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Science internship: Teens explore thrills in a physics lab

MANILA, Philippines – Some spend their summer vacations on the beach, some inside their houses watching DVDs and downloaded episodes of television series. Yet some hang out with scientists and perform experiments inside physics laboratories.

Mohammad Fadel Barambangan is an incoming senior at the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) Central Mindanao (Iligan campus). While he is still not sure what course to take in college, he finds that an internship at a physics laboratory will always be useful.

Interested ako sa plasma physics kasi kaunti lang ang nag-study (I’m interested in Plasma Physics because only few study it),” he said.

Barambangan is among the 180 PSHS scholars taking their internship in Metro Manila as part of the annual Summer Science Internship Program (SSIP). Other partner institutions of the program are the Ateneo de Manila University and several attached agencies of the Department of Science and Technology.

Barambangan spends his day trying to operate the equipment at the plasma physics laboratory of the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Physics (UP-NIP), performing experiments and preparing slide presentations about their activities.

Other interns like Kim Faller of the PSHS Eastern Visayas campus and Anton Cabalza and Val Bonite of the main campus in Quezon City said they also have to research and collaborate for their study. But the best part, Cabalza said, is that they are able to experience what it’s like to perform experiments and use equipment and machines inside a real physics laboratory.

Lean Dasallas, a research associate at UP-NIP said, “Good exercise ito para malaman nila na ang physics ay hindi lang puro theories (This project is a good exercise for high school students to learn that physics is not just about theories.).”

“Gusto namin ipakita 'yung trabaho ng scientists sa high school, para na rin ma-correct ang misconceptions, gaya ng naka-lab coat na scientist na nakaharap sa blackboard,” Dasallas added.

(We wanted to show the high school students what scientists do, to correct their misconceptions, like those stereotypical scientists in lab coats standing in front of a blackboard.)

PSHS scholars are asked to join a specific laboratory and complete a 120-hour internship. They are given a sneak preview of what it’s like to study optics, structure and dynamics, instrumentation, semiconductors, photonics, and theoretical physics. All of them work under the supervision of a senior scientist, including one of the latest awardees of the Ten Outstanding Women in National Service (TOWNS), Dr Maricor Soriano.

Dr Perry Esguerra of the Theoretical Physics Group says some of his previous interns from Mindanao got a taste of what it’s like to present their study on the toppling of dominoes during the October 2013 conference of the Samahang Pisika ng Visayas at Mindanao. (Title of the study: "Mechanics of toppling dominoes on a descending inclined plane." Authors: Sevilla, Christopher Gerard R; Jocel B. Bartolay; Jose Perico H. Esguerra)

This year, Esguerra intends to submit for review to an international scientific journal another study performed by his former interns .

SSIP at UP-NIP is on its third year. The National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) has also given financial support for the program. Desalles said that while UP-NIP and PSHS system had signed a memorandum of agreement in 2013, this was the first time that they were also able to get support from the NRCP.

He also said that SSIP is a way of encouraging high school students to study and eventually take a career in science.

Latest data from the Commission on Higher Education show that for the academic year 2011-2012, only 1% of the total number of enrollees in college take courses in natural sciences, including physics. Most of them go to business administration and related degrees.

Source: Commission on Higher Education

Dasallas said that after the program, they hope that these high school students would come back to their lab – as their own students. – Rappler.com