The Nobel Prize: A Fighting Chance

Written by: Gabby Alindogan

Illustrated by: Denise Maxine Mendoza

Every year, in October, six Nobel Prizes are given out by committees in Sweden and Norway. Each prize honors an individual or group for contributing significantly to a particular discipline: literature, peace, economic science, physics, chemistry, and medicine. 

Academics, university professors, scientists, previous winners, and others all vie for the prize as it brings prestige and recognition to their work and background. The prestige that comes with receiving the Nobel Prize makes it an extremely competitive field–offering a gold medal, diploma, and a huge sum of money. In light of this, it is necessary to debate the situation of Filipino scientists and create possibilities for them to compete for Nobel Prizes.

The 2022 Laureates

Alfred Nobel envisioned a world better than the next. According to him, knowledge, science, and humanism may be used by individuals to contribute to the improvement of society. To recognize the discoveries that have had the greatest positive impact on humanity, he established the Nobel Prize.

Between the 3rd and 10th of October 2022, six prizes were announced from medicine to economic science. 2022’s roster of laureates was diverse. The first recipient announced was the winner of the medicine category, Swedish geneticist Professor Svante Pääbo, who sequenced the genome of the Neanderthal, an extinct relative of present-day humans. Through this, he uncovered the genetic identities of two of humanity’s oldest predecessors, offering a fresh perspective on human evolution. 

The studies in quantum mechanics conducted by scientists Alain Aspect, John Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger from France, the USA, and Austria respectively, lay the foundation for quickly emerging new applications in computing and cryptography, earning them the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics. The scientists all conducted research on quantum entanglement–the phenomena that arises when a group of particles is created, interacts, or shares proximity in a way that prevents the quantum states of each particle in the group from being described separately from one another. This specific topic once alarmed Albert Einstein, who once described it in a letter as “spooky activity at a distance.”

The creation of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry was recognized with the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which was awarded to Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal, and Barry Sharpless from USA and Denmark. The technique is used all around the world to study cells in greater detail and monitor biological processes. Additionally, it enables stable molecules to be assembled in the lab without producing the unwanted byproducts that hindered earlier techniques.

The 2022 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature is French novelist Annie Ernaux from Normandy. She has received praise for her autobiographical work, braveness, and clarity. The Nobel Peace Prize for 2022 has been given to Belarussian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, the Russian human rights group Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties for representing civil society in their countries. Lastly, Ben Bernanke, Douglas Diamond, and Philip Dybvig have been given the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2022 “for studies on banking and financial crises.

Filipinos Missing in Action

In the past, a number of Filipinos who have worked for international organizations won the Nobel Peace Prize. These include the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (2017), the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (2013), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007), and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (1997).  Despite this, it is not uncommon for Filipinos to be overlooked for the Nobel Prize. 

Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler, made history by being the first recognized Filipino to earn the renowned Nobel Peace Prize on October 10, 2021–showing a striking recognition of journalism’s role in today’s society. The accolade has served as a constant reminder for many Filipinos to stand their ground and speak up. 

The Nobel Prize win in 2021 was paramount in presenting Filipino journalism with a global platform and recognition, reinforcing the Nobel Prize’s value. However, there has yet to be a Filipino winner for the Nobel Prize in any science category—why?

The Current State of Filipino Scientists

Despite the push for Science and Technology in Philippine education systems, there is a lack of funding from the government when it comes to scientific research. According to Jaime C. Montoya, head of the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP), which finances fundamental research, half of the government’s R&D expenditure should go into basic research instead of the current 20%.

Due to the lack of financing for scientific research, it is not unusual for Filipino scientists to travel overseas to countries such as South Korea, the United States, Japan, etc. in order to receive a well-deserved wage. This has led to a shortage of scientists within the country over the past year. In 2020, UP scientists demanded overdue payment of salaries for over a year and a half. The nation’s scientific research and development industry has lagged behind, yet this seeming negligence has trickled down to the harm of professional researchers.

Bottomline is–other nations value research more, and this is evident through the Nobel Prize winners. Germany is among the top countries to have received a Nobel Prize award for constantly excelling in both conventional subjects like chemistry and physical sciences, as well as innovative ones like sustainability science. The central and regional government invests half a billion euros annually in cutting-edge university research as part of their excellence strategy. It aims to establish particular German universities as leading global research hubs. It encourages universities that exhibit excellence in their overall strategic direction, as well as research clusters, focused on particular, globally competitive scientific issues.

What They Deserve

Filipino scientists were nonetheless able to do outstanding research over their careers despite the lack of resources, facilities, and compensation. 

To name a few from the past, Fe Del Mundo–born and raised in Intramuros, Manila–is one of the remarkable female Filipino scientists most known for inventing an incubator made out of bamboo specifically designed for places without electrical power. Following this in 1949, Dr. Abelardo Aguilar discovered a type of bacteria on his farm that eventually led to the creation of the widely used antibiotic erythromycin, a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Without giving Dr. Aguilar any royalties or credit for his invention, Eli Lily Co. unjustly filed for both patent protection and a US patent. After that, he fought for what was due to him over the course of 40 years. Dr. Ramon Barbara–born in San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte–was named a national scientist of the Philippines in 2014 for his discovery of the chemical that aided in the internationalization of Philippine mangoes. 

While these only scratch the surface of what Filipino researchers have accomplished in the past, what else might they be able to accomplish given the right conditions and incentives to carry out their work?

With two Filipino researchers–Rodney Perez and Maria Isabel Layson–from the University of the Philippines making it onto Encyclopedia Britannica’s list of “Shapers of the Future” for 2022 for their medical and health-related findings, young scientists are demonstrating optimism for the future. 

In light of the current situation for Pinoy scientists, The Balik Scientist Program (BSP) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) implores Filipino scientists, technologists, and specialists to return home and share their knowledge in order to support scientific, agro-industrial, and economic development, particularly the growth of our human capital in science, technology, and innovation.

Against All Odds

There are over 11,000 Pinoy scientists today, some still hoping to achieve the highest form of accolade in science and technology. Just like it did for Filipino journalism, winning the Nobel Prize in science would encourage R&D development in the Philippines–but our scientists will need all the help they can get. The international acclaim that comes with becoming a laureate is something that our scientists not only need but also deserve. 


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