Monday, January 23, 2017

Students in Us

Today I'm in Singapore with most of my students here together with Dr. Chan for the Conference on 90 Years of Quantum Mechanics. I hope they are at their best behaviour and learn as much as they could from the event here. Being the rare opportunity it is, this might be the last time I'm able to do this.

I would like to say a few words surrounding events with students the last few weeks and my own experience being a student for life. First, it is good to understand that we are learning something and why we are learning it. I think it is common to all that we do it for self-satisfaction, showing that we are able to overcome certain challenges and are capable to do difficult technical stuff. I used to receive comments that, being stereotyped, I would not be capable of doing certain things. For instance, at undergraduate, I was discouraged from doing supergravity and thus on returning home, I took it upon myself going into details of Wess and Bagger's book and Van Nieuhuizen's Physics Report article. Later, I got myself interested in Witten's Topological Tools in Ten-Dimensional Physics article and said I need to learn this. True enough, ego partly drives this but one needs to be level-headed and use it just as much for your own sense of self-worth. Today, I'm more into owing up to responsibility. I see that there has been a lot spent into my career development and would like to give as much back to the community. Partly in providing opportunities for aspiring students. Aspirations alone are not enough, the hard work must be there. Sleepless nights are common when I'm a student. Thus, I find it disappointing if the student is not up to the work expected. Worse, when they feel good about it. I've seen vivas where students feeling so much self-confident but left broken down. I hope my own students won't be in this situation. That is why, I worry to see some students brag on their capabilities but yet they have not been truly tested.

I tend to let my students free to do what they want and set their own creativity within limits. This sometimes run counter to what organizations want: graduate on time, productive in publishing and carry part of organisational goals. However, I'm beginning to feel the pressure of making the students toe the line and thus things might change in the future. Whatever is the case, there are few traits I would like to see in students: creativity, intelligence, hardworking, self-ciritical, appropriately productive and yet humble enough. I am trying to apply these to myself too and thus much more that I want to see it from my own students.

With today's conference, I hope get to pick up bits and pieces of research culture. Sometimes one need to go beyond our circles to see sometimes how much better are others than us. This will probably tone down our own self-satisfaction and make us want to work harder. I owe much to my Singapore colleague, Kwek, for making this opportunity available for us.

Friday, January 06, 2017

2017 Primed

We are now about a week into 2017 and as usual, I'm my usual self. Resolutions? Didn't write any but I figured I should do less of the social media (not making FB active in the background while I'm working). The social media has changed so much from simply keeping in touch and sharing information with friends to plenty of propaganda, ego boosting posts and business advertisements and become extremely distracting. I guess this can't be helped; people eventually would take advantage of the social media according to their wimps.

My own use? I like to share information which I thought would be useful to my students, colleagues and even staff. If I am on leave, I would post saying as such, so that staff and students would know I'm not around. If there is a conference relevant to my group's interest, I would share them. If not related, I pick and choose what I would like to share. I also like to share my ideas and witty remarks that make people think. For instance, on January 1st, I posted on FB that "2017 is a prime number". I did consciously try to find something different to post and then I thought to myself that 2017 does look like a prime number (wasn't running any algorithm in my head). I checked with Mathematica, PrimeQ[2017] and it returned True. Hence posted it and seemed to get some attention. Any other reason? None really, particularly I'm not suggesting any form of numerology (lest I be accused as a university lecturer teaching others to be stupid - with reference to a recent tabloid article).

However 2017 being prime is interesting with respect to number theory. Only much later, that I looked up what is known about it. It is the 306th prime number. The next prime number for the forthcoming years is 2027 (another ten years). Apparently the prime number before it, was 2011, six years before. This pairing of six-year primes seem to have a name: sexy primes! I have no idea what's sexy about it but according to its Wikipedia article, the name stems from the Latin word for six, sex (no that does not make me an expert in linguistics, but I can still talk about it, right? - with reference to a recent tabloid article). What else is known about 2017? It is a zero of Mertens function. At present, I do not know what is its significance, but it is interesting to observe that there is a connection to hyperbolic geometry.

My interest in number theory is really cursory; my bigger (mathematical) love is geometry and topology. It was during the research of quantum mechanical wavefunctions on hyperbolic surfaces that makes me cross path with number theory. Still, I do not fully grasp the deep significance but I have formed deep interest in the interplay of discrete structures with continuous ones for several years now. Collected stacks of papers within this topic and still hoping to read their details. Presently I'm reading back the popular book "Fearless Symmetry" by Avner Ash and Robert Gross, all prompted by my 2017 FB post. Hidden underneath all this is my dream of venturing into new research areas. Earlier in my conversation with my postdoc more than a month ago, we have contemplated on learning noncommutative arithmetic geometry as the middle road of marrying his interest on noncommutative quantum mechanics and geometry with what we have done on energy eigenfunctions on hyperbolic geometry. This would be nice and it has applications in things that I have mentioned in this popular article (topological materials). However we got sidetracked for now by a competing interest in phase space quantum mechanics and symplectic topology, But even in here, number theory crops up in topics like discrete phase spaces using finite fields whose order is powers of primes.

So much for 2017! Hope no one gets stupid reading this.