Teen Yolanda survivor bags MIT scholarship to become astrophysicist

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 26 2019 07:48 PM | Updated as of Jun 26 2019 09:24 PM

Teen Yolanda survivor bags MIT scholarship to become astrophysicist 1

MANILA (UPDATED) -- The Grade 12 Taclobanon who topped an international science competition is set to study Physics in the US to improve science communication in the Philippines, years after poor appreciation of science helped wiped out her community during the wrath of Supertyphoon Yolanda.

Eighteen-year-old Hillary Diane Andales was beaming Wednesday morning as she told reporters that she decided to accept a scholarship from the esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Andales received 7 other scholarship offers after she bagged the 2017 Breakthrough Junior Challenge for her video explanation of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, besting 11,000 other entries from 178 countries.

"Ultimately, I want to become a research scientist, specifically in astrophysics," she said.

While most young girls were lulled to sleep with tales of prince and princesses, Andales' childhood heroines wore lab coats instead of gowns, and carried beakers instead of poisoned apples.

"Ever since I was a kid, I always liked Science and Math," she said, noting that her father was a chemist while her mother was an accountant.

"Instead of fairytales, they told me stories of Marie Curie's struggles as a woman in science in the early 20th century. They told me about Charles Darwin's adventures in the Galapagos Islands and how Einstein had a really big idea that revolutionized physics," she said.

Andales said Curie's adventures allowed her to explore beyond the seaside town of Abuyog, Leyte where she was raised.

"I did not dream anything beyond Abuyog, but after those stories I found out that people could actually have ideas that affect the world and change it for the better," she said.


Aside from hoping to land an internship or a full-time job at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the 18-year-old intends to produce more visual materials that would simplify technical terms for Filipinos.

"I will be making more science content. I'll be doing more science communication and research things as a student," she said.

If more scientific jargon were laymanized for Filipinos shortly before Yolanda wreaked havoc in the Visayas in 2013, more people could have survived, Andales said.

"Nung nag-storm surge, we were quite complacent. We did not evacuate," she said.

"From the time the water came through the door up until it filled up our house, it took only 1 to 2 minutes. It all happened really fast. Napuno talaga siya (bahay)," Andales said.

(The house was really filled with water.) 

"We had to run up to our double-deck bed kasi we didn't have a second floor," she said.

"My dad punched the ceiling tapos doon na lang kami sa steel trusses of the roof. We held on to those steel trusses for 7 hours until the storm surge subsided," she said.

Despite not losing family members from the tragedy, Andales said the incident dented her disposition in life.

"I was actually really disappointed in myself. Even though I was already interested in Science, I didn't know what a storm surge was," she said.

"I think that was a big flaw in the process of science communication in our country kasi hindi lang ako yung walang alam about storm surge. Many, many people in the community [didn't know]," she said.



[I HAVE A NEW VIDEO OMG LINK IN BIO] . . The #BreakthroughJuniorChallenge is back! This year, Breakthrough asked me to create a video that would encourage students to join this life-changing competition. . . As a proud rep of the Challenge, I'm so happy to share my newest vid! Check it out hehe ☺ . . If you're aged 13-18, I *very strongly* encourage you to join! $400,000 worth of prizes and life-changing opportunities are at stake! . . If you're not eligible, I really hope you can share this video so it can reach a student who would love to join! . . I have more videos coming up too so subscribe if you want to see more of me uwu 😌 (will delete this post days later hehe) . . #science #scicomm #breakthrough #prize #competition #sciencecompetition #scholarship #college #lab #mit #stanford #princeton #cornell #physics #biology #math

A post shared by Hillary Diane Andales (@cosmichillarays) on

Andales said she is coupling her interest in science with her social media "addiction."

"I think I have a knack for popularizing science especially as a young person through social media," she said.

The teenager maintains accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube.

Andales said she was first hooked to mindlessly browsing on Facebook before she figured that she had to use her time wisely.

"I tend to think of my time as money," she said.

"If I don't think about my time as money, I spend it mindlessly. Hindi ko siya iniisip na valuable siya when in fact it is a limited resource," she said.

Andales now tries to limit her screen time to an hour a day, except when she was working on her Breakthrough Junior Challenge piece when she had to watch about 200 Youtube tutorials on how to edit videos and graphics.


The Philippines has a long way to go before all Filipinos could fully appreciate science, Andales said.

"When the recent blackhole image came out, people were freaking out how it is going to eat us alive and all that," she said.

"That was kind of a sign for me that we have a long way to go," she said.

But if there was one thing Yolanda taught her, it is resilience - a trait that proved useful after she lost several international competitions.

"I joined a lot of contests, international ones, and I failed a lot," she said.

There were so many unsuccessful bids that Andales decided to create an "Attempts Folder" on her desktop where she stored all her mistakes.

"It's a good way to look back on my growth," she said.

"When I look at my attempts folder, I see myself as someone who's not afraid of failure and someone who is going into things, entering into things with the intent to grow, not to win," she said.