Mechanical Engineering Department
De La Salle University, Philippines
AsianScientist (Feb. 11, 2020) – Professor Aristotle Ubando of the De La Salle University may optimize industrial processes for a living, but it’s not always about the process—at least in research, he says. While Ubando obviously enjoys the research process, his love for research primarily stems from the myriad of benefits it contributes to the world.
In his home country of the Philippines, a small but populous archipelago in Southeast Asia, Ubando’s work is unquestionably relevant. As its population and economy continues to grow, so does its demand for energy. The Philippines, however, remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels like coal for its energy needs. In 2018, coal accounted for 52% of the country’s national energy mix.
With the Philippines’ vulnerability to climate change, it’s clear that cleaner and more sustainable energy sources are needed. Taking advantage of the Philippines’ wealth of marine resources, Ubando and his team are exploring algae as a potential substitute for fossil fuels. In light of his contributions to the design of algal systems and biorefineries, Ubando was recognized in 2016 as one of the Philippines’ outstanding young researchers and subsequently on the Asian Scientist 100 2017 list.
In this interview with Asian Scientist Magazine, Ubando delves further into his research process and motivations, as well as his aspirations for the new decade.
- How would you summarize your research in a tweet?
Our work improves industrial processes through approaches like optimization, process integration, life-cycle assessment and thermomechanical analysis. Using the results, we then generate appropriate operational adjustments for the system.
- Describe a completed research project that you are proudest of.
I am most proud of a project that enhanced the algae industry in the Philippines through the optimization and integration of various processes like cultivation, harvesting, drying and biofuel production. The project generated multiple publications and patents on algae technologies. The private sector also applied the results to enhance their operations in producing microalgae bio-products.
- What do you hope to accomplish with your research in the next decade?
In the next decade, we hope to expand our research to various industries that need process improvement tools. With these expansions, the team hopes for more meaningful research, more high-impact publications and more filed patents. Beyond research, we also aspire to create a spin-off company offering technological services and products for the industry and consumers.
I am also leading a thermomechanical analysis project for a local semiconductor company. We hope to expand the study by acquiring new equipment, and provide experimental research capabilities for both the academe and semiconductor industry.
- Who (or what) motivated you to go into your field of study?
My love for research was influenced by my father, leading me to pursue mechanical engineering as my undergraduate degree. After graduation, I joined Intel, where I gained first-hand experience in process improvement research. However, I realized that pursuing a Master’s degree was the way for me to deeply immerse myself into research. While doing my Master’s in Mechanical Engineering, I discovered a calling to help the nation develop its renewable energy research.
Fast forward to 2016, I was bestowed the 2016 Outstanding Young Scientist by the National Academy of Science and Technology for my doctoral research on algal biofuel process improvement. It was a pleasant surprise. The knowledge that doing something I love benefits my country and the world fuels my passion to do research.
- What is the biggest adversity that you have experienced in your research?
In the initial stages, presenting and publishing my work was very challenging. It became even harder as the call to help my family’s printing business added to the mix of challenges.
I wanted to help the family but I knew that research was what I wanted to do. Eventually, my family and I came to a compromise. With a lighter load on my shoulders, I soldiered on through the writing and presentation challenges with the guidance of my mentors and support of my family.
“Just keep moving forward” became my motto. Whether it was one failed experiment after another or even lost data from a broken hard disk, it was always my mantra.
- What are the biggest challenges facing the academic research community today, and how can we fix them?
[In the Philippines], there is a lack of postgraduate students. College graduates usually find an industry job or set up their own business. Most think that there is no money in being a researcher.
It would be great if more industries in the private sector would appreciate the expertise that postgraduate students bring. Universities can also have more programs like research incentives and scholarships to entice more students.
- If you had not become a scientist, what would you have become instead?
I would have probably become a lead guitarist in a band and managed the family printing press business.
- Outside of work, what do you do to relax?
I am a professor and researcher during the week while on the weekends, I am a guitar enthusiast. During my free time, I perform with my bandmates. To keep fit, I jog with my mini bull terrier dog, bike around the hills near our place, and swim.
Meanwhile, my interest in motorcycles started with the need for alternate transportation in a traffic-plagued city. It has expanded to long distance tours of the Philippine islands. I hope to do motorcycle tours in the US and Europe in the future.
- If you had the power and resources to eradicate any world problem using your research, which one would you solve?
The demand for energy is increasing, yet existing technologies emit greenhouse gases to generate the needed energy. Perhaps one day, a sustainable source of energy that can be harvested, used and re-used with little or no greenhouse emissions can be found.
- What advice would you give to aspiring researchers in Asia?
Find your passion and give back to your community through research. Your efforts may seem insignificant at first, but your output will eventually impact the community. Moreover, find a good mentor who knows the ropes of research and can give you guidance in your research journey.
This article is from a monthly series called Asia’s Rising Scientists. Click here to read other articles in the series.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Aristotle Ubando.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.