THE SCIENCE COMMUNITY celebrated 2005 as the 1st International Year of Physics, with the spotlight drawn to the 100th anniversary of Einstein's Miraculous Year.
Einstein's scientific achievements are still remembered with so much admiration. Although he did have a formal education in teaching physics and mathematics, he did not get the chance to do physics research.
He first taught mathematics at technical private schools as temporary teacher and later worked as technical expert in the Swiss patent office at Bern. Working during spare time, he completed a range of theoretical physics publications without close contact with scientific literature or colleagues.
A century ago, teaching and studying science were different. There were not many science books, laboratories, and experienced teachers to provide advice and guidance. Discovery work entailed tons of time, mental effort, resources, and personal interest or curiosity.
Science education has since evolved progressively. Access to myriad of science books and literature spirited mentors is not as complex. Many students can also stretch their curiosity in laboratories.
In the local front, the National Institute of Physics at the University of the Philippines Diliman is gaining sparkling reputation as a physics institution managed by well-trained professors and equipped with state-of-the-art laboratory facilities.
Researchers, both NIP faculty members and students conduct research in fields of physics such as condensed matter, instrumentation, structure and dynamics, theoretical physics, photonics, and plasma technology.
A major supporter of NIP research programs is the Philippine Council for Advanced Science and Technology Research and Development, an agency of the Department of Science and Technology that provides funds for selected projects and laboratories.
NIP has produced outstanding research contributions in applied physics. NIP's Dr. Caesar A. Saloma's achievements for example has made him the first Southeast Asia to be awarded the Galileo Galilei Award from the International Commission for Optics in 2004.
Dr. Saloma's research resulted to a device that detects failures in manufacturing electronics and semiconductors. By using combined capabilities of laser confocal microscope with single-photon optical beam induced current (1P-OBIC) imaging, Dr. Saloma's research team produced high-contrast layer-by-layer images of semiconductor sites in integrated circuits at microscopic resolution.
A semiconductor is a tiny material essential in today's computerized systems such as ATMs, airplanes, cars, consumer electronics, etc. It has electrical elements that work together to do specific tasks.
Dr. Saloma's technique makes it easier to detect which part of the semiconductor failed to do its task because it enables direct observations of deeper structures and access to hard-to-reach surfaces. The new detection technique can potentially save the semiconductor industry substantial wastage and revenue loss.
Meanwhile, Dr. Arnel Salvador, NIP deputy director for research and extension service along with another research team produced unique semiconductor compounds such as gallium arsenide (GaAs) and aluminum-gallium arsenide (AIGaAs) with application in fiber optic communication. The compunds allow faster data transmission over long distances. The researchers made use of a thermally controlled evaporation process in an ultra-high vacuum environment known as molecular beam epitaxy or MBE.
According to Dr. Salvador, MBE is considerably essential in creating new structures and crystal materials such as semiconductor laser and light emitting diodes, photodetectors and quantum dots. These are useful in fiber optic communication where light is used as major carrier of information through a fiber medium.
Fiber optic communication technology allows the transfer of large amounts of data significantly faster than in conventional copper cable wires.
Dr. Salvador's team's achievement won 1st Prize in the recent Most Outstanding Research and Development Award given by PCASTRD-DOST, bagging P200,000 cash prize and trophy.
Another multi-awarded physicist is Dr. Henry Ramos who developed a state-of-the-art but comparatively inexpensive coating technology for cutting tools in metal, wood, and plastic items in construction supplies, car and computer parts, and many others.
Dr. Ramos' low-temperature coating technology can deposit either a gold luster titanium nitride or a diamond-like thin film on metal substrates like knives, scissors, and drill bits that extend useful life three to five times.
He used plasma technology, a high-energy gas. This method could potentially save industries a lot of time and money because instead of going to Singapore or Sweden to acquire such specialized coating technology, they can opt to avail of the NIP developed innovation.
On the other hand, Dr. Roland V. Sarmago leads a team to develop a low-cost material that exhibits superconductivity at higher temperatures or anywhere close to room temperature with the use of crystal oxides.
Superconductors are materials that lose all resistance to the flow of current at low temperatures. They operate extremely fast and produce almost no heat. They are useful in manufacturing various materials in electronics, glass and ceramics, and construction supplies among others.
In 1994, Dr. Sarmago and his group also received the Most Outstanding Research and Development Award given by PCASTRD. Dr. Sarmago's team has prepared and characterized high-critical-temperature superconductors. This significant superconductor research leads to further and affordable studies on the applications of crystal oxides.
PCASTRD is a DOST sectoral agency tasked to develop and strengthen national capability for research and/or training in basic and advanced sciences that include physics, materials science, information and communication technology, biotechnology, space technology, and photonics, among others.
-S&T Post, Vol. XXIV, 2nd Quarter 2006
Interviewed by: Liza Aleria, Information Officer III, PCASTRD