Monday, October 31, 2016

Trip to Dumaguete City, Philippines

Haven't posted anything here for awhile. I have been busy, with me still managing pain from my frozen shoulder. I got it some weeks before the trip to Philippines and was hoping it to go away (or at least the pain lessened) before the trip. The pain did not subside until now, but let me retell the story of my trip to Philippines.

The idea of going to Philippines was mooted by Prof. Jinky Bornales during the visit of her delegation to UPM way back in March (see photos here). Immediately after her return, I received an invitation letter from Prof. Marc Nolan P. Confessor to a conference their Physical Society (Samahang Pisika Ng Visayas At Mindanao)  is organizing. Now, that's quick and to which I also responded swiftly by booking an air ticket to Manila and on their part from Manila to Dumaguete City where the conference is held.

Just a few days before my flight there, learned about the typhoons Sarika and Haima that may hit Philippines. As usual, there is safety concern (particularly from my family) about me flying there. I tracked updates on the typhoon Haima (nearer to my date of light) which eventually developed into a super typhoon category 5. It did land on Philippines but it was in the north, causing severe damage (see here). Later after the conference, I found out from some of the organizers about their traumatic experience of severe storms and floods.

I flew to Manila on 19 October and the flight was delayed but smooth. At the airport, Christine (official attache of MSU-IIT in Manila) was waiting for me and we drove to pick up Prof. Bornales who was there in Manila to present some proposals. Later, we drove to the hotel through quite a sticky Manila traffic. I was put up at Cherry Blossom Hotel which is nearby the MSU-IIT's office in Manila. It was right in the middle of a shopping area. After freshening up, we walked to a nearby restaurant to have a (salad) dinner.

Despite being tired, woke myself at 3 am in order to get breakfast at 4 am so that we can beat the traffic to the airport. At Manila airport, I met some of Prof. Bornales' friends who were also travelling to Dumaguete City for the conference. The flight was only an hour and at Dumaguete City airport we were picked up by some staff of the conference organizer. We were all put up at the Bethel Guest House, a Christian hotel. This hotel is situated right in front of a beach (see below) - despite so, I didn't have time to walk along the beach though.

We then rushed to the Conference venue just in time for the plenary session. The first talk I listened to was from Prof. Maria Victoria Carpio-Bernido on "SHS STEM Research Initiatives: Plans and Prospects".

First let me mention that I first met Prof. M.V. Carpio-Bernido together with her husband Prof. Christopher Bernido, way back in 1997 in a conference organised by Prof. S.C. Lim who was with UKM then. I knew them both as mathematical physicists who worked with path integrals. Little did I know what else they do. They were initially based in University of the Philippines, Diliman with the National Institute of Physics there. But they then moved to a remote place in Jagna, Bohol in a way to prove a point that they believe in with respect to scientific progress, regradless of how remote one can be. Their tale had me inspired. They founded Central Visayan Institute Foundation (CVIF) and work with schoolchildren and form also a Research Centre for Theoretical Physics. You can read about them here (see video here). In her talk, she spoke about the progress of the CVIF Dynamic Learning Program where schoolchildren are given more room to do activity-based scientific exploration than the usual school program. One of the striking things being mentioned that this program imposes strictly no homework rule. One can read about this program in the slides of their talks given elsewhere here and here. She also lamented the case of Philippine universities not making it to the world universities ranks in comparison to the other South East Asian countries. I can see that from responses to her talk that they are very serious about making holistic progress of science in the country.

The other four plenary talks that I attended that morning were:

  • Dr. Rommel G. Bacabac (Univ. of San Carlos, Cebu City), "Teacher's Guide for General Physics I"
  • Prof. Ludwig Streit (Universidade de Madeira, Portugal), "Complexity, Acceleration, Globalization - A Challenge for Democracy"
  • Prof. Josef Froelich (Innovation Systems Tech Gate Vienna, Austria), "Increasing Dynamics and Complexity of Socio-Technical Systems:New Scientific Methods and Tools Are Needed"
  • Dr. Micheal Francis Ian G. Vega II (National Institute of Physics, Univ. of the Philipines, Quezon City), "Einstein and the Music of the Spheres"
The first talk is on the changes they have made to upper secondary school curriculum in a way the transition to university-level physics is easier (at least that is how I understood it). Prof. Streit's talk is based on his paper in Interdisciplinary Studies of Complex Systems. The gist is about the impact of information technology and globalization in our socio-economic systems, which has become highly non-trivial. The call is to study them as complex systems with all the known tools.

Continuing on the same theme is Prof. Josef Froelich on the need of new tools to analyse complex systems - this includes complex networks. Prof Frolich is in fact a student of Prof. Streit.

I have limited interactions with Prof. Froelich since he left for another meeting the next day nd his invitation I believe fits the purpose of Prof. Bornales' office involvement in innovation centres. Prof. Streit, on the other hand, I get to know him better as the conference went along. In fact, Prof. Streit has been there in Philippines several times as visiting professor. The next speaker was Dr. M.F.I.G. Vega II who spoke about gravitational waves. He gave a very lucid lecture and probably got the attention of the school kids there. It is from his talk that I thought I should change my own slides to include more introductory things.

The rest of the afternoon was parallel sessions. I was accompanied by Jingle B. Magallanes since lunch time. I was asked to attend the materials science session and had thus a glimpse of what they do there. The session I was in seems very much be applications in medical sciences. Here is a photo of me having lunch in the Siliman University's gym with Dr. Pawel Sokolowski (from Poland), Prof. Rosario Reserva, Prof. Jinky Bornales and Prof. Josef Froelich. Note: the gym used to be a hangar.

During the night we had the banquet dinner of the conference at the same place. I was seated with Prof. Jinky Bornales, Dr. Pawel Sokolowski, Prof. Christopher Bernido and Prof. Maria Victoria Carpio-Bernido.

One of my difficulties when travelling abroad is my restrictive diet. Being Muslim, of course I take halal food and most Muslims would go for seafood option as it is the easiest. I can't even do this since I don't take white meat i.e. chicken, fish and other seafood. Thus, my easiest option has been a vegetarian when travelling abroad. Sometimes to my embarrassment I had to explain my diet and my worry is always that it may cause unnecessary trouble for the organisers. Anyway the dinner was interesting because they had trivia (they had this also during the conference sessions before they start) and their own students performing. Perhaps a highlight of the dinner is that the Governer of Negros Oriental came down to meet us at dinner.

After dinner, struggled a bit to change and edit my slides.

The second day started off early with the following talks:

  • Dr. Mark Nolan P. Confesor (MSU-IIT), "Teaching Guide for General Physics 2 in the K12 Program: Content and Competencies"
  • Myself (INSPEM, UPM), "Symplectic Geometric Techniques for r-Qubit Systems"
  • Prof. Christopher Bernido (Research Centre for Theoretical Physics, Central Visayan Institute Foundation), "Feynman Paths and White Noise Analysis for Complex Systems with Memory"
Dr. Confesor is the SPVM President and he continues from where Dr. Bacabac left on the talk n the first day. For my own talk, I dwell a little bit on the basics of symplectic geometry expressed in a way I understand them and connects quickly with the idea of quantum states. That leaves me little time to talk about the results we (me and Dr. Saeid Molladavoudi) have produced and in the end I just had to gloss over them (was not satisfied with the way I did it - though should have explained more on the physics of it). Then I asked for some extended time for me to introduce UPM and INSPEM. The ones probbly that caught their eye most is the facts and figures of our undergraduates and postgraduates, which I got from this page. They were amazed by the number of our postgraduates (from interactions during lunch) and I told them it is the requirement of research university to have many postgraduate students. I also told our internationalization efforts from the institute, namely with EMS and MICEMS. After me, it was Prof. Bernido's talk on Feynman path integrals and how they can be used to model complex systems and in a way as technical as my talk (trying not to feel too bad)

For the parallel sessions, I attended the Complex Systems session and listened to a few talks in particular that of Prof. Streit on "Polymers and Random Walks", right after which I had to get some rest, feeling a bit fatigue. 

In the evening, we had another social dinner in which there were games for the staff and speakers. Participated in the light ones - to be sporting - including karaoke session. There, they saw for the first time Prof. Streit and Prof. C. Bernido singing (see pics below).

I decided to go along with the singing particularly then I had just received the news of our budget and the budget cuts of the universities (said to myself, what the heck). I picked Hoobastank's "The Reason".

They were surprised by my choice. I guess they were expecting me picking an oldie with less rockish flavour. In another dinner the day after, I explained my music inclinations and again they were surprised by this fact. I told them, it also surprises many of my own local colleagues.

The next day was a half day with plenary session in the morning and social visit in the afternoon. The talks were:

  • Dr. Jan Mickelle V. Maratas (Blaise Pascal University/MSU-IIT), "Some Highlights From LHCb"
  • Dr. Stephane Monteil (Blaise Pascal University, France), "High Energy Physics: An Overview of the Field"
  • Dr. Pawel Sokolowski (Wroclaw University of Technology, Poland), "Liquid Feedstock Plasma Spraying as an Alternative for Conventional Powder Plasma Spraying"
The first two (see their pic - forefront - in the first picture of the social dinner) are high energy physicists, the earlier is actually the PhD student of the latter. Dr. Maratas spoke about CP violation and Dr. Monteil more generally on the big questions of high energy physics. I braved myself to put forward my questions to these speakers as I would like to know the latest development. Finally Dr. Sokolowski (praised to be one of the bright young scientist in Poland) spoke about his contributions in plasma spraying which has many applications.

In the afternoon, we were given a tour of the Siliman University. Some photos before the tour:

Around the campus:

The photo just above shows one of the earliest building of the Siliman University, which is just nearby a beach. While there is no photo, one of the most interesting place is their anthropology museum. We also stopped by the cultural village foe the island and had some traditional food there.

Finally on the way back, we saw the locals' preparations for the Buglasan Festival (see below). There were a lot of music and sows around the street (only saw a small early portion of it).

All in all, I must say there are many similarities between their conference and ours. We are very much tradition bound. They opened their sessions in the morning with (Christian) prayers and singing their national anthem just like we do in our official functions. They also give out certificates and tokens (and recited a standard text during the conference), which is good for documentation purposes.

Finally, I am attracted with the idea of having school children to be part of the conference (with their own specialised sessions) as a way of attracting students to physics (and other sciences). Here is a pic of me with students during the closing session (there were others before that, that I didn't get the chance to have copies).

Before flying back home to Kuala Lumpur the next morning, had breakfast with Prof. Streit, Prof. Bornales and Dr. Confesor. We talked about possible cooperation. The flight to Manila was just before 9am and reached Manila airport about an hour later. Finally boarded the flight back to KLIA at 3.30 pm and reached home at about 7 pm.

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