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UPLB student’s microgravity experiment levitates the need for research support

Applied Physics student Willam Abran shares his triumphs in his research field and calls to increase the funding of instruments and facilities dedicated to space studies.

Words by Robbie Alcibor

University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Applied Physics student William Kevin Abran’s microgravity experiment was successfully performed in the International Space Station (ISS) on January 17, 2023.

Abran’s experiment entitled “Rotation of Dumbell-shaped Objects in Space” were to demonstrate the behavior of dumbbell-shaped objects, according to a statement by Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA)

The said experiment was made in motion by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata.

In an exclusive interview with UPLB Perspective, Abran has detailed the journey on how his experiment came to fruition and what hopes he has for the field of astronomy, and the support needed in our country.

“We really have to increase our educational programs regarding this field, and then extend it to different universities. At the same time, building the infrastructures needed,” Abran said.

A need to recalibrate

Abran highlighted the need to increase the support and funding for astronomy and space science, especially to increase the instruments and facilities (READ: UPLB students, staff call for higher provisions amid infrastructure drive in proposed additional budget).

While there are schools offering studies for astronomy, Abran remarked that there are no dedicated space studies in the country.

Currently kasi ang mga sinasabak natin sa paggawa ng mga satellites natin ay usually mga electrical engineers, hopefully we have more programs for space science,” Abran said.

(Currently, most of the people involved in developing satellites in the country are usually electrical engineers, hopefully, we have more programs for space science.)

Abran noted that there is a need to recalibrate the process of producing research, especially among high school students.

Andami nilang pinapagawa na mga research. Kasi usually yung research program nila, nage-end up lang yan sa publication siguro for their library or defense,” Abran stated.

(There’s a lot to be done about the research. Usually, in their research program, it just ends up filed only for publication in their library or defense.)

Abran noted that there are chances that research studies made will become redundant or will not develop since the previous studies were not delivered to the public. 

Bounded experience 

PhilSA added that while the Dzhanibekov effect, or the dancing screw motion, was not observed during the experiment, it still cannot be ruled out at the moment.

Abran was supposed to go to Japan to watch the experiment and interact with other participants and scientists of JAXA but was not able to due to limited funds and time constraints.

He witnessed the experiment via live streaming from the ISS through the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs in UPLB. However, he noted that the experience was limited since he was only able to participate online.

Abran’s experiment was one of the six chosen experiments performed inside the Japanese Experimental Module “Kibo” on the ISS for the Asian Try Zero-G (ATZG) 2022. 

The Philippines through PhilSA entered five experiments from different students and researchers of the country. Two of those came from UPLB including Abran’s and Joven Galliguez.

The ATZG 2022 competition, led by JAXA, received over 200 entries from countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Abran’s experiment will help in the designs of spacecraft and offer a real-life example affirming the validity of Newton’s Laws of Motion and Ehrenfest Theorem in microgravity,” PhilSA added.

Chasing the stars

From elementary to high school, Abran was fascinated with space science where he created his own astronomy club in senior high school.

Kasi since nasa province ako, karamihan ng nakikita kong astronomy club ay nasa [Metro] Manila. So sabi ko gawa rin ako ng sarili ko dito, at dun ako nagseryosong maging hobby siya kumbaga,” Abran said.

(Since I was in the province, most of the astronomy clubs I see were in [Metro] Manila. So I said to myself, I will create my own club here, and that was when I started to become serious about making it a hobby.)

Abran added that one figure that sparked his interest in space science was Dr. Rogel Sese, a Filipino astrophysicist whom he met in high school when Sese visited their school in the province.

Sese was also a UPLB Applied Physics alumnus and one of the key figures who pushed for the creation of PhilSA back in 2019.

Abran hoped to pursue a career in space science. However, he noted that looking for a job related to the field will be challenging since most of the career opportunities in PhilSA are for engineers. [P]

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