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Science in the spotlight at NSTW 2019

Mikael Angelo Francisco

National Science and Technology Week gives real-world science some much-needed time in the spotlight.

Around the middle of July, pop culture enthusiasts from different parts of the world fly to California, ready to meet their celebrity idols, snag some exclusive swag, or dress up as their favorite fictional characters. Meanwhile, the rest of geekdom is treated to social media feeds filled with updates about upcoming TV series, films, and comic books, all from San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), the world’s largest annual comic and pop culture festival.

In the Philippines, a different kind of event happens at around the same time, one that attracts a similarly passionate crowd. Here, however, fantasy gives way to reality, as science fiction steps aside to give real-world science some much-needed time in the spotlight.

National Science and Technology Week is a yearly celebration organized by the Philippines’ Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Held every third week of July in accordance with Proclamation No. 169 of 1993, NSTW showcases the latest S&T initiatives and projects supported by the department.

This year’s NSTW, held at the World Trade Center in Pasay City, had as its theme, “Science for the People: Enabling Technologies for Sustainable Development.” It was focused on showcasing the newest technologies, research, and products that could help the Philippines meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

The five-day celebration was host to parallel talks and seminars, but the main attraction was the massive exhibit in Halls A to C, divided into eight clusters. Fortunately, I was able to find the time to swing by on the first day and get a good look at what they put on display this year.

The first cluster, the Innovation Park, featured projects that address food security, clean energy, and environmental conservation. It was interesting to see the different projects that the agency supports, from products that make it easier to detect harmful bacteria in food to safety training modules for professionals working in the aforementioned industries.

What really got my attention, though, was a cool electronic tricycle connected to a ride-hailing app! The technology was developed by a group of alumni from the University of the Philippines. The e-trikes will initially be deployed in the UP Diliman campus for testing, serving as a faster and eco-friendly alternative to the university’s jeepneys.

Technologies for better health and medical care were the stars of the second cluster. This cluster was one of the more popular ones among the attendees, as it offered free nutrition and diet counseling sessions, film screenings, and even a cooking demo!

The third cluster focused on human resource development, highlighting the various programs and contests funded by the agency to improve STEM education in the Philippines. On feature were some of the major projects of DOST’s Science Education Institute (SEI), including the annual Innobox competition (which rewards innovative ideas for learning resources and teaching modules), the Indie-Siyensya Science Filmmaking Contest, and the DOST-SEI Scholarship Program. They even brought in some of the holographic displays from the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), which enabled the attendees to learn more about the country’s National Scientists.

In the fourth cluster were the accomplishments of the DOST’s various regional offices related to addressing poverty, economic growth, and peace and justice. The No Poverty exhibit featured locally developed products such as bags and candles, and gave attendees a glimpse at the stories of the rural communities behind them.

Another exhibit in the cluster showed how the agency has been supporting micro, small, and medium enterprises through its technology upgrading programs. There was also a gaming area designed for younger attendees, a wellness garden, and the perennial crowd favorite, the OneStore, where DOST’s beneficiaries offered souvenir items and products for sale.

In the fifth cluster was quite a reality check: the initiatives on marine conservation, sustainable management of forest resources, and biodiversity programs in the agriculture, aquatic, and natural resources sectors. I enjoyed learning about current conservation initiatives and seeing the different all-natural products developed by our local craftsmen, especially given the numerous territorial and resource-related issues in the Philippines now.

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Cluster Six featured how local technologies are being developed for sustainable cities and communities, while weather forecasting and disaster response were at the forefront in the seventh cluster. Among the highlights were a storm surge simulator that basically translated flood level estimates into easily comprehensible visuals, a series of informative safety guides in the event of an earthquake, and dioramas that showed how the Philippines’ satellites monitor different areas in the country and send the data to the ground receiving center. There were even replicas of Diwata-2 and Maya-1 on display, for people who wanted to see for themselves exactly how these Pinoy-made satellites look.

At the last cluster, International Linkages, was a pretty cool and undeniably spot-on gimmick. They handed me a little passport near the entrance, and I was asked to fill it with stamps as I visited the booths of the DOST’s bilateral and multilateral partnerships. The booths also provided information on scholarships and research opportunities for interested attendees.

Meanwhile, parked right outside the World Trade Center was a cool new project called nuLab, which could be adequately described as a “science bus.” The bus featured advanced modules on an assortment of science topics, from aerospace engineering to science media literacy. Built to accommodate 24 senior high school students at a time, nuLab featured laboratory-grade equipment, monitors for each student, and a large interactive board. Basically, it was a science classroom on wheels, and it will be touring the country and making the technology accessible to students across different regions.

Photo credit: DOST

This might sound odd, but the thing that I found most fascinating about this year’s NSTW wasn’t really the exhibits. It wasn’t any of the highly informative forum talks or locally developed products. It wasn’t even the super-cool science bus (because seriously, I envy the students who will take advantage of it). No, it was the fact that so many people attended… and that pretty much all of them were having fun. The crowd was so huge, in fact, that I was almost late for one of the workshops (which I was supposed to be facilitating! ), simply because I couldn’t even make my way to the door.

The celebration highlights just how far Filipinos can go with ingenuity and imagination. And while we admittedly still have a long way to go, at least we’re moving at a pretty steady pace.

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