Saturday, March 25, 2017

Meeting for Physics in ASEAN

Almost the whole week, this week, I was in Singapore under invitation from Institute of Advanced Studies, Nanyang Technological University for an important meeting. It is the Meeting on the ASEAN Federation of Physics Association. The idea of having such Federation is timely due to the fact ASEAN soon will be celebrating its 50th anniversary. ASEAN was formed from political and economic reasons (see here). It is only later in 1970/71 that an ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology (COST) was formed. The objectives being

  • to initiate and intensify regional cooperation in scientific and regional activities;
  • to generate and promote development of scientific and technological expertise and manpower in the ASEAN region;
  • to facilitate and accelerate the transfer of scientific developments and technologies among ASEAN countries and from the more advanced industrialized countries to the ASEAN region;
  • to provide support and assistance in the application of the results of research and development, and in the more effective use of natural resources in the ASEAN region; and
  • to provide support towards the implementation of present and future ASEAN programmes.
These are supplemented by many plans of action; the recent one being here for 2016-2025.

The formation of the Federation in a way will help realise further the ASEAN cooperation on science within the specific field of physics.

How I got to be involved in this meeting is perhaps accidental. I have been somewhat a contact person in Malaysia for IAS, NTU for a while now for many of their activities, some of which I personally have attended. When I received the news of the meeting, I immediately convey this to Prof. Kurunathan Ratnavelu in Universiti Malaya who is the President of the Malaysian Institute of Physics. I was then also invited to the meeting along with Dr. Clarissa Ai Ling Lee, a research associate at the Institute of Malaysia and International Studies, who is personally interested in the history of science in Southe-East Asia and hence naturally fits well into the meeting that could be historic.

Prof. Kuru presented the overall physics research in Malaysia which saw dramatic increase in the last 10-15 years. The bulk of physics research in Malaysia is in, of course, materials science and there has already records of collaboration with other ASEAN countries particularly Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore. My part is essentially to focus more on theoretical physics, an area that I thought could be more fluid in terms of collaboration. I began with some historical introduction where recruitment of the early Malaysian theoretical physicists are made freely without constraints but later there are identified research areas (mostly in applied areas) to consider. Also, research ecosystem of theoretical physics does not only involve only the theorists themselves but also include mathematicians of related areas. Thus in my presentation I've listed all the theorists that I know in the different universities. If I had more time, I would probably go on to include the collaboration networks for the theorists and mathematicians. However, one local theorist in University of Malaya had more than a hundred collaborators, an outlier that will skew greatly the collaborative pattern. In any case, the ASEAN collaboration partners of our local theorists are almost limited to Indonesia and Singapore. There are more international partners from other countries compared to that of ASEAN. This could be further improved if the Federation is formed. I have also included a little publicity on Malaysia-Italy Centre of Excellence for Mathematical Sciences (MICEMS). Next, was Dr. Clarissa's presentation whereby she puts forward her interesting proposal on history of ASEAN physics, which got some attention from the participants.

One of the thing I noticed quickly was that none of our presentations include the status of physics education; ours was more on research. The other countries do include this important aspect and highlight some important problems and achievements. The meeting also includes a roundtable discussion for which various problems like sustainability of the Federation once formed. It is understood that it requires a strong leadership and of course  financial support. There were also suggestions that all countries should try to support each other national physics conferences, which I thought it is a good idea. Right after the meeting, I was invited by one of the Philippine delegate to their conference which unfortunately coincides with IAS's Workshop on Topological Phase Transitions and New Developments, which was already in my mind of going (apparently it is in Ramadhan). Singapore's IAS, NTU offered itself to lead the Federation for the first few years and similarly Indonesia has also expressed interest. The Federation's own name was voted to be ASEAN Federation of Physical Societies and the participants of the meeting are to be included in its steering committee. There would be a follow-up meeting for this committee.

Here are some pics from the meeting:

As the meeting is about to start.

Prof. Kuru giving his presentation.

During the meeting. Leftmost is Jose Perico Esguerra whom I met in Dumaguete City earlier.

During the meeting. Laksana Tri Handoko is visible there with his laptop. It has been more than ten years since I met him during his visit to UPM last time (I was still in ITMA).

The Malaysian delegates (Prof. Kuru, myself, Dr. Clarissa). When I posted this pic to my family whatsapp, immediately my eldest remarked: 1 Malaysia, referring to us belonging to the three main races in Malaysia. This was not on our mind at all; we were there mostly thinking of what we ought to say in a way to represent Malaysia the best we could.

The group photo.


Kwong Chang Chi said...

We have an email circulating among the physics staffs/students for this event. Unfortunately I was too busy in the lab to go.

A group of the participants visited the lab where I work. Among them are some delegates from Brunei (the few that I have managed to read their affiliation on the name tags).

Hishamuddin Zainuddin said...

Hi. I was not there for the lab tour since I have to do other things, otherwise it would be nice to see you. Apart from Myanmar, there were representatives from all ASEAN countries.