MANILA, JANUARY 29, 2008 (STAR) STAR SCIENCE By Eduardo A. Padlan, PhD - In 1891, in a letter to Fr. Vicente Garcia, Jose Rizal wrote: “The smallness of the advancement that the Filipinos have made in three centuries of Hispanism is all due, in my opinion, to the fact that our talented men have died without bequeathing to us nothing more than the fame of their name. We have had very great intellects…” (He then names several distinguished Filipinos of that era) “... Nevertheless, all that these men have studied, learned and discovered will die with them and end in them, and we shall go back to recommence the study of life. There is then individual progress or improvement in the Philippines, but there is no national, general progress. Here you have the individual as the only one who improves and not the species.” (Epistolario Rizalino, III, No. 432, p. 137.)

Rizal’s lament is valid even today. Many of our countrymen have demonstrated that Filipinos can compare with the best of the world in achievements. Among them are artists, athletes, performers, writers, inventors, healthcare professionals…, and scientists. Some pass on their knowledge and expertise to younger Filipinos and thus contribute to “national, general progress” (in the words of our national hero), but sadly not all. There are a few who clearly want “national progress” and I want to present here the effort of a Filipino scientist who has the improvement of the Filipino and of the Philippines foremost in his mind. He is Dr. Baldomero M. Olivera (affectionately called “Toto” by his friends), Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Utah, USA.

Soon after he got his PhD and started working on his own, Toto began to study a Philippine organism, the Conus snail. His prodigious effort has resulted in numerous publications and several patents and his careful studies have produced a number of medically important molecules. In recognition of his work, Toto has received many international and national awards. Last Jan. 14, Toto was awarded the Legion of Honor, rank of Grand Officer, by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Toto and his group have even introduced Filipino words in the scientific lexicon, namely, conantokin and contulakin, which are Conus peptides that cause sleepiness (antok) and sluggishness in test animals (thereby requiring prodding (tulak) to get them to move), respectively.

But what sets Toto apart from other Filipinos, who have similarly distinguished themselves in their respective fields, is his conscious effort to train young Filipino scientists. This he has done from the very beginning and it continues to this day. Of the 280 or so papers that Toto has published as of the end of last year, more than 120 have other Filipinos as co-authors. Already, more than two dozen young Filipino scientists have trained in Toto’s lab in Utah and others continue to come to learn from him. Other Filipinos have gained world prominence and are also helping train young Filipinos in scientific endeavors, but no one can match Toto’s numbers.

Despite his accomplishments, Toto has remained very humble and does not publicize his efforts. I remember hosting a gathering at my house for Toto in 1996 after he gave his DeWitt Stetten Jr. Lecture (part of a Distinguished Lecture series) at the NIH. My other guests were local Filipino scientists and at one point I overheard one of them telling Toto about an initiative that would bring Filipino students to our labs in the US for training. Toto just sat there listening, not saying a word. Later, after the others had left, Lulu, Toto’s wife, informed us that by that time 22 Filipinos had been trained in Toto’s lab.

Toto’s efforts are exemplary. Let us hope that others will follow his lead. Of course, there are countless Filipinos, who are not world-famous and who may not even be known outside their schools, but who, without regard for awards, are toiling day in and day out, year in and year out, passing on their knowledge to our youth — the future of our species.

Jose Rizal can rest in peace. His lament has not gone unanswered.

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Eduardo A. Padlan is a corresponding member of the NAST and an adjunct professor in the Marine Science Institute, College of Science, University of the Philippines Diliman. He can be reached at edpadlan@aol.com.

Venus, Jupiter to converge on Feb. 2 By Helen Flores Thursday, January 31, 2008

Two of the brightest planets in the solar system, Venus and Jupiter, will converge for a spectacular close encounter on Feb. 2, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said yesterday.

In a phone interview, weather specialist Jose Mendoza said Filipino astronomy enthusiasts will surely enjoy this “very rare” encounter of the two planets.

“Based on data, this is the closest encounter of Venus and Jupiter from 2004 to 2014,” Mendoza told The STAR, adding Venus will be shining brighter at -4 magnitude as compared to Jupiter’s –1.9.

Mendoza said the best time to witness this encounter will be at 5:30 a.m. or before sunrise. The astronomical event is visible all over the country, he said.

Mendoza said skywatchers will have a nice view of the phenomenon as the weather bureau forecasts clear skies all over the Philippines in the next few days.

Although it can be seen by the naked eye, Mendoza advised observers to use a telescope.

“It’s worth the effort because Venus and Jupiter will be less than one degree apart, like twin headlights piercing the rosy glow of sunrise. It’s a beautiful scene. In fact, you may not be able to take your eyes off of it. Venus and Jupiter are literally spellbinding,” the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said in its website.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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