Ateneo math faculty Dr. Earl Juanico is a non-linear dynamics physicist and an Alexander von Humboldt fellow in Munich, Germany

Dr. Earl Juanico in the English Garden in Munich, Germany

Dr. Earl Juanico at the Englischer Garten (English Garden) in Munich, Germany

by Quirino Sugon Jr.

Last 2 July 2012, 4:30-5:30 p.m., Dr. Drandreb Earl Juanico gave a talk at the SEC-A 303 on “Stochastic Gillespie Algorithm as a method for solving mathematical models of real systems with inherent fluctuations.” Below is an interview of Dr. Juanico by the Ateneo Physics News.

1.  What is your educational background?

In 1997 I think, after a year, I shifted to theoretical physics because I hate electronics. My inclination is to theoretical physics. Then in my third year, I entered a research laboratory under the supervision of the current Chancellor, Caesar Saloma. I started my BS Applied Physics in UP Diliman. His lab was experimental. We ventured to complex systems. There were computational physics problems in the lab. There I got interested in complex systems modeling, using mathematical physics to understand real world phenomena. We were interested in self-organized criticality modeled using cellular automata. I also had some work with neural networks, the emergent field before the late 90’s.

After I graduated in 2002, I proceeded to take M.S. Physics right away. I had a teaching associate position and a scholarship. Then I continued to work on complex systems, but with widened scope. The phenomena we were trying to study describes not only sand piles but also ecology. We observed that social animals tend to group together. We were interested in understanding why there is statistical distribution of group sizes in nature. That took much of my time in my graduate research. I graduated two years after in 2004.

Then I went to the Ph.D. in Physics program in UP Diliman for the next three years. I got involved in many interdisciplinary thesis topics like landslide modeling. We also applied theoretical basis to critical phenomena in going explain why there is a statistical distribution of sizes of landslides. We had some experiments done to validate results. It is actually a miniature landslide model. We had soil. We tried to shake it and measure the amount of mass displaced, which we interpret as landslide. Besides that, we were also interested in biological physics, such as on the neural activities in the brain. There are observations in MRI where they were able to map when the map brain is active. Neurons fire electrochemical signals altogether in one rare time. The size of the area that is actually firing those signals are changing. There are big ones and small ones. It’s another statistical distribution. We applied theoretical critical phenomena methods and observed power laws.

Dr. Earl Juanico with wife Maricor at Amsterdam

Dr. Earl Juanico with wife Maricor at Amsterdam

After my Ph,D., I taught as Assistant Professor in Physics at U.P. Diliman. In the meantime, I searched for some post-doctorate opportunities abroad. It took me two years before I found an interesting group in Munich, Germany. The professor invited me to give a talk on my dissertation research on which I have published a paper. He proposed to me a fellowship through the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He recommended me to to apply. I wrote a proposal which had to be consistent with research interest of the professor. He is into biological physics using statistical physics principles. It is consistent with my interest: statistical distributions in biological phenomena. It took us a year before I was awarded a fellowship. I was able to do some research in Munich for two years.

It is very generous fellowship. I brought my family there. It was supported by the foundation. My being able to bring my family is not so common among research fellowships offered abroad. I think from the feedback that I got from the foundation’s staff, they get very few applications from the Philippines. In fact, they are giving out these fellowships most especially to the countries they consider as the third world like the Philippines.. There is a wide range of opportunities for us to benefit from this fellowship program. It is encouraging students to do postdoctoral research after they got their Ph.D. From my experience, l was able to expand the methods that I know as well as my attitude toward research. It is a whole different ballgame outside the Philippines. There you can sense the urgency of writing the paper. There may be some other labs working on the same topic you are working on. It is a space race on who is the first to publish. Also, they have this attitude towards research: they are really careful. They think about what they will write. They verify the statements they are putting in the paper. There are several rounds of reading to get the real meaning out, so that there would be no misunderstanding. In the scientific community, you have to do this, because your statements have to be concise but clear. There should be no assumptions not said in the paper.

That is the history my educational background. My research made me get in touch with the mathematical methods that are used in the analysis of the real world phenomena. I became more mathematical in my treatment in my manuscript. My mathematical methods used in explaining a phenomena has progressed because of my postdoctorate experience. That is the most valuable experience I get from the fellowship.

After that stint abroad, I came back here. I hoped to impart the attitude and methods that I had learned through that experience to future students who are interested in venturing into research.

2. How were you able to enter Ateneo?

I emailed the previous Chair of the Math Department, Dr. Banjo Bautista. I was still in Germany when I had a correspondence with her. I told her I was interested in applying for a faculty position. When I came back, I was assigned a teaching demo and they were satisfied with my teaching. I started teaching Calculus. I am quite glad, because Calculus is more in line with physics teaching, making it easier for me to transition to mathematics teaching.

This is my first year of teaching experinece after a long time. It was quite a big adjustment for me. There is a big support system in Ateneo, e.g. the availability of projectors—a big deal for me since I like Powerpoints. There is also the availability of senior faculty who guided me in knowing the nature of the students here in Ateneo, and I have tailored my teaching style accordingly. It is way different there in UP. It is really a big difference. I am still undergoing adjustment now since I started teaching last year. It is an ongoing process.

A medieval fountain in Germany

A medieval fountain in Rothenburg. The water source comes from the mountains.

3. Can you give examples of the difference between Ateneo and UP students?

For one, students here are more conscious of their grades and class standing. Another is that they really mind their consultation hours. They would knock at the door and say, “Teacher, I have to understand this topic. Please give more examples and explanations than what you did in class.” This is quite encouraging: the students care about their learning. That is a major difference. Students also are more likely to greet me even outside the class, even if somehow I don’t recognize their names though they were my students last semester. In UP it is very rare. When you and your students cross path, they seldom say, “Hi.” You just pass. I guess these are the major differences.

4. How is your teaching load?

About the teaching load, it is definitely more here than in UP. That is part of my adjustment. I am used to handling 9 units of teaching before and the remaining 3 units is for research. Here I have to sneak in time for research. I have to come here to the office very early at 6:30 a.m. and go home about 5:00 p.m. to stretch my time. I can do research besides teaching. Somehow, I am getting used to it. I don’t really mind, especially now that the Ateneo is focusing its resources to finance research projects.

5. Do you have a research group?

Right now we are trying to organize research groups in the Mathematics Department: algebra, graph theory, etc. There are a certain number of faculty in the department who are into mathematical modeling. I best fit into this research group: more on the applied mathematics, more interdisciplinary. We have the department planning last April. We talked about this regrouping and creating new groups. We are now in the efforts of encouraging atmosphere of research in the department. We are holding this research seminar starting last week, hoping to do this continuously to update everyone what the faculty are doing in their research.

6. Any parting words?

For me the very reason of why I was working at a university is that I want to share what I know in teaching and create new knowledge through research. That is the fundamental motivation that drives me. I guess for physics majors or any science major who has that same motivation, the best venue is the university: while you are sharing your knowledge, you learn new ones which you use to build knowledge. It goes together—teaching and research. That is my path: to share knowledge and create new ones. This is how development should go in research. My opinion about the current administration is that it is now explicitly aware about the key role of research in the academic institution. While that impetus is mainly driven by the desire to meet and surpass rankings criteria, I am quite glad that it is well aligned with the fundamental motivation behind my profession. In my belief, the best way to encourage graduate students is to have a strong research oriented faculty publishing really good papers that will attract future scientists to do research in the university. I believe it is a good long term agenda.


About ateneophysicsnews
Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

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