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Sakmongkol ak 47

Monday, 17 November 2008

CN Yang on cultivating top rate scientists

Chen Ning Yang

Albert Einstein Professor Emeritus
Nobel Laureate in Physics

Chen Ning Yang (CN Yang) is an American Chinese Physicists. In 1957 he won the Nobel Price in Physics with another Chinese scholar. CN Yang has been closely linked with the National University of Singapore to develop a critical pool of super achievers in science. Now, Sakmongkol is not qualified to speak about CN Yang’s accomplishments in Physics. He is interested though in CN Yang’s idea for developing first class minds in science.

When answering the question why no scientist in China's mainland has ever won the Nobel Prize while many overseas Chinese have carried away the laurels, he said that China needs four conditions to have its first-rate scientists doing first-rate scientific researches.

  1. Firstly, China needs talented people;
  2. secondly, a good tradition;
  3. thirdly, the determination and
  4. fourthly, the financial resources.

China has so far obtained the previous three, yet is short of the fourth. The annual salary a professor earns in China is only US$2,000 at present. If this can come up to US$ 20,000, it would help ease these overseas professors' worries back at home, and China is sure to have more excellent scientists.

Malaysia is a small country. Her small size should not be a barrier to producing top brains provided it has the right attitude. Israel is a small country- but has a large share in Nobel prize winners.

Firstly, Malaysia must recognize talents and must be seen to honour talents. The dearth of scholars and scientists on the civil list as recipients of honorific titles, sadly indicates, we do not honour our talent. We honour entertainers more than our scientists. Young Malays and Malaysians view singers and entertainers as role models rather than say, a professor of physics at University Malaya.

If Malaysia wants to become an economic power, it must adopt a strategy for revitalizing the nation by science and technology. That will indicate that it attaches great importance to the cultivation of talents.

The government must adopt key universities under its wing for development. It must increase its investment in them doubled.

The government must re-appraise the salary scales given to scientists in order to free them. CN Yang for example, discovered that unlike American scientists who can concentrate on researches without worries behind, many Chinese professors have to worry about their household work, housing and children. Yang said that if the salary for professors can be increased by 10 folds there will be no worries for them and they'll be able to engage in scientific researches in a more energetic way, and China will by then have more scientists to win the Nobel Prize.

Perhaps Malaysia must now look at salary scales of scientist and professors at our public universities. Grants should be given quite liberally for them to conduct researches that are vital for Malaysia.

But at the same time, if and when the government responds favourably to an agenda to create a critical mass of top rate scientists, our students too must be free to develop attitudinal changes. One observation made by CN Yang on Chinese students for example should be noted. The physicist pointed out that Chinese youths lack courage to face challenges. They should learn from their western counterparts in this area. Only by doing so, will their achievements in sciences not be hampered. China's youths should have a clear understanding of which direction they want to develop. They should continuously absorb new information while not forgetting tradition.

Yang said, "China has already possessed the three fundamental elements in what is needed for technology development: First, the talented intellectuals from among whom many excellent youth have already cropped up thanks to the enhancing of quality in education. Secondly, determination, it is a common desire that the government and the masses of people are paying more attention to technology. And Thirdly, better economic conditions, through 20 years' reform and opening up, China's economy has taken a turn for the better, and it has certainly more strength to increase its input for technology development."


Anonymous,  17 November 2008 at 22:21  

I think we are stuck at step one: recognising talent. Agree with you about awards/ datukships for scientists etc, but to me, another more important facet is nurturing young talent regardless of skin colour. That is one unfortunate consequence of the skewed implementation of the NEP. Talented young non-Malays are shunted aside in our universities in favour of less talented Malays. In the end they have no choice but to leave for the private sector or for another country that appreciates their worth.How is the country to become a leader in any scientific or other field if this systematic brain drain is allowed to go on? Please dont bother to deny this is going on.You know it. Everybody who's been to university knows it too.
And lest you think that I am a disgruntled non-Malay, well no I'm not, I'm as Melayu as they come. But I think I love this country more than I love the idea of ketuanan Melayu. What is the point of being 'tuan' of a mediocre nation of lost opportunities??
We need every brain we have. After all, brains are all the same colour.

walla 18 November 2008 at 16:36  

Just as string theory made mass music, CN Yang and TD Lee proved the Almighty was Left-handed.

Their discovery of symmetry violation in weak interactions between elementary particles was experimentally demonstrated by CS Wu, the US' foremost lady physicist at that time. It created a sensation because everyone had expected what was logical to happen. Apparently He disagreed.

The Discovery

The Eureka

As you can see, one of sakmongkol's famous curves was also used in that discovery, to devastating effect, one may add. ;P

Yang may have a point on China's scientific prowess being in need of more capital to bootstrap their next scientific revolution. After all, that country had been cloistered for many years from the rest of the world despite it once having some distinction of scientific prowess when europe wore leaves.

But with USD2 Trillion in reserves and as one of only a few nations left whose economy remains relatively unscathed by the present global financial turmoil, harbor no doubt that they will be focusing more deeply on making it happen despite their size, multitude, diversity and complexity. The opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics leave no doubt that political will can propel waves of change once they set their minds to the task.

But, of course, as with every great endeavor, there will be equally great challenges. The biggest of that is how to change mindsets. For science education, it will require the whole paradigm to shift from facts manipulation to ideas creation. One is fixed, the other nebular. Nebular things, such as ideas pinged back and forth like sonar waves between two submarines, work best in a fertile climate of questioning assumptions, following arguments to the bitter end, thinking out of not just the box but also the self, and plain vanilla interactions between diverse and curious minds free from preset preferences. Such as found in this very blog. The best ideas of Einstein, for instance, came when talking to a friend as they walked the Alps, although his wife would have attested they came when he was cradling their first child.

Sakmongkol has given some good suggestions long overdue to find a new propulsion system for our universities. But i would like to add three minor points, if i may:

one, politics should not go into the universities; if socioeconomic engineering is needed to be done, do it as a parallel track so as not to lose anymore the next generations of the best we can produce; if as a result this creates dichotomy in society, so be it - better to have two than none; there will be closure later because every situation is dynamic and so too what someone will be;

two, putting equipment, funds and freedom alone on the table and just saying 'think' is not enough; they must be channeled to the right caliber of people, not those who have no bent for the eurekatization of their entire existence in pursuit of the pure light of truth; however to do the transfer, they better sit down, bite the bullet and work it out; maybe shift all to one separate institution and refill with the best bar none. Identity of the institution changed? What's in a name?

three, don't underestimate the importance of the schools - after all, that's where the feeders to the universities are. Brilliant students, regardless whether they are in national or vernacular schools must be nurtured, supported and encouraged to be the best they can. In fact one thing the MOE will shy away from admitting - when the little dot down there recruits for their universities, they will pull first the best from the vernacular schools - because they know these are really the best trained in science and maths from our country. It's therefore a joke not to support them. It's in fact a travesty to exercise neglect on them. We lose a student today, they gain a biotechnology director tomorrow. If we are really bipeds, we shouldn't be shooting ourselves in the foot.

A few other miserable points:

four, run each campus to intermingle the denizens of different faculties; more student interactions across disciplines; kekule dreamt of the benzene ring as a dance; maybe he saw a show that night; mental flowering, that's the thing.

five, foster a numerate society; that requires more accurate and uptodate data on everything so that the media and the readers can interact and analyse, write and discuss, remodell and extrapolate; the japanese society is understood to be number-crazy for everything; here numbers shouldn't just be for betting; in China, you can see simple folks giving their comments on candlestick stock charts and management gurus regaling the latest while their bookshops are easily bigger than our national library in content and replete with the latest from the shelves of the west, duly translated into mandarin; in fact publications from the universities, public and private, as well as from the colleges, including theses by students, papers presented in seminars and by think-tanks, archives in the national archives, etc should be digitised and webified for open access as standard procedure; as they are, they're not worth much really but if we don't start somewhere, how can the movement grow?

six, expand the role of the counselor and reintroduce physical education in schools; teenagers, especially, will have questions on careers and values; they will need the right methods on how to study while under the natural influence of hormonal changes which afflict the concentration of most; in fact, those are the best formative years to inculcate something which no one seems to want to say it out - how to get excited about clever ideas. An example of a clever idea is the above first diagram. Do it like a whodunit. Hide the clues. Give tips. Reward success. Provide guides and measures ..but the end result must be 'ooh! this is SOoo clever!'. Look at the way we are doing things here. Moral-101 is to be memorized word for word. That is the fastest way to dull a keen mind. Why not tell a story and ask them to debate what's the moral of it, ending the lesson with a clear and concise summary by the teacher, with examples on how to apply the principles in real life? And physical exercises not only help reduce obesity which is crippling half the population, they also provide some balance for the mental activities. Now they only exercise when they go for NS; some will die from it.

seven, the world's biggest open library is the worldwide web; unfortunately most of its content where useful is in the english language; that aside, the worldwide web you are using to read this is not the worldwide web i am using to read things. There are at least a few more www out there and they are like nothing you have seen before. How clueless can the leaders be who decide the future of our young?

eight, why the US is so great in scientific research is their aggressive focus on pushing all the right buttons; there is a triple helix model for govt-industry-university cooperation; a linchpin for that is the patenting system; our people don't do enough research because the motivation is stumped by the lack of funds to pay for the patenting of their finds, plus a few other factors; even the venture capital aspect in industry is abbreviated; there is another thing about research; being able to pick the right topic to research is also extremely important to optimize research resources; the US, Germany and Japan are particularly profound in this matter, especially at the masters level upwards; do we even have that being incubated? knowing how UM's plasma physics unit (once famous throughout the region) has disappeared, methinks not;

ninth, keep in contact; today's dullard may be tomorrow's gem; there was one guy who scored 5A's in the HSC, topped engineering in UM, left to work in Singapore, rose to be best employee in a multinational, returned to lecture here but with some sparks still left under the belt on the sort of technical knowledge on circuits that would find use in an invention, if it comes to that; probably thousands of them are like that; brightest human capital of the land ending in some corner after many economic cycles where they could instead be part of a national strategic spearhead to make things really jive in this country.

tenth, end with a story, some data and a quote; once i had attended a seminar on telemedicine in Boston; after that, instead of the usual cultural tour, i headed alone to Cambridge as in Harvard and MIT; i wanted to find out why they're great; as i walked the grounds, i concluded it's not so much the hardware and buildings as it is the software of wanting to maintain excellence all the time and staying connected to the real world on what's important and impactful for the future. It being a sunday i didn't expect to meet Michael Porter at Harvard so i went into the bookshop to stand a good hour reading Barro on economic growth; after that i sat at the steps of Barton and looked at the river, then walked to the world-famous MIT media lab and sat at the lobby. Out came a young man and we talked; he said he was flying to Tokyo and yes he has heard about our MSC but no the labs out of bounds. So off i went to walk the MIT grounds. There was a box on a table for handovers for a tutorial. It was Physics 101. Intriguing was the nature of the questions. Instead of the usual 'use the right equation to plug these numbers to get the result', they were more like 'derive from first principles your own equation to get the result from these data and analyze how it would change as the situation changes.' So early, they demand they think on their own. That's the US' SECOND best, and it picks the best of their technical minds of the whole nation. One shudders to think what's the tutorial for Phy-101 at the other one on the other coast - Caltech.

Ok, now for the data; please note that Malaysia's code is MAS:

where is (a) Malaysia, (b) USA, and (c) who's the top?

and since this is about Physics:

I believe we can draw our own conclusions here; they may not be reflective of anything; after all, it's just at high-school level but then again it was high-school smarts who had also taken Phy101 at MIT.

It remains to thank another blogger de minimis for the heads-up to epolicy, yet another fertile blogger trained in economics; i hope it will be alright to reproduce here one of epolicy's clear exposition on The Purpose of Education; he makes a strong and clear point which needs no further embellishment from a layabout like me:

thanks for the patience on this one/

Monday, November 17, 2008
The Purpose of Education
We hear in Malaysia that many of our millionaires and billionaires are illiterate. So, what is the purpose of education?

The purpose of education cannot be to make money. If your purpose in life is to be rich, then this can be easily done by following some of the age-old methods (without education), such as taking from others the fruits of their labour and their wealth and assets, by hook or by crook. To do this, you just have to have power, the strength to abuse, and to bend things to your own liking. You tell stories to your soldiers and get them to attack at the slightest displeasure on your part. You cannot be mean and unreasonable when you are educated. You really have to act foolishly and do all the things that your mother would have told you not to do when you were young.

This is why to some young people, and even to some of their older counsellors, education may not be a good investment, in terms of dollars and cents.

What education does to a person is to learn to think rationally. To be reasonable - to think and do based on reason. Reason comes from the mind and thinking, which is different from emotion that comes from the heart. Most of all, wisdom comes from reflection and an understanding of what this life is all about.

So, in so far as I am concerned, it does not really matter what you study so long as you study in a proper educational establishment in the formal system. The subject matter is a personal choice, a choice which may turn out to be right or not. It doesn't really matter. What is important, to my mind, is that you must study the chosen subject thoroughly, so that you understand the reasoning from the fundamental elements to the ultimate conclusion. This is called thorough knowledge.

Once you have activated your thinking by focusing on a specific subject matter, you would then be able to think for yourselves on a whole range of other subjects which you have not have studied in school but which you become increasing interested as you grow older.

So far, so good. You are now an educated person, and can think for yourself. You are able to understand what other people are saying about something which you may not have studied. You are able to appreciate the reasoning of other people for the stance in life they have taken, whether you agree with them or not. You become a more understanding and sensitive person, to the other elements of life surrounding you which impact you and others. You begin to see life in a constant state of flux, alive and well.

With a deep appreciation of the nature of life, you learn to live as simply as you can, with very few needs or with extravagant needs which you know are dispensible and which you do not have to hold on dearly to. With simple or dispensible needs, you do not have to be greedy in your pursuit of money because you do not need that much. You make do with whatever little you have. You rejoice in your own simplicity. You are happy just to breathe.

Having therefore reduced yourself to nothing, or near nothing, that is, a negligible footprint, your mind is then extended to the larger world around you. You can now feel the world and the cosmos, having, like the Hubble Telescope, gone beyond the clouds of your own ego, and see things as they are, as they actually are, rather than a figment of your own imagination.

You realise that you have been fortunate. You are living a good life, even if simple. You eat what is needed because you are hungry. You sleep when you are tired, which is not often because you do not have worries. In short, you become healthy and energetic and positive. You are quite happy to live and then go away. You have no baggage.

You realise that there are other people who are less fortunate. They have problems, and they are unable to overcome their problems.

You resolve to find solutions to their problems. They could be individual problems, i.e., problems relating to individuals, or they could be collective problems, i.e., problems relating to the group. But you set your mind to think and try to come up with solutions.

You will see that the problems are related to attachment to old habits, probably because it gives people a sense of identity and belonging. I call this problem "The Fear of Flying" - the reluctance to let go and soar to new heights. People forget that a dynamic thing is forever changing, and fossiling elements is like trying to create dinosaurs.

You come up with solutions. Solutions are often new ideas. You do not have to twist your brains to think differently from others. You only have to come out of the clouds of your own ego. You also have to come out of the trap of the logic of the mind - which is quite different from reason; logic is a slave the premise of the argument. You have to get out of the matrix of the system. What you take to be tradition and culture is nothing but a system for survival. If the environment has changed, it's time to change the tradition. In this way, people may begin to say that you are creatiev and innovative. But it is all really very hard work alone.

What becomes of your livelihood? How do you survive if you do not focus on earning a living?

I prefer not to focus on earning a living. I prefer to focus on living my life. If I can find out who I am, where my talents lie, and cultivate those talents to the fullest, and using those talents to help others, I find meaning in my life by being useful to others. When others benefit from your actions, they will reward you with words as well as some material things to sustain you. You live your life and get paid for it.

If what you are doing is good for individuals, you may discover that other people may need your service. You may wish to invest in some equipment to produce the service for others. You will have to take care of your finance, otherwise your operation will grind to a halt and cannot be a service to others.

It is good to make a profit. Since you do not need much, you can either plough the profit into the operations by paying your staff better or expand the operations to reach out to more people.

This is what I mean when I say that to nurture home-grown investments, you need to focus on the education system - not on the certificate-awarding machinery.

Anonymous,  18 November 2008 at 21:13  

Wow what a long write up.

Actually as aforementioned, essentially most good non Malays would be wary to join government, GLCs , or Universities where the is a glass ceiling from the bottom rung to the highest. In this globalised world, one does not have to find good jobs in the country.

This mentality of discrimination is too much ingrained too widely for any foreseeable future in our Malaysian society. One only need to note the case of a "temporary" GM post held by a non Malay to know how deeply rooted is this culture.

This status quo would remain as far we can see. There is just no cure for the immediate future.

Face it guys.

Let it be and let us see the world as our world of opportunities not just in Malaysia. Go where the fruits are sweet.

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