Ateneo Physics faculty Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr receives faculty fellowship at ICSWSE, Kyushu University


Dr. Akimasa Yoshikawa, Ms. Kayo Goto, Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr, and Prof. Kiyohumi Yumoto at the International Center for Space Weather Science and Education, Kyushu University, Ito Campus

Upon the invitation of Dr. Tohru Hada, Director of the International Center for Space Weather Science and Education (ICSWSE) at Kyushu University, Dr. Quirino Sugon  Jr. took a leave of absence from Upper Atmosphere Dynamics program of Manila Observatory and the Department of Physics of Ateneo de Manila University from 1 August 2016 to 30 April 2017 to work as Associate Professor at ICSWSE. Dr. Sugon’s stay at ICSWSE was made possible through the efforts of Dr. Akimasa Yoshikawa, the Principal Investigator of the MAGDAS (Magnetic Data Acquisition System) project, who serve as Dr. Sugon’s research supervisor.

Dr. Sugon’s research topic at Kyushu University is seismo-electromagnetics, the study of electromagnetic phenomena associated with earthquakes. This is essentially the same topic which Dr. Sugon, Dr. Felix Muga II, Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, SJ, and Fr. Sergio Su, SJ were awarded the  Loyola Schools Scholarly Research Grant this year: “Seismoelectromagnetics: Finding magnetic precursors of the 2010 Moro Gulf Quake using MAGDAS data.” The grant’s duration is from January 1 to December 2016. The grant funding of Php 300,000 was used for the 6-unit research deloading of Dr. Felix Muga II and the hiring of Christine Chan as Research Assistant.

Below is an interview with Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr. by Ateneo Physics News:

1. Did you have problems with getting out of the country?

Yes. I should have left last 1 July 2016 instead of 1 August 2016, but I got stopped at the Immigration Office at the Airport: I ticked off that I am an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW), but I could not show an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA). What I only have is the Certificate of Eligibility (COE) from the Japanese Embassy. OEC and COE sounds the same, so I thought they’re the same. So the Immigration officer sent me to POEA to get my OEC.

After informing the Secretary of ICSWSE, Ms. Goto Kayo, that I can’t leave because of Immigration problems, I went to POEA on the same day and asked for the requirements. There’s a list of about 10 documents to obtain. Essentially, all these requirements are meant to assure POEA the following: (1) I was really invited to work and not a TNT (Tago-ng-Tago), (2) the place where I plan to go is a legitimate business, (3) I am qualified for the position, (4) I am medically fit to work, and (5) I am documented as an OFW. The tough one to get was the labor contract certified by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) at Tokyo. Our secretary Goto-san took care of it. So I got all my documents and attended the Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS) at POEA. I am now a certified OFW. According to Evaluation Office at POEA, Postdoctorates are not classified as students but as workers, so those who plan to take postdoctorates abroad should really go through the same pre-departure process at POEA.

When I went back to the Immigration office at the end of July 2016, my name was removed from the blacklist and I finally boarded the plane.


Rurouni Sugon uses a Ryukansen technique of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu style to defeat a Ninja in Saga, Japan

2. Did you travel around Japan?

Not much. I once went to the Amazon Exhibit in the Fukuoka Museum with the family of my friend. The Museum is only a walking distance from my apartment in Fujisaki. During Sundays, I go to Daimyomachi Church at Tenjin station for the English mass at 4:00 p.m. or to the Japanese mass at 9:30 a.m. On weekdays, I go to Kyudai Gakkentoshi Station and ride a bus to the Kyushu University, Ito Campus. During weekends, I stay at home to write some research reports. If I’m free, I write in one of my personal blogs: Quirino Sugon Jr and Monk’s Hobbit. The former is a blog on the art of blogging and its related crafts–content marketing, social media, graphic design, creative writing, etc, while the latter is more on politics, religion, and literature. Blogging is my favorite past-time. I can spend hours tinkering with my blog fonts and colors. I also like to read and write long-form content not only for the sake of search engine optimization (SEO), but also to hone my writing craft. Writing is an art, but is also also a science that can be studied with a box of writing tools from Poynter Institute.

I go around Fukuoka City via subway trains. Japanese trains are amazing: they really come on the scheduled time, so you can plan your travel really well, especially if you are transferring from one train to another. To travel outside of Fukuoka, you can take the fast Shinkansen trains.

I first took the Shinkansen when I joined my colleagues at ICSWSE in going to the Ninja Village in Ureshino, Saga Prefecture. I got to wear a Ninja black costume with red sash. One of the Ninja masters lent me his sword and asked me to act as if I am chopping off his head. I was Naruto for a day: walking along a dusty street, throwing shurikens at walls, and visiting old Japanese houses. There is also a flat portrait of Our Lady carved in stone. Our secretary told me that it’s Maria. Perhaps it was carved centuries ago when Christianity was still persecuted in Japan. I have seen a similar portrait before in the Shimabara arc of Rurouni Kenshin (Samurai X).

The second time I took the Shinkansen was last week. I took a 5-hour trip to Tokyo, starting at 9:00 a.m. I arrived in Tokyo about 2 pm and I got lost in the train station. I went to the information booth and asked for the Nijubashimae station. The lady there gave me a map and marked the directions. I thought the blocks in the map are the stalls inside the station. it turns out that I have to go out of the station, walk 3 blocks, and take a subway via Chiyoda line. I was scheduled to give a research at at 3:30 pm at the Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development (AOARD) , a US funding agency that supports basic research.  I arrived there at 3:45 pm and gave my presentation at 4:00-5:00 pm. It was the same presentation I made in Kyushu University in 1 Nov 2016 on the measurement of the height of Equatorial Electrojet using MAGDAS magnetometers. After my presentation, I took the same subway line as before and rode the Shinkansen at 6:00 pm. I checked the train schedules in the Shinkansen website and realized that I took the wrong train! it was bound for Okayama and not Hakata in Fukuoka. So I went off the train at the first station and changed train for Hakata. I arrived about 11:20 pm in Hakata and took another subway back to Fujisaki. I arrived before 12 midnight, just like Cinderella.

The Tokyo trip was life-changing for me. Terrifying would be a better word. After my Tokyo trip, I felt that I can already travel around Japan, even as far as Sapporo and Hokkaido in the North. Maybe someday, but not yet.

3. What’s your favorite dish?

I don’t know most of the names of what I am eating. I usually eat in the cafeteria and I survive by just pointing my fingers on pictures. I like boiled pork strips, fried flat fish, and miso soup. At home, I cook my own food. I have a rice cooker. One of my favorite recipes are chicken liver, heart, and gizzard boiled with onions in sushi vinegar and toyo–something like Filipino adobo, but I add mushrooms. Other recipes are essentially based on boiling fish, pork, or beef with onions, then add leafy vegetables. I finish cooking in 10 to 15 minutes. I avoid preserved foods because I’m already an old man.


Daimyomachi church in Tenjin, Fukuoka

4. How’s your Japanese?

Sumimasen, my Japanese is terrible. I can’t even talk with a 6 year-old who already knows how to ask me “How are you?” in English. During our lunch at the office, I only try to guess what my colleagues are talking about based on a few familiar words accompanied by their hand gestures. Sometimes our secretary would explain to me what they are talking about. I really need to learn Japanese, because my boss, Prof. Yoshikawa challenged me by saying, “Sugon san, I will only speak to you in Japanese.” Also, the doctor of Kyushu University who interviewed me during my medical tests told me, “Next time, when you come back, you should speak Nihonggo.” Hopefully, I can focus learning Japanese this Christmas break. If Nodame can learn French by watching anime with Japanese translations, maybe I can learn Japanese, too.

Recently, I bought a Japanese Hymnal for the mass so that I can learn to read Hiragana and Katakana while plucking the notes in my guitar.I also bought an Order of the Mass in 6 languages: Japanese, Romaji, English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Filipino. I attended the Japanese mass last Sunday and noted the Hymn numbers they use. Next Sunday, hopefully I can already join the singing and participate more in the Japanese mass.

5. Have you published your research?

Not yet. I spent the whole of August doing a literature survey, reading on magnetic measurements of space weather activity, and building my library of pdfs that I store in my Google Drive. I may not be able to access these pdfs in the Philippines, so it is best to store them now. I’m using a name_year_title filing convention. The Google Scholar Chrome extension has been a great tool for me for building up my bibliography.

In September and October, I did my computations while writing my manuscript in LATEX, a programming language for typesetting mathematical paper which is based on the principle, “What you see is what you want.” LATEX does the hard work for you in creating the bibliography, numbering the equations, positioning the figures, and formatting the document, so you concentrate on writing the content. For my computations, I’m still a paper and pen guy, though recently I discovered that I can perform complicated triple integrals using MATHEMATICA, a computer algebra system from Wolfram Research that my research supervisor, Yoshikawa sensei, gave me a license to use. Most of theoretical physics research is essentially accounting for the variables and signs as you go from one computational step to another. If a software like Mathematica can do this faster, then so much the better. I can then focus on checking out whether the equations make sense, by checking the assumptions used in the computation or finding the limits as one variable goes to zero or infinity.

In November, I wrote some reports for the ISWI Newsletter. ISWI is the International Space Weather Initiative, “a program of international cooperation to advance the space weather science by a combination of instrument deployment, analysis and interpretation of space weather data from the deployed instruments in conjunction with space data, and communicate the results to the public and students.” The Manila Observatory manages several ISWI stations: 6 MAGDAS magnetometers, 3 SCINDA receivers, and 2 AMBER magnetometers.

This December, I made a research presentation at the AOARD office in Tokyo. The LS Scholarly Grant report on our Seismo-electromagnetics work on the Moro Gulf Quake will be submitted this week. It has some promising results, but we still need a few more months to finish the article, which is the primary reason why I came here in Kyushu University. Making a claim that we can predict earthquakes from magnetic field measurements is audacious, so we need to be very prudent and exhaust all sources of errors using all statistical techniques that we can think of. We are now extending the scope of the project from 23 July 2010 to the whole of 23-30 July 2010 when 31 earthquakes occurred in Moro Gulf. After this, we’ll extend further to the remaining 10 earthquakes in 2010 in the same area. Hopefully, this would give us more sample events to test our theories.

6. How big is the data that you are working on?

Big data is now the buzzword in business and technology:

Big data is a term for data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate to deal with them. Challenges include analysis, capture, data curation, search, sharing, storage, transfer, visualization, querying, updating and information privacy. The term “big data” often refers simply to the use of predictive analytics, user behavior analytics, or certain other advanced data analytics methods that extract value from data, and seldom to a particular size of data set.[2] “There is little doubt that the quantities of data now available are indeed large, but that’s not the most relevant characteristic of this new data ecosystem.” (Wikipedia: Big Data)


Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr before an Maple tree in Autumn at Kyushu University

In seismo-electromagnetics research, we are also processing big data: we have a database of 1-second resolution 3-dimensional magnetic data from 5-6 stations for 5 years, which can run to a total of about 3 GB. Well, the size may be small compared to terabytes (1,024 GB) of business data for consumer analytics, but 3 GB cannot anymore be handled by MS Excel or Google Spreadsheets. We also have no clear cut idea on what type of magnetic anomalies we are looking for, so we try out different anomaly detection techniques for different variables and see if the anomalies can be explained by the physics that we know.

We store our data in terabyte data storage discs. Then we use PANDAS (Python Data Analysis Library)PANDAS (Python Data Analysis Library) to extract the information that we need. I don’t know much about Python programming, except the basics of what it can do, so that I can talk with Dr. Muga and Christine Chan on how the algorithm may be implemented in PANDAS. We usually meet every Wednesday for one hour of audio call in Skype starting at 12:00 noon, Philippine time. Sometimes I got confused since Japan is one hour ahead. But I am glad that modern technology has made research collaboration easier for scientists working at different countries, so that it does not really matter much whether I am at Manila Observatory or in Kyushu University.

There’s a Python meeting in Ateneo de Manila University this January 2017. Christine and Dr. Muga are helping out in the logistics for this event. The Upper Atmosphere Dynamics Program of Manila Observatory, for its part, made a commitment to use Python. Python has clean syntax, powerful string operators, and extensive libraries. It’s open-source. We don’t pay anything for using it. Hopefully, next year, we can begin using the Python module pyglow for space weather research:

pyglow is a Python module that wraps several upper atmosphere climatoglogical models written in FORTRAN, such as the Horizontal Wind Model (HWM), the International Geomagnetic Reference Field (IGRF), the International Reference Ionosphere (IRI), and the Mass Spectrometer and Incoherent Scatter Radar (MSIS).

7. Any parting words?

Seismo-electromagnetics is an emerging field and scientists are looking for anomalies not only beneath the earth, but high above in the ionosphere, so that tools for studying the ionosphere–magnetometers, ionosondes, GPS receivers, and satellites–are also used for finding electromagnetic precursors of earthquakes hours or days before the quake. Next year, China National Space Administration and the Italian Space Agency shall launch the China Seismo-electromagnetic Satellite:

CSES (China Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite) is a scientific mission dedicated: to monitoring electromagnetic field and waves, plasma and particles perturbations of the atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetosphere induced by natural sources and anthropocentric emitters; and to study their correlations with the occurrence of seismic events. More in general, CSES mission will investigate the structure and the dynamic of the topside ionosphere, the coupling mechanisms with the lower and higher plasma layers and the temporal variations of the geomagnetic field, in quiet and disturbed conditions. Data collected by the mission will also allow studying solar-terrestrial interactions and phenomena of solar physics, namely Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), solar flares and cosmic ray solar modulation.

So what we are doing is not a far-fetched idea. Others have invested more time and resources on seismo-electromagnetics research. The race is on.


Top left: International Center for Space Weather Science and Education (ICSWSE). Top right: Administration Office and West Wing Building. Bottom left: Library. Bottom right: Campus map of Kyushu University, Ito Campus.


About quirinosugonjr
Physics professor and corporate blogger

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