Pinoy geophysicist makes it in US but wants to serve PH

Posted at 08/30/12 7:25 AM

Lawrence C. Gochioco is unknown in the Philippines, his home country.

In contrast, his adopted country, the United States of America, ranks him among its top practicing geophysicists, entrusting him with sensitive, exploratory projects both in the US mainland and resource-rich Mongolia, the only democracy in, and expected to become the future Kuwait of, Central Asia.

Geophysics, an applied science, employs physical laws to study the earth. It uses sensitive devices to probe, detect and picture anything below the ground, from shallow to very deep targets, from sub-surface geologic structures or anomalies to deeper mineral ore deposits, natural gas and oil. Practical engineering applications include roads and mine cave-ins and broken or leaking underground gas and water pipes.

He is in the Philippines to share his expertise in oil, gas and mineral exploration, including the field of renewable and sustainable energy.

Gochioco obtained his Physics degree from the Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) in 1978.

Considered an average student in the rigorous Ignatian academic program, he managed to balance his academics and extra-curricular activities by playing varsity volleyball and track and field since his high-school freshman year. He led both teams to back-to-back NCAA (National College Athletic Association) championships. In recognition of his athletic achievements, he was inducted into the Ateneo Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.

The 1970s oil crises had a major impact on his decision to pursue a career in geophysics. Intrigued by the popular 1970s TV show Dallas—on the power of oil and energy in geopolitics—Gochioco decided to go to the US to study and learn the latest innovative technologies for petroleum and mineral exploration. After graduation, he taught college physics for two years at AdMU. He later received a full scholarship from Ohio University in 1980 to pursue his graduate studies in Physics. Aside from the regular course load, he took additional subjects in geology and geophysics.

In 1982 the US oil industry began to contract, resulting in thousands of jobs lost. He moved to Houston despite the poor jobs market. The first four years of his career were turbulent. As a survivor, he is always prepared for the worst-case scenario and developed back-up systems. After each layoff, he found better career opportunities with greater responsibilities. These varied technical and management positions later provided him the diverse skills needed to establish his own businesses and joint ventures.

In 1989 Gochioco published his first technical paper in Geophysics, and many more papers and feature articles soon followed. In recognition of his contributions, he was nominated to the prestigious TLE Editorial Board of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) in 2000 and later became chairman during his 2003-2004 term. He was the first Asian ever to become the editorial board chairman.

Gochioco toiled in several oil and coal-mining companies. He worked his way up and gained experience in all aspects of geophysical technologies employed in petroleum, mineral and environmental applications. In 2004 he made the “quantum leap” from employee to becoming an entrepreneur with the formation of his first geophysical consulting and services company. The timing was perfect as the US coal industry experienced a high incidence of fatal mine accidents. His expertise was in demand to employ leading edge geophysical technologies to detect and picture sub-surface man-made or natural anomalies that created adverse underground mining conditions. In 2007 his company went international, starting with exploration projects and joint ventures in Mongolia.

Gochioco is talking with Fr. Jett Villarin, AdMU president and a fellow physicist, for the establishment of an Ateneo School of Earth Sciences, an institution he is willing to fund in his desire to transfer to the next generation of Filipino geophysicists the knowledge and skills he learned abroad and the technologies he applies in his fields of work.

He launched the Germaine C. Gochioco Angel Fund Foundation in memory of his lawyer-sister who was passionate about helping people during natural disasters. The foundation aims to help natural-disaster victims and to develop mitigation and training programs. It is also looking into the installation of remote-sensing geophysical monitoring stations and early-warning systems in high-risk areas.

Gochioco does not limit the application of his expertise to for-profit ventures. Two years ago, he volunteered to help the Katy (Texas) Antioch Baptist Church conduct a non-invasive remote-sensing survey to locate the unmarked graves in the church’s cemetery. Graves sat in the 1-hectare site since 1915, but some of their actual locations were unknown. Employing a digital multi-frequency source electromagnetic equipment, he provided 3D images of the surveyed area, highlighting the accurate locations of graves.

In 2010 he formed a joint venture with local partners that manufacture and market what he calls “Eco-G3000,” a gas-saving device that does three essential things: improve vehicle mileage by 25 percent to 30 percent; boost the vehicle’s engine horsepower by 15 percent to 20 percent; and significantly cut vehicle emissions by up to 85 percent. Unknown to most of us, this device has been installed in hundreds of vehicles plying Metro Manila. The Mongolian government is interested in testing this system to address the air-pollution problems in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar.

Recognizing his robust management and geotechnical skills, the US Departments of State and Commerce have asked Gochioco to join three trade missions to Asia under their “Clean and Renewable Energies” and “Mining Technologies” programs in recognition of his geotechnical expertise. He continues to perform special projects for several US government agencies.

Gochioco’s advice to students: “Stay focused, have big dreams and establish realistic goals.”

In deeds and in actions, Gochioco exemplifies the reality that a Filipino can be a citizen of the world and a man for others.