# Ateneo Physics student Miguel Antonio Sulangi: a BPI-DOST Science Awardee

March 10, 2011 1 Comment

by Quirino Sugon Jr.

For several months, Miggy worked not for me but for Dr. Germelino Abito who got his Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Iowa. His specialization is Theoretical Solid State Physics. But at the start of June, I received a mail from Dr. Abito.

“Pope, can you advise Miggy for me? I shall be leaving for the U.S. immediately. His topic is about the quantum mechanics of geometry-induced potentials. It is a very recent field.”

“I am not very fond of Quantum,” I replied. “But I can help him with the geometry part.”

“Don’t worry.” Dr. Abito said. “Miggy is a self-motivated guy. You only need to make sure that he does not commit major blunders in his computations.”

So Miggy became my thesis student. In his thesis, Miggy computed the quantum mechanical effects putting a charged particle in the constraining geometries of catenoid and helicoid under magnetic fields. The equations are difficult to solve, so we looked only at special cases. I tried to make him work on only one problem, so that he can focus fully on it. He said he can easily do both because the problems are similar. He typed a 30-page manuscript in LaTeX and sent it as an entry to the BPI-DOST national science awards. I have no comments with Miggy’s writing; I only suggested to him to approximate the potential wells as parabolic so that he can compute energy states. He followed my suggestion. Miggy’s work was among the few short-listed for the national finals. For this, he was awarded with the BPI-DOST Science Award last March 2 at the Escaler Hall, Ateneo de Manila University.

Frankly, I do not fully understand Miggy’s work: it was written in tensors and not in vectors, because tensors were the language of his references. His g-mu-nu’s sounds Greek to me. I only looked at his equations and asked him what they are. Then I translate his equations into vector form in my mind: that’s a Laplacian, that’s a gradient, that’s a dot product. It’s like two people talking in two different languages. It’s hard, but we manage to plod on.

Miggy enrolled before in an elective course on Calculus on Manifolds for Physicists which I taught. There are only two of them in the course: him and Michael Andrews. Miggy is a transferee from Economics; Michael already finished his Management Engineering. I taught them the basics of Clifford (geometric) algebra and calculus and how these are used in the description of manifolds. We discussed the differential geometry of the helicoid and the hyperboloid because these are the geometries of interest to Miggy. Miggy and his companion learned fast. They have mastered the art of geometric algebra. Two weeks before the end of the course, I asked them to give lectures on differential geometry using tensors.

“I don’t understand tensor analysis,” I said to them. “I cannot imagine matrices unlike vectors and complex numbers in n-dimensional spaces in geometric algebra. But if you can teach me tensors, I would be happy. Let us see if what you can derive using tensors is the same as what we got using geometric algebra.”

Both of them liked the chance to teach. Miggy gave some lectures for about three one-hour meetings. He explained the index gymnastics in spacetime and applied these to Lorentz transforms and Maxwell equations. Miggy can explain well. He taught an old dog like me some new tricks. But he can be hasty when he writes on the board. His mind runs faster than his chalk. He still needs to learn the left-to-write board management. I also had a poor board organization when I first began to teach, especially in my first teaching demonstration as a teacher, so this should not be problem. What is important is that he knows his material well and he knows how to respond to questions.

After the course, Miggy asked me if I am still offering other geometric algebra courses. I told him, “No.” The other geometric algebra course on group theory is not offered this semester. “Do you have other problems in the SERC subcenter that I can work on?” he asked. “You can work on the reconstruction of ionograms given the electron density profile,” I told him. “You may need to make differential slices of the layers and compute the transmission and reflection coefficients per interface. Determine the intensity of the received signal as a function of height and the radar frequency. Start with a parabolic electron density profile without magnetic field.” “This looks exciting, sir.” I gave him the ionosphere book by Richards.

Miggy routinely A’s most of his physics subjects-a rare feat similar to that of Reinabelle Reyes, my previous undergraduate thesis student who is now finishing her Ph.D. in Astrophysics in Princeton University. I am glad to have another brilliant mind around. Miggy shall leave for the US soon to pursue his Ph.D. in Physics studies. He was already accepted in John Hopkins University and he is waiting for the responses from other schools before he makes his choice.

Congratulations, Miggy! And best wishes! Here is a prayer for you, an Old Irish Blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

I like this article. Miggy’s cool but he’s also a hard worker. What I really admire about him is that he rarely crams and he’s always around to help guys like us who have trouble with physics.