.  But I think there was still something missing.

I joined a session of the Toastmasters Club in Alabang, and there I met Dr. Neil Caranto (B.S. Physics ’89, B.S. Computer Engineering ’90).  It was the first time I met a real physicist.  Dr. Caranto learnt about my interest in physics, so he arranged a meeting with me with Dr. Benjamin Chan, the chair of the Physics Department then.  I was only interested in asking questions about physics, but Dr. Chan was already giving me forms to fill up.  He explained to me that if I don’t enroll the Department on the following day, I could only enter the physics program the second semester of the following year.  So I enrolled.  The following Monday, I was already sitting in a physics class as an irregular student.

2.  What is in physics that you really like about?

Miguel Sulangi: One thing that I like about physics is that you become part of the great stream of knowledge that includes the contributions of great minds such as Newton and Einstein.  To think that my work, no matter how small, contributes to this stream makes me sit back in amazement. I do not wish to put down other courses, but there is in physics an idea of the eternal, of timelessness of physical laws that once known to be true is forever true.  Physics, then, is the search for these eternal laws.

I remember Edward Witten.  He was a history major who became a very good political analyst.  He was already writing articles in major newspapers and magazines.  But then he also got bored with what he was doing and decided to take physics.  And he became one of the brightest theoretical physicists who ever lived, having led the research work on superstring theory.  Eddie Witten is my role model.  I also want to be like him.

Michael Andrews: After I quit my job, I thought I was going to study Philosophy.  I came from Southridge, which is an Opus Dei school.  But I am not still not a convinced Catholic.  I have many questions. I need answers.  I read philosophy books, such as those about the anthropic principle and the fine-tuning of the universe.  But the more I read about Philosophy, the more I realize that many philosophical arguments are based on the laws of physics.  So when I met Dr. Caranto, I was amazed to meet a real physicist.

I do not study physics for the money.  I study physics because I want to find the truth.

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About ateneophysicsnews
Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

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