Ateneo Physics faculty Dr. Gemma Narisma appointed as next Executive Director of Manila Observatory


Dr. Gemma Teresa T. Narisma, 12th Director of Manila Observatory (Photo courtesy of Manila Observatory)

In a memo dated 24 October 2017, Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin, Chair of the Board of Trustees of Manila Observatory, announced the appointment of Dr. Gemma Teresa T. Narisma as the incoming Executive Director to serve for a three-year term from 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2020. Dr. Narisma currently serves as Associate Director for Research and Head of the Regional Climate Systems Program of Manila Observatory, while teaching as Associate Professor at the Department of Physics of the School of Science and Engineering in Ateneo de Manila University.  As Fr. Villarin noted:

Dr Narisma earned her BS in Applied Physics and MSc in Environmental Science degrees from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She received her PhD in Atmospheric Science from the Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. She later joined the Centre for Sustainability and the Global Environment) SAGE at the University of Wisconsin, Madison as Research Associate. For her exemplary contributions to science, she was awarded NAST Outstanding Young Scientist in Atmospheric Science in 2012 and the TOWNS Foundation Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service in 2013.

Recently, Dr. Narisma was featured in a children’s book, Beyond the Storm, which is part of the Women of Science series written by Dr. Ma. Mercedes T. Rodrigo, a Professor of the Department of Information Science and Computer Systems (DISCS) of Ateneo de Manila University. The Women of Science series was published by Bookmark, Inc. and was launched at the Rizal Library of Ateneo de Manila University last 20 May 2017.

Dr. Narisma shall succeed Dr. Antonio La Viña who was appointed last 6 October 2017. In his Facebook page, Director La Vina wrote that Dr. Narisma shall be the 12th Director of Manila Observatory starting from 1865:

I am the 11th and Gemma is the 12th director in 152 years of continuing research, unbroken even by revolutions (1896, 1986) and two world wars. Out of the 12, four have been lay persons. The other two are Santiago Simpas and my immediate predecessor Toni Yulo-Loyzaga.

Aside from Padre Faura, other legendary scientists have worked in the Observatory: Fr. Jose Algue, SJ, who followed Faura, is also commemorated through a Tondo street; Fr. Manuel Selga, SJ, who relinquished his Spanish citizenship to continue to work in the Philippines; and Fr. Francis Hayden, SJ, whose work is honored by Georgetown University who has named its Observatory for him.

More recently, Fathers Francis Glover, Victor Badillo, Dan McNamara, Peter Walpole, and Jett Villarin, all Jesuits, worked in or led MO. Currently, Fr. Sergio Su, healthy and still as sharp as ever at 95 years old, is the only Jesuit working full time with us. What was once a vibrant Jesuit community of scientist-priests is now a group of lay scientists, majority of whom are women and many in their 20s and 30s. We are now working to transform this group to a strong Ignatian community dedicated to do science that matters for the country and especially the poor, motivated by a desire to do our work on climate change and disaster risk science excellently for the greater glory of God.

“As a scientist-leader, Dr Narisma is expected to execute the strategic plans of the Observatory and to ensure its maximum impact and sustainability in the next ten years,” wrote Fr. Villarin, SJ.


Brain-on-a-chip for understanding cortical circuit formation and function: a talk by Dr. Vincent Daria of Australian National University

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by Marienette Morales Vega

The Department of Physics would like to invite you to the talk “Brain-on-a-chip for understanding cortical circuit formation and function” by Dr. Vincent Daria, Group Leader of Neurophotonics Laboratory at the Eccles Institute of Neuroscience of Australian National University to be held on 17 July 2017, Monday, 11:00 a.m. at CTC 118.

Title: Brain-on-a-chip for understanding cortical circuit formation and function


We aim to understand the formation and function of brain circuits by growing neurons on nanostructured semiconductor devices (a.k.a. Brain-on-a-chip). We artificially grow brain cells on a semiconductor wafer patterned with nanowire scaffolds. From a fundamental perspective, we aim to investigate the structural significance of nanoscale topographies for guiding neurite outgrowth. To correlate the circuit function on the neurons grown on-a-chip with that of certain areas in the brain, we need to analyse the function of single neurons and population of neurons forming circuits in living mammalian brain slices and that of an intact rodent brain. To achieve this, we use novel photonic technologies not only to visualize these neurons but also to stimulate and record neuronal activity to understand the input/output transfer function of neurons and circuits. Understanding neuronal and circuit function is in itself a grand challenge and has attracted major research thrusts worldwide. Hence, correlating the input-output transfer function of neuronal of circuits from both living brain and that of neurons grown on-a-chip can lead to new insights on how the brain functions during learning, memory and information processing.

About the Speaker

Vincent Daria earned his PhD in Applied Physics from Osaka University, Japan. From 2001 to 2004 he pursued postdoctoral work at the Risoe National Laboratory (Denmark) where their group pioneered the use of dynamic multi-beam optical tweezers for manipulating arrays of microscopic objects and cells simultaneously. From 2004, he established a research group at the University of the Philippines to work on ultrafast lasers in combination with spatial light encoding for multi-beam optical tweezers combined with non-linear optical processes. Such technique was applied to fs-laser surgery and manipulation of cells and 3D holographic micro-fabrication via photopolymerization. In 2007, he joined the physics department at the Australian National University (ANU) where they initially designed a unique microscope capable of probing living cells and neurons in the brain. In 2010, Dr. Daria moved his laboratory to the John Curtin School of Medical Research to fully engage their collaboration with neuroscientists and apply their holographic two-photon microscope for simultaneous photostimulation of synapses and multi-site Ca2+ imaging of neuronal networks in living brain tissue. The success of this venture enabled the group’s expansion where they continuously received highly competitive funding from the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council. He is currently the group leader of the Neurophotonics Laboratory at the Eccles Institute of Neuroscience at ANU. He continues to teach optics and laser courses as well as maintain collaborations with researchers from the Research School of Physics and Engineering at ANU.

Marienette Morales Vega, Ph. D.
Assistant Professor, Physics Department
Materials Science Laboratory
Head, NanoSpectroscopy Group
Ateneo de Manila University
Faura Hall 318

Beyond the Storm: a children’s book about Dr. Gemma Narisma


Dr. Ma. Mercedes Rodrigo (left) and Dr. Gemma Teresa T. Narisma (right) together with a poster showing the book covers of the Women of Science Series published by Bookmark.

by Quirino Sugon Jr.

Dr. Gemma Teresa T. Narisma, Associate Professor of the Physics Department of Ateneo de Manila University and Associate Director for Research at Manila Observatory, was featured in a children’s book, Beyond the Storm, which is part of the Women of Science series written by Dr. Ma. Mercedes T. Rodrigo, a Professor of the Department of Information Science and Computer Systems (DISCS) of Ateneo de Manila University. The Women of Science series was published by Bookmark, Inc. and was launched at the Rizal Library of Ateneo de Manila University last 20 May 2017.

Illustrated in color by George Vincent Bien, a graduate of BS in Digital Illustration and Animation from Ateneo de Naga University, the 20-page children’s book tells the story of Dr. Narisma and her adventures in Naga City. Doing regional climate projections computer simulations is easy for her; making ordinary people understand the significance of her work to their daily lives as farmers is more difficult. A computer bug can be found. But finding the right weather conditions that led to the loss of entire rice fields due to the sudden rise of black bugs is not as straightforward. As Dr. Didith Rodrigo wrote in her book, Beyond the Storm:

“Putting down the phone, Gemma thought about the road ahead. Helping this community would be difficult. She needed the help of other scientists, other researchers. She needed to reach out to local government, communities, and the organizations that worked with them. She needed to train the younger researchers to help her, to make sure the research continues and grows. She took a deep breath. Her work has just begun.”

The book’s cover shows a woman in blue dress wielding a shield and a sword, facing the billowing and bellowing clouds trying to blow her away in a storm. But there she still stood: slender as her steel blade, strong as her shield. And we wonder who this woman was. What distant place and time did she come from? Can she calm the sea and the storm?

“You look so pretty, courageous, and ready for battle, anak,” Gemma’s mother told her after seeing the book’s cover.

Gemma smiled, as she narrated her mom’s words in strong Visayan accent during her response at the launch of the Women of Science series at Rizal Library. Gemma is from Davao and she speaks Visayan or Cebuano.

“I am so grateful to Didith who gave my mom such happiness,” Gemma said. “Thank you Didith for featuring my story–our work on climate disaster risk.” She glanced at Dr. Didith Rodrigo on her left, sitting with other featured women scientists before a long table covered with white cloth. Across them was a crowd of students, staff, faculty, and friends sitting on white monoblock chairs. Behind the audience was the entrance to the venue flanked by Bookmark’s registration booth to the right and a shelf of children’s books further to the left. Near the shelf was a glass wall, a window to a gloomy gray world drenched with rain.

“The planet is not well,” Gemma continued. “As most of you know well, the climate is changing worse than expected. In a sense, we look for the planet’s vital signs as what we do when we have fever. How bad is it going to be? Will Mindanao have a higher temperature than Luzon? Will some parts of the Philippines be dehydrated or inundated? To see these effects in detail, we use climate models. We don’t make rampa. Rather, we use computers to translate equations into figures to allow us to see how the changing climate will affect our country.

“We are very vulnerable. We have to act in a way that is guided by scientific information to protect ourselves from climate change. It is important to know the right dosage of medicine given. Without scientific data, we might not adapt in a very good way. The dosage may not be right–we may overdose or underdose. So we do the number crunching, run our models, and look at observation data.

“I like the title, Beyond the Storm. We have to look beyond the storm and work hard. We have to be inspired, hopeful, and engaged. This series of books is such a source of inspiration to do scientific work. We need collective solutions and science plays a big role. For Didith to write a children’s book to inspire future climate scientists is amazing. I really thank her for featuring my story–our story–the story of all the women featured in this collection. I hope these books inspire a more women to do science in the Philippines.”

Beyond the Storm: a Story about Gemma Narisma written by Dr. Didith Rodrigo is now available at Loyola Schools Bookstore for Php 120.

Women of Science children’s book series launched at Rizal Library


From left to right: Dr. Hilconida Calumpong, Dr. Angela Nina Ann R. Ingle, Dr. Gemma Teresa T. Narisma, Jurgette Honculada (for Dr. Jurgenne Primavera), Dr. Consolacion Ragaza, Dr. Ma. Louise Antonette de las Penas, Dr. Ma. Mercedes Rodrigo, Mikhaila Aldaba, Joreen Navarro, Gabi Dimaranan, Ma. Montessa Realista during the closing ceremony of the Women of Science children’s book launch last 20 June 2017, 5:00 pm, at the Rizal Library of Ateneo de Manila University.

by Quirino Sugon Jr and Socorro Margarita T. Rodrigo

Last 20 June 2017, a children’s book series on Women of Science by Dr. Didith Rodrigo was launched at the 5th floor Rizal Library of Ateneo de Manila University. About 80 people attended the event. The book series launch featured was graced by administrators from Ateneo de Manila University, Bookmark Incorporated, the National Development Board. The book series author Dr. Didith Rodrigo gave a response, together with some of the featured women scientists and the book illustrators.  Socorro Rodrigo, the daughter of Dr. Rodrigo and a BS Physics graduate of Ateneo de Manila University, served as the program’s emcee. After the Closing Remarks, the book signing followed with a dinner.

Below is a summary of the proceedings during the book launch.

A. Opening Remarks


Left: Fr. Jett Villarin, SJ, President of Ateneo de Manila University, gives a Welcome message during the launch of the Women of Science children’s book series. Right: The audience during the book launch at Rizal Library.

The program started at 5:00 p.m. The Opening Remarks was given by Anna Maria Delfin, General Manager of Bookmark, Inc, the publisher of the Women of Science Series. She was followed by Fr. Jett Villarin, President of Ateneo de Manila University, who gave the Welcome Message.

B. Message from the National Book Development Board

Anthony John Balisi, Director I of the National Book Development Board, talked about how the board’s science and technology grants provides support for Filipino authors, such as Didith Rodrigo, to publish their new or unfinished manuscripts. He noticed that there is a general lack of female scientist role models in the Philippines. He hoped that the Women in Science book series would inspire young boys and girls to pursue science careers. The National Book Development Board was created during the Presidency of Fidel V. Ramos in 1995 through R.A. 8047, also known as The Book Publishing Industry Development Act.

C. Overview of the Women of Science Series

Dr. Didith Rodrigo, the author of the Women in Science Series, gave an overview of the Women of Science children’s book series. She said that unlike TV and movie celebrities, scientists are not given air time of comparable scale. The book series, therefore, fills this need by featuring women have done so much as scientists and published researchers or as leaders in Philippine institutions. The series aims to make the science accessible without dumbing it down.  She added that if she were still a student, she would have chosen one of these 10 women as mentor.

D. Message from some of the artists

Joreen Navarro, Creative Officer at Works of Heart Creatives Inc. and illustrator of Chemical Romance, said that she doesn’t really do drawing gigs, but changed her mind when she read about the story about how Dr. Connie Ragasa contributes to studies on cancer.

Gabi Dimaranan, illustrator of Cave Dweller, said she loves nature and enjoyed illustrating the story of Dr. Ging Nuneza, a woman who seeks to preserve the wildlife in Mindanao.

Mikhaila Aldaba, illustrator of Rigid Motion, was inspired at the collection of Filipino mats shown to her. These mats were derived from the mathematical work on tilings by Dr. Ninette de las Penas. (Mika had prepared slides for her speech, but was unable to show them. You may contact her if you wish to see her slides.)

E. Messages from featured Women of Science


Left: Women of Science Poster at the 5th floor of Rizal Library. Right: Dr. Ninette de las Penas and Dr. Gemma Narisma sign copies of their books during the launch of the Women of Science children’s book series.

Dr. Ninette de las Penas, the mathematician featured in Rigid Motion, specializes on group theory and its applications on coloring of tile patterns. She discussed how the symmetry laws describing rigid motion can be used to describe geometric patterns from crystal structures of viruses to geometric patterns in art and culture, such as the mats weaved by the Jama Mapun tribe in Southern Philippines.

Dr. Nina Ingle, the conservationist featured in Capturing Flight,  wrote about the 70 species of bats in the Philippine Islands. She said that the event felt like a homecoming for her, having graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with a degree of BS in Biology (Magna Cum Laude). She received the Parker/Gentry award for her  work on “biodiversity conservation through research, management, and education.” She congratulated Dr. Didith Rodrigo for her book series, since the communication is important skill that scientists need to learn from artists to help share science with young minds.

Dr. Gemma Narisma, the climate scientist featured in Beyond the Storm, works at the Regional Climate Systems of Manila Observatory, studying how climate changes in the country through computational climate models and weather station network data. Dr. Narisma thinks of climate change as a fever experienced by the earth, which results in extreme weather, such as the possibility of Mindanao becoming hotter than Luzon. She hopes that the book will inspire the future generation of climate scientists to help us manage climate risks for sustainable development.

Dr. Nida Calumpong, the marine botanist featured in Gardener of the Sea, teaches undergraduate biology at Siliman University. Her training is in Botany, specializing on the taxonomy, population structures, and genetic markers of marine vegetation, such as plants and algae. Her passion is in resource management, such as rehabilitation of coral reefs in Apo Island Marine Sanctuary, which is home to 650 species of fishes and 400 species of corals. She now works with the United Nations World Oceans Assessment to determine the health and socio-economic aspects of the world’s oceans. Dr. Calumpong said that her mother used to plant trees, so that her children can harvest them in the future. In the same way, we must also take care of the health of the planet for the sake of the next generation.

Dr. Connie Ragasa, the DLSU Chemistry Professor featured in Chemical Romance,  works on the natural isolation of the chemical constituents of medicinal  plants–everything from leaves, flowers, seeds, and fruits. She also worked on mushrooms, mosses, liverworts via extraction larval chromatography. She said that research is not easy, since you need to develop expertise in proper techniques–things that you don’t read in books. She hopes that young students would be inspired to contribute something in their fields someday, not just publications and patents.

F. Video Message from the Vice President of the Philippines

Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines Leni Robredo congratulated Dr. Rodrigo and Bookmark for the launch of Women in Science book series. She hoped that the ground-breaking scientists featured in the series would  inspire the young men and women to excel in science to lead in nation building. She said that the Office of the Vice President lauds the work of Dr. Rodrigo not only in creating awareness in the scientific community, but also to gender equality and inclusive development.

G. Closing Remarks

Dr. Evangeline P. Bautista, Dean of School of Science and Engineering, congratulated Dr. Rodrigo and Bookmark for featuring living non-Western scientists. She said that more books like the Women in Science series would give our youth greater appreciation for science and its role in society, and not just idolize basketball stars and singing celebrities. Dr. Bautista then invited everyone to the book signing and for dinner.


Response of Jaren Ryan Rex (BS APS/ACS) at SOSE Recognition Program for Distinguished Students of 2017


Jaren Ryan Rex, Magna Cum Laude and Physics Program Awardee, makes a response in behalf of the Honor Students during the SOSE Recognition Program for Distinguished Students at Leong Hall, 24 May 2017, 10:00 a.m. Photo by Maria Anna Acejas-Asis.

Dr. Vilches, Dr. Bautista, esteemed faculty, and fellow students, good morning.

It is an honor to be with you all here today. I am sure we are all delighted to have performed as well as we did to receive our hard-earned grades. At the same time, we are humbled to be blessed with the passion for learning and the cognitive capabilities that have enabled us to excel in our fields. We are also humbled to be in each other’s presence, to see others who have excelled, and to celebrate our collective achievements as a community.

As science majors, we can perhaps all agree that reaching this level of excellence has required a great deal of discipline. Reading our textbooks and other references again and again, until we finally understood the lessons; solving problems late into the night to practice for the upcoming exam; working long hours in the lab to accomplish only a small step in our theses—we’ve all learned how hard work pays off through these experiences.

Sometimes, though, we felt it didn’t pay off—we may have been discouraged from time to time with a substandard performance in a test, a difficult concept we couldn’t understand, or a failed experiment. And many of us have been in a love-hate relationship with our theses, recalling those times when we wanted to scream in utter frustration whenever our programs weren’t running properly, or our simulations produced bad results, or our circuits weren’t working, or the reagents didn’t react as expected, or we didn’t see what we wanted to see under the microscope, or the math simply didn’t check out. At one point, we may have given up on doing our best, and settled for “OK, good enough.” But eventually we would get back on our feet and renew our resolve to excel, no matter what challenges we face.

And here we are now! We’ve hurdled four or five years of hardship and trials, and reaped the best rewards: those flashes of insight when we connect two lessons together, the sweet feeling of winning a champion title in a competition, and the extraordinary experience of getting 100% in a long exam and seeing your raw grade decrease because your previous exam was a 137.5/100.

But as Ateneans, we’ve learned not to let all these achievements get to our head, but rather to share our blessings with others and use our talents to help others in the best way possible. We’ve tutored our block mates and other students who needed help understanding the lessons. We’ve organized projects to spread love and appreciation for the sciences: amazing race-type games with stations demonstrating practical applications of science, talks and fora for experts to share their knowledge and experience, and many, many more. Some of us have even gone out and presented our theses or other projects to various audiences, reminding them of the importance of science in our lives.

This brings us to now. After celebrating our achievements, we ask ourselves: What now? Some of us have well-laid plans as to what to do next. But some of us are still unsure, still exploring our options (and doing feasibility checks on them). And what are we to expect from the outside world? I don’t know. Perhaps we will be continually frustrated by people who refuse to believe in the usefulness and relevance of our fields. Perhaps we will be discouraged by the lack of scientific interest in our own country, or the blatant disregard of it elsewhere in the world.

But as scientists and as Ateneans, we know how to respond. We know the truth about how science is ever-present in life, how science shapes our understanding of nature, our technological developments, and our worldview. And we can assert the importance of our careers, whether they be creating products that put science to good use, or doing research that deepens our understanding of the universe, or inspiring the next generation of scientists. We will not be discouraged by the evils of the world; rather, we shall commit to serving God and the world by continuing to excel in our fields.

Once again, we thank the Ateneo for giving us this opportunity to excel. Wherever we go, we shall inspire others to do the same.

Thank you all.