Saturday, June 02, 2018

Mid-Ramadhan 1439 Post

It has been more than a month since I last post to this blog. We already have gone past half of Ramadhan this year with many historic events gone by. We have now a new government installed just before Ramadhan. Leading the new government is our fourth Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir but now attached to a different party and coalition, becoming our seventh Prime Minister. At the risk of being called cliche, Tun Dr. Mahathir being 93 and working at this age, prompted me to reexamine my previous thoughts. I find it embarrassing that I have been looking forward to my retirement, complaining of old age and so on. But the real reason for breaking my silence is simply to respond to certain events that I felt some need to air my own personal views.

On the position of the institute, we are still going strong despite budget cuts and shrunk human resource, thanks to our researchers and staff. We continue to do our work regardless comments or even imminent (imagined) changes that some would like to happen. We are submitting our application to be a national HiCoE and continue further with international collaboration through MICEMS. Personally I would like to see the institute grow in reputation and be well-respected internationally. I see ideas and opportunities to develop the institute if given enough support. Hopefully with the new government, we will have better funding despite the national financial situation.

I have been with the institutes (three different ones) for more than 16 years. I was lucky to be part of the institute in its early days. There were uneasy episodes between the faculties and institutes but I would have expected after more than 16 years, most of these have been resolved. Indeed presently, research contributions (papers and grants) from the institute's research associates (who are faculty members) will also be counted as the faculty's. As far as institute's management members' time, the agreement in the early days was that they will still contribute to teaching in the faculty and is limited to such since they need to develop the institute as implied by their duty when appointed. I still hold on to this principle. It will be double-fold duty if management members need to contribute to meetings in both institutes and faculties. Of course when there is real necessity for the management members to be there at the faculty, the members can be contacted personally.

Sometimes questions arise what has the institute contributed. I believe, there is a lot. Perhaps, one just need to compare the research of say, mathematics department about 15 years ago and of now. Of course, there are compound effects but let us not deny that the institute helped. Personally, I would like to think our role at the institute is to create new opportunities and environment for researchers besides the one that they have at the faculties. I will just simply take my theoretical physics research group as an example to make it more specific. At the institutes, we have visiting scientists program and events (involving prominent researchers) that had benefited the group. The late Prof. S. Twareque Ali (whose loss affected us greatly) was invited by us during the first EQuaLS and he later became the PhD supervisor for Dr. Nurisya Mohd Shah, our group member. In fact, Prof. Twareque did more than just that, he participated in most of our EQuaLS events (see links here) and became our visiting scientist during the period October-December 2012. He was also the thesis examiner for my PhD student Dr. Saeid Molladavoudi. At the end of EQuaLS1, Prof. Twareque Ali hugged me and said something like "this is the beginning of an important tradition" but EQuaLS will never be the same without him and we have yet to think how to start again in his absence.

The other group member is Dr. Chan Kar Tim whose PhD thesis was on parallel computation of cusp forms on hyperbolic spaces. This research actually started earlier where I realise in order to have a complete picture of how hyperbolic geometry affects quantization, we need to do numerical computation of quantum bound states, something which I dreaded in the beginning (not really a computation guy). So in the beginning, we reined in the help of Holger Then who had computed Maass cusp forms of modular group for large eigenvalues. This started us off in developing Mathematica programs for computing the cusp forms. Later, we also reined in the help of Fredrik Stromberg, another expert on cusp form computation (see here), whom we invited as visiting scientist and speaker for EQuaLS5. With advices from both experts, we successfully published papers on such computations through the PhD work of Dr. Chan Kar Tim. In the physics department now, Dr. Chan would be the resource person for computational aspects in physics.

The above is just simply for the theoretical physics group. I am pretty sure other members of the faculty has benefited from the institute's visitors and programmes. As such, I hope there will be less negative talk on the institute's contributions. It will be unfortunate and disappointing if faculty-institute rift resurfaces (in whatever form) after years of coexistence. Personally, I prefer to be forward-looking and be not involved in office politics. My main concern now is how to make the progress we have made so far to be sustainable. Surely there is enough work there.

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