Plenary speech of Dr. John Burtkenly Ong during the 50th Anniversary of the Physics Department


Dr. John Burtkenly Ong giving a speech during the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Department of Physics at Leong Hall Roofdeck last October 10, 2015.

by Quirino Sugon Jr

The Department of Physics of Ateneo de Manila University celebrated its 50th anniversary last October 10, 2015 with theme, “One Big Bang”. After the dinner, Dr. John Burtkenly Ong gave plenary speech to the alumni and friends of the Department of Physics. Dr. John Ong finished his BS Physics in Ateneo de Manila in 1991 and received his Ph.D. in in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (specialization in hydrogeology) from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2010. Below is an Introduction of the Speaker by Dr. James Bernard Simpas, Chair of the Department of Physics of Ateneo de Manila University, followed by the speech of Dr. John Ong.


by Dr. James Bernard Simpas

John graduated from these hallowed halls way back in 1991 with a BS in Physics. His academic career took him through an MS in Geology from UP, a Ph.D. in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (specialization in hydrogeology) from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and subsequent post-doctoral work with the US Geological Survey at the University of Connecticut. But the above credentials, impressive as they are, are only a part of what makes John inspiring. His unique passion to apply science for community service and development work moved him from Physics into hydrogeology. This was manifest in his early work on developing instrumentation to study rivers and flooding, to geological surveys and mapping, to research on groundwater and landslides for the benefit of poor communities and indigenous peoples. The citation for the Xavier-Kuangchi Exemplary Alumni Award he was given in 2007 states, “He is considered a modern ‘technical’ missionary who does not evangelize in the traditional sense, but is significantly transforming lives of indigenous peoples while preserving their cultural heritage for future generations.” For his work, he was also recognized as one of the TOYM for Community Service in 2003—the only Physics major to have received this award so far. John’s career path is a classic example of Ignatian discernment—seeking one’s vocation by finding where one’s greatest gifts meet the world’s greatest need.


Fr. Dan, Fr. Jett, Dr. Simpas, Dr. Alarcon, Dr. Mary-Jo Ruiz, fellow alumni, students, and friends,

Happy 50th anniversary to the Ateneo Physics Department! Wow. Days are long and years are short. I studied physics at the time when our role model was McGyver. Now they are Sheldon and Leonard from the Big Bang Theory.

A few weeks ago James asked me if I could share my experiences as an alumnus of the department and I said yes. Days later I received a formal letter from the department inviting me as a keynote speaker to talk about my insights on the department’s history and its future possibilities. My knees wobbled as I read the email and I told myself, “What more can I share to these people who know more physics than I do?” So I emailed James and asked if I could simply share how I was formed or influenced by the Ateneo physics program, and he kindly agreed.

I divided my sharing into four parts so that you’ll feel better when I reach close to the fourth part.


Dr. john Ong at the dinner table with friends. Counterclockwise from the right are Dr. Evangeline Bautista, Dr. Mari-jo Ruiz, Dr. John Paul Vergara, Dr. John Ong, Dr. Minella Alarcon, and Dr. Obiminda Cambaliza.

1. Wonderment

In my 2nd year in Ateneo, I was unable to balance the balance sheet during our final exam in accounting. I realized it was time for me to leave Management Engineering. I wandered through the Chemistry and Math Departments before literally moving up to the Physics Department–ME and Math were on the 2nd floor of Faura Hall while the Physics Department was on the 3rd floor.

I was fascinated by how things work.  I was captivated by the setting sun, the magic of fluid pressure, the gigantic momentum of a ship as it slowly docks, the invisible power of electricity and magnetism, etc. I stood in awe and wonderment at the world through the lens of physics. I built a series of pulleys and motor switches to tip a bucket of water hung on our ceiling to wake me up in the morning  when I was always late for my 7:30 am philosophy class. Curious to see how a fluorescent lamp works, I cut the glass off a fluorescent lamp, connected its ends to a current regulator I built in high school and watched in amazement as the filament glowed red hot before it exploded. I built an electronic mosquito repellant and gave it to my sponsor, the Guevarra Realty Corporation, through the Office of Admission and Aid—sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet and thank them for my Ateneo education.

I entered the department at the time when Fr. Daniel Mcnamara, SJ was chair and the faculty was composed of Dr. Minella Alarcon, Fr. Su, Mr. Norberto Tecson, Jess Rivas, Sr. Kathlyn Duffy (who gave lectures on Teilhard de Chardin), Eddie Timmermans, and new graduates such as Nathaniel Libatique, Thomas Pe, John Sy, Victor Chua, Toto Oppus, Pierre Tagle, Niel Caranto, Bong Monje, Ivan Culaba, and the shop was ran by Mang Ipe, Mang Rudy, and Sonny. Fr. Jett was a scholastic at that time. I remember he gave a talk on building a huge capacitor for a laser, and how they played with a variable transformer, pumping up the voltage but not having sufficient current. Later the words “Voltage isn’t everything; we need amps” got stuck in my head. My fondest memories were the many times Mr. Tecson would pat my back and say, “May ipapakita ako sa iyo.” We would enter his room and he would joyfully show me his newest invention.  When i was working in the shop, he would ask me what I was doing and always gave insightful suggestions. Years later, Mr. Tecson told me how fascinating the field of Environmental Science was. He exclaimed, “The entire earth is your lab!” And that perhaps if he were born at a later time, he would have studied earth sciences instead of mechanical engineering.

Life in the Physics Department wouldn’t be complete without an experience with Fr. Dan. I can’t remember what the context was but one day in a physics class, Fr. Dan asked us, “What have you done to deserve the talents and gifts that you have?” And the answer was “nothing.” Thus, we do not own our talents and gifts; they were entrusted to us and we should share them with others. I remember being struck by this question and reflected upon it.


John Ong delivering a lecture to Mangyan high school students on how to read maps

2. Listening and the humbling of science

During my 5th year in Ateneo, I wanted to join the 8-day retreat for seniors. My family was financially struggling at that time. Although it was said that no one, for financial reasons, should be excluded from joining the retreat, I, being a Filipino-Chinese, was too embarrassed or perhaps too proud to tell Fr. Dan that I couldn’t afford the retreat (Intsik na, nagppapalibre pa). I ended going on my own solo retreat. I asked Fr. Dan for some guidance. He gave me a number of bible passages and reminded me that prayer is listening. I went to San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, climbed up the barren mountains and alone sat in silence. I asked the Lord where he was calling me and what can I do with a degree in physics. I listened, and listened, and listened. By day 7, I was getting anxious because I haven’t heard anything save for the sounds of birds chirping, wind blowing and river flowing. Then on the 8th day, I heard something. What was it? Nothng. Yes that was what I heard. Nothing. And I was overjoyed. I realized I heard nothing because I lacked experience. And so I reasoned that the Lord was telling me to go out into the world, experience the world, then come back and reflect on my experience. It didn’t matter what job I chose at that time. I felt liberated and joined Fr. Walpole’s environmental group where I was very much inspired by its mission statement: science for social concern. I was tasked to evaluate the physical state of watersheds. As I went around the country, i repeatedly saw the problem of water. Too much water and there was flooding; too little water then there was drought. Years later I went on to pursue graduate studies in geology, hydrogeology, and a postdoctorate in hydrogeophysics.

Going back to my environmental research job in the early 90s, I remember attending a conference where I was deeply struck by what Dr. Uraivan, a sociologist from Chang Mai University, said. To paraphrase her, she said: “Let the mountains continue to erode, the forests get denuded, and the environment destroyed, for unless we deal with the social issues, the physical environment will continue to deteriorate.” True enough, man is the greatest agent of change. Solely solving environmental problems through physical, biological, and technological approaches are bound to fail because these problems are inextricably embedded within a social context.

In the mid 90s, I was assigned to Mindoro. As I climbed the mountains, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the hinterlands vis-a-vis the poverty of the Mangyans. As I listened to the Mangyans share their problems on how the lowlanders have encroached on their lands and displaced them–problems that are a matter of life and death–I was totally embarrassed by the petty problems in the office that often consumed me. I was tasked at that time to look into ways we can help the Mangyans secure their ancestral domain.  One day a Mangyan leader asked me if I can remain with them and teach them. That night I was kept awake in the little bahay kubo, not only by the giant gecko that threatened me with its loud tu-ko sound, but rather by reflecting on the invitation of the Mangyan for me to remain there and teach them. I left Manila and joined the mission in Mindoro. Being a man of science I thought how can I use my science to help the Mangyans. There I experienced what I would later call the humbling of science. Overwhelmed by the face of poverty and suffering, of sickly Mangyan friends succumb to TB, of kids dying from measles, I realized that the science I studied and the fascination I had for how things work appear so distant and may seemingly be only tangentially of any immediate use to their situation. Then I realized that the only time I can truly help them is when I am able to think and feel like one of them. Thus, I learned to speak, dress, think, and feel like one of them. I slowly learned and thought of ways on how the Mangyan themselves can create 3D maps of their area so they can identify their ancestral boundaries.


Dr. John Ong scanning the subsurface in search of a school buried by the landslide in Guinsaugon, Leyte (Manila Observatory – UP search-and-rescue team)

3. Science for social concern

In 1994 I attended a talk by Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, a Fil-Am geologist who passionately spoke against the corruption and danger posed by constructing the mega dikes to contain the lahars of Pinatubo. As I listened to this man, I realized that he knew his science and was using it for the betterment of society. After so many years, I found a person who embodied the mission statement of science for social concern. I was very much inspired by this man. Years later I would join him in monitoring lahar flows and the possibility of a crater lake break (which actually did happen).

Since 2003 I became more involved in disasters, investigating landslides in Southern Leyte, flash floods in Quezon, flooding in Pampanga, and siting safe drinking water in poor communities and in evacuation centers in Mindanao.

In 2006 I co-lead a volunteer search-and-rescue team at Guinsaugon, Southern Leyte, organized by Toni Loyzaga and the Manila Observatory, where a landslide thrusted and transported a community more than half a kilometer downhill.  It was an intense and stressful moment. Like detectives working with limited time and resources we tried to locate the school where 250 children were buried by the landslide. Every search-and-rescue contingent was hoping to find even a single survivor, but the sole survivor after 7 days was a chicken, buried 2.5 feet deep. Although I took an active role and was in promptu assigned as the technical adviser for the search-and-rescue operation by the Philippine Army general, we came back home defeated.  The first thing I did when I returned to Ateneo was to visit the chapel. I entered during the Responsorial Psalm which read something like: “Lord in times of need I, I called out and you answered my prayer.” I wept knowing that the people’s prayers were left unanswered and they perished. It was as if I was hearing them cry out in prayer and I failed to help save even a single soul. As tears ran down my cheek, i heard an answer to their prayer which led me to the observatory. Rolly Choi (Ateneo Physics ‘__) was building weather stations at that time.  I told Rolly if he can fast track the development of telemetric rain gauges as early warning devices. I secured some funds from my Xavier high school batchmates to develop a prototype. Later, through the Manila Observatory, Oxfam and the American Women’s Club of the Philippines funded a number of rain gauges in Mindoro and Quezon. When we installed the rain gauges, I reminded the people that the rain gauges were there because of the sacrifice of thousands of lives in Guinsaugon–so that they may live.

A few years later I heard that the rain gauges that were painstakingly constructed and deployed in Mindoro were left unmaintained up in the mountains–another example showing that technological solutions alone cannot solve the problem.


Dr. John Ong investigating a large dug well, the drinking source of a community in Southern Philippines.

4. Science guided by the heart

When i was in grad school, two of my professors clashed each other.  Since I processed a lengthy data set, I promised Professor A that I’ll continue to work on the project even after graduate.  Months after I graduated, Professor B asked me about my status and I said I was processing the data of Professor A. This quickly annoyed him and he could not understand why I was willing to finish the project. I told him that if I do not work on the data set, then all investment would have gone to waste.  He understood that but still he couldn’t understand why I was willing to work with Professor A when others would rather avoid him. I was an outlier in the Gaussian curve and he demanded an answer. I then told him, “Professor B, if, as you’ve said, Professor A is the most difficult person to work with in your entire career–or if I may change a few words, if this person is the most difficult person to love–and I can work with this person–or I can love this person–then I can work with anyone in the world and I can love the entire world! Isn’t that wonderful?! He remained silent then remarked, “Patience, patience! I need more patience. Thank you for sharing with me your Christian love.”

I’d like to end with a story that burned in my heart the entire time I was in the US and until this day. In 2008 we visted a small community where in the previous year a local leader attended a meeting in mainland Mindanao. In that meeting people displaced by armed conflict didn’t know he was a Muslim warrior and shared with him how their dreams were shattered and how they suffered because of the war. Suddenly, it dawned upon him that the war was going nowhere and he felt a very deep desire for peace. Upon returning to his community, he ordered his men to remove the landmines that served as the protective fence around their community. Transformed into a warrior for peace, he thought of programs in health, water, and education to benefit his people and the lower caste group in their community. Thus, this was how we found ourselves visiting their community in search of clean drinking water. After surveying potential water sources and before we left, I told him that I’ve been thinking for quite some time when peace will come to Mindanao. Some build roads, schools, clinics, and water systems hoping that these infrastructures would bring peace; the military enforces peace by the use of arms; others try to organize communities; and yet I couldn’t find peace in this land. However, on that day I found peace in our midst, in the person of this leader. I realized that peace is attainable if one truly desires it, works at it, and guards it. I told him to vigilantly guard that peace for peace is a jealous taskmaster and can quickly disappear. We had plans to return and locate a potential water source using geophysical techniques. Unfortunately, later that year, conflict in that region intensified, leading to the withdrawal of our team. In silence, I continue to hear the suffering of the faceless people crying out to the Lord to listen to their prayers and for men and women of goodwill to respond to the call.

I return now to our Inang Bayan, a blurry-eyed middle-aged man close to the number of years we’re celebrating the Physics Department’s Anniversary today, realizing how time and strength quickly go by. With the limited time at hand, it is important to choose meaningful activities by allowing our science to be guided by the heart. We are faced with numerous problems: the continuing need for energy and water, a warming earth, rising sea level, intensified weather disturbances, a huge population with limited resources, contamination of our air, water and soils, an ever increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and more. How important is the study of physics in the world and specifically in the Philippines? Let your heart guide you in finding the answers. Laudato Si’.

Thank you for listening and congratulations once again to the Ateneo Physics Department on its 50th anniversary.


Group picture of the students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni of the Department of Physics during the 50th Anniversary celebration last October 10, 2015. Dr. John Ong is at the fourth from the left of the front row.

Smartphone-based behavior change support systems for promoting sustainable mobility behavior: a talk by Varsolo Sunio from Kyoto University


Varsolo Sunio, PhD student in the Department of Urban Management, Kyoto University. He graduated BS Physics (2006) and BS Computer Engineering (2008) from Ateneo de Manila University.

The Department of Information Systems and Computer Science and the Ateneo Java Wireless Competency Center invites everyone to attend the presentation entitled



Varsolo Sunio

Department of Urban Management, Kyoto University

on 6 November, 2015, CTC 112, 4:30pm – 6:00pm


There has been a burgeoning interest in using technology to deliver interventions to change behavior ever since Fogg’s (2002) pioneering work on persuasive technology.  Recently, Oinas-Kukkonen introduced the concept of behavior change support system (BCSS), a web- or mobile- based information system for influencing user behavior. Here, smartphones as a medium of intervention are particularly noteworthy and promising.  With their widespread adoption and pervasive use in society, Smartphones can be leveraged to deliver large-scale and cost-effective behavior-change interventions.  Moreover, in recent years, Fogg’s framework has also been applied to the topic of environmental sustainability, giving rise to the new field of “sustainable HCI” and “persuasive sustainability”.  A broad range of environmental sustainability issues is being addressed by the field, such as energy consumption, water and fuel use, indoor air quality, and transportation/mobility.

In this talk, we present various examples of sustainable mobility behavior change support systems that encourage a voluntary shift to more sustainable transport modes.  We also discuss on-going efforts to develop a mobility behavior change support system in Manila, based on established theories of behavior change.

About the Speaker

Varsolo Sunio is currently a PhD student at the Intelligent Transport Systems Laboratory of Kyoto University.  His area of research includes the practical application of social information and behavior change support systems to sustainable mobility.  He holds masters degrees in Physics from the University of the Philippines and Industrial and Systems Engineering from the National University of Singapore.  He graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University, with bachelor degrees in physics and computer engineering, summa cum laude.

Ateneo Physics alumnus Anton Tanquintic wins second place in Nuclear Olympiad 2015


Winners in the Nuclear University Olympiad 2015: Anton Tanquintic (2nd place, third from the left) and Alice Cunha da Silva (1st Place, 3rd from the right) during the Awarding Ceremony at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at Vienna, Austria last 17 September 2015. (Photo by Alice Cunha da Silva)

by Quirino Sugon Jr

Ateneo Physics alumnus Anton Philippe Tanquintic (BS PS-MSE 2015) won second place in the Nuclear Olympiad 2015 organized by the World Nuclear University, a worldwide network of 40 intergovernmental, academic, and industry institutions in 30 countries engaged the in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The awarding was held last 17 September 2015, 10:00-12:00 am, at the 7th floor of the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria.

Anton Tanquintic learned about the contest about a week before the 9 June 2015 deadline. Anton then was just finishing his two-month internship at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) at Technohub. He wrote a one-paragraph essay and asked his sister, Antoinette, to make a 60-second video entitled, Nuclear Solutions for Today’s Needs. Last 19 Jun 2015, Anton was informed that their video was among the 10 shortlisted for the contest, which were posted by the World Nuclear University in You Tube. By 9 July 2015, WNU counted the number of You Tube likes of the videos and Anton’s video made it to the top 5. The finalists were then asked to submit a 5-page essay on the topic “Radioisotopes: how are they produced?” They presented their essay orally before a jury for 10 minutes last 17 September 2015 in the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna, Austria. The first prize went to Alice Cunha da Silva from Brazil. Her video was entitled, Nuclear Saves Lives.

Below is the winning video of Anton and Antoinette Tanquintic followed by an interview of Anton by Ateneo Physics News.


by Anton and Antoinette Tanquintic

Radiation applications. Despite negative stigma, the use of nuclear techniques is ubiquitous today. In Medicine Cobalt-60 sterilizes over half of medical supplies in modern hospitals. In industry, gamma rays are also used to detect defects in metal structures to avoid malfunctions. On a larger scale, radiation sources can be used to address global problems such as poverty and hunger. In food production, sterile insect technique operations have reduced the reproductive ability of pests, thus eradicating them from farmlands. Moreover, mutation breeding has improved harvests via radiation-induced hereditary changes in the plant’s DNA, whereby mutants with desirable traits are chosen and developed as new varieties. Going over into food storage, sufficient doses of radiation kill microorganisms and so radiation sources can extend the shelflife of food products by as much as a factor of two. Modern fridges around the world even use UV lights in vegetable compartments to keep the produce fresh as long as possible. The science of our times has shown use of radiation sources as safe and beneficial to mankind. Perhaps it’s time we got over our fear of the world “nuclear,” and gave radiation a rebranding.



Anton Tanquintic (2nd from the right) together with four other finalists of Nuclear Olympiad 2015 at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by World Nuclear University, 17 September 2015)

1. How did you hear about the video contest? What motivated you to join?

I found out about the competition during my internship at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) at Technohub. My internship was during the period of April-May, and I had a friend who worked there (who was also my contact in applying there in the first place) who showed me an e-mail of the poster promoting the competition. I learned about it only a week or so before the deadline of submissions for Round 1, meaning that a bunch of other competitors had 1-2 month leads ahead of me in promoting.

2. Did you make the video on your own? Who helped you? 

My entry to the contest was a 1-minute animated video showing the peaceful applications of nuclear technology in our lives. I present examples of nuclear tech being used in Industry (to detect defects in metal structures) and Medicine (where radiation sterilizes medical equipment) before diving into my primary focus: how nuclear technology does address global problems such as poverty and hunger. I decided to use poverty and hunger as they are real and growing issues that we deal with today. I was inspired by Youtube video channels such as Minute Physics, and comics like in coming up with my entry. For the record, it was my sister, Antoinette, who did all the animations and video editing. I just came up with the script and told her what to draw for each scene.

3. Can you describe the procedure how they chose your video as one of the finalists? How tough is the competition?

I have no direct knowledge of how they chose the final 10 videos. I did get an email though saying that mine was the highest-scoring video for Round 1.

4. During the finals, did you take exams or were you interviewed by a jury? 

There were no such exams or interviews. The final round was simply a 6-minute oral presentation based on the essays we submitted earlier. The essay was on the topic, “Radioisotopes: How are they produced?” while the oral presentation was set to be a 6-minute speech based on the essay. I prepared by reading up on various technologies and journal articles. Since the topic for the essay was the same for all finalists, I did my best to add in more personal or entertaining segments to the essay so that any of the readers (and judges) would appreciate and enjoy my writing. For the presentation, I bore in mind that a significant percentage of the audience would be high school students and laymen not familiar with nuclear technology, so I made sure to make it is organized and consistently simple from the ground up. It’s a certain style of mine to explain complex concepts in the simplest but most accurate way possible; I like to think of myself as an effective science communicator. Thus said, I trimmed down my essay to appropriately fit the oral presentation, and rehearsed my essay-speech in front of friends in my physics laboratory at the Ateneo de Manila University. They all helped me improve upon it into its final shape. I then asked a skilled friend to edit my presentation into something more aesthetically pleasing and digestible; she did a wonderful job, and it helped make the delivery of my presentation as amazing as it was.

5. Was this the first time you went to you Europe? What was your prize? What are the places you went to? What’s your favorite food there?

Yes, this was my first time in Europe. The prize was simply prestige since the competition is still in its early years. In total, I went through Vienna, Geneva, and parts of France. I can’t really say I have a favorite food there; I pretty much eat anything and enjoy food as long as it tastes good. I did enjoy the healthy food lifestyle in Geneva though – there were lots of cheeses!

6. What are your five-year plans?

I am surely considering Nuclear Physics as a topic for further studies (i.e. PhD). Currently, I’ve just returned to Manila from a tour of IAEA and CERN, so I’m doing my best to decide what the best plan of action for me is. I will either take a job to gain experience, or go for a PhD if I can find a good program and scholarship.

7. Can you describe to us your career path from high school? Who motivated you to choose physics?

I was always interested in how the world worked. Physics and Biology were my favorite science subjects back when I was in Pisay (Philippine Science High School): physics because of how it tried to answer the fundamental mystery of why/how things exist, and biology because of how it delved into the very mystery of life itself. By the end of high school, I was stuck choosing between both fields. In the end, I went for physics because I wanted the challenge it presented. I am also very thankful that Pisay has wonderful physics teachers who’ve helped foster my interest in the subject.

8. Do you have any parting words to our physics majors?

Study well and grab opportunities! A life in physics is no easy task, but the rewards are worth it.


Anton Tanquintic at Mont Blanc, 3,842 m above sea level (26 September 2015)

Notes and References

  1. Linkedin profile of Anton Philippe Tanquintic
  2. Anton Tanquintic’s video: Nuclear Solutions for Today’s Needs (June 9, 2015).  
  3. GMA News: Teens’ video is lone Pinoy finalist in World Nuclear University Olympiad (June 30, 2015). 
  4. Rappler: Ateneo student makes it to World Nuclear University Olympiad (July 2, 2015)  Republished in Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI). 
  5. Rappler: Ateneo graduate wins second place at World Nuclear University Olympiad (Sep 20, 2015).  An excerpt of this was posted in AdMU website (Sep 20, 2015). 
  6. Philippine Star: 22-year old Filipino physicist triumphs in Vienna nuclear olympiad (Sep 30, 2015). 
  7. Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippines: Young Filipino Physicist triumphs in World Nuclear Olympiad in Vienna (Sep 30, 2015)
  8. World Nuclear University: Nuclear Olympiad Finalists
  9. World Nuclear University: About the Nuclear Olympiad 2015.

Dr. Emmanuel Anglo talks on CALPUFF dispersion modelling at Manila Observatory

by Quirino Sugon Jr and Steffie Castaneda

Last December 14, 2012, Dr. Emmanuel Anglo gave a introductory talk on CALPUFF Dispersion Modelling at the Klima Conference Room for the Brown Bag Lecture Series of Manila Observatory:


Dr. Emmanuel Anglo at the Klima Conference Room of Manila Observatory (14 Dec 2012)

CALPUFF is an advanced non-steady-state meteorological and air quality modeling system developed by Exponent scientists. It is maintained by the model developers and distributed by Exponent. The model has been adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) in its Guideline on Air Quality Models as the preferred model for assessing long range transport of pollutants and their impacts on Federal Class I areas and on a case-by-case basis for certain near-field applications involving complex meteorological conditions. The modeling system consists of three main components and a set of preprocessing and postprocessing programs. The main components of the modeling system are CALMET (a diagnostic 3-dimensional meteorological model), CALPUFF (an air quality dispersion model), and CALPOST (a postprocessing package). Each of these programs has a graphical user interface (GUI). In addition to these components, there are numerous other processors that may be used to prepare geophysical (land use and terrain) data in many standard formats, meteorological data (surface, upper air, precipitation, and buoy data), and interfaces to other models such as the Penn State/NCAR Mesoscale Model (MM5), the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) Eta/NAM and RUC models, the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model and the RAMS model. (Source: Exponent Engineering and Scientific Consulting)

 Dr. Anglo taught at the Department of Physics and the Department of Environmental Sciences and served as a dispersion modelling scientist at Manila Observatory from 2002 to 2008. At present, Dr. Anglo is an Senior Associate Scientist for Air Quality at Amec Foster Wheeler. As an Applied meteorologist, his work is currently focused on regulatory dispersion modelling for facilities in the Alberta Oil Sands.

Below is an interview with Dr. Emmanuel Anglo by Ateneo Physics News.

1. What was your career path since you left Ateneo de Manila University and Manila Observatory? 

I worked on RCS (Regional Climate Systems) and on UAQ (Urban Air Quality). I also taught in ES (Environmental Science). When I left, I was recruited by an Australian firm specializing in dispersion modelling and in air quality consulting. I stayed there until December 2008. After that, we went to Canada. And then in March, I worked for AMEC Environment and Infrastructure.

2. What was your talk all about?

It was a project where I was asked to model the concentrations of particulates in Metro Manila for the Philippine Department of Health. Fr. Jett Villarin, SJ was involved in that, together with the economists and health risk assessment from PGH. Fr. Jett assigned me to do the modelling. However, the problem with it is that it was outdated 4 years ago.

About a year ago or two, I met Dr. Ed Alabastro. He has strong ties with the industry. He said that he’s interested in updating that map. He came up with funding. I told him that the Manila Observatory should get involved if they are going to update that, they are going to need a lot of sources that only the MO possess.

They started meeting with Clean Air Asia. It was called Clean Air Initiatives back then. They formulated the plan. As I committed to Dr. Alabastro, I’m going to help him in modelling. That is why I am here—to update, to start with what we left in 2008. The main difference I guess is that we have a better mandate, a better initial state, and we have to use a different model. We must upgrade that type of model.


CALPUFF Dispersion Modelling

3. Can you tell us something about CALPUFF dispersion modelling?

You can run that model as a blackbox and get away with it. It’s certainly true for a lot of users. You just need someone who can supervise on how the model is to be adapted to the problem, e.g. whether the parameters make sense, so that when the results come up, there’s someone to interpret them. There’s not really much to research about it. It’s not a research model, but a regulatory one. One must have good knowledge in using it.

Right now, I can’t come up with a research topic that’s based on it, other than perhaps the sensitivity studies, e.g.if you change this number, how will it affect the result?.

5. Why is there a need for a Philippine­-wide standard meteorological database?

At the start of my presentation, I mentioned the Philippine Dispersion Modelling guidelines. It was what is recommended, but no one has the capability to do it and no one has the data to solely do that, and so we have to come up with the tools and data that would allow us to implement those guidelines. It is about time we use better science for decision-making.

In modelling, even though there are a lot of industries in there, one might come up with tricks and shortcuts. In other words, it is poor science. I want to avoid that. In some cases where the data is inaccurate or lacking, the modeller might come up with non­standard methodology to come up with meteorological data, but that’s not right way to do things.

Hopefully, with standard database, it can be available to anyone who wants to do a modelling so that you are sure you have a data to run a model and you can come up with a sure dispersion modelling. That is how it is done abroad. In Australia, they have a model named Tatum, an air pollution model. You purchase the license to run the model. In Alberta, you purchase the meteorological database—5 years for the entire province—and it is free for downloading. It is worth 500 gb of data. You can download that. Thus, everyone starts with the same meteorological database. You do not try to use anything there that is new or strange or unacceptable, because base from my experiences in Australia and Canada, that’s how I would very likely train a few people in using it, because there’s nothing really much to do.

I have to admit also that I was hoping Philippine­-wide standard meteorological database becomes the standard tool for modelling in industrial places like Bataan where you cannot get meteorological data to do dispersion modelling.

6. What do we do to address the problem of lack of data?

Since generating a data is not simple, I imagine the Manila Observatory will be the repository of that database so they can get the data from the MO. It cannot be free to get it, because in order to maintain the database, MO has to allocate the sources. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources must recognize that this database is official and acceptable.

7. Do you have any parting message for the students of Physics or Atmospheric Science?

I am glad to know that Manila Observatory is better than ever, and I have no reason to be guilty about it. I am happy to be part of it again.

There is a lot of work out there. I like to think that Ateneo is unique in that sense—that if you want to engage in the world, you cannot lock yourself out. If you want science to serve for the public good, then you have to take work that is outside the university, such as engaging in industry or government.

Though I still like to do research that I can actually publish, I like to think that doing environmental studies or doing science in the way it should be done serves a purpose in itself. I think more scientists should go into that even if it is just for part­-time. Science was used to guide decisions especially those which pertain to the environment, and that is how it should be done. We do not do science for the sake of science, but we do science because it could serve something and has some application in real world, so there is no doubt that there is plenty of room for science to find value in those applications, and I am happy that was my job.

When I went to the BAQ conference in Hong Kong to present a paper, I met a lot of students and Ateneans doing work for Clear Air Asia in urban air quality. Although they are not necessarily doing what you call research, I am certain that they are doing work for science and the environment in general.

There are other careers for scientists if research is not your calling, like in my case. When I left, I felt kind of guilty that I had to abandon the MS Atmospheric Science. But now, I’m happy.

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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