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.