Olivia “Oui” Buenafe’s research is focused on natural products chemistry with application
in drug development and she is presently involved in the Tuklas Lunas Project by PCHRD (Philippine Council for Health, Research, and Development) along with Dr. Fabian Dayrit, Dr. Nina Rosario Rojas, and Dr. Merab Chan. “We are looking into screening select plants such as turmeric and see if we could get any bioactives in there that could help mitigate degenerative diseases that come with ageing.” She graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City as the first straight BS/MS Chemistry graduate and obtained her doctorate degree from the Katholiek Universiteit Leuven.
Dr. Buenafe’s research experiences here and abroad made her more aware of the real essence of the word research. “You realize that the word research has two parts: ‘re’ and ‘search.’ You don’t usually get it right the first time, which is why it’s re-search. You have to search for [the answer] again. It’s not a direct thing. You have to try different ways in attacking the problem to come up with a solution.” She relates this to her experiences as a chemistry teacher in the Ateneo de Manila University: “…there’s no tried and tested way in going about teaching the different branches of chemistry. There are many different styles, and they all work. It just depends on who you’re teaching. It’s also not a one way thing. It goes both ways.” By giving her students what she knows, Oui gains insight about her interests and the students’ passions as well.
Like most researchers in the country, she hopes for greater visibility of studies done in the country. More importantly, she adds that studies and development of chemistry education is required for the cultivation of a culture of science in the Philippines. “Not just for the chemistry majors, but for the lay persons as well. A dream of a researcher is to be able to communicate to ordinary people about what they’re researching on especially in the field of chemistry, and most importantly in the field of drug discovery and research. Not just the technical persons in campus, but those outside as well, and how they would benefit from it.”
“I also do hand lettering in my spare moments. That’s how I de-stress,” the amateur calligrapher in her retorted. She sees the art form as both a hobby and an analogy to her classes. Whilst teaching analytical chemistry laboratory, she views precision in writing akin to laboratory practices. “Every stroke, every movement is deliberate.”