Marine scientist is 2018 'Women in Science' National Fellow

MANILA, Philippines – A marine scientist from the University of the Philippines (UP) was named National Fellow of the 2018 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science (FWIS) Fellowship. 

Dr Charissa Marcaida Ferrera is the 4th scientist from the UP Marine Science Institute (UPMSI) to have won the FWIS fellowship since it was launched in the Philippines in 2011. (READ: Shining a spotlight on Pinay scientists)

The fellowship program is designed to provide visibility to Filipina scientists who could inspire a new generation of women researchers in the country.

Ferrera a university researcher, specializes in marine biogeochemistry, studying the relationship between the chemistry, geology, and biology of the marine ecosystem.

Ferrera took up her bachelor's degree in Chemistry (2004) and MS Marine Science (2012) at UP Diliman, and her PhD in Mechanical and Environmental Informatics (2016) at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan.

Her current research delves into the water quality in Anda and Bolinao, two of the towns in Western Pangasinan that breed bangus (milkfish). Ferrera studies the amount of phosphorus – one of the nutrients that support the growth of algae and other aquatic plants. 

An excessive amount of phosphorus in the water and sediments lead to phosphorus pollution, and is linked to harmful algal blooms or red tide. Harmful algal blooms could be toxic for marine life, and are often linked to a localized die-off of the fish population or fish kill.

Ferrera was aboard a research cruise ship off the coast of Eastern Luzon when she found out about the fellowship.

"One day, one of our research leaders went up to me and told me, 'Congratulations!' and flashed the phone upon reading the message saying that I got the FWIS fellowship," Ferrera told Rappler, explaining that the research team could only use one common phone while in the ship. 

Ferrera said it was a heartwarming experience to receive the news about the fellowship while in the middle of a busy research cruise.

"I'm taking it as a challenge – I wish I could carry out the fellowship successfully, and help inspire women and young girls to pursue their dreams in science," she added.

NATIONAL FELLOW. Ferrera receives the award on Tuesday, June 5. Photo by Shai Panela/Rappler

NATIONAL FELLOW. Ferrera receives the award on Tuesday, June 5.

Photo by Shai Panela/Rappler

Inspiring young girls

The FWIS fellowship comes with a research grant worth P400,000. Ferrera intends to use this to pursue research and science communication projects.

"For the science communication aspect of the grant, the first step is to let the local government unit in Bolinao know about the project so they can provide insights on how to improve the research. My goal is to compile the published researches and transform them into health report cards that the public could use to monitor the health and quality of the water in their area," she said.

She added: "I also intend to conduct a survey on the perception of the local community to the scientific results. I want to understand how the public sees these published researches, and how I could help make these studies useful for the proper beneficiaries."

Ferrera hopes that with her fellowship, she could inspire young girls to pursue a career in science.

"If it's really your passion and if you're really interested to do science, you should pursue it. Push lang (Just push for it)!" she said

Ferrera added: "When I was in Japan, I've learned this phrase 'Gambarimas.' I'd like to tell young girls who are aspiring scientists to always do your best not because everything is perfect and not because everything is working well. Do your best in whatever situation and after that, that's when you'll see the fruits of your hard work." – Rappler.com