Genie Lorenzo (BS Physics 1998 and BS Electronics Engineering 2010) giving a talk during the 50th Anniversary of the Department of Physics last October 10, 2015 at Faber Hall . Photo by Johannes Añonuevo.
by Quirino Sugon Jr
During the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Department of Physics last October 10, 2015, one of the alumni who shared her memories of the department is Genevieve Rose H. Lorenzo. She finished her BS Physics in 1998 and her MS in Electronics Engineering in 2010–both from Ateneo de Manila University. Since 2002, Genie has worked as a research staff in the Urban Air Quality Dynamics/Instrumentation Technology program of Manila Observatory.
One of Genie’s tasks at Manila Observatory is maintenance of MO’s 42 Automated Weather Stations: 28 in Metro Manila, 8 in Rizal, 1 in Cavite, and 5 in Mindanao. An Automated Weather Station automatically measures rainfall rate, accumulated rainfall, temperature, wind direction, and air pressure–something similar to Fr. Angelo’s Secchi, SJ’s Universal Meteorograph in 1867 which Manila Observatory acquired during its foundation at the time of Fr. Federico Faura, SJ. The only difference is that the data are not anymore recorded by pen on paper but electronically and transmitted to Manila Observatory via the Internet. Genie writes scripts in Python or PHP to format the data from the automated weather stations to serve as input for forecasting typhoon tracks and rain volume and also for modeling climate change risks. Many of the weather reports published by the observatory were co-authored by Genie.
Genie’s other task at Manila Observatory is maintenance of air samplers used for air quality research. These machines suck in air and let them pass through a filter. The filter is then weighed and chemically analyzed in MO’s UAQ/ITD lab to determine whether the soot comes from cars, industrial exhausts, etc. The difference in the blackness of the filters can be considerable, e.g. comparing the air in EDSA with that of Antipolo. Genie also joins in the Manila Observatory’s annual air quality monitoring during New Year’s Eve. An example of this is the Urban Air Quality Report of 2014.
Below is a copy of the speech of Ms. Genie Lorenzo during the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Department of Physics.
WONDER, MEANING AND CONNECTEDNESS
by Genie Lorenzo
In 1986 Halley’s Comet was in the sky, and somehow my papa and I were able to watch that together. That was maybe my first stark memory of being amazed by the night sky. Then in high school I was intrigued by the metric system, how a camera worked, and an experiment in physics class with candles and lenses and inverted images, and my high school Physics teacher, Ms. Alcid, was so clear and coherent with her lessons that I, perhaps without knowing any better, bravely ticked the BS Physics CE program in my college entrance application to the Ateneo. My neighbor Thryza kept on convincing me to go to the Ateneo, where she too was enrolled, and so when I found out that my good friend from high school, Anne, was going to Ateneo to enroll in the undergraduate double degree Physics and Computer Engineering program, I decided to come to Ateneo and enroll in that program too in 1994. (Eventually I finished only the BS Physics program, and pursued the MS Electronics Engineering degree later.)
I remember it must have been the first day of our freshman Physics 31 class or lab, and our teacher, Dr. Simpas (he must have been in his early thirties then) had me stand on a measured particular spot in the room, while he swung a metal ball tied to a string toward me in order to demonstrate the pendulum. There was also a spring demonstration shown to us during our tour in Faura Hall in freshman year, among other things there like the “resonance” demonstration. For me the spring set-up in Faura merely looked like a slinky that one found in toy stores on display, and like many of the concepts taught in class, I think they call people like me a slow learner, it took me a while to appreciate why that spring, waves, and sine waves were so important and fundamental in our everyday lives and the universe. Most of the demonstration set-ups then, they say, were made by Mr. Tecson, so our block was both very excited and a bit worried to have Mr. Tecson as our first EM teacher as we heard about his unique, effective and yet frightening style of teaching and giving oral exams for each class meeting. We began some classes with Mr. Tecson, but then he got sick, and so he couldn’t be our teacher, and then some semesters after he was again supposedly going to be our teacher, but then he passed on. Then there was Mr. Montuno, and the Millikan Oil Drop experiment in the Advanced Physics lab, and oral exams about the Twin Paradox. And so for my 18th birthday by blockmates gave me a white puppy, whom we named Tipler, after the author of the Modern Physics book that guided us through countless overnight review and problem set solving sessions.
B. Manila Observatory
For senior year, I signed up for thesis work at the Manila Observatory, which for us then, maybe until now (?), was a relatively unknown faraway location on campus. I do not remember now if it was before or after the thesis but at some point after I had trekked over to that part of campus I was able to pay a visit to Fr.Dan in his brown room (the furniture was all brown, and ancient, and he had so many books that must have been classics on the bookshelf) and when I asked him what I could do there, he simply replied, “water vapor.” “It is important to study water vapor especially here in the tropics,” was what he said. The topic assigned to me for my thesis was on clouds and optical depth, and Dr. Alarcon was my adviser and we communicated via email as she was sent to Rose-Hulman in the US then. And I don’t think I did much… but Dr. Alarcon was gracious to me and, maybe because of her absence, she took it easy on me, but I remember being so amazed and engaged by the new things I was reading about on clouds and radiation in the journals. And there was no google then, only the beginnings of alta vista search, so we had to manually look through all the journals, and even visit the PAGASA library in Quezon Avenue, and correspond with the authors of the journals via email and await the copy via snail mail— and to open an envelope with a journal from an author for me then was already a big thing.
C. Personal Care
Mr. Bennett was our teacher too and our friend, once after college I was recounting to him the story of how I found myself somehow in the UP NIP laboratories looking for a research assistantship. I told him how there seemed to be no other openings except in the Theory Department, and how I had knocked on their door and met some people, and asked them if I could work there, and after which they asked me which problem of those posted on the wall I knew something about, to which I honestly answered, none but I that I was willing to learn. And then one of them at the Theory Lab, a tall guy, asked me if I knew the story of Alice in Wonderland? Let me lift a line from the text of Lewis Carroll from which the tall guy drew his conversation piece, “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.” That tall guy left me then, and they gave me an email address to contact, I think it was Perry Esguerra’s email address. And Mr. Bennett has asked me, in our a few short but always memorable chance encounters, so where are you going? And for that I am grateful.
Somehow I found myself back at the Manila Observatory in 2002, and have been in the institution doing a variety of things from air sampling, to weather monitoring to stargazing since then. In 2012, because the Manila Observatory is interested in science that will help ease the suffering of our people, I was able to visit a town in Davao Oriental, devastated by the Typhoon Pablo.
There I was able to witness the human spirit that prevails and that is sustained in the worst of circumstances. And there the WHY of our workings, and on a personal note– everything that I had been through and that led me to that point… became clear.
Genie Lorenzo of the Manila Observatory explains to the youth of St. Francis Xavier in Sigaboy, Davao Oriental how the Automated Weather Station functions. (Photo: John Frances C. Fuentes). Photo and caption credit: CBCP News.
What has being a Physics student- which I think I am for life, I am a Physics student for life–what has it taught me?
I am gratefully, joyfully, gracefully, blessedly humbled by all the learnings that being a Physics student has taught me. And I think it is through this humility that I was led to wonder (through childhood experiences with nature and the Physics Demonstrations), meaning (through my personal search, and the Manila Observatory), and connectedness (through God’s graces, and Personal Care), even with my own inadequacies, doubts, and failures, so that I could be of some use and help to others.
My father often asks me, because he knows how much difficulty I have had with academics and all, what is it exactly that I do. I try to describe it to him the air samplers, and the weather stations and the data we have and the maps we make at the Manila Observatory whenever there is an impending storm, but am not sure he understands exactly. Little does he know how much an effect that one evening, we spent together under the night sky many years ago, had on me.
We are now with some of your MS Atmospheric Science Graduate students and BS Physics Undergraduate students working on the data of the weather stations which we have set up around Metro Manila. It makes me excited because we have never actually studied our local weather as in depth as we are doing now, and I am also at the time same nervous because our work is also a responsibility and so we have to be thorough because there are many who will be affected by our findings.
Congratulations to the Physics Department on its 50 years. Thank you for of introducing us to the wonders and rhythms of everyday life in the classroom and in the laboratory, for leading me and others to our working institutions like the Manila Observatory, and for your personal care and concern for us students. May you continue to mold students to become the best that they can be through their science in order that they can continue to be of service to others.
This 50th year celebration is also in tune with the global celebration of 100 years of the Einstein’s Theory of Relativity this year, and 150 years, also this year, of the Manila Observatory, from where the department traces its roots, and after whose first director, Padre Federico Faura, SJ, the building which houses the Physics department on Campus was named.
What about that Cheshire Cat and the fork in the road, what do I say when he asks again, what do you want? I respond in prayer:
Direct, we beseech Thee, O Lord, our actions by Thy holy inspirations and carry them on by Thy gracious assistance; that every word and work of ours may always begin from Thee, and by Thee be happily ended, through Christ our Lord. AMEN