Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Going to the TPT Workshop

We (ten of us) are currently in IAS, NTU to attend Workshop on Topological Phase Transitions and New Developments. We got ourselves "invited" when I attended the Meeting on the ASEAN Federation of Physics Associations. Thus, I recommended this to my students and colleagues to attend partly because we have always an interest in topological ideas in physics. Knowing full well that none of my students are really doing research in the topics of the workshop (apart from the idea of using topology), I leave it up to them whether to join or not (no coercion from my part). I am happy that they are willingly enough to join despite that the workshop is in Ramadhan and some of them are leaving their small children behind. It is a sacrifice that one takes in pursuit of knowledge - let me liken this to the scholars of the ancient times where they go on long journeys to study with the masters, leaving their families behind. I remember when I was newly married and we had our first son, I was offered to go to a winter school in Korea under the sponsorship of KOSEF and JSPS. The school was precisely during the Eid period. So when I left for the trip to Korea, all of us were teary-eyed having to spend Eid without being together. But this particular workshop is when I first met Prof. Kwek and Prof. Freddy Zen! I shared a room with Zen and after the school, I kept corresponding with both Kwek and Zen. See how the twist of fate in life.

Note that the organizers have been very kind to us that they have arranged for us to have meals for suhur. This is indeed a pleasant surprise since we did not ask for this. When I met Kwek at the MyQuantum workshop, I told him not to worry about us since we will be mentally prepared and will bring some food with us. I did not know that they would arrange for us a meal as shown below. We must really appreciate this.



I realise that many of my students will not be familiar with much of the content of the workshop. My advice to them is to pick up the ideas first from the talks. Later when there are something that really interest oneself, one can pick up the details and recall back what had been said in these talks. It is important not to be closed minded on the things to learn. Always look for something that can be a possible area for one to explore. You will never know what one ends up with in the future, so it is wise to be open-minded. It is also important to realise that many times in life one ends up in a place that one doesn't plan for and open-mindedness is a preliminary mindset to adaptability. Perhaps this is easier for me to say since I have a very broad interest from the very beginning. When I came back from my PhD whose work is closer to high energy physics, I was asked to look into condensed matter. At the time, I was with Dr. Zainul Abidin Hassan who worked on superconductivity and Hubbard model (who knew Mike Gunn - cochairing this workshop; he actually came to UPM during the Two Decade celebration of the Physics Department). Since my work was related to quantum Hall effect, I easily took up the challenge that led me to my interest in hyperbolic geometry (punctured surfaces). The next instant I got interested in condensed matter is when I join the CMR research group and started exploring geometrical ideas in Jahn-Teller effect. Thus, my familiarity with some of the ideas in this workshop.

It is important to realise some social conditions (and hence trappings) of our intellectual or academic environment. Sometimes it is good to hold the attitude of "what can I contribute" given the circumstance. Beware of the trapping of rebellious backlash against applied sciences when fundamental sciences are given less attention. There is nothing really special between fundamental sciences and applied sciences. It is very much a matter of priorities in the face of given resources. Being in the management for some (looonng) period of time, one understands the importance of both types of sciences. Thus, I always cringed whenever I hear someone pushes the idea of the importance of one type of science over another unconditionally. For instance, many times I hear people saying philosophy or/and mathematics is more fundamental/important than the applied sciences, which led to many questions revolving in my head. How can one compare the importance those who dwell on the trappings of thought processes or those who works on the mathematical underpinnings of reasoning with say those of engineers who builds buildings and bridges for our safety and comfort, or of doctors who save lives. Everyone has their own roles to play and what is more important are the contributions we give to the (appropriate) society. Always remember that it is always easier to complain than to contribute.

Back to this workshop, I believe there is a lot to learn from this workshop. My own experience of the first day has seen me realize connections and learn new developments that I wasn't aware of. Let us take what we can learn and contribute back once we are ready. Finally, let me end this post with many thanks to the organizer for the generous support to our group.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Come June First

Some months back, I have conveyed to my boss that I would like to rest for awhile from the current administrative position when it ends on 31st May. Certainly over the years, I have acquired hypertension and back problem (as early as in the days of ITMA), angina & diseased heart and most recently diabetes. This could be all stress-related and of course, it comes with old age. Thus, me and my other half discussed the matter quite extensively whether I should excuse myself from the Deputy Director position and we thought with the age factor, I should avoid stress as much as possible. Thus, my earlier request if possible.

Nevertheless, today I have been reappointed and the institute is stuck with me around for another two years. The appointment letter came to me actually about two weeks ago. If it had not, I would probably move my things quietly from the office. I would like to thank the university for entrusting me with this position again and I would do my best within the capacity I have. To the staff and colleagues, please bear with me for another two years and I would need your support in making the institute grow further towards all the desired goals. Certainly with the budget cuts and less resources, topped with increasing expectations of the university, there will be challenging times ahead. Let us make the institute ... great again? No, I will not use that Trumpesque phrase. But let us make the institute respectable internally within the university, within the country and abroad.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Way Forward: Quantum Initiative and the Institute

Sometime last week, we had an interesting event of an initiative started by Muhammad Rezal and Cybersecurity Malaysia. The initiative is called MyQuantum (my Singapore colleague seems to like the name). The initiative started perhaps because of the growing concern of Malaysian cryptologists of the growing buzz of quantum computing technology is now already here. A quantum computer can run Shor's algorithm of fast factorization that could render RSA cryptosystem breakable. With headlines like "D-Wave Announces D-Wave 2000Q Quantum Computer and First System Order", "Scientists achieve critical steps to building first practical quantum computer" and "IBM unveils roadmap for quantum computers", they can certainly cause a stir. In fact, in the workshop, Zuriati informed us about IBM is making available its 5-qubit quantum computer for public to experiment on through the web (see also here) and this has actually shown us that IBM quantum computing technology has gone much more beyond than proof-of-principle.

MyQuantum event had two speakers from CQT in Singapore namely Kwek Leong Chuan and Alex Ling. I'm happy that they came. Much earlier, I told Kwek about this initiative and I actually very much hope that he would come given that Kwek was there at the beginning of the quantum information initiatives in Singapore almost twenty years ago. Kwek spoke on atomtronics, a topic I had not heard him speak before, from which I learned they had begun developing atomtronic devices akin to those in electronics. However Kwek told us that the idea is not to replace electronics but to get new devices. It is good that Kwek gave us a talk on this, demonstrating there is more to quantum technology than simply quantum computing and quantum cryptography, a message that was also repeated by Ridza Wahiddin. Alex Ling gave a talk on quantum safe, much to the practicalities in implementing quantum key distribution and of particular interest is putting the technology into space.

Another person that I have suggested to the MyQuantum committee to give a talk is Jesni Shamsul Shaari, a good friend of mine who has done good work on QKD. He gave an entertaining but yet informative talk on the first Malaysian QKD protocol and his latest work on Mutual Unitary Unbiased Bases. The others giving the talks are Muhammad Ridza Wahiddin, Raymond Ooi, Zurita Ahmad Zulkarnain, Nurisya Mohd Shah (representing our group), Muhamad Rezal Kamel Ariffin and Chris Liaw Man Cheon (the last two on post quantum cryptography).

The organizers asked us to give comments on what we think on the initiative and I wrote a few. They are:

  • To have an international advisory committee (Kwek suggested a small one) to ensure genuine progress and new directions.
  • To network with established centres (like CQT for proximity) and have students and researchers worked/trained there.
  • In addition to post quantum cryptography, there should be efforts to understand and to keep updated on quantum algorithms or possibly start research on these as well.
I sincerely hope that this initiative will get through since many "theoretical" initiatives in the past have not been very successful, particular those focusing on centres, labs and institutes. However there are consortiums like NanoMalaysia which could be a model to follow. Another hope is that the initiative is not limited to information security (which would be the main interest of the drivers) but include all the pillars suggested (theory, technology, quantum cryptography and post quantum cryptography) and hopefully more. In other places, quantum information centres are melting pots for physicists, engineers, mathematicians, and computer scientists. From the presentations at the workshop, one can hope for a consortium with centres or research labs running across institutions as follows:

  • Quantum optics in University of Malaya
  • Quantum cryptography in IIUM
  • Theory in INSPEM, UPM (and possibly other places)
  • Post quantum cryptography in INSPEM, UPM & Cybersecurity
New research ventures will take time but should not be excluded and there is a lot of room to explore given the appropriate investment.

Sometime before this event, we also had the pleasure to have our newly appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovations visit the institute. He suggested for us to revisit our vision and mission, perhaps doing some roadmapping. Indeed, we have been in existence for 15 years and is now entering the fourth phase (if one takes each phase of five years). Where should we head to? What I would like to see is enhancement of internationalization and interdisciplinary research. For the former, we already had the status of EMS-ERCE and MICEMS establishment. The institute's role in regional development of mathematical sciences should be relooked (one role of ERCE). We should also be aware of the progress made by other ERCEs. With the inclusion of Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB) as an ERCE, we are no longer unique in the South-East Asia region and we should consider how to complement them. It is good that we are co-organising this year's ICREM with ITB and we should take this opportunity to discuss with them on further collaborative ideas. In complementing our roles, I think we should harness whatever strength we have in mathematical sciences research; given respective niche areas of the two institutions (INSPEM, UPM and ITB), the regional community may benefit from the development in these areas. Our close relation with MICEMS should be an added bonus in this respect.

This brings to the discussion of what is indeed our niche areas, what can the institute be identified for. Generally, as I have said above, I would like to see our interdisciplinary or multidisciplincary research to be enhanced and by this, I include the fusion or interplay of mathematics subdisciplines like number theory and geometry etc. Things that I think quite natural to be explored is the interaction between mathematics and engineering (a lot of numerical stuff can be done here), mathematics and computer science (again numerics and possible new areas involving theoretical computer science), mathematics and physical sciences including biological sciences (plenty to explore within theoretical physics and theoretical biology) and even mathematics and social sciences (like complex networks). These ideas however need to be worked on with willing researchers to take up the exploration. This is certainly ambitious but I do not think it is impossible. Let's hope to realise some bits and pieces.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Carving Niche Areas

About two weeks ago, I was invited to a workshop in IIUM called "Workshop on Dynamical Systems and Their Applications in Mathematical Physics, Engineering and Economics" on 15 May 2017. The event is held also in conjunction with the 70th birthday of Prof. Nasir Ganikhodjaev. The invitation was conveyed to me by Dr. Pah Chin Hee. The first thing that went through my mind when I first received the invitation, I'm not really an expert in dynamical systems and was thinking what should I talk about. I do have interest in symbolic dynamics on hyperbolic surfaces and toyed about the idea years before but I have no new results to actually present. Thus,  I fall back to what I know more about, namely quantization relating operator algebraic approach in the research of Prof. Ganikhodjaev and as for dynamical systems, I take it to be represented by the phase space as a (co-)tangent bundle to some configuration space. Most of the materials are just reviews but I include some outlook of the current research on hyperbolic surfaces. Here, I would like not to talk about what I present but the impression I get from the workshop on their research in CTS, IIUM.

Some pics first. Here is Prof. Ganikhodjaev during opening remarks:


Prof. Muhammad Ridza Wahiddin, Deputy rector during the opening:


The papers of Prof. Ganikhodjaev can be found here or here. Prof. Ganikhodjaev have many disciples here and this includes Pah Chin Hee and also Farrukh Mukhamedov who used to be in IIUM but has now left for Emirates.(see incomplete list here). During the workshop, I found many more of their younger staff working on areas of statistical mechanics and operator algebras. It strikes me that they have carved out a niche in these areas. These are actually important areas that go unappreciated particularly in Malaysia. Let me put the rest of the pics before I go on to discuss on what niche area that we have carved out over in UPM over the years.

The group photo:



Myself during own presentation and with the audience:








Prof. Ganikhodjaev donning an Uzbek traditional coat called chapan:



Back to us. Have we carved our own niche? Here, us means our theoretical physics group (perhaps later, I will also ask the same for the institute). What are we known for? I remember a respectable colleague once said that he wasn't sure what I am expert on. In a way, since I came back I have to admit I have been exploring areas. My own formal training is on quantization but I have taken courses in various areas of theoretical physics (including particle physics and general relativity) at Adelaide, Cambridge and Durham. So, I guess, I am pretty flexible in terms of the mathematical tools though my inclination has always been towards use of geometry and topology in physics. Much more generally, I have interest in seeing how abstract ideas get realised in physical systems and besides that I love to see far-flung ideas flock together. So this made me experiment more than others.

Fresh from PhD and back at UPM, I was suggested by a colleague to look into problems of condensed matter, which I did through quantum Hall effect. This led me to hyperbolic geometry, which we studied until now. Initially from the perspective on quantization (which I returned to in the talk at the workshop) but later on proceeded to computation of Maass cusp forms until now. The work could have been an opportunity to collaborate with number theorists. Occasionally, I entertain requests by students and back then many came to me with the interest in philosophy, general relativity & cosmology and Bohmian mechanics. I tried as much as I could to blend these into what I am interested in; at heart I am still very much on mathematical aspects of quantum theory. So when Prof. Kwek suggested I should go into quantum information in my years at ITMA, I readily take it up in areas closer to my interest (at the time I was interested in Kochen-Specker theorem/quantum contextuality; Toh took this up as a PhD student and he still continues in this area). Also the hope is that this area is more relevant to the institute that I was associated to back then (Institute of Advanced Technology). Presently, I am still interested in both quantum contextuality and quantum entanglement, seeking ways to understand it better (note this is much in the physics mode of doing things as opposed to an engineering one, which is dominant in quantum information).

When I join the Institute for Mathematical Research, I was looking for another area to start for which I saw complex networks to be one area that I thought could benefit the institute. Note that this area seems to mix up statistics, graph theory and computation with plenty of applications. I thought that this would be great for an institute that looks for interdisciplinary areas. For me, in a way it is sort of a mixed beginning, I was also looking for other areas in which hyperbolic geometry can be used and saw several papers of Tomasso Aste on hyeprbolic geometry of complex networks. Thus the venture into this. Presently Dr. Chan Kar Tim is taking this up more seriously than me, being computationally trained (through Maass cusp forms) and currently teaching statistical mechanics, complex networks could be a natural evolution of his expertise.

Another academic in our group is Dr. Nurisya Mohd Shah. She began as my M.Sc. student, working on energy eigenequations on hyperbolic surfaces (evolved from the quantization problem). Later I introduced her to the late Prof. Twareque Ali who was also working on quantization and then became his PhD student at Concordia. She worked in noncommutative quantum mechanics, much in the veins of quantization theory with connections to biorthogonal polynomials.

I still take up many students despite my administrative duties but I intend to slow down as I will be retiring soon. They are

  • Zurita Ismail (M.Sc.) on UPM scientific collaboration networks
  • Hafizuddin Mohd Taha (M.Sc.) on complex networks build from triangle groups
  • Ganesh Subramaniam (M.Sc.) on Killing tensors on 5-dimensional space-time 
  • Wan Dimashqi (M.Sc.) on discrete phase spaces and Spekkens toy model
  • Nor Syazana (M.Sc.) on Maass cusp forms on asymmetric hyperbolic tori
  • Siti Aqilah (M.Sc.) on categorical quantum mechanics
  • Sarah Diyana (M.Sc.) on complex networks and stock manipulation
  • Mohd Faudzi Umar (Ph.D.) on noncommutative quantum mechanics and canonical group quantization
  • Umair Abdul Halim (Ph.D.) on symplectic topology on complex projective spaces
  • Ahmad Hazazi (Ph.D.) on complex projective geometry and entanglement geometry
  • M.A. Ahmed (Ph.D.) on lattice gauge theories and quantum information
  • Choong Pak Shen (Ph.D.) on quantum marginal problem and entanglement
Many potential students still come to me but I have started to suggest my younger colleagues to them. I intend to stop taking students at some point in the future dependent on how things evolve. 

So what niche areas can we identify from the above? Lying deep at the core are mathematical structures of geometry, topology, group theory and graph theory. At the outer level one can identify quantum structures, complex networks and to a lesser extent mathematical aspects of relativity and cosmology. I hope that my younger colleagues will evolve this further. Another expansion that I'm still thinking about is the work with MICEMS, which at this stage is still very open (still in discussion).

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Welcoming Ramadhan 1438

Today is 1 Ramadhan 1438. Alhamdulillah, I still make it to another Ramadhan, another opportunity for myself to renew spiritually and evolve to be someone better. As one grows older, one gets more conscious of not being able to make it for the next Ramadhan. I pray that I will complete this Ramadhan successfully and be much better than last year's.

Ramadhan is the month of obligatory fasting for Muslims save those who are travelling and those who are medically unfit (to be replaced on other days when possible). The fasting starts from dawn to sunset except in countries in which the days are excessively long. Here, there is flexibility on following the duration of fasting. Some take the rules of 18-20 hours maximum and it was said Muslims in Norway follow 14 hour duration (see here). In Islamic jurisprudence, there is the Law of Necessity to treat exceptional cases and such is the case for fasting in countries with long days. I recall myself fasting in summer in UK. We will start fasting at about 3-4 am and end it at about 8pm. It is certainly challenging but I find it fulfilling with all the spiritual activities.

This Ramadhan, me and my students will attend a workshop in Singapore. Having to fast elsewhere, can be a challenge. No homecooked meal and no eateries open early morning for our suhur. But we are mentally prepared for this and will somehow store up food for this. For me, Ramadhan does not mean we work less but in fact it means we should strive harder. Thus our decision to be there for the workshop. This workshop is particularly interesting involving the abstract idea of topology in mathematics applied to materials. In fact, this workshop includes two of the last year's Physics Nobel Laureates, Kosterlitz and Haldane. Looking forward to the event.

I also almost missed sending my son to a pre-university matriculation college for this workshop. The 5th of June was the date of registration. Instead, my son had chosen to take up Foundation Studies in IIUM, Gombak and we will be sending him there on the 4th June (also the day I'm taking the flight to Singapore, late at night). So this seems to be working out fine.

All my sons are now at home for the first few days of Ramadhan and am hoping to have a good time together. I would also like to wish all colleagues, friends and readers, a happy blessed Ramadhan.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Varia: Expensive Positivity and Trust

As much as I would like to forget things that upset me, time and again, I will always be reminded of such things. Uttering words like, be positive, is easy to say but realising them requires conscientious efforts particularly when there are may elements that are beyond one's own control.

Story 1:
One of these is on some recent initiatives that I thought was important involving something I know in some depth. Naturally I'm happy to help but somewhere along the way, things went sour. It seems whatever I have suggested, which I would have thought being important (and in fact less expensive), has not been taken up. One of which I got embarrassed with an international colleague. The other one, was with my local friend, with whom I have great respect and I had a small discussion with him last night. I sincerely do not know what actually went wrong. Perhaps I am considered unfavourable by some and thus all my advices and suggestions seemed to go unheeded. If so, I wished I was not part of it from the beginning and saved me from some troubles. Since I have only a few years of my career left, let me just say what I wish had happened, even if this falls on deaf ears.

Given the importance of an initiative, perhaps to an organization, if not the nation, self interests should be secondary or be made aligned to this importance or goal. Such initiative often requires support of the appropriate community and hence engagement with the community should have been made earlier where voices of the community are heard. By doing so, one has the effect of bringing in their greater commitment. Invitations are best made personal since they may not know the organizer and the intent of the organizer. On promises when made even verbally, it is best to stick to these as much as possible, otherwise it may have caused embarrassment and wasted efforts. To run the initiative as if these are instructions made to be followed does not run well with academics. In some ways, I felt that is how the thing has been run so far with minimal discussions., if not none. Academics tend to value the opinions of their peers particularly when the matter involved is within their expertise. In this case, this does not seem to be happening.

As I ended my conversation with my colleague, the feeling was for us to proceed with what we do best in our individualistic ways as usual. As my colleague said, may be we are ignored by our local colleagues but if we do our job well, others (internationally) will (eventually) recognise what we have done well. On a slightly personal note, the event had the idea in me reinforced to be overly cautious with some individuals.

Story 2:
Both of me and my other half have worked hard to earn our livelihood but every now and then, there are just people who would stir trouble, mainly for their benefits. It is hard for us to trust anyone

At a recent wedding function that we went to, again I was reminded of something that had hurt me earlier in my career. I saw the person (an ex-student of mine) who caused me to lose a huge sum of money in some investment scam. Maybe in a way, it is my own fault to believe in such devious scheme (and I have learned my lesson) but the thing is that I had trusted him on the basis he had run a legitimate computer business. So, at the wedding, I was surprised to see him since I have thought he had gone on the run since for several years when he was no longer in contact with me. I had the opportunity to confront him at this wedding but I didn't since it is simply inappropriate then. Note: I do still want my money back and look for future opportunities to see him.

My other half had other kinds of experience of people swindling. She had crossed paths with people claiming to be doctors but had not totally finished their medical training and hence was practicing illegally. I find this to be disturbing as these individuals may endanger the lives of others but I guess these days, nothing is surprising anymore. A recent incident of such individuals has been reported to the authorities and it seems there are so many cases of such medical frauds. Again here, is the trust that we give to others have been violated and one has to on high alert always.

Trust is indeed something very expensive today and should not be given away easily these days. Despite our psyche requires us to be "bersangka baik", there seems to be pressure on withholding those thoughts.

Friday, April 21, 2017

MICEMS Boost Visit of Polito's Delegation

Yesterday's event was the highlight of the week for me and the institute. Politecnico di Torino's Rector Prof. Marco Gilli made a visit to UPM and MICEMS' office at INSPEM. Prof. Gilli was accompanied by Prof. Riccardo Adami who was one of the speakers for EQuaLS8. The Italian Ambassador to Malaysia, His Excellency, Mr. Mario Sammartino also joined the Polito delegation to UPM, which was a pleasant surprise.

Here are the pics on their arrival at the Chancellory building. The delegation was received by Prof. Dr. Ing. Renuganth Varadarajoo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Industry & Community Relations) and the INSPEM management.






Inside the Chancellory building, discussions before the arrival of the UPM Vice-Chancellor.






The arrival of Prof. Datin Paduka Dr. Aini Ideris and the discussions  and exchanges of documents and gifts with the Polito delegation.
























Some group photos in the Chancellory building.




Arrival at INSPEM and MICEMS building.












Discussions in INSPEM meeting room and the group photo.






















The visit to Muzium Warisan Melayu.












Now for some contents of the visit. At the Chancellory, there was a presentation of the Letter of Intent as an Addendum of the earlier MoU. We have now renewed commitment of INSPEM in supporting MICEMS and the forthcoming stationing of Polito's researcher in the MICEMS office in INSPEM. The Rector Prof. Gilli also stated the idea of expanding the collaboration further to include Engineering and Architecture for which Polito is well known for.

At INSPEM, the Director Prof. Noor Akma presented some information on the institute as well as the activities surrounding MICEMS. This is followed by some highlights of the research carried out with MICEMS. The Rector Prof. Gilli in the discussion told us some history of Politecnico di Torino which is known to be well connected to the industries (see Wikipedia article). Let me mention also here the famous Fiat car industry is based in Turin and the name Fiat comes from Fabbrica Italiana Automobiliti Torino (see Wikipedia article). He continues to speak on further enhancing support for MICEMS with an active researcher here in the institute, to be realised before the end of the year. He also spoke on the growing complexity of research in science and engineering, which often requires interdisciplinary skills and hence the need to open up to various different disciplines for which MICEMS can partake on. A specific mention of big data research and information security was made. He also spoke on the possibility of joint PhD programs. At the end of the meeting, Prof. Renuganth who was with us in the meeting, mentioned his strong support for the suggestions and informed us that he will personally see through the success of this initiative.

On the final point mentioned by Prof. Gilli above, I had some informal discussions with Prof. Adami during lunch. He reiterated the idea Prof. Lamberto Rondoni had mentioned some time ago on some interdisciplinary PhD programs. They have existing joint programs of such nature that can be seen in http://www.asp-poli.it/ and http://sipd.polito.it/index_en.html. He foresee that MICEMS will be the nexus of something bigger. My guess that these programs will be tailored accordingly with our available strength, the interest of both parties and both natural and engineered evolution of the initiative. INSPEM will do well to support such joint programs and further introduce multidiscplinary elements in the institute and further enhance our international prominence.

Let us now do our best.