Ateneo Physics Department to hold its 50th Anniversary on Oct 10, 2015: An interview with Event Coordinator Johanna Indias


One Big Bang: Ateneo Physics Department at 50

by Quirino Sugon Jr

The Department of Physics of Ateneo de Manila University shall hold its 50th Anniversary on October 10, 2015. The anniversary’s theme is One Big Bang, a reference to the One Big Fight of the Ateneo Cheer and to the Big Bang theory which, according to Fr. Georges Lemaitre in 1927,  describes the creation of the universe from a point of intense density and temperature. An invitation letter has already been sent to the Physics alumni through the Office of University Development and Alumni relations. The letter was dated 1 September 2015 and signed by Dr. James Simpas, Chair of the Department of Physics, and Ms. Johanna Mae Indias, Head of the Organizing Committee for the 50th Anniversary Celebrations. The letter reads:

Dear Graduate,

The Department of Physics of Ateneo de Manila University is celebrating its Golden Anniversary this year. As we commemorate this milestone, we would like to invite you to a big gathering of the people who have journeyed with us in the past 50 years.

Come home to Ateneo. Reconnect with your former classmates, colleagues, and frinds. Listen to testimonials and stories of some of our distinguished alumni, fellow faculty, and beloved Jesuits. Join us for dinner and reminisce the years.

Attached is the program of activities for our 50th Anniversary celebration on October 10, 2015. Please click on the provided link by September 20, 2015 to know more about the event and to confirm your attendance.

The Physics homecoming shall feature interactive demos by Mr. Ivan Culaba, talks by distinguished alumni from different decades, a Holy Mass with Fr. Jett Villarin, SJ at the College Chapel, and a Dinner Program at the MVP Roofdeck. Here is the draft program of activities:

10 October 2015

  • 2:30 pm-3:00 pm Registration. Venue: Science Education Complex B Foyer
  • 3:00 pm-3:00 pm Physics Interactive Demos. Presenter: Mr. Ivan Culaba. Venue: PLDT Faber Hall 101
  • 3:30 pm-6:00 pm Talks from Alumni. Venue: Faber Hall 101Room 105
  • 3:30 pm-4:00 pm Speaker: Dr. Gregory L. Tangonan
  • 4:00 pm-4:30 pm Speaker: To be confirmed
  • 4:30 pm-4:45 pm Break
  • 4:45 pm-5:15 pm Speaker: To be confirmed
  • 5:15 pm-5:45 pm Speaker: Mr. Adler G. Santos
  • 6:00 pm-7:00 pm Holy Mass. Presider: Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin, SJ. Venue: College Chapel
  • 7:30 pm-9:00 pm Dinner and Evening Program. Venue: MVP Center for Student Leadership Roofdeck

There is no entrance fee, but registration at EventBrite is required. This holds for the alumni, former members of the department, undergraduate and graduate students, current faculty and staff.

Below is an interview last September 11, 2015 with Ms. Johanna Indias, Instructor of the Department of Physics and Head of the Organizing Committee for the 50th Anniversary Celebrations:


One Big Bang with Ateneo de Manila University seal

1. What shall happen on Oct 10, 2015?

There will be a celebration of the Physics Department’s past 50 years. To commemorate the event, a series of talks of alumni across batches will happen in the afternoon. There will also be interactive standing demos by Mr. Ivan Culaba and exhibits of the work done by each laboratory in the past years. In the evening, we’ll have dinner with our current students, alumni, and other important people who worked in the department. We also invited two keynote speakers: (1) Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, SJ who has been here since 1950’s and (2) Dr. John Ong who used his knowledge and skills physicist to help society. 

The event is a celebration as we look back and and look forward. It’s a grand big reunion for our alumni. It is also a chance for our current students to meet up with them to see future possibilities and to learn their heritage from the history of the department.

2. Are you one-woman team?

I have undergraduate students: the Executive board of Ateneo LeaPs (League of Physicists), and  other hardworking volunteers. Mike Jallorina is doing an amazing job of taking care of the logistics. We also have other faculty members–Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr and Dr. Christian Mahinay. It’s a manageable team. I don’t need a lot of people. Under them are the volunteers in charge of small matters. The team is a mixture of faculty members and current undergraduate students.

3. What has your team accomplished so far?

Everything thing has been taken care of apart from the confirmation of the attendance of guest speakers and video presentation on the evolution of the department from 1950s to its current state. Making the video  is the biggest problem. It is not easy to research of history of the department . There are decades with no written material, such as the 1970s to 1990s. We may be able to fill in the gaps through our interviews with key persons.

4. Can you give us an outline of the department’s history?

The Big Bang of the Physics Department began some time in 1960s. I’m not sure exactly when. I only know that Physics was a subdepartment of the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. In the 1950s, the Physics subdepartment was offering service courses for those taking engineering classes. The BS Physics course of the department first came out in 1963 copy of the BOI (Bulletin of Information) Course Catalogue of College of Arts and Sciences. From my list, the first BS Physics graduate appeared in 1968. Dr. Greg Tangonan graduated in 1969. But I think there were others who finished much earlier. We know that Fr. Daniel McNamara, SJ took some MS Physics units here. Maybe, there was at least a graduate or two who finished MS Physics before 1968. And then the next thing I know was already in the 1980s. The department then was in Gonzaga Building. When Faura hall was finished in 1980s, the department moved here. It was during that decade that the department offered the BS Physics and Computer Engineering (BS Ps CE) double degree program. This was started by Fr. Daniel Mcnamara, SJ. In the late 1990s, the  Science Education Complex (SEC) was built. In early 2001, the physics laboratory in the complex was renamed as the Tecson Laboratories.

The BS Ps-CE double degree program officially ended in 2004, with the last batch of graduates in 2007. At that time, it was the new ECCE (Electronics, Communications, and Computer Engineering) Department which offered the BS Computer Engineering program. The ECCE department branched off from the Physics Department sometime in the 2000s when the College of Arts and Sciences became the Loyola Schools.. Since then, the BS Ps CE became know as the BS Physics with Applied Computer Systems (BS Ps-ACS).  After a while, the department offered the BS Physics with Materials Science Engineering (BS Ps MSE).

So far, these are the only things that I know.  It’s still very vague. The students who are taking the videos of the interviews with the alumni, faculty, and staff would be able to tell you more about the history of the department.

5. Have you checked the yearbooks?

We have photographed all the pictures of our alumni in the yearbooks. There was no monumental thing about the physics department that we read in Guidon.  Yes, the Physics Department became the Center of Excellence sometime in late 1990s, but it was not written there.


Ms. Johanna Indias crowned with Laurels during her graduation in MS Physics at University of Trento last March 27, 2014. (Photo by Danica Hilyn)

6. When were you appointed as head of the 50th Anniversary Committee?

I was not appointed. I grabbed the task.  I haven’t heard of any alumni reunion or get together organized by the department just to keep track of its graduates. The alumni are good sources of information on what are the graduates can do after taking up an undergraduate degree in Physics or what industry they can go into.

That is why I want the department to organize a big event to help us know our graduates more. Our contact with our alumni is important. The greatest achievement of the department is in the education Physics majors. We’ve always been more of a teaching department than a research department. So why don’t we keep track of our graduates?  The School of Management is successful in getting funds because they are in constant communication with their graduates. We don’t have that yet. I want the celebration of the department 50th anniversary to be the starting point for such contact.

Actually, it may not really be the 50th Anniversary. The department started as a kitchen in 1952, plus or minus a few years. Our first BS Physics graduate was in 1968, but the first BOI publication was in 1963. That’s really more than 50 years ago.

6. When did you start teaching?

I became part of the Department of Physics beginning summer 2003, as a physics undergraduate. I shifted from English Literature. Fr. Daniel McNamara SJ was the chair then, followed by Dr. Jerrold Garcia. I finished in 2007. I worked in Ateneo High School until 2009. Then I transferred here and taught physics at the college level until First Semester 2011. I got an opportunity to do MS Physics in Università degli Studi di Trento. I came back in 2014 and started teaching in the department in the first semester last year

7. What did you do in University of Trento?

My track was in Medical and Biological Physics. I basically worked on nanocellulose biomaterial under the Biophysics Laboratory. I got to study there through an Erasmus Mundus scholarship.

It was so providential. I felt like Heidi in Trento. The door opens to a view of the mountains.. Wherever you look is like a postcard. Once you’re there, you cannot think of anything else but contemplate the beautiful view. Trento is the capital of Trentino – an Italian regionclose to the Austrian border. The region is famous for the Dolomites (the Italian Alps). You can’t do anything there after 9:00 in the evening. And unlike university setting where we have a one big campus for everyone, the Faculty there is scattered all over the city. The Faculty of Science is on hilltop. The Faculty of Engineering, the Faculty of Economics, and the Faculty of Law are in downtown. It’s not a one big campus.

In Italy, when you go to a university, you do not do anything else but academics. Any extra curricular work like sports or hobbies that are not related to your studies you do outside the university. They don’t have an avenue for these unlike here in Ateneo where we have inter-university competitions and org life. Universities in Italy are devoted to research and actual study. That was boring for me initially. I missed the vibrant life in Manila, but I got used to watching the beautiful view outside, doing good research, and contemplating about things.

8. Did you ever think of coming back here in Manila when you arrived there in Trento?

Initially, yes. I wished to go back. It’s is a cultural difference. In Ateneo, whenever we have foreign students, we usher them. But when I arrived in Trento, nobody picked me up in the airport. When I went to the university, not everyone knows how to speak in English. I’m the only Filipino there. My classmates are all Italians. It was a conscious choice on my part to embrace the experience. After 6 months, I was already so happy there.

My first Christmas in Italy was happy and yet sad. More than my birthday, Christmas is the main issue. Apart from that everything is fine. I embraced the process. I felt Trento was already my second home to the point didn’t anymore want to come home.

I came home during the Summer here, April 27, 2014. In Italy, it was still Spring time. In Manila, it was 30 degrees Celsius with lots of humidity. After exiting the airplane, I wanted to book a flight back because i was drowning in humidity–my main reason for not being enthusiastic in going back to the country. After 2.5 years, I felt I was already a native of Trento. Then I went home to something I have not been fully in contact with for a few years.


Johanna Indias and Dr. Reese Macabebe in front of Lago di Toblino and the Italian Alps. Dr. Macabebe is an Assistant Professor of the ECCE Department of Ateneo de Manila University. (Photo by Dr. Reese Macabebe, November 11,2 011)

9. Any plans of taking a PhD in Physics?

I wish to get a PhD, preferably in Europe. The transportation system there is amazing. Travelling there is so much easier. And yes, I want the PhD mainly for myself and not because it is a requirement in the academe. I am not sure if I still wish to pursue nanocellulose or do something else like medical physics. If I take my PhD in Biophysics, I prefer to go to Scandinavian countries. The raw materials are there–you have the trees. On the other hand, if I take the Medical Physics track, there are only quite a few facilities in Europe. Maybe I can go to Medical Imaging, but not on radiation treatment of cancer. Last Aug 19, I went to Medical City to visit my batchmate, Czarina Devilleres. She took her MS in Medical Physics in UST and ever since she has been working in a hospital setting. I asked her for a tour of the Medical Physics that she is doing in a hospital. After listening to her, I don’t think I can handle working with people who may not be here in a few months time. Medical imaging is ok for me, since I won’t be helping them by zapping out their tumors.

I wish to take a PhD in Medical Physics because Ateneo has a School of Medicine right across Medical City. Right now there is only one university that I know which offers Medical Physics and it’s UST. We can take advantage of this by offering a program on Medical Physics to increase the number of physicists in the country. I think we have 100 Physicists per several millions of Filipinos. I don’t know the exact number. But we need more institutions offering Medical Physics. In Ateneo we don’t yet have someone who has a Phd in Medical Physics.  This is lamentable  since it’s amazing how Physics works in the human body.

10. Why did you choose the theme One Big Bang?

Funny. We were thinking of a theme at that time. We needed a working theme around which we can arrange the program for the event. We were thinking of possible physics jargons which we can use as a pun for our theme. I initially thought of singularity, because the main purpose of the event is a meeting, a reunion, a one big event. This fits the physics concept of singularity. I shared the idea to my sister who is majoring in design. She asked me, “What is a singularity?” I told her why that is a point in space and time which exploded and created the whole universe in the process, though what happens before that explosion we cannot describe mathematically. It is just like we know what happens outside the black hole, outside the event horizon, but not what happens inside it. And she said, “Why don’t you use Big Bang idea?” Well, we have One Big Fight as a cheer. Perhaps, One Big Bang is a good idea: it’s celebratory and Big Bang implies a timeline of the universe–our universe, the department of Physics. Our department’s history began with memories of Fr. Francis Glover, SJ and Fr. Daniel McNamara, SJ. And our history has been a continuously expanding entity like the Big Bang. From this primordial event of our beginnings we look back on our wonderful past and gaze at our glorious future. The One Big Bang theme really fits.

11. Any parting thoughts?

The Physics department has to look for avenues to invest in its students and alumni, not just financially. The department continues to exist because of its students–more than because of our research. We now have 36 Freshmen students. For the department to continue to flourish, we need to invest in them. And one way to do that is through this event, this one meeting of students and alumni. This is the reason why we didn’t ask for entrance fee for the dinner. Well, we could have used the entrance fee to raise funds for the Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, SJ Endowment Fund. I said no to the entrance fee idea: the department has not done anything yet to convene the alumni. This event is a good opportunity to meet them. We need to invest in our graduates. Physics is not a popular choice in college. We need graduates to help us move forward, to fund more scholars through the McNamara Fund, and to inspire our current students to pursue physics even though it is not as popular as business courses.

The School of Management is doing a good job in taking care of its graduates even if there are hundreds of them who graduate every year. We only graduate a few bunch in Physics. We need to promote our graduates; otherwise, we shall dwindle in society.

My main motivation for organizing the event is for the department to invest in it alumni. That is why I invite our current students to work in the project. If they do something for the department, they would be attached to the department. And they would have something to look back on apart from their physics subjects after their graduation. They are our future graduates. We need to invest in them. They shall be the one who shall celebrate the department’s 75th and 100th anniversaries. I really wish that they will call the department as their second home in Ateneo, because they spent their four to five years here.


Johanna Indias with her classmates during their visit at the Trento Proton Therapy Center last May 28, 2012. (Photo by Johanna Indias)


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Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

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