Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Charting Territories

It has been nearly a month since the inauguration of MICEMS. I was searching the media for any news item on this event but it only appeared in the STAR, to the best of my knowledge. Slightly earlier is the news item of UPM. Notwithstanding the small publicity, we will keep pushing on, making the centre work true to its name which I hope to address below. In a way, I'm perhaps more comfortable with working silently in the background. It has also been more than a month that INSPEM is without a director and I am taking up the duty for now. I hope the appointment of the new director will be resolved in the very near future so that the he/she will be in the centre of things, in particular with respect to MICEMS.

With MICEMS, once again the thoughts of charting out directions of research filled one's mind. What follows are simply my own personal reflections and in no way representing the view of the institute. When I first joined the institute, I have been 'asking' what directions are the institute taking and the publicly known secret question, what differentiates it from the mathematics department. The answer that one often gets is the one stated in one of INSPEM's listed objectives, namely high-end areas of mathematics. This could then be anything of course since any subject area can always be pushed to some high-end stuff and it is also subjective what will that be.

In a few exercises of the university to restructure the institute, the laboratories did go through some name changes perhaps reflecting some realignments. I remembered vaguely how difficult this can be, trying to find a focus of the institute while remaining inclusive of disparate expertise of our mathematicians. The difficulty stems from the different culture of mathematicians who often do not collaborate in large numbers (see here and also here for the different culture of mathematicians). My own personal hope was to make things more interdisciplinary whether within areas of mathematics themselves or with areas of other sciences. Consciously or unconsciously, some patterns did emerge from the last "restructuring" of the labs. Most of our labs now have something "computational" in nature; two of which are present in the name of the laboratories. The other two had for instance cryptography whose connection with computer science is obvious, while the educational lab has research on technological aspects and digitization of ethnomathematics manuscripts. Whether this is by design or merely coincidental, it remains that there is a common thread along the computational direction. At around the same time, I was toying around ideas of research in theoretical computer science in relation to quantum computing, quantum foundations and quantum logic. There was also an idea of forming an international laboratory with Auckland along these lines. Anticipating this, we had also designed a postgraduate field of study called Computable Structures and Scientific Computing. This field complements the field of study of Computational Mathematics which focuses more on numerics and algorithms (see here). Years went by and there seems no financially viable option to realise the intended laboratory. On the subject matter, we did not stop effortwise; some of my students are now pursuing the direction of complex networks (using graph theory to extract computable information) and categorical quantum mechanics (using category theory to elucidate logical structures of quantum theory).

For MICEMS, it has been suggested that the pursuance of research directions in mathematical sciences that are closely related to industries. This is very much the research direction of Disma of Polito - as it says on their website, fostering multi-faceted interactions in engineering and architectural sciences. In Malaysia, applications of mathematics have been pursued in a few places under the name of industrial mathematics and applied mathematics. Most notable is UTM Centre of Industrial and Applied Mathematics which has partnered with Oxford Centre of Industrial and Applied Mathematics. It will make good sense if we can complement what they have done. In overlapping areas, we should harness where our strengths are (either from the Italian side or the Malaysian side). From Polito, we can refer to their research group webpage and we will do well if we can match or align accordingly. More from a personal side, it would be nice if alignments can be made from the areas that I have pursued thus far. In connection to computable structures and scientific computing, it would be nice to think along the lines of big data analytics and even more exotic areas of theoretical and applied computer science. Personally, I would like to see unexpected areas of (pure) mathematics come into real world applications. I have already mentioned the use of graph theory in complex networks. Lie groups and Lie algebras have been used in robotics for instance. Algebraic topology has come into play in computer vision and data mining. These are but a few examples of how abstract mathematics are put into real applications. I would love to see some of these realised in MICEMS. We will see how things evolve. More importantly, INSPEM should boost up efforts and take an equal part in shaping up MICEMS for the benefit of both countries.

Friday, March 11, 2016

MICEMS Inauguration

Today (10 March 2016) was a big day for INSPEM. After a few years of planning, we have managed to officially launch the Malaysia-Italy Centre of Excellence for Mathematical Sciences. Below are some pics (more pics can be found at

UPM Vice-Chancellor giving welcoming remarks
The Deputy Minister of Higher Education Malaysia, giving her officiation speech
The token of endorsement from Italian government to Malaysia
Arrival of Italian Ambassador to INSPEM building
At INSPEM Gallery

Italian Ambassador officiates MICEMS office at INSPEM

The event went quite smoothly though there could have been some improvements. The planned press conference did not happen. I'm not sure what will appear in the press tomorrow but we did prepare a press release as follows:

"Recognising the importance of Mathematical Sciences and the expertise in Malaysia, the Italian government has given the endorsement to initiate Malaysia-Italy Centre of Excellence for Mathematical Sciences (MICEMS) at one of Malaysia’s research university, namely, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). This initiative will be spearheaded by the Institute for Mathematical Research in UPM and the Department of Mathematical Sciences in Politecnico di Torino, Italy. The Institute for Mathematical Research (INSPEM) at UPM was established since April, 2002 and has recently been awarded the status of Emerging Regional Centre of Excellence (EMS-ERCE) by European Mathematical Society (EMS). The Italian partner, Department of Mathematical Sciences “Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange” is based in the oldest technical university in Italy, which was founded in 1859. This university is well known due to its wide range of research alliances with industries throughout the whole world.

The MICEMS initiative is the first of its kind in Malaysia and it would focus on research and development in mathematical sciences like algebraic structures, functional analysis, mathematical physics, statistics and their applications in industries and societies at large e.g. cryptography, biomedical sciences and complex networks. The initiative will also open further opportunities for Italy to embark on a broader educational framework in Malaysia.

The MICEMS initiative was officiated by YB Datuk Mary Yap Kain Ching, Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Malaysia at UPM on 10 March 2016. The ceremony was attended by UPM’s Vice-Chancellor Prof. Datin Paduka Dr. Aini Ideris and The Italian Ambassador to Malaysia, His Excellency, Mr. Mario Sammartino, together with high ranking officials of the university and research leaders of Malaysian community of mathematical scientists. This event signifies the importance of the MICEMS initiative undertaken by UPM, to both Malaysia and Italy."

The event is very much done to mark as official recognition of the centre by governments of both countries. Next, is the real work - living up to its name. Busy years ahead and pray that the centre be a great success.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Malaysia-Italy Collaboration@INSPEM

A few days ago, I would have kept what I'll be writing below under the wraps. However since the following 'poster' was leaked out in social media, I thought it could use some publicity and perhaps some explanation.

On 10 March 2016, there will be an inauguration ceremony of Malaysia-Italy Centre of Excellence for Mathematical Sciences (MICEMS) initiative, officiated by the Malaysian Deputy Minister of Higher Education, YB Datuk Mary Yap Kain Ching. The Italian ambassador to Malaysia, His Excellency, Mr. Mario Sammartino will be coming and I'm informed that there will be a video message from the Italian Minister of Education, University and Research, Her Excellency, Prof. Stefania Giannini during the officiation ceremony.

The origin of the idea goes as far back as in March 2014 when we had an MoU signed with Politecnico di Torino (Polito; see also here). We were very pleased to had this signed as Polito is the oldest technical university in Italy and unlike commonly perceived ideas of technical universities like we have here, Polito is a top-notch research university that boasts of many research alliances with industries world wide (including Malaysian industries). At that time, we had our researchers (Santo Banerjee and Muhammad Rezal Kamel Ariffin) collaborating with Lamberto Rondoni from Polito. When the MoU was signed, talks of possibly forming a joint institute and thoughts of ICTP-like institute were floating around but one which is based more broadly on mathematical sciences. This is indeed ambitious and of course we proceeded cautiously with the proposal for some time. Well, it took about two years to come to this form of realization of MICEMS.

Now MICEMS is a kind of endorsement made from the Italian government through INSPEM in UPM. I likened it very much like European Mathematical Society (EMS) endorsement of INSPEM as an Emerging Regional Centre of Excellence in May 2014 (see here). The difference is that MICEMS will now have an office in INSPEM. Things are very much fluid at the moment, as far as I can understand, and MICEMS will be led from the Italian side with Malaysians involved in research projects in INSPEM. This may of course grow to something bigger to like what we had envisaged in the very beginning but presently we will let it run its natural course.

Personally, I'm very much committed to the idea and I saw plenty of opportunities here for us to grow scientifically. Those who knew about history of science in Europe, much of it began in Italy and today we can see many Italians leading reputable research organizations and groups (like CERN, for example). In my own small way, I would indeed like to collaborate in someway with Prof. Rondoni who is well known for his work on nonequilibrium statistical physics. I would be very interested in ideas of irreversibiity and other fundamental ideas in nonequilibrium statistical physics. We had of course also discussed other more applied ideas, some of which are quantum thermodynamics in flavour and others in the direction of complex networks. We would also like others to explore ideas with their Italian counterparts as we hope to make this initiative bigger as it should be. Now for those who are interested in what Prof. Rondoni is doing (partly), he will be giving a public talk on Tuesday, 8 March 2016 at 9 am in al-Farabi Seminar room, INSPEM, on the topic of "On Irreversibility, the Arrow of Time, and Cosmological Implications". The abstract is given below:

"Our understanding of the structure of matter tells that reversible microscopic mechanical laws lead to irreversible macroscopic laws, that can be verified in our daily life. We will illustrate how the transition from the reversible microscopic realm to the irreversible macroscopic world is realized in microscopic models of macroscopic phenomena, discussing the relation between the different levels of description of Nature. We will see how the ultimate explanation of these issues has been connected with the evolution of the Universe, of which the recently observed gravitational waves constitute a most intriguing aspect."

I would recommend all to come to this talk.

Now, I leave this post with some photos from our photo shoot yesterday taken at the MICEMS office, meant to be partially included in some multimedia presentations (and, we giggled through our photoshoot poses).