Accelerating S&T in PH through Research: High-Impact Studies Led by UP Scientists in 2023

By Eunice Jean Patron

Science and technology (S&T) play a vital role in Philippine development, providing innovative solutions to societal challenges faced by Filipinos. In that regard, the University of the Philippines – Diliman College of Science (UPD-CS) has been at the forefront of advancing S&T in the Philippines for decades, producing basic and applied scientific research of high standards and national relevance. Year after year, research spearheaded by UPD-CS scientists is published in various journals with high impact factors. The impact factor is a variable measuring a journal’s importance based on the average number of citations of its articles.

UPD-CS scientists continued the College’s long streak of quality research in 2023, with several studies they led becoming internationally recognized and included in some of the world’s most notable, high-impact journals. From examining Philippine tropical cyclones to the risk factors of breast cancer, here are some of UPD-CS’ recent scientific breakthroughs contributing to the country’s socio-economic development.

1. Analyzing the effects of pioneer colonizing bacteria on plastic breakdown in oceans

Once released into the environment, plastics become places where bacteria can attach and grow. The bacteria on plastic interact with each other and work differently than those in the surrounding environment, which can affect how plastics break down. However, little is known about specific types of bacteria that are the first to attach and interact with plastics.

Justine Marey Bitalac, Norchel Corcia Gomez, and Dr. Deo Florence Onda of the Marine Science Institute (MSI) studied bacteria from Manila Bay that attach to plastics. Their group identified ten types of bacteria, and the scientists tested their ability to grow on plastic over 60 days. The plastic showed signs of physical deterioration, and chemical analysis revealed that different species of bacteria potentially create varying changes in the plastic’s structure.

Bitalac and Dr. Onda’s research was published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, a publication featuring articles in the areas of Environmental Science and Engineering. The Journal of Hazardous Materials has an impact factor of 13.6.

2. Detecting harmful dye pollutants using gold nanomaterials

Because of the abundant hot spots in their structure, branch-shaped gold nanomaterials are getting recognized as suitable enhancers for surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS), a technique typically used to detect toxic dye pollutants. However, making these nanomaterials usually involves time-consuming experiments that use hazardous and expensive chemicals.

Rufus Mart Ceasar Ramos of the Natural Sciences Research Institute (NSRI) and Dr. Michelle Regulacio of the Institute of Chemistry (IC) created gold nanomaterials using eco-friendly and low-cost organic acids in plants, such as ascorbic acid, oxalic acid, and tartaric acid. Their approach is also convenient, direct, inexpensive, and rapid, taking less than an hour to complete. The resulting branched gold nanomaterials, called nanocorals, also have numerous hot spots similar to the gold nanomaterials.

Ramos and Dr. Regulacio’s research was published in ACS Applied Nano Materials, a publication featuring research covering all aspects of engineering, chemistry, physics, and biology relevant to applications of nanomaterials. ACS Applied Nano Materials has an impact factor of 5.9.

3. Discovering the link between stress, altered light-dark cycles, and breast cancer

Disruption of the body’s 24-hour pattern of biological activity, known as the circadian cycle, is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Shift work and constant jet lag, in particular, have been associated with this risk.

In their study, Weand Ybañez and Dr. Pia Bagamasbad of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (NIMBB) found out that a gene that suppresses tumor growth called the Krüppel-like factor 9 (KLF9) is downregulated in breast tumors compared to normal breast tissue. This gene’s activity is influenced by stress hormones and oscillates with the 12-hour light-dark cycle.

Ybañez and Dr. Bagamasbad’s study was published in Cancer Cell International, a publication featuring studies on cancer cell biology originating from work using laboratory experiments. Cancer Cell International has an impact factor of 5.8.

4. Investigating quantum spin Hall and Rashba effects in flat ilmenite oxides

Inspired by the discovery of an excellent conductor of electricity called graphene, scientists became interested in other two-dimensional (2D) materials that can be used for technological applications. One of these 2D materials is ilmenite oxides.

A group of physicists, including Dr. Genevieve Macam of the National Institute of Physics (NIP), studied the properties of 2D ilmenite oxides with different metal combinations in their original and Janus forms, which are nanoparticles with two distinct surfaces. Their research showed that the different combinations with 2D ilmenite oxides could have applications in spin transport electronics, a branch of electronics that relies on the intrinsic spin of electrons for information storage and processing.

Dr. Macam’s research was published in the Chinese Journal of Physics, a publication featuring research in various branches of physics. The Chinese Journal of Physics has an impact factor of 5.

5. Exploring the potential of Cu2O semiconductors paired with plasmonic metals

Metal–semiconductor nanocomposites, especially semiconductors combined with plasmonic metals like gold (Au) and silver (Ag), can be used for various applications across different fields. These combinations have unique optical properties that arise from their interactions with light and the movement of charge carriers within their structure.

Enrico Daniel Legaspi from the Materials Science and Engineering Program (MSEP) and Dr. Michelle Regulacio of the Institute of Chemistry (IC) examined the pairing of the copper(I) oxide (Cu2O) with Au and Ag. In the review, the scientists detailed the methods and adjustments used to pair the components. The review also explored how these combinations affect the optical and electronic properties of the nanocomposites in the context of photocatalysis, a process where light energy is used to drive a chemical reaction.

Legaspi and Dr. Regulacio’s review was published in Nanoscale Advances, a publication featuring research on nanoscience and nanotechnology. Nanoscale Advances has an impact factor of 4.7.

6. Assessing the response of severe Philippine tropical cyclones to a warmer climate

The Philippines frequently experiences tropical cyclones (TCs), often leading to casualties and significant damage to property due to strong winds, flooding, and rainfall. Understanding how climate change impacts TCs is important, given their socioeconomic consequences.

A group of meteorologists, led by Dr. Rafaela Jane Delfino and Dr. Gerry Bagtasa of the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology (IESM), observed how three severe TCs (Haiyan from 2013, Bopha from 2012, and Mangkhut from 2018) might change under future warmer climate conditions through the pseudo global warming (PGW) technique. The simulations show that the three TCs could become more intense with increases in maximum wind speeds. The potential impact of the TCs is also expected to be higher in the future.

Dr. Delfino and Dr. Bagtasa’s research was published in Climate Dynamics, a publication featuring high-quality research on all aspects of the dynamics of the global climate system. Climate Dynamics has an impact factor of 4.6.

Press release:

7. Developing a framework for deriving analytic steady states of biochemical reaction networks

Understanding the long-term behaviors of biochemical systems involves looking at their stable states, but deriving these states directly for complex networks can often be challenging. Recent research focuses on network-based approaches, particularly transforming intricate networks of chemical reactions within biological systems into another weaker form. This method, however, can be challenging for larger and more complex networks.

A group of scientists, led by Dr. Bryan Hernandez of the Institute of Mathematics (IM), addressed this difficulty by breaking down complex networks into smaller, independent subnetworks before transforming them. This method provided an effective approach to analyzing and comprehending complex biochemical systems.

Dr. Hernandez’ study was published in PLOS Computational Biology, a publication featuring research focused on understanding living systems at all scales through the application of computational methods. PLOS Computational Biology has an impact factor of 4.3.

8. Examining bottom simulating reflectors in the Manila Trench forearc and its implications on the presence of gas hydrates in the region

Occurrences of gas hydrates in active plate margins have been reported in various locations and have been studied as both a potential alternative energy resource and a threat to methane release. The Manila Trench forearc, close to active margins with likely methane-rich sediments, can be a model to understand gas hydrate formation and the geological preconditions influenced by tectonics and sedimentation processes.

A team of scientists, including Elisha Jane Maglalang, Dr. Leo Armada, Madeline Santos, Karla May Sayen, and Dr. Carla Dimalanta of the National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS), conducted the first study that investigates the Manila Trench region for indicators of gas hydrates, laying the foundation for future gas hydrate research in the area and exploring its potential as an energy resource and the geological hazards linked to gas hydrate dissociation in an active margin setting, such as submarine slope failures and methane release to the atmosphere. The scientists also reinterpreted existing seismic data from the Manila Trench to describe bottom simulating reflectors (BSRs), which are considered important seismic markers of the probable presence of gas hydrates.

Their study was published in Marine and Petroleum Geology, a publication featuring research covering marine and petroleum geology. Marine and Petroleum Geology has an impact factor of 4.2.

9. Looking into the hidden diversity and genetic variations in the coral Acropora tenuis and its endosymbionts across the Great Barrier Reef

Genetic research is revealing extensive hidden diversity in reef-building corals, suggesting that the diversity in these key reef organisms is much greater than previously thought. Endosymbiotic algae living inside coral hosts may also help corals adapt to environmental stress, adding another layer of genetic variation that isn’t limited by differences between coral species.

A team of biologists, led by Dr. Ambrocio Melvin Matias of the Institute of Biology (IB), examined the genetic variations in a common reef-building coral, Acropora tenuis, and its associated endosymbiotic algae across the entire Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Their research suggests that the environment plays a vital role in shaping the algae communities living with the corals, which could help them adapt to changes in their environment.

Dr. Matias’ study was published in Evolutionary Applications, a publication featuring research on taxonomic groups – from microbes to plants and animals. Evolutionary Applications has an impact factor of 4.1.

10. Delving into the possible leafy vegetables’ distinctive biomolecular properties included in prehistoric southern Vietnamese cuisine

Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest in the world, with the inclusion of leafy green vegetables as one of the factors. The vegetables grow in both terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and they can be further chemically distinguished based on the lengths of their waxy organic compounds. Finding these compounds in pottery vessels as organic residues suggests that ancient people used pottery to prepare these food sources.

A group of scientists, led by Dr. Michelle Eusebio of the Science and Society Program (SSP), conducted an organic residue analysis on sampled pottery vessels from three archaeological sites in Southern Vietnam. Their analysis revealed that Vietnamese people used a specific combination of terrestrial and aquatic leafy vegetables in their cooking. They found a series of mid-to-long-chain fatty acids, alkanes, alcohols, and a wax ester (tetracosanyl palmitate, C40) in the pottery, which hasn’t yet been reported in archaeological pottery samples. This discovery provides new evidence on how ancient Vietnamese people used pottery to prepare and serve plant-based foods.

Dr. Eusebio’s research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, a publication featuring research applying scientific methods to archaeological problems. The Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports has an impact factor of 1.6.

For interview requests and other media inquiries, please contact: [email protected]

College of Science Students Voice Out Concerns at the CS-Wide Student Consultation

By Harvey Sapigao

CS students at the CS-Wide Student Consultation. (Photo credit: Leandro Sampang)

Tight academic calendar schedules, ineffective reading breaks, and slow responses to mental health needs are among the pleas of CS students in the student-led CS-wide consultation held at the National Institute of Physics Auditorium on February 12, 2024.

The student-led event, organized by the CS Student Council (CSSC), was an avenue for CS students to raise issues on the academic calendar, reading breaks, learning modes, and student welfare. “It’s important to gather these sentiments as we gear forward to a much better system and policies in the future,” CSSC Chairperson Zedwin Sta. Monica said.

One of the most common sentiments of students was the tight academic calendar schedules. The first-semester schedule, from September to January, only included a few days of holiday break. Some expressed concern that it had been too short to justify spending expensive travel fees to return home to their provinces. A few chose not to make the trip at all and used the break to catch up on requirements instead.

A few students suggested that a first-semester schedule of August to December, and a second-semester schedule of January to May, would provide for a better academic year where students can enjoy the holiday break without needing to worry about their academics.

Another sentiment of students is the ineffective reading break. “Parang reading nalang siya, wala nang break,” one student said, alluding to the deadlines and exams scheduled immediately after the reading break, which forced students to instead use the time to finish requirements and prepare for exams.

The one-week reading break, the students suggested, should be separate from the 16-week semester schedule to avoid compressing academic workloads and give students a genuine week to recharge.

Lastly, a few voiced out the need for a faster response on the psychological services of the University. One student recalled her experience of having to wait two months for a response from PsycServ, or UPD’s psychological services.

They suggested giving more funding to mental health services, that one guidance counselor should be available for each institute, and that the CS wellness center should be made active again.

A total of 55 undergraduate and graduate students from different institutes attended the CS-wide student consultation. “The discussion was successful because the participants are very insightful and participative in their focus group discussions,” Sta. Monica said.

The CS Administration will review the student’s concerns and present them at the next college assembly and university council meeting. “We also plan to aid the CS Admin, should they craft position papers, amendments to the policies, etc.” Sta. Monica added.

For interview requests and other media inquiries, please contact: [email protected]

Top 10 publications of UPD College of Science in 2023

In 2023, about 1 in 20 studies produced by the Philippines came from the UP Diliman College of Science (UPD-CS). With a total of 368 studies across all scientific disciplines, UPD-CS studies accounted for more than half of the total publications produced by UP Diliman. This number comes as no surprise since the College is home to 211 Ph.D faculty members. But beyond the numbers, UPD-CS has published groundbreaking research in many prestigious research journals.

Here are the Top 10 studies published by UPD-CS scientists in journals with high Impact Factors (IF)*:

1. Shedding Light on Mysterious Superconductors (IF: 41.2)

Superconductors allow electricity to pass through with no resistance. Previously, it was believed that when excessive electrons are removed from a superconductor, known as “overdoping,” the material would behave in accordance with the Bardeen–Cooper–Schrieffer (BCS) theory. However, Dr. Miguel Sulangi of the National Institute of Physics and collaborators from the Netherlands, Japan, China, and the USA showed that this is not the case for a mysterious type of superconductor called cuprate superconductors, challenging the long-held belief that BCS theory governs overdoped superconductors. Cuprate superconductors were discovered in 1986 but physicists have yet to uncover all its secrets.

Read the press release here:

Title: Puddle formation and persistent gaps across the non-mean-field breakdown of superconductivity in overdoped (Pb,Bi)2Sr2CuO6+δ
Journal: Nature Materials

2. Applying Einstein’s Concepts of Relativity to Exotic Particles (IF: 16.6)

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity claims that two events can only influence one another if they are inside each other’s spacetime area called the light cone. Borrowing this concept, Dr. Gennevieve Macam of the National Institute of Physics worked with an international team of researchers to explain how two exotic particles called Weyl fermions interact. Their study is the first to describe Weyl fermions in terms of spacetime concepts, demonstrating how two physics disciplines – condensed matter physics and high-energy physics – are fundamentally connected.

Read the press release here:

Title: Causal Structure Of Interacting Weyl Fermions In Condensed Matter Systems
Journal: Nature Communications

3. History of Single-celled Predators (IF: 15.9)

Single-celled organisms, like the protists Acanthamoeba and Dictyostelium, use metals to kill bacterial prey. Exactly how these organisms evolved is the focus of the study by Dr. Windell Rivera and collaborators from China. They provided a timeline for the evolution of metal-poisoning protists, from the moment protists were created to the time they adapted to the environment and acquired the ability to use metals in killing their prey.

Title: A Brief History Of Metal Recruitment In Protozoan Predation
Journal: Trends in Microbiology

4. Identifying First Bacteria Colonizers on Plastics (IF: 13.6)

Many types of bacteria live on plastics left in the environment. But for diverse colonies to thrive, a group of bacteria, called primo-colonizers, must first prime the plastics to make them habitable for other types of bacteria. Justine Marey Bitalac, Norchel Corcia Gomez, and Dr. Deo Florence Onda of the Marine Science Institute, together with Dr. Nacita Lantican of UP Los Baños, identified these primo-colonizers and described how they change the structure of plastics. Their study helps elucidate how plastics degrade in the environment and opens possibilities on how to solve the growing plastic pollution problem.

Title: Attachment Of Potential Cultivable Primo-Colonizing Bacteria And Its Implications On The Fate Of Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) Plastics In The Marine Environment
Journal: Journal of Hazardous Materials

5. Simulating the Spread of Monkeypox (IF: 12.7)

Drs. Victoria May Mendoza and Renier Mendoza of the Institute of Mathematics proved the importance of self-reporting and contract tracing in preventing epidemics. Together with South Korean scientists, they simulated how self-reporting and contract tracing affect the spread of monkeypox in non-endemic regions. They found out that an unreported case can infect about five to ten times more people than a self-reported case, while a delayed contract tracing can increase the infected people by up to 40%.

Title: Estimation Of Monkeypox Spread In A Non-Endemic Country Considering Contact Tracing And Self-Reporting: A Stochastic Modeling Study
Journal: Journal of Medical Virology

6. Classifying Seaweeds in the Philippines (11.5)

Seaweeds such as the milyon-milyon, tambalang, and kab-kab are abundant in the Philippines, making the country one of the leading seaweed farming industries in the world. Despite this, Philippine seaweeds are undocumented. Bea Crisostomo, Zae-Zae Aguinaldo, Lourie Ann Hinaloc, and Dr. Michael Roleda of the Marine Science Institute established the taxonomy and distribution of different seaweeds in the Philippines using knowledge from local farmers. Their study provides a database of seaweeds that can be used for conservation efforts.

Title: The Diversity Of Eucheumatoid Seaweed Cultivars In The Philippines
Journal: Reviews in Fisheries Science & Aquaculture

7. Tropical Cyclones and its Threat to Food Security, Health, and Biodiversity (IF: 11.1)

Damages brought by tropical cyclones produce a cascading effect on food security, health, and biodiversity. In a perspective paper by Dr. Rene Abesamis of the Marine Science Institute and collaborators from Chile, Japan, Switzerland, and Norway, they explained that tropical cyclones can damage roads, agricultural infrastructure, and grazing lands, which affects food production. The destruction of tropical ecosystems also affects food security, which in turn produces health problems such as micronutrient deficiency. The authors urge researchers to develop tools that can aid in policy-making and governments to coordinate closely in a collaborative effort to curb the effects of tropical cyclones.

Title: Impacts Of Tropical Cyclones On Food Security, Health And Biodiversity
Journal: Bulletin of the World Health Organization

8. Tracking Human Settlers in the Holocene Period Using Genetics (IF: 11.1)

By analyzing almost two decades’ worth of genomic data, Jae Joseph Russell Rodriguez of the Natural Sciences Research Institute and international researchers traced how humans migrated around the world and how they facilitated the spread of language and agriculture about ten thousand years ago. In Southeast Asia, their study suggests that human settlers in the region, referred to as Austronesians, first migrated from China to Taiwan, then moved southward to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. Using sophisticated boating technology, Austronesians were then able to reach islands as far as Madagascar and Hawaii.

Title: Genomic Perspectives On Human Dispersals During The Holocene
Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

9. Water-purifying Nanoparticles (IF: 9.9)

As water pollution becomes an ever-more pressing issue, we are in dire need of technologies that can purify water. Dr. Michelle Regulacio of the Institute of Chemistry collaborated with scientists from China to create a nanocomposite that can get rid of water contaminants with the help of light. The nanocomposites, made up of zinc oxide and carbon, can easily cling to organic dyes and bacteria and, using energy from light, decompose or kill them. The nanocomposites are cheap and simple to manufacture, offering a cost-effective wastewater treatment system.

Title: Hydrophilic ZnO/C Nanocomposites With Superior Adsorption, Photocatalytic, And Photo-Enhanced Antibacterial Properties For Synergistic Water Purification
Journal: Journal of Colloid and Interface Science

10. Marine Pollution and Its Effects on Southeast Asian Biodiversity (IF: 9.8)

Southeast Asia is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world while also contributing significantly to marine pollution. Yet the region is underrepresented in studies that focus on the effects of marine pollution on biodiversity. In their review paper, Dr. Lemnuel Aragones of the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology and partners in Southeast Asia investigated why this is the case. They found out that these sorts of studies are complicated by language barriers, sociocultural limitations, and difficulties in examining species.

Title: Interactions Between Marine Megafauna And Plastic Pollution In Southeast Asia
Journal: Science of The Total Environment

In addition, here are the top studies published by UPD-CS-affiliated authors in high IF journals:

Using Algorithms to Model Social Behaviors (IF: 11.25)

Algorithms such as machine learning (ML) are better at classifying social responses than conventional statistical tools. That’s what Dr. Armando Apan of the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology (IESM) and collaborators from Nepal concluded in their research that looked upon the perspective of Nepalese people on energy consumption. ML models of public perceptions can aid in policy-making, planning, and implementation.

Title: Application Of Machine Learning To Assess People’s Perception Of Household Energy In The Developing World: A Case Of Nepal
Journal: Energy and AI

Examining Ecosystem Services in the Himalayas (IF: 11.1)

Services from nature like water supply, crop production, and habitat quality are called ecosystem services. Ecosystem services have unique relationships with one another. For example, when farmers convert forests into farms to increase crop production, the habitat quality will decrease. These unique relationships are the research focus of Dr. Armando Apan of the IESM and his partners in Nepal. They looked into how each ecosystem service changes with respect to one another and examined how this affects the ways of living in the Himalayas.

Title: Understanding Production Possibility Frontiers And Utility Values Of Ecosystem Services In The Himalayas: An Analysis Of The Supply-Demand Divide
Journal: Journal of Cleaner Production

Why Renewable Energy Sources are Failing in Nepal (IF: 9)

The threat of climate change urges countries to transition to renewable energy sources, but developing countries such as Nepal struggle to do so. Dr. Armando Apan of the IESM and collaborators from Nepal examined the reasons and learned that solar and wind technologies shut down because of poor planning and fund discontinuation. Dr. Apan and collaborators emphasized the need to tackle the issue using “bottom-up” approaches that consider local contexts rather than “top-down” approaches that only look at the issue as mere technological transfers.

Title: Rationalizing donations and subsidies: Energy ecosystem development for sustainable renewable energy transition in Nepal
Journal: Energy Policy

* The metric Impact Factor (IF) measures the average number of times research papers are cited. For example, a journal with an IF of 9 means that, on average, research papers published in that journal are cited 9 times.

For interview requests and other media inquiries, please contact: [email protected]