By Jessica Pag-iwayan
For decades now, the notion that science and religion contradict each other has been around, mostly unchallenged. There have been many scientific studies debunking the existence of God, such as the theory of evolution and the Big Bang Theory.
But young Filipino scientists Jay Patrick Nieles from University of Sto. Tomas and Christian Badua from University of the Philippines (UP) Manila beg to differ. For them, scientific discoveries are the solid foundation proving the existence of a Higher Being who designed all the wonders of the world, and scientists are “just discovering what God has already made.”
Jay and Christian are the winners of this year’s Bank of the Philippine Islands Foundation and Department of Science and Technology or BPI-DOST Science Awards. It is an annual competition wherein BPI and DOST award 30 outstanding college students who have developed scientific researches and innovations.
“We partner with DOST where they identified 11 schools in the country that are centers of excellence for certain fields of sciences and we get entries from all these schools. Each school nominated top three entries, and from there, we screened the top 30,” Maricris San Diego, BPI Foundation executive director explains to Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.
According to her, the main criteria in selecting winners aside from the research design and methodology is how the study can be applied. “It’s important for us that it’s something that can be used in the daily life of the Filipinos, something that can help make the Philippines a better country. It has to be workable and implementable in today’s society,” she says.
Out of top 30 students, Jay and Christian were named as the Best Innovators. Jay who just recently completed a bachelor of science degree in Electronics Engineering bagged the top spot, with his study that aims to help locked-in syndrome patients. Through a brain-computer typing interface that uses visual imagination of shapes and symbols, Jay hopes to allow these patients to communicate with the people around them.
“Locked-in syndrome patients are characterized by full paralysis. Meaning, they’re paralyzed from head to toe, except for eye blinks and vertical eye movements,” Jay explains. “What we did is we used the brain signals to facilitate communication for them. You could type in the computer by just thinking of the letter itself. This study is a means to determine if it’s possible to type with your brain.”
The second top winner is Christian, a 21-year-old BS Biology graduate who spearheaded a research investigation on how probiotics, specifically lactic acid bacteria, could be used in the treatment of colorectal cancer.
“We used an in vitro model, and we tested the capability of the bacteria that we had against colorectal cancer cells. With that, we saw that there’s a capability to stop the growth and even heal the cancer cells,” says Christian.
Breaking from the stereotype
Both Jay and Christian are fully aware of the conflict between science and religion. But as Christians [they are both members of Victory church], they believe that winning the said competition opens vast opportunities for them to break free from this stereotype and prove the existence of God.
“They say that when you’re from the science industry, you don’t believe in God. But looking at those things, everything is very well-designed,” says Jay. “Example, the constant of gravity is 9.81 meters per second. What if it becomes 4.5? We’re all now floating, even if it’s just 9.82 [things will change]. Everything is very specific.”
Christian chimes in. “In the biological sciences a lot of scientists in those areas they want to say that evolution is the way. And a lot of ideas came from that and they say that everything is just random.”
But Christian doesn’t want to be persuaded by this ideology. “I personally believe that the great works of scientists couldn’t have been there without a great creator himself. We’re just here to discover these new things, we’re just here to be the one to share it with other people,” he says. “Discovering these new things is a way to share with other people who God is, who created all these great things. This drew me closer to God realizing that he gave humans these talents, these thoughts, to do these things to help others.”
Tips for next BPI-DOST researchers
For those aspiring students who also want to join the BPI-DOST Science Awards, the two young scientists also give some words of wisdom.
Jay, also a student athlete, encourages everyone to break away from society’s norm. “I played for the UAAP, I was a track and field player. There’s a mindset that if you’re a student-athlete you cannot innovate,” he says. “In my case, I trained but I still innovate. So, I want to encourage everyone, anyone to innovate. You don’t need to be stuck by society’s stereotypes. If I can do it with God’s grace, anyone can do it as well.”
As for Christian, he acknowledges the reality that conducting a research entails a lot of trials and errors, that might be a reason for students to stop trying. “If you find any struggle in your research, just a big reminder: Don’t give up. Wherever you feel down, whenever you feel you can’t move forward with whatever research topic you’re doing, there’s God you can lean on.”
“Jay and I want to break the stereotype that when you’re a scientist you don’t believe in God. You are a scientist because you are a catalyst of change. Not just to change your community, not just to change your school but to change the whole nation through the research that you’re doing. Always go back to why you started. Ask yourself why you stepped out of your comfort zone to do this project, this research, and then go back to God,” he ends.
After winning the competition. These two young scientists are looking forward to the future and how they can help other aspiring student innovators and also elevate the science industry in the country.
Jay is planning to pursue a master’s degree studies abroad and build his own local start-up company, while Christian will continue his medical course at UP Manila to be a certified physician-scientist a few years from now.
(Featured image: AWARD-WINNING BPI Foundation executive director Maricris San Diego with BPI-DOST Science Awards – Best in Innovation awardees Christian Badua and Jay Patrick Nieles,and Department of Science and Technology’s Science Education Institute deputy director Albert Mariño)