What’s with all of these centers?

  • Written by  Maria Rowena Beatriz Q. Inzon
  • Published in Features

It has been five years since the concept of UPLB Interdisciplinary Studies Centers (IdSCs) were presented during ExSciTe, UPLB’s S&T Forum and Exhibit, at the SMX Convention Center.

Considered a milestone for UPLB, the event showcased the various S&T undertakings of the university and its role and contributions to sustainable development and laid the groundwork for the IdSCs as a new strategy in providing optimum impact in the national development.

Five years since, the question still lingers: what are the IdSCs?

Current literature explains that inter- and transdisciplinarity should not be confused with multidisciplinarity in the sense that it is not simply adding multiple perspectives and disciplines to the mix.

Rather, interdisciplinarity analyzes, synthesizes and harmonizes links between disciplines into a coordinated and coherent whole (Choi and Pak, 2006) while transdisciplinarity moves beyond the bridging of divides within academia to engaging directly with the production and use of knowledge outside of the academy (Toomey, 2015).

A brainchild of then Chancellor Rex Victor O. Cruz, the IdSCs ushered in a new period of scientific research in the university from the traditional research rooted in a single discipline to one that involves multiple disciplines and institutions as a more effective way of addressing complex and compelling issues of the times.

Complementation, collaboration, and synergy among expertise from various fields became the new mantra of research in UPLB.

At the (Four)front

From a series of continuous strategic planning that started in 2008, the past administration of Chancellor Cruz crafted the Integrated RDE Framework which identified the four priority growth areas for collaborative work namely, food and nutrition security and safety, integrated natural resources and environmental management, climate change and human aggravated natural disasters, and energy systems.

And although fourteen (14) other new centers and programs were also conceptualized, four ‘virtual’ centers are considered UPLB’s pioneer IdSCs.

The Interdisciplinary Studies Center on Food and Nutrition Security (ISC-FaNS) serves as a platform for continuing education and research on the challenges confronting the country’s food security.

Climate and Disaster Risk Studies Center (CDRSC) spearheads the provision of science-based knowledge, information, and expertise related to building climate resilience.

Complementing CDRSC is the Interdisciplinary Studies Center for Integrated Natural Resource and Environment Management (INREM) which espouses the interconnectedness of ecosystems and human sustainability putting forward a systemic and holistic approach to problem analysis and solving.

For sustainable energy development and the conduct of studies on feedstock production, utilization and commercialization, the Interdisciplinary Biofuels Research and Studies Center (IBRSC) is the lead center.

All four Centers were tasked to extensively contribute to responsive national development and were provided PhP1.0M in-house seed fund which they were able to use for their operations specifically in setting RDE agenda, proposing numerous projects and programs for more external funding, and pursuing local and international linkages to strengthen their interdisciplinary studies.

Today, these IdSCs are conducting various researches that adds up to around PhP 500M with substantially more researches in the pipeline for potential funding.

These four IDSCs have also organized at least 8 local and international conferences and forged new partnerships and collaborations with other public and private institutions.

What lies ahead for these IdSCs?

While the last five years may well be considered a continuing period of birth pains, these IdSCs continue to make strides. Currently, the Centers are pursuing the offering of new graduate studies programs.

The MS in Food Control System and MS in Climate, Environment, and Society degrees are being crafted by ISCFaNS and CDRSC, respectively while the MS in Food Security and Climate Change is being conceived as a joint undertaking among UPLB and four other University Consortium members, which is a network of Southeast Asian universities that share academic expertise and resources.

In terms of publications, the IBRSC recently published a Biofuels Special Issue for the Philippine Journal of Crop Science which contained 11 original research articles on feed stocks and industrially relevant technologies for biofuels production.

Meanwhile, INREM had just conducted their 2nd International Conference, this time focusing on strengthening local governance for a sustainable integrated natural resources and environment management.

New IdSCs

Under the current administration of Chancellor Fernando C. Sanchez, Jr., three new Centers were created to provide more science- and technology-based solutions to contemporary social dilemma: the Water Center, the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Laboratory, and the Center for Biosensors for One Health.

In response to the water security challenges of our country, UPLB formalized the establishment of the Interdisciplinary Studies Center for Water in 2017.

It is envisioned to be a center of excellence in research, development, and extension in water safety and in reforms for the efficient, equitable, and sustainable management of water resources.

The Water Center is already involved in several researches and more importantly, has spearheaded the National Scientific Conference on Water, the first of its kind in the country.

Meanwhile, the LCA Lab has already started providing technical and advisory services for process and product development and improvement, strategic planning, policy recommendations, and carbon labelling and certification for different government agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, and Sugar Regulatory Administration.

The LCA Lab is also a member of the Water Footprint Network and plans to conduct a training on life cycle assessment for researchers, experts, and even government agencies.

Likewise, the Interdisciplinary Studies Center on Biosensors for One Health has started pursuing an RDE agenda on human-animal-environment intersection and has produced biosensing devices, assays, and protocols validated in real-world samples for specific applications. The center is also focusing on student and staff training and mentorships.

Other ‘inter-actions’

But the IdSCs may well be part of a bigger trend as the new mantra of complementation, collaboration and synergy are also forging new programs around UPLB.

Take our Nanotechnology Program. Considered as one of the emerging technology breakthroughs of Industry 4.0, nanotechnology is expected to play a big role in the development of various industries as it optimizes materials by altering its properties, making it stronger, lighter, and more flexible.

And UPLB is considered the singular academic institution investing in nanotechnology as its NanoTech program provides support to nanotechnology research and innovation in agriculture, food, and forest products sectors.

Many of the collaborative research under this program have resulted to breakthrough technologies like nanosensors and nanostructured materials from agriculture by-products which have improved agricultural productivity in the country the last few years.

Other patent applications and potentially commercializable products have already been produced (see backstory RDE Digest Vol.10 No.1) under the program while a NanoScience and Technology Facility is projected to be established to further the program’s accomplishments.

Just like the Nanotechnology program, the Robotics and Instrumentation Studies Center (RISC) and Computational Interdisciplinary Research Laboratories (CINTERLabs) are currently facilitating greater collaboration in research work in robotics and automation, data science, computational arts and sciences and its applications in agriculture and environmental monitoring. Their establishment has enhanced UPLB’s research capacity and productivity at par with our neighboring Asian universities.

From the flora of Mount Makiling, UPLB’s Natural Products and Development Program (NatProd) has also bolstered UPLB’s contributions to the health sciences, specifically in the national initiative for drug discovery and development.

Through the NatProd, endemic species with known traditional and/or medicinal uses or those with biologically active compounds for the prevention and treatment of various diseases have already been identified and the program has prioritized research on the use of these species on colorectal cancer (Ca) and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The UPLB Bee Program’s technology on using native stingless bees for pollination as a farming system component is now being adopted nationwide in the production of high value crops such as mango, lansones, and rambutan.

The program is also actively involved in the formulation of the Philippine National Standard for Honey, Philippine National Standards Code for Best Beekeeping Practices, and Philippine National Standard for Production of Organic Honey. Consequently, the program was also the recipient of the 2019 Gawad Pangulo Award for Excellence in Public Service.

Another re-established Center is the Interdisciplinary Studies Center on Organic Agriculture which is tasked to provide scientific and evidence-based backbone to organic agriculture policies, standards, and regulations for the country.

So, what’s with all these Centers?

Each center employs experts from different units and colleges in UPLB. They work with government agencies, NGOs, and the private sector to respond to the needs of the people, because addressing complex problems in society requires different perspectives.

Right now, preparations for institutionalization are yet on its way, but UPLB cannot wait for these Centers to grow. These early, these Centers are already a testament to UPLB’s sustained commitment to the development of the country.■

This article was published at RDE Digest Vol 11 No. 1 (2019).