A Growing OPCW Family: OPCW Associate Programme Launches

In September 2000, a group of hand-picked scientists, chemical engineers and technological specialists embark on a three month long capacity-building project to enhance their knowledge of the Chemical Weapons Convention and to develop the skills necessary to operate in a modern chemistry environment.

Now in its 18th year, the OPCW Associate Programme has evolved into a major international training project conducted over 9-10 weeks in Asia, Europe, and Latin America to foster the economic and technological development of OPCW Member States. More than 400 Alumni from 118 developing countries support national implementation of the Convention and engage in outreach activities worldwide.

Read more at opcw.org.

The International Chemistry Olympiad . . . Olympics of the Mind

By Jose M. Andaya

The four-day debut of the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) on June 18, 1968 in Czechoslovakia, Prague showcased three European teams wrestled questions in chemistry. Since then, the IChO has earned a reputation from a mere curiosity to one of the most anticipated international events for chemistry enthusiasts.

The Philippines is not a member of IChO and for quite a number of years, our high school students who would like to compete in the IChO cannot do so because of this reason. In this regard, the Philippine Federation of Chemistry Societies or PFCS and the different associations under it like the Philippine Association of Chemistry Teachers or PACT, Kapisanan ng mga Kimiko sa Pilipinas or the KKP, and the Integrated Chemists of the Philippines or the ICP, have joined forces together to generate enough finances to send local observers to the IChO.

IChO requires each participating country to observe the Olympiad proceedings for two years first before it is allowed to send contestants. The first observation happened on the 47thIChO on July 20 – 29, 2015 in Baku, Azerbaijan. While the second IChO observation was in Tbilisi, Georgia for the 48thIChO last July 23 – August 1, 2016.  During these observations, I have learned the different activities of mentors and students during the 10-day Olympiad. The students are housed in a different hotel away from their mentors during the whole Olympiad. There are only a few occasions when mentors and students get together for some programs or events. Highlights of the events included the Opening program, wherein the host country welcomes all guest and participants for the year’s Olympiad. It double functions as fellowship gathering where participants from various countries get to know each other.

The Jury nights or meetings, is where the committee who prepared the questions and the mentors meet and discuss the validity of the questions that will be used. All important issues or concerns regarding the Olympiad are threshed out in this session. On a lighter note, a city tour for students was organized to enable them to explore the city while their mentors prepare the final questions to be used in the Olympiad. When it’s the student’s turn to take the examinations, mentors and guest took turns to explore the city.

The arbitration day, is when the committee who prepared the questions check the test papers of the students.  After checking, the mentors can still discuss with the committee to negotiate for partial point/s by giving justifications to the answers of their students. The IChO is capped with a closing ceremony, where students who performed best in the Olympiad are given recognition, to include the merit award, bronze, silver and gold medals. This is also the opportunity to say farewell to all attendees of the Olympiad.

We successfully accomplished the two-year observation period as a prerequisite to joining the IChO. All chemistry associations under the PFCS, the PACT, the KKP and the ICP, are happy to see the realization of our dreams.  Someday, our Filipino students will compete in the International Chemistry Olympiad or IChO and win. As the 2016 IChO organizers have told us “they are happy to welcome the first Filipino group who will participate in the 2017 IChO” which will happen in Thailand next year.

Fabian M. Dayrit

By Mark Adam Ferry

Dr. Fabian M. Dayrit has been teaching chemistry in the Ateneo de Manila University since 1983. He established the National Chemistry Instrumentation Center (NCIC) when the first high field Fourier transform-Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer and high resolution Mass Spectrometer (MS) in the country were obtained in 1994 under the Engineering and Science Education Program (ESEP). He was the first Dean of the School of Science and Engineering, serving from 2000 to 2011. He was also the founder and first director of the Environmental Science Program, which was established in 1992 and later elevated to a department in 1998.

Dr. Dayrit is a true-blue Atenean, having studied there since grade school up to college. In 1975, he graduated cum laude from the Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in BS Chemistry. He then received his M.A. and PhD degrees in Chemistry from Princeton University in 1978 and 1981, respectively.

Currently, he is the president of the Integrated Chemists of the Philippines (ICP), a post that that he has held since 1995. The ICP is the accredited professional organization of the Chemistry profession under the Professional Regulation Commission. He has been the chair for the Technical Panel for Nanotechnology of the Philippine Council for Advanced Science and Technology Research & Development of Department of Science & Technology since 2009, a consultant on Confirmatory Drug Testing using Mass Spectrometry for the Department of Health (DOH) since 2008, chair of the steering committee for the Science Education Graduate Scholarships for the Commission on Higher Education since 2007, a member of the Board of Trustees for the Philippine Institute for Alternative Health Care (PITAHC) for DOH since 2006, and a member of the Editorial Board of the Philippine Journal of Science since 2005. He was the project leader of the DOST Roadmap for Nanotechnology Development in the Philippines, which identified the priority areas for the development of nanotechnology R&D in the country. He is also a member of various scientific and professional societies which include the Philippine-American Association of Science and Engineering (PAASE), Natural Products Society of the Philippines (NPSP), National Research Council of the Philippines and the American Chemical Society. He is the chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC) an intergovernmental agency of 18 coconut producing countries which was established by UN ESCAP. Dr. Dayrit was elected as Academician in the National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines (NAST PHL) in 2009 and is currently its Acting President.

Dr. Dayrit’s research interests include natural products chemistry and environmental chemistry. For natural products, he studies various aspects of the quality of virgin coconut oil. Current research going on is the potential use of virgin coconut oil (VCO) against Alzheimer’s disease. Spirulina algae is also being studied for commercial production of cheap fish feed, as well as the bioengineering of algae to produce more high-value compounds such as phycobili proteins. Various endemic and Southeast Asian plant species used in traditional medicine are also being studied for standardization. His scientific works have resulted in various publications in ISI-listed and non-ISI listed journals and academic awards. In 2010, he received the “Award of Excellence in Science & Engineering” from the Philippine Development Foundation USA during the Philippine Development Forum. He and Dr. Marissa Noel received an “Award for Best Paper” by NAST PHL in 2007 for their publication entitled, “Triterpenes in the Callus Culture of Vitex negundo, L.”.

Outside the laboratory, he is also working on adding more volumes to the compilation of currently standardized traditional medicinal plants in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia. The first volume of the Encyclopedia of Common Medicinal Plants of the Philippines, to which he is a co-editor of, was published in 2015.

Dr. Dayrit truly enjoys teaching. He regularly teaches advanced organic chemistry with focus on natural products, mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. He loves seeing his past students become successful in the field. For being a long time educator and chemist in the Philippines, he says that chemistry in the Philippines is still a relatively small industry and field. The country has been developing rapidly in various fields of science such as information technology and biology (as a biodiversity hotspot). As a central science, he wants to highlight the importance of chemistry for the Philippines.

He is married to Ma. Corazon Baytion and they have two children, Enzo and Felicia. Outside work, Dr. Dayrit enjoys photography, being outdoors, travel, and playing the flute.

My personal memoirs: Life at the Ateneo Chemistry Department, 1965-67

By Dr. Cynthia J. Jameson

This article originally appeared on the Ateneo de Manila University website.

In 1965 Keith was hired by Fr. Schmitt basically on the spot after he presented his credentials. Fr. Schmitt said that he was going to have lunch with the Rector and talk to him about it, but he did not see any problems with Keith’s appointment. At that time the new building was just going through the final cleaning up and Fr. Schmitt going after the contractors for various remaining unfinished work here and there. You know how he was; Keith marveled at his dedication.

In the period 1965-1967 that Keith was on the faculty, there were only Fr. Schmitt, Amando Kapauan, Modesto Chua, Anna Javellana, Edgardo Piccio and Salvador Balalta and Keith. Only Mody Chua is still around as Emeritus. It was the formative years for the department and Keith enjoyed the short time he was there. Keith acquired an MS student, Maria Christina Damasco (now Padolina). She had a BS in Chemical Engineering. Keith gave her the project of finding the optimum conditions for growing iron-oxidizing microorganisms (presumably Thiobacillus ferrooxidans) from Bingham Canyon UT efficiently (in large numbers in a compact system). Later, even sophomore students like Jose Carlos Jr. got involved. Christina’s MS thesis “Microbial Metabolism in an Electrolytic Cell” was accepted in May 1967 by Ateneo. She is currently president of Centro Escolar University.

Keith’s first graduating class (1966) at Ateneo consisted of Claro Llaguno, Benjamin Mandanas, Arturo Mateos, Salvador Ondevilla, and Luisito Tan. These 5 students spent many dinner times at our home in UP Village. I used to cook large batches of pancit bihon and grilled pork skewers for them when they came over. Keith made sure we had enough cold San Miguel beer on hand when they showed up. Keith thought these students were very good, and in the following year all except Ondevilla would go into PhD programs in the U.S. with his encouragement.

After some time, we decided that it was not possible for us to continue to do the kind of research that we wanted to do in the Philippines. As soon as we realized we were going to have to leave, Keith started to plan for the future of those students we were leaving behind. He recruited the best students in the chemistry curriculum at Ateneo, one freshman, some sophomores, juniors, and seniors, to attend a crash course that he taught at Ateneo (on his own time) in advanced physical chemistry. I asked him to let the star in my general chemistry class (Leni Lontok) take the crash course too. Outside of classroom time, including weekends, he taught them quantum mechanics, group theory and a bit of molecular spectroscopy. To be able to do this required careful planning, because the mathematics they needed also had to be taught for a rigorous approach to these topics. Among those in the crash course were Lawrence Que, Jose Carlos, Jr., Danilo de la Cruz, Eugene Varona, all of whom went to the US and completed their PhD degrees in Chemistry (University of Minnesota, Cornell, Iowa State University, Penn State University, respectively).  Leni decided to not continue (she later did her PhD at Ateneo with Fr. Schmitt), and the very promising Ateneo freshman (I forget his name) eloped with his girl friend just at the beginning of the class and dropped out. Otherwise, the rest stayed through the whole period, which lasted until we were about to leave for the US by the end of May 1967. He gave them as much as they could handle if they worked hard at keeping up. And they did.

The graduates of 1966 Claro Llaguno, Benjamin Mandanas, Luisito Tan all left within a few days of the time Keith and I did, going to University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Iowa State University, and Indiana University PhD programs, respectively.  Arturo Mateos followed later, going for his PhD in Chemistry at Loyola University – Chicago when Keith was already there. Keith’s MS student Maria Christina Damasco also left at about the same time. She tried to find a PhD program in the US in Chemical Engineering, but they weren’t taking any female students at that time, so she went to get her PhD in Chemistry at the University of Texas – Austin. (She later married William Padolina who became DOST secretary.)  The sophomores and juniors in the crash course followed later. Lawrence Que is Regents Professor of Chemistry at University of Minnesota.

There was incredible amount of excitement during our last year in the Philippines. Both Keith’s and my students were applying to PhD programs at the same time. It seemed like we spent a lot of time attending despedida parties, going to the airport and seeing off one student after another. In fact, I have photos of us seeing off Claro Llaguno, Luisito Tan, and Ben Mandanas, one at a time, before we ourselves left.

Since we would occasionally invite them to dinner in restaurants, UP and Ateneo students got to know each other. My students who we encouraged to do PhDs in the US were Elma Caballes, Rudyard Enanoza, Luisita de la Rosa, Melinda de Guzman, Virginia Ramos, Anna Tan, and Linda Vergara. They went to U of Illinois, University of Notre Dame, Iowa State University, Ohio State University, University of Minnesota and eventually Purdue University, Johns Hopkins University, and Pennsylvania State University, respectively. Claro Llaguno from Ateneo and Elma Caballes from UP went to the same PhD program and later married each other. Claro Llaguno later became Chancellor of University of the Philippines-Diliman.

The two-plus years we taught at UP and Ateneo constituted only a small sliver of our academic careers, but those years and those undergraduate students had a very special place in our hearts. We kept track of them for many years, as they went on their own paths.

Because of my having to go back to the Philippines owing to my J visa, Keith left his industrial research job at Esso and his MBA thesis unfinished. The time at Ateneo convinced him that he wanted a different career path. His colleagues on the faculty and the students made all the difference. And so he ended up at another Jesuit university, ha ha. But there are no other Fr. Schmitts in the universe.

In those days there was such a camaraderie among faculty and students. This is a photo taken on May 1st 1966 when we all went to the airport to see Mody Chua off to Bonn where he would be doing his postdoctoral fellowship with Professor Rudolph Tschesche sponsored by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. In this picture are Rolf Kleindienst of the Ateneo Economics department, myself, Keith, Fr. Schmitt, Benjamin Mandanas, Mody Chua, Claro  Llaguno, Luisito Tan and Jose Carlos Jr.

After seeing Mody off at the airport, we all headed directly to Malabon where Arturo Mateos was preparing a feast for us (a seafood spread on banana leaves) which we cooked right there. In the photos, you see Fr. Schmitt, Art Mateos, Ben Mandanas; on the other side, Keith and myself; Fr. Schmitt enjoying fish right off the grill. We also had oysters, crabs, and shrimp. Those were the days!

About the author: Dr. Cynthia Juan Jameson is Professor Emerita of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at University of Illinois-Chicago, with research interests in Physical Chemistry, in particular fundamental studies in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy. She obtained her B.S. Chemistry from UP Diliman in 1958 and Ph.D. Chemistry from University of Illinois (Urbana) in 1963. She married Keith Jameson and the couple spent two exciting years at the Ateneo Chemistry Department from 1965-67.

Ronaldo M. Fabicon

By Mark Adam Ferry

What has science done for you lately?  This is rhetorical question a common person would easily blurt out in desperation. Have you noticed laundry detergents generating desirable voluminous suds in the washing process to clean the laundry? However, while ample suds are desirable during cleaning, it typically takes between multiple rinses to remove them, translating to water wastage as well as added energy or labor cost. Here comes a patented invention that dared to improve this laundering dilemma providing a liquid laundry detergent containing 0.01-1% of a silicone-containing suds suppressor and thus saving water.

The patent inventor previously described is Ronaldo Fabicon, an alumnus of Pennsylvania State University with a doctorate degree of inorganic chemistry with a specialization in organometallic chemistry and catalysis. His research area is inorganic chemistry, and focuses on both heterogeneous and homogeneous catalysis. Currently, he is working on the use of surfactants, polymers, and the complexes of both synthesis of active-release agents. Included in this research is the interaction of surfactants with inorganic materials like zeolites in complexes. He also dabbles in using zeolite for the catalysis of the production of biodiesel.

As a researcher in the Philippine context, he notes that one of the main struggles he experienced is the limited access if not unavailability of high-tech instruments used for characterization. “Because of these limitations, sometimes, we cannot to research that we are most interested in. We look at research that can be done here in the Philippines using the equipment and the raw materials we have instead.” The industry in the country has a lot of potential to grow as well. “The good thing is that we are doing basic research which will be very useful here in the Philippines. Example, one of the research I hope to do is on biodiesel and looking to improve the catalysis on that. Eventually, it will lead to research that will help the industry and the use of it here.” Ronaldo hopes for a future that involves more high-tech research instead of the basic research that we do here today.

In terms of being a professor in the Ateneo, he states that the quality of chemistry education given by universities in the Philippines is almost at par with other developed countries with a more rigorous culture for science and research. “Based from my experience in universities in the United States and when I was in China.” For chemistry education in the country, he is already satisfied with the level of learning being done now, but he is more interested how far the Philippines will progress once the ASEAN integration is in full effect. “I think there will be a lot of improvement for research.”

Outside the laboratory, he loves tinkering with used computers he salvages. “I don’t know how I came to love this, but I buy a non-working computer and look at what’s inside. I try to some things work. I don’t have any education on computers and electronics, but it’s a hobby of mine; the thrill of self-discovery and the things that you can make of it.”

Lea Macaraig

Lea Macaraig obtained both her bachelors degree in Chemistry and Computer Engineering, and masters degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from the Ateneo de Manila University. She pursued a doctorate degree in Energy Science in Kyoto University, and is presently a post-doctorate researcher in the research group of Dr. Erwin Enriquez.  Her research interest is in the makeup, design, and architecture of materials used in energy sources, specifically photovoltaic cells under the PICARI Project (Philippines-California Advanced Research Institute) funded by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). They are working on the development of sensitized perovskite-based solar cells. Dr. Macaraig stressed the significant difference in budget allocation for science education and research. “But it’s in the good ideas. From good ideas you can do research even if you have a lower budget compared to your peers in other countries.”

The chemistry educator in Dr. Macaraig, safeguards her students become better equipped in the laboratory skills expected of them. “Secondary schools in the Philippines do not have good teaching laboratory practices.” She mentioned that focusing on skills training than concepts and will in turn make the students eager to learn, especially in her advanced chemistry classes. On the other side of the spectrum, there are students who might be anxious of learning chemistry. “You just need to guide them,” she added. Dr Macaraig hopes that the Philippine education would allot more time in a student’s formal education to research. “We do three or four years of lecture-lab concepts for chemistry majors, then do a one-year project at the end. That one year is short. In Japan, that one year is not enough.”

The present scenario in chemical industries requires refinement in the research experience qualification for employment. In other countries, she states that to be accepted in a certain industry position, the applicant must have earned at least a masters degree, and have considerable experience in research: in the Philippines, it is still at the bachelor’s degree level. Many bachelor’s degree theses have not yet delved deep enough.

“When I was younger, recalled my dad mentioned he is a chemist, I said I wanted to do his job.” I always accompanied my dad in the fields and in the forests. How do these play in Lea’s life explains why she is chemist today. In her spare time, Lea fiddles in aquaculture and agriculture. She also enjoys watching sports such as basketball and Formula One.

Olivia Erin Buenafe

Olivia “Oui” Buenafe’s research is focused on natural products chemistry with application
in drug development and she is presently involved in the Tuklas Lunas Project by PCHRD (Philippine Council for Health, Research, and Development) along with Dr. Fabian Dayrit, Dr. Nina Rosario Rojas, and Dr. Merab Chan. “We are looking into screening select plants such as turmeric and see if we could get any bioactives in there that could help mitigate degenerative diseases that come with ageing.” She graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City as the first straight BS/MS Chemistry graduate and obtained her doctorate degree from the Katholiek Universiteit Leuven.

Dr. Buenafe’s research experiences here and abroad made her more aware of the real essence of the word research. “You realize that the word research has two parts: ‘re’ and ‘search.’ You don’t usually get it right the first time, which is why it’s re-search. You have to search for [the answer] again. It’s not a direct thing. You have to try different ways in attacking the problem to come up with a solution.” She relates this to her experiences as a chemistry teacher in the Ateneo de Manila University: “…there’s no tried and tested way in going about teaching the different branches of chemistry. There are many different styles, and they all work. It just depends on who you’re teaching. It’s also not a one way thing. It goes both ways.” By giving her students what she knows, Oui gains insight about her interests and the students’ passions as well.

Like most researchers in the country, she hopes for greater visibility of studies done in the country. More importantly, she adds that studies and development of chemistry education is required for the cultivation of a culture of science in the Philippines. “Not just for the chemistry majors, but for the lay persons as well. A dream of a researcher is to be able to communicate to ordinary people about what they’re researching on especially in the field of chemistry, and most importantly in the field of drug discovery and research. Not just the technical persons in campus, but those outside as well, and how they would benefit from it.”

“I also do hand lettering in my spare moments. That’s how I de-stress,” the amateur calligrapher in her retorted. She sees the art form as both a hobby and an analogy to her classes. Whilst teaching analytical chemistry laboratory, she views precision in writing akin to laboratory practices. “Every stroke, every movement is deliberate.”

Soma Chakraborty

IMG_1864_1 copy“I always want to give to my students. Students here are willing to absorb new knowledge, and takes on the challenge.” Dr. Chakraborty affirmed. Let’s face it, not all teachers will have this frame of mind. Dr. Chakraborty, or Doc Soma as known by her students and peers, has been with the Ateneo chemistry department for nearly 10 years. She says that as a professor of chemistry, she always has a good experience with students in the classroom and in the laboratory. She hopes to see more Filipino scientists gaining visibility in the international research arena. She suggests that apart from exploring the scientific research topics that has been adequately studied by other researchers, they can also focus on the challenging projects related to natural resources(products) to draw the attention of scientists from the other parts of the world and to establish an unique identity.

Professor Soma Chakraborty finished her masters in the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi and later her doctorate degree in the Polytechnic University, New York and post-doctoral fellowship from Columbia University, New York. Working in different aspects of polymers, her research focus is the synthesis, and modification of polymer-based materials as vehicles for controlled release for drug delivery. She is known in the department for the extensive study on crosslinked ε-caprolactone (ε-CL) based nanoparticles and hydrogels with enzyme catalysts to yield completely biocompatible products. Other studies on ε-CL include polymer architecture by using co-monomers to alter the tertiary structure of nanoparticles. She is equally interested in the fabrication of molecularly imprinted polymers (MIP) for more efficient isolation of targeted natural products in collaboration with the other researchers in the department including Dr. Fabian Dayrit. Chitosan which is commonly found in the carapace of arthropods is used for such application.

When not in the daily grind of teaching and research, Doc Soma unwinds from stress by painting, dancing, cooking or simply grabbing a good book to read.

The Family that Cared for Richard Heck

By Fabian M. Dayrit, PhD.

Richard F. Heck

Unfortunately the portrayal of the events prior to the death of Prof. Heck is incomplete. It’s not true that he died without being cared for. Let me share with you some details that will hopefully give you a better picture of the situation. I am writing this to honor his memory, to show gratitude for his family, and to correct the news that he was not cared for. Richard Heck did have a family that cared for him until his death.

I first met with Prof. Heck a few days after the announcement of his Nobel award in 2010. The Integrated Chemists of the Philippines was organizing the 26th Philippine Chemistry Congress in April 2011, so he would have been a great plenary speaker. We found him living in a modest home in the Tandang Sora area. He had completely retired from Chemistry and had been out of touch with things for over 10 years already. He also suffered from dementia and so did not want to talk science, but was happy to inspire the young. We arranged to have some of our MS Chem students interview him at his home.

At that time, he was almost completely dependent on his wife, Socorro, and his nephew, Michael Nardo. He was also very much attached to Michael’s child. He seemed happy with his simple life. It was also clear that he had no family to go back to in the US so this was his home.

Prof. Heck brought his family along to our chemistry congress in Cebu. We arranged for him to have a session with the student participants in the annual Chemistry quiz contest for high school students, an event which he enjoyed.

Socorro was many years younger than Richard (almost 20 years, I think), and so I was surprised and saddened when she passed away two years ago. Richard’s care fell to the hands of Mike.

People ask about the financials and what has happened to his share of the Nobel funds. I am guessing that Socorro, like all Filipina wives, probably took care of managing the funds. Certainly, I don’t think that Richard would have been in any condition to manage it properly. So when she passed away suddenly, I don’t know if any of the financial information and legal papers would have been attended to. I don’t know if Mike has knowledge of how to manage the legal situation since Heck is a US citizen and Mike is not a “next of kin”.

The Nardos are a family with modest means so it was a big burden for them to take over the care of Richard with the many medical complications that had come up. All they had was Heck’s $2,500 pension and a US insurance company that was delayed in its payments to the hospital. Mike told me that they had to sell their car to raise more funds for Richard’s care. From Mike’s description of Heck’s condition, it’s possible that Alzheimer’s may have been setting in as well.

The first day of the wake on Saturday, October 10, was assigned to the Philippine chemistry societies. I was at the wake in the afternoon when the GMA news crew was interviewing the two caregivers. The reporter was obviously more interested in the news angle that Heck had been abandoned. We asked them whether they wanted to interview others who were also at the wake (Dr. Alvin Culaba, VP of DLSU, and Drs. Armand and Odette Guidote were also there at the time) but they were satisfied with the story line that they got from the caregivers. This was also the story that came out in Rappler.

In addition to the family, we should also be thankful to De La Salle for welcoming Richard to their academic community and for providing for the wake expenses. I am sure that this added to the joy of his final years.

Richard Heck did have a family that cared for him.


About the author: Dr. Dayrit is an Academician of the National Academy of Science & Technology (Philippines). He is a Professor of Chemistry, Ateneo de Manila University, and the current president of the Integrated Chemists of the Philippines.