Mon, January 24, 2022

in-focus

Physics lecturer makes case for children to pursue science


Mahidol University’s astrophysics and space physics expert, Professor David John Ruffolo, has been honoured as Thailand’s outstanding scientist by the Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Technology under the Patronage of HM the King for his exemplary work.

Like the solar storms and space radioactivity he has tirelessly chased in his research, the 49-year-old physics lecturer at MU’s Faculty of Science has been a local and international force to be reckoned with in the fields of global radiation and cosmic ray research and development. 
Ruffolo created new theories of turbulent transport of cosmic rays and developed a widely recognised computer software model to predict the effects on Earth of a solar storm.
He also led the establishment of a neutron monitor in Thailand to detect galactic cosmic rays at the world’s highest geomagnetic cut-off energy (about 17 GV). Out of the world’s 40 neutron monitor stations, the Princess Sirindhorn Neutron Monitor near the summit of Doi Inthanon (Thailand’s highest mountain) in Chiang Mai province was the world’s first to measure real-time cosmic rays. 

Physics lecturer makes case for children to pursue science
Ruffolo was granted Thai nationality in 2012. He received an honour as the Thailand Research Fund (TRF)’s Senior Research Scholar in 2016.
A former “gifted child”, who surpassed age peers to graduate with a PhD at the age of 22 in 1991 at University of Chicago, Ruffolo has come to love Thailand. He first worked here as a high school physics instructor before moving on to university teaching.
“After I obtained the PhD, I wanted to do something for Thai society; there were few astrophysicists in Thailand at that time,” he recalls. “I wanted to be partake in grooming Thai students to become future astrophysicists and space physics scientists. There are more scientists now but there should be even more of them and Thai people should have a thorough understanding of the solar winds,” he said. 
Although solar storms have not yet killed anyone or torn down any buildings, they could cause blackouts and destroy satellites and spacecraft used for communications. Cosmic rays from solar wind turbulence could also affect human health as people travel by plane or in space. Ruffolo said he would continue studying cosmic rays in relations to the Earth climate to help build a global disaster warning system. And he will pursue other new research that would benefit Thailand and the world.
“Scientist is an honourable job that is essential to a country’s development, so I want Thai youths to be interested in studying physics more. I want them to see it as a freedom in learning. Studying science is fun and challenging as you have to find answers for new questions,” he said. 
“Usually children are interested in space but it is difficult to link that interest to physics, which people perceive as a matter of formulas and calculation. Actually space physics is an art, so if we can let children see that physics is fun, while space learning is about applying imagination to something that kids are keen about,” he said.
“I want parents to let their children feel free to do what they like, are good at and want to do – not just follow society’s value that academically excellent students must become doctors and engineers. If any kid likes science and wants to become a scientist, the parents should support him or her,” he added.
The winner of Thailand’s annual outstanding scientist award receives a trophy from HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn along with a Bt400,000 cash prize.
The new generation scientist awards 2017, which came with a trophy from the princess and Bt100,000 each, were granted to: 
Assistant Professor Burapat Inceesungvorn from the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Chiang Mai University; Assistant Professor Benjapon Chalermsinsuwan from the Department of Chemical Technology, Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University; Assistant Professor Varodom Charoensawan from the Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Science, Mahidol University; and Assistant Professor Viboon Tangwarodomnukun from the Department of Production Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi.

Published : July 28, 2017

By : CHULEEPORN A-RAMNET THE NATION