By Martin Sadongdong
Four Filipino scholars will be sent to the United Kingdom early this year to pursue three-year doctorate studies in their chosen fields of expertise under the Newton Agham Program, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said.
According to Science Secretary Fortunato dela Pena, the four scholars who are set to study abroad early this year are Joan Pauline Talubo, Stephen Doliente, Paul Dominick Baniqued and Zyra Evangelista. They were presented to the media on Thursday at the British Embassy in McKinley Hill, Taguig for the awarding of the research grants.
The government of the United Kingdom, through the British Council, has partnered with the DOST and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) in cofunding the Newton PhD Program.
This year’s batch increases the total number of Filipino scholars in the UK to 22 since the program launch in 2014.
British Council country director Nicholas Thomas said the Newton Fund builds research and innovation partnerships with 17 partner countries “to support their economic development and social welfare, and to develop their research and innovation capacity for long-term sustainable growth.”
He added that the Newton Fund has a total UK government investment of £735 million up until 2021, with matched resources from the partner countries.
According to Thomas, the Newton Agham Program aims to “facilitate the capacity building of individuals, and the building of sustainable, long-lasting links between the UK and the Philippines.”
Baniqued, one of the scholars, expressed gratitude to the government of UK and the Philippines as he aims to make great strides in the advancement of studies for stroke and injured patients through the De La Salle University’s Agapay Project. The title of his PhD research is “Development of an EEG-driven soft robotic hand exoskeleton for neuro-rehabilitation.”
“My research is to develop a wearable robotic hand that can be used for the physical therapy of stroke and injured patients,” Baniqued stated.
“When a person experiences stroke or brain injury, certain parts of the brain will not be able to control the muscles of his/her upper extremities (particularly the arm and the hand). The principle of physical therapy is to perform repetitive and task-oriented exercises to rewire the pathways of the brain and regain control of our muscles,” he added.
Baniqued further explained that he was able to design a prototype for a robotic ARM exoskeleton during his time as a researcher at the DLSU.
“With the use of a wearable robotic exoskeleton, such as my device, we will be able to accurately perform physical therapy exercises concerning the fine movements of the hand such as pinching or grasping,” he said.
The goal of the Agapay Project, Baniqued revealed, is to develop cost-effective robotic exoskeletons for rehabilitation.
“We believe that by creating affordable medical devices, the Filipinos in all walks of life will benefit to more accessible healthcare options,” he said.
Baniqued will pursue further studies of the Agapay Project as he takes his PhD in Mechanical Engineering with research on biorobotics and systems neuroscience at the University of Leeds, UK.
“This time, I will use brain signals via electroencephalography (or EEG) to control the robotic hand exoskeleton. I am thankful for the British Council and CHED for selecting me as one of their scholars for the Newton Agham PhD scholarship,” he said.
Proud Filipino scientists
Meanwhile, Talubo, from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, will study at the University of Surrey on the development of new approaches to strengthen resilience of island communities in the Philippines as she aims to aid decisionmakers in disaster risk and recovery planning for vulnerable communities.
Doliente, also from the UP-Los Baños, will conduct his research on environment-food-energy-water nexus concerning biomass for energy and food security at the University of Bath.
He proposes to analyze balanced interactions of elements in the production of energy from biomass that could guarantee secure energy supply without significant exhaustion of natural resources.
Finally, Evangelista, who is also from the De La Salle University, will study campus climate affecting well-being outcomes for the LGBTs (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders) at the University of Glasgow.
Through a detailed investigation on campus climate and its association with academic and well-being outcomes for LGBT university students, Evangelista aims to contribute key baseline documentation for inclusive policies in the improvement of LGBT’s access to equitable education.