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.

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