With his Balik PhD grant, returning scientist builds a lab and shows what productivity means

Within two years, a team of researchers from the UP Diliman College of Engineering was able to build a working research laboratory and produce from it six ISI-listed journal articles and 12 papers for local and international conferences. Within this period, too, nine BS students and four MS students—all of whom were able to graduate this June— benefited from the laboratory for their theses.

The success story is one that can make any lead researcher proud. Such is the case of Dr. Rinlee Butch Cervera, head of the project Fabrication and testing of an advanced nanoceramics synthetic apparatus for energy storage and alternative energy applications which, with funding from the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA), resulted in the new Advanced Ceramics Research Laboratory at the Department of Mining, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering.

Cervera, who came back to UP in 2012 from his PhD studies and postdoctoral stint in Japan, noted how continuing quality and competitive research is a big challenge to returning scientists. Research in the Philippines, he said, can be slowed down by the unavailability or inaccessibility of high-technology characterization apparatuses as well as by the lack of a conducive place where researchers can work.

“Fortunately, the UP Balik PhD Research Grant Award of the OVPAA gave me a generous start-up research grant and the opportunity to develop a research laboratory,” he shared. “It not only [allowed me] to continue my research but it also provided a good research environment for our students thereby encouraging and inspiring them to do research and laboratory work.”

The new laboratory explores ways by which advanced ceramics and materials can be utilized for energy applications such as those of lithium-ion batteries and solid oxide fuel cells (Photo provided by Rinlee Butch Cervera)

Cervera (center) is flanked by his MS students who graduated at the end of the Balik PhD project (Photo provided by Rinlee Butch Cervera)

Cervera added: “The support was a very good start for technology transfer and human resource development, and an important component towards our goal of being a research university.”

Since 2012, the university through the OVPAA has embarked on a massive campaign to recruit Filipinos and foreign nationals with PhDs and/or postdoctoral training from leading foreign universities to become part of the UP faculty. The Balik PhD program hopes to develop a culture of research, innovation, creativity and public service in UP by offering a start-up research grant of P2.5M with opportunities to sustain the research through competitive grants.