Ateneo Physics faculty Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero is NAST Outstanding Young Scientist and TWAS Prize awardee for 2013

Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero and Dr. Liane Pena Alampay

NAST Outstanding Young Scientist Awardees of Ateneo de Manila University: Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero of Physics and Dr. Liane Peña Alampay of Psychology. Dr. Raphael Guerrero also received the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) Prize for Young Scientist in the Philippines.

by Quirino Sugon Jr.

Ateneo Physics faculty Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero received two awards from the National Academy of Sciences (NAST) Philippines during its 35th Annual Scientific Meeting last 10-11 July 2013 at the Manila Hotel: Outstanding Young Scientist (OYS) and Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) Prize. The NAST OYS award is “given to young Filipino scientists…who have made significant contributions to science and technology.” Dr. Guerrero is one of the nine awardees. The NAST TWAS Prize, on the other hand, “is an award given to outstanding young Filipino scientist by the Academy (NAST) and TWAS in the field of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, or Physics.” The TWAS award has the same age requirement as that of the OYS award. For the year 2013, the TWAS award was Dr. Raphael Guerrero:

 For 2013, the award is given to outstanding individual in the field of Physics. Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero of the Ateneo de Manila University was declared recipient of the said award, in recognition of his important studies on volume holographic storage and animation which offers a new holographic method for storing multiple pages of data in a nonlinear crystal and his works on the diffraction from relief gratings on a biomimetic elastomer cast from the carapace of a beetle found in Mindanao, Philippines, which have contributed significantly to the visibility of Philippine physics within the global community of scientists.

The other NAST OYS awardee is Dr. Liane Pena-Alampay of the Department of Psychology (see the related news story at the Loyola Schools website).  Below is an an interview with Dr. Raphael Guerrero by the Ateneo Physics News.

Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero in his office at the Photonics Laboratory in Faura Hall

Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero in his office at the Photonics Laboratory in Faura Hall

Question 1: Can you tell us more about the award?

I was awarded Outstanding Young Scientist by the NAST, the highest recognition and advisory body regarding S&T in the country. NAST is a body consisting of the premier minds of science in the Philippines. The President of the Philippines listens to the recommendations of NAST. The awarding process started July 11, 2013. Last November 2, the nomination forms and supporting documents were submitted for those who wish to get the award for 2013. The notification letters came by the fourth week of May. It was six months of waiting. There was a screening committee for the Outstanding Young Scientists. They asked me to submit other requirements: descriptions of scientific accomplishments and other stuff needed to get a background on what I do as a scientist.

Question 2. How long have you been in Ateneo?

I started teaching in the second semester of SY 2000-2001. That was 13 years ago. I had just received my master’s degree from UP that April. After a semester of being a research associate at NIP, I decided to give teaching a try. Back then, I walked up to the third floor. The chair was Dr. Holdsworth. I inquired about the possibility of teaching in the department. Luckily, the department was actually looking for an instructor. After submitted my documents, they gave me a load. My load was interesting: I taught all majors for Ps 171 (Classical Electrodynamics I), Ps 113 (Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics), and Ps 102 (Classical Mechanics II). Not bad for someone teaching for the first time.

I gave a demonstration lecture. I remember that Gemma Narisma, Ivan Culaba, Obiminda Cambaliza, and Joel Maquiling were part of the audience. We had not really met at that point in time. I gave a demo on diffraction from a slit. It was in F304. I did not notice anybody else or maybe I was scheduled at a different time. I’m not sure if there were other new faculty.

Question 3. What was your career background?

I went to UP Rural High School. It is the official high school of UP Los Baños located next door to my elementary school. After high school, I always wanted to go to UP Diliman. I applied for their Physics program at UP Diliman, a pure physics program. It was a five-year course. (I work mostly on Applied Physics these days.) In 1998, I entered the laser physics lab in my 3rd year doing work on photorefractive crystals. In that same year, I graduated after performing work on Bismuth Silicon Oxide type of photorefractive crystal requiring 5 kV applied voltage. It was the first demo of volume data storage in the Philippines. Back then, it was the best you can possibly do. Holography was still in infancy in the late 1990s. After graduation, I felt I learned nothing from my BS degree, so I took up master’s degree in UP Diliman. It took two years. Different crystals, but still on volume holography and Lithium Niobate. I obtained my masters degree in 2004. Getting a PhD was longer.

I took a break for a semester before proceeding to the PhD program in UP. I started the PhD program while teaching in Ateneo. I mostly teach a series of electives The biggest challenge was coming up with an original work published. After some awkward first few years of trying to find a suitable topic, I was able to publish an article on pattern recognition, still using Lithium Niobate and volume holography. It was accepted June 2004. I graduated with PhD in Physics in 2005. This was while I was teaching full time in Ateneo. In 4.5 years, a Ph.D. can be done full time.

After obtaining the third degree, I was no longer interest in postdoctoral study. It is not something programmed into me. I became busy improving the research capabilities of the Photonics Laboratory in Ateneo. In Physics, we can generate ISI-indexed publications.

I received funding from government over a course of several projects. Previously, the Photonics Laboratory was focused on optical fibers and semiconductor diode lasers. That was the laboratory I saw in 2001 which I inherited under Dr. Holdsworth. Today, the laboratory is mostly on elastomeric optics using PDMS or polydimethylsiloxane, commonly known as silicones. We also have the only working volume in holography set-up in the country. The technology was transplanted from the National Institute of Physics (NIP) to here at the Department of Physics of the Ateneo de Manila University.

In 2005, Ateneo made me assistant professor. No big deal, after getting your PhD. After four years of working and generating papers, I became Associate Professor in 2009, still teaching full time. And here we are in 2013–still teaching, still in the same office.

Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero with his family

Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero with his family

Question 4. What led you into physics?

My parents are trying to figure that one out. After the awarding, we were getting coffee and they were just talking, reminiscing whether there were any signs I would go into science. My father, Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III, is a famous man of science. He developed the method of increasing the productivity of the tilapia industry using the sex reversal technique. He is a legend. His science helped people get food. It is a really important piece of technology. My mother, of course, is a talented zoologist. These fields are loosely related to experimental physics.

I guess, when I was growing up, I remember my father going on trips giving lectures, seminars. Each time he would come home with a souvenir and a toy. All the toys are science-based. The rocket would be launched via water pressure. A He-Man flashlight which you pumped with your hand. There are also Chemistry toys, but I never liked chemistry. I had two telescopes. I had a lot of toys that deals with science in high school.

When we were choosing courses, I joked that that the hardest course in the list is UPCAT. Physics was good. Molecular Biology and Biotechnology were hot, really hot in early ‘90s, but people didn’t know what they were. Physics just sounded really good, so I went to UP Los Baños for Applied Physics. I saw the people working in the farm — that was not really inspiring to me. So I decided to pursue physics. Diliman was the flagship school of UP, the only UP branch that offered physics, and I really wanted to go to Diliman. UPLB was not cool enough for me.

And in the ‘90s, there was MacGyver. He was known for figuring out and solving problems and helping people. There was amazing physics in MacGyver. It was something to do, but in the end it was still a mystery. I don’t know why I went to this field. Interesting. Maybe it’s because people are impressed by physics majors, though scientists find that hard to believe.

Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero and his toy collection

Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero and his toy collection

Question 5. Can you tell us about your toys?

Well, they say men never really grow up. I might be the best example of that. Some men have sports cars as toys. Some guys a high-end computers. I just stuck with actual toys. My collection is not random. Some are based on comic characters I resonated with, on stories from Marvel and DC. Like growing up I bought toys and statuettes in some cases, portrayed them in some cases, because the stories are nice. Buying a toy is my way of commemorating how important they were to me growing up. Also with a regular salary, it is easier to buy toys. I was able to buy Voltes V in die-cast metal that I did not get one Christmas. Voltes-V costs a lot of money back then. It costs even more now. It was a lost opportunity; I could have bought it before. Anything that I find interesting that I can afford these days, I look for bargains. I also have a collection of comics in high school, and I never stopped. It has become a major investment in money and space. I have several shelves dedicated to graphic novels. The boxes of comic books increase in number every year. Cliché in Big Bang Theory. That is my life right there. Interesting hobby. Very interesting way to spend your time collecting mementos and reading these fantastic stories.

I give my students a false sense of security in PS1 and PS11. I always start the class with a broad description of physics — really interesting, such as Star Wars, using it after every sentence. that is the fun part of the semester: light sabers, star destroyers, or faster than light travel. They all have physics in them, but no syllabus. I find it really difficult to lecture physics. How I wish I could inject a Star Wars into every lecture. With both content and time constraint, this is not feasible.

6. You travel a lot?

Not as much as I would like to travel for free. I have been lucky having visited many countries because of my physics background–attending conferences, being invited or participating in a certain function. I have a checklist of countries. Egypt, 2008. I am specifically looking forward to a conference in Cairo. I found a military college in Egypt which gave me an excuse to visit Egypt, with support from the University. Subsidized conference expenses. It would be worth it to touch the great pyramids, inhale the dust of Giza Plateau. In Italy, Rome was nice. I was able to see the David sculpture of Michaelangelo. I was able to take a picture of – you are not supposed to do that. I went to Japan several times. US, of course, is my favorite destination for the shopping and for the sheer size of the conferences in optics. Largest Optics Cnference is the SPIE conference in San Diego. It runs for several days. The research areas in optics were vast, so vast that they have become subsections. The plenary talks were from Nobel laureates were humbling and inspiring. Just to mingle with those optical scientists proved inspiring.

Every year I try to go abroad. But I still have to go to Paris. I want to see the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Taj Mahal. I want to know what is like to travel in another Third World country. I want to go to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, though my wife is terrified of possibly catching diseases. I wish to go to the Great Wall of China. I have not seen in years.

Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero with his graduate and undergraduate thesis students at the Photonics Laboratory

Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero with his graduate and undergraduate thesis students at the Photonics Laboratory

7. Are there other things you wish to add?

I want to thank the department for providing me such a welcoming and supportive home for my professional career. Many faculty members here have become my close friends. I am lucky to be part of the faculty in Ateneo. Ateneo trusted me with a load of teaching these college kids. It feels like it’s a privilege and an honor to be part of this institution. I am very grateful to the Department of Physics, which really supported through these past thirteen years in my accomplishments, awards, publications, action figures, although all that would not have been possible without the support of the university.

8. What are you visions or plans for the Photonics Laboratory?

We talked about this, Pope (Quirino Sugon Jr.). I wish getting published in a journal were easier. Over the next five years, we will have every graduate thesis in Photonics translated in tons of ISI-indexed articles. I plan to translate these into articles this year for all of my graduate students. I would also like to increase the output of papers. Hopefully, we can increase the average number of paper published from one paper a year to two papers a year. I would like to apply for lots of big projects, or maybe buy bigger light sources and lasers and other equipment the lab needs to proceed with research output. I plan to increase publications output. Well, it is still the same goal I had five years ago.

9. Do you have any message to our physics students?

I wish you all the best! I hope physics is as good to you as it is to me. I have been very, very lucky that physics has had to do with my success up to this point, and I hope you will fully enjoy the adventure as physics majors as much as I did. Don’t lose hope! There is a future in physics. You just have to find it.

Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero and Dr. Liane Pena-Alampay with the administrators of Ateneo de Manila University

Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero and Dr. Liane Pena-Alampay with the administrators of NAST and Ateneo de Manila University

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About ateneophysicsnews
Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

One Response to Ateneo Physics faculty Dr. Raphael A. Guerrero is NAST Outstanding Young Scientist and TWAS Prize awardee for 2013

  1. Pingback: Guerrero and Oliva 2014: Optical wavelength tuning via actuation of a fluidic grating | ATENEO PHYSICS LABORATORIES

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