Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) Director Franz de Leon (Photo grabbed from DOST-ASTI's Facebook page)

MANILA – Collaboration with stakeholders, ramping up scientific publications and technology licensing activities are just among the priorities of newly-appointed Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) director Franz de Leon.

"My experience taught me the importance of listening and collaborating with stakeholders. This makes the outputs of the projects truly meaningful for the beneficiaries. In the same manner, ASTI will continue to pursue R&D (research and development) programs and projects with Filipinos in our minds," de Leon said in an interview with the Philippine News Agency on Monday.

Before his appointment, de Leon was the project leader of two Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-funded projects. One is called the “Development of a Philippine Indigenous Instrument Sounds database”, a collaboration with ASTI, UP Center for Ethnomusicology, and Indigenous People. The second project was the “Development of Prototype Designs of Musical Instruments Using Select Bamboo Species and Processing Technologies", a collaboration with Forest Products Research and Development Institute, and bamboo instrument makers.

Now under his leadership, de Leon said the public could expect ASTI to be responsive, sensitive and quick to address the current and emerging needs.

"In recent years, ASTI pursued projects in ICT (information and communications technology) for governance, space technology, and meteorology. It will explore other sectors for collaborations such as education, agriculture, and creative industry," he said.

De Leon added that ASTI will also ramp up its scientific publications, and technology licensing activities and will continue to provide high-quality service to other government agencies by sharing relevant data to help them formulate science-based policies and decisions.

Further, ASTI will continue to support initiatives, which, according to de Leon, have a major impact in the country’s recovery. These include the Electronics Product Development Center (EPDC) to stimulate activities in the electronics sector; Computing and Archiving Research Environment (COARE) to support activities that require high-performance computing; and the Philippine Research, Education and Government Information Network (PREGINET) to provide crucial interconnections and sharing of information among academic, government, and research institutions.

Meanwhile, de Leon said that this year, the public can also look forward to several projects:

* Gul.AI - An artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT)-assisted phenotyping platform. This project aims to promote crop farming and information and communications technology (ICT) among the Filipino youth through the design and implementation of laboratory equipment for growing plants under specific environmental conditions. The initial target beneficiaries of this project are state universities doing research on plant growth under varying environmental conditions. It is expected to be completed by December.

* Signal Assessment using Geospatial Analysis Project (SAGAP). "The elevation data from DSMs (digital surface models) can be used for different kinds of modeling and simulations such as radio frequency (RF) propagation. The results, once validated, can then be used to assess the different areas in the country where signal coverage (e.g. TV, cellular, etc.) is needed," he said. Initial results are expected to be available by December.

* Development of Extreme Weather Monitoring and Information Sharing System in the Philippines: Understanding Lightning And Thunderstorm (ULAT). This aims to observe the country’s weather behaviors through studying torrential rainfall and thunderstorm occurrences as parameters to eventually enable short-term forecasts. The project has four main outputs: a) establish a lightning sensor network b) establish a satellite antenna for 3D structuring of thunderclouds c) develop algorithms for forecasting; and d) establish data sharing for related agencies in disaster risk reduction. Results will be published within the year.

The new ASTI chief also pointed out that the potential of R&D institutions relies heavily on the competence of its staff.

"At ASTI, the number of postgraduate holders must be increased to be the majority. Postgraduate education instills the proper attitude and tools for scientists to identify and address research gaps. To support this initiative, we’ll make suitable arrangements within ASTI to ensure that student-researchers are given enough time and resources to complete their degrees within the prescribed duration." he said.

Since ASTI projects and programs are mostly public-funded, de Leon said the Institute makes sure that its outputs will be ready for adoption or consumption the intended beneficiaries.

On his appointment 

De Leon said he would like to thank President Rodrigo Duterte and DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña for their trust.

"As a product of the public education system, this position provides the opportunity to give back to the nation. The previous director, Dr. Joel Marciano, Jr., led the activities at ASTI that put the Philippines in the global space arena. This showed us that given the administration’s full support and openness to collaborations, Filipino scientists and engineers have the capacity to pursue world-class research," he said.

In a Viber message, de la Peña said the field that has been assigned to ASTI will really transform the Philippines, so he expects many innovations from the Institute.

"I look forward to ASTI taking the lead in the areas of electronics, communications, computer science, IT and AI. I count on ASTI to contribute not only in generating new knowledge, products and technologies, but also in supporting technology commercialization and entrepreneurship," he said.

De la Peña also mentioned that de Leon's academic and research experience as an educator will help a lot.

"DOST-ASTI has a very good quality working team, but the challenge is how to increase their numbers. I am confident that something can be done about that," he said. (PNA