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From the Arts, to Science

Elson Galang, currently a college student at the University of the Philippines-Los Banos majoring in Agricultural Chemistry, was an Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2012 finalist. He recently founded the Network of ISEF Alumni-Philippines and serves as the network’s acting Editor-in-Chief.

What was your experience being an Intel ISEF finalist like?

In high school, I never really saw myself working in the sciences. Instead, I was an active student publication writer, public speaker, fashion lover, and a self-proclaimed artist. However, I have always been amazed by my schoolmates who won various national and international science competitions. I thought that science was natural for them, and it was just not for me.

In my junior year at Philippine Science High School, we were told to start a science research project that would fulfil one of the requirements to graduate from high school. I may do well in the arts, but I doubted if I can do the same for science. But I took the risk and got to attend Intel ISEF in return! Being an arts-inclined person, I had difficulty choosing a topic for my project. But then, as some old saying says, “If you can’t cut the two, fold it.” I tried exploring some branches of science until I found textile science- a field where I can combine both the art of fashion and technicality of science. From then on, I was motivated and maybe one day I can see my project on the runways of Paris, New York, or Milan.

My project focused on the production and characterization of a new eco-fabric from a blend of cotton fibers and fragrant screw pine leaf fibers. This was inspired by the efforts of our country’s textile research institute to decrease cotton imports by integrating some percentage of Philippine fibers into cotton fabrics. My results showed that blending the two fibers creates an economically efficient eco-fabric. Additional options could help decrease imports and provide a viable alternative to blending polyester, an environmentally threatening material, with cotton.

How did you think participating in events like Intel ISEF will affect your career trajectory?

My Intel ISEF experience was turning point in my life. It was from there that I became a fulltime advocate for and lover of science. I felt encouraged by the support Intel and SSP provided to all science enthusiasts in the world. Other than the fun, hotel accommodations, memorable tours, meeting Nobel Prize winners, and the chance to be in the United States of America, it was the exchange of stories and ideas from all other young scientists of every corner of the globe that made me believe science can actually change the world.

Now in addition to writing for school publications about current news and school activities, I also write science news and feature articles. I speak about not only human rights, but highlight the achievements of young Filipino scientists. Instead of loving fashion just for the aesthetics, I now prioritize the efficiency of the materials used. I found the science inside me, and I am more than happy that it works well with my arts interests and background.

You have recently begun an alumni network for Intel ISEF alumni from the Philippines. Can you tell us about that network?

Intel ISEF was not the end, but just a beginning of a bigger mission. I found the science within me and I felt it was time to help others find it.

We recently begun the Network of ISEF Alumni- Philippines, composed of all the country’s Intel ISEF finalists since the Philippines started participating. I observed how other Asian countries like Japan and Taiwan have long-established alumni chapters. Upon returning from Intel ISEF 2012, I immediately talked to some previous Intel ISEF alumni and our mentors about the idea. Just like the giant poster at the David Lawrence Convention Center [in Pittsburgh, PA] said, “Now on to change the world.”

After being privileged to be part of Intel ISEF, it was time for us to spread the challenge. We have started formulating plans and activities, including free trainings for all high school students in the country who want to be in the field of science research, and free mentorship for all future Intel ISEF teams from the Philippines. Many of our alumni are already professionals in their respective fields. Some are working in physics, medicine, mathematics, chemistry and other scientific fields. They can easily help maximize the potential of all our high school students and our Intel ISEF Philippine Team members by sharing their expertise.

We are also eyeing the implementation of Intel ISEF projects in various communities where they apply. I firmly believe that these projects deserve to be removed from library stacks and be in use for the common good. A project from Jaro, Ilo-ilo that won a Fourth Place award at Intel ISEF 2012 developed a technique for growing corals on bamboo. A project from Panabo City that won another Fourth Place award at Intel ISEF 2013 discovered antifungal properties of a certain plant against Fusarium wilt of bananas. These are just some of the projects that if only shared and implemented, can surely improve lives in our communities. Finally, we are working to release a journal this year featuring all projects from our country’s Intel ISEF finalists and all local science fair champions, recognizing their achievements and contributions to science.

Do you have any advice for other young students interested in science?

You don’t have to be a science geek to be interested in science. Whether you are an artist or athlete, a love for science is surely still embedded in you, and it is up for you to find it. Make sure you help others find it too!

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