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LaTeX

Published 24/11/2016

I am now using LaTeX for my summer research project – Algebraic Curves.

So, what is LaTeX? LaTeX, which is pronounced «Lah-tech» or «Lay-tech», a document
preparation system, is a very useful typesetting software. It can be fast and easy 2000px-latex_logo-svgto use once you learn and get used to it.

To compare, let’s take Microsoft Words. There, you have to go to insert, then click a few more buttons just to write a single equation. But in LaTeX, you only need to surround the equation in dollar signs, while still using mathematical typing conventions, such as the caret, for exponents.

Also, there are a lot of different formatting shortcuts and commands, such as \begin{class} to begin a separate section, as opposed to having to use control commands, like control R for an aligning right, or having to find the associated button in the tabs above in Microsoft Words.

Additionally, LaTeX had the ability to customise and make your own styles and chains of commands, giving more flexibilities, and to be able to store those in a personalised and easy to remember command for later use. And, there are ways to make the page to page formattings, like headers, footers, page numbers, and section numbers. Microsoft Words does have these functions, but, unlike LaTeX, it doesn’t easily automatically number things and renumber when items are moved around, and to be able to reference and link to them later on in the document.

Latex does take a while to learn and adapt, but it is very useful and makes it a lot easier to write complex documents.

I love LaTeX!

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Bad Science and Beyond

Published: 11/10/2016

(also published on Te Pūnaha Matatini‘s website)

“I just don’t care!” the doctor said, in response to a query on a personal health-related ctap_etviaa3pbh
issue during a recent New Zealand television interview.

I certainly had never heard a doctor speak in this way – and it made me curious to hear more in his live talk.

I was not disappointed. The thought-provoking comments kept coming: “The right way to build public trust is to earn public trust, and to share data” and, “The paradigm of medicine has somewhat shifted”.

In his unique and energetic style, Dr. Ben Goldacre got his message across to the audience at the Mercury Theatre in Auckland this September. A British physician, researcher, columnist and author, Dr. Goldacre has made it his mission to tackle “bad science”, whether it is used by drug companies, politicians, journalists or researchers.

Using statistical data taken from newspapers, advertisements and the research reports, the audience learned how so-called “in-depth scientific research” can be used as a clever marketing tool and how defined research objectives can often by driven by profit.Dr. Goldacre explained the misrepresentation of the research life cycle (objective – data collection – data analysis – publication – evaluation), showing the audience the easiest way to mispresent science and the shortcomings of medicine.

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Photo Credit: Dr. Michelle Dickinson

One telling example of misrepresented data is the sudden drop in the number of tonsillectomies carried out on children in Hornsey, North London. There was a big discrepancy before and after the year in 1929, that is, from a few hundred cases down to almost nothing. After some investigation, it was revealed that the decline in the number of tonsil operations coincided with the retirement of one individual medical officer at a particular school, replaced by someone with a different opinion as to the merits of the treatment. Such a case reveals the power of doctors’ choices, rather than patients’ needs. It also shows that how unreliable the data will be if the full picture is not disclosed.

Sharing a more recent case, Dr. Goldacre explained the use of statins, a medicine to lower cholesterol in the blood. Many treatment options are available to lower cholesterol against a placebo, but these have not been tested against one another to determine “real world effects”, including death. Dr. Goldacre and his team approached the UK National Health Service (NHS) to collect patient information. If patients agreed, doctors would be able to randomize the treatment options, ultimately finding the optimal treatment for considerably less resource compared to the traditional “door knocking” data collection method. Nevertheless, this was thwarted by opposition from ethics groups arguing that patients should have a choice.

Dr. Goldacre’s presentation led me to wonder; what role does the general public play in formulating bad science? Surely it is not just the domain of motivated organizations, unreliable researchers and sensationalist media. Bad science can, and often is, disseminated by all walks of life.

How can we stop its spread? Transparency may be the answer – including that of research objectives, processes, and publication. If research objectives are set for the benefit of all, or purely for the improvement of a company’s bottom line, the public should know – and in a language they can understand. Let consumers make up their own minds.

Unfortunately, providing scientific data to the wider public and expecting people to reach bwb7760_text_cover_highres_silencingscience_01their own conclusions may not be sufficient. Effective communication is also a critical element in combatting bad science. Nowhere is this more eloquently stated than in Professor Shaun Hendy’s timely book, Silencing Science: “The job of the scientist is not just to deliver the facts, but also to engage democratically to assist the community to weigh the full breadth of evidence.” (p96)

Indeed, scientists and research providers should communicate well, working together in the best interests of the public.

As a consumer and a citizen in a world of information overload, it can be easy to be misled by a well-packaged data snapshot. We need to embrace a reliable and complete picture, and in terms we can understand. This will allow us to make our own choices in areas as broad as health, education, career, life-style and more.

As a student of science and maths, I am beginning to grasp the moral imperative of the scientific community. Scientists should not only be answerable to their fund providers, but to everyone. A good start would be the publication of research findings representing the whole truth.

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Seeing the Bigger Picture: My Journey to Unlock the Beauty of Maths

Published: 4/10/2016

I have loved exploring all sort of things from a very young age. Of these, there is something that is very “unusual” – at least to a young kid. That is maths.rubiks_cube-svg

Many people think maths is “unusual” due to the misconceptions surrounding it. I have delivered talks, workshops and also tutoring sessions to many primary and high school students from different schools and organisations. Students are often very honest with me as I am their age, and they are not afraid I will tell them off. When I ask them their opinion of maths, the majority of students say they dislike it. They think that maths is boring, confusing, difficult and useless. But when talking about their dream jobs, most of them want to be in the fields of computer science, astronomy, or medicine. It seems they are not aware that maths is the study route they need to fulfil their dreams.

This aversion to maths may be one of the reasons why New Zealand has a very disappointing maths ranking in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Our maths level is barely above the average of seventy OECD countries.

Why do students have negative feelings about maths? Why is it hard for New Zealand kids to catch up with the maths curriculum?

Is maths boring?

Students feel that maths is boring because they do not have anyone to inspire them, whether this is teachers, parents, peers or textbooks.

Most schools teach students how to solve a problem. This can be boring to students as they do not know why they have to do this, what it can lead them to and what they can gain from solving it.

math-27670_960_720In my opinion, maths is one of the most interesting subjects there is. Unfortunately, many students have been put off before they get to the fun part of maths. Most of the “maths” that is taught in schools is in fact arithmetic (one of the foundations of maths). If students could explore maths naturally, they may be more likely to keep going and finally reach the “playground” of maths.

Is maths confusing?

Some teachers and parents dislike maths or find it confusing and hard. They pass on this perception to young people which can be extremely harmful. One example I have encountered involves my Year 8 friend. He used to love maths when he was at my former school. After a month at his new school, he desperately needed to seek help from me.

Boy: I find the maths here really confusing. I’m starting to hate maths.

Me: Why?

Boy: I’m a bit muddled. We are learning BEDMAS at school. I thought something was wrong when my teacher said we should go in the order of whatever comes first.

Me: It doesn’t really matter which comes first as long as you follow the order of BEDMAS.

Boy: What is the answer of 36-6+2×3 then?

Me: It’s 36.

Boy: Yes, my teacher said the model answer is 36 but if we are not doing it from left to right, we will get 24. She said maths is sometimes confusing and asked us just to memorise this rule – to do it from left to right, otherwise we cannot get to the model answer.

Me: OMG!

I then went on for another hour to correct this concept he had got from his teacher and reminded him he could do the calculation in whatever order, but needed first to treat the “+” or “-” signs preceding as part of the number. And to go in the order of BEDMAS where applicable.

There are in fact many different ways to arrive at the same answer. There are also different approaches to explain the same question. I believe that maths is an art and we should let our imagination flow to ensure we can create beautiful pieces of art.

I have never really needed to memorise anything for maths. Once I see the full picture and understand the concept, I can just work problems out and apply them. I am particularly passionate about proofs (which most students hate!). By proving the equations, I can fully understand the problems. It’s as if when I am solving these problems I am the narrator telling a happy story to the audience. I present foolproof and solid content in a logical and appealing way to engage them. It is an enjoyable experience.

Maths should be like this for everyone – fun and logical. Unfortunately, our present system is destroying students’ natural curiosity and love of pattern-making. Students should engage in exploration and not just stick to the textbooks.

Some countries engage in the Math Circle, providing young people with a place to develop their problem-solving skills. It is not driven by any goal but the enjoyment of investigation and discovery. I would love to see the Math Circle happen here in New Zealand.

Similar mistakes are not only made by teachers and students but also across all walks of
life. I carried out a small survey on 103 adults last year. Only 10% of people got the correct answer to the question below; 4. Most of them answered 36 or 1. The question is 12 ÷ 2(6-7+4) x 2.

Again, they had ignored the ÷ sign in front of 2(6-7+4) and did not treat x2 as a separate function.

I then gave a lesson for this group of adult explaining why they have to do this using the approach of seeing each item as a function:
12 ÷ 2(6-7+4) x 2
let x=(6-7+4)=3, g(x)=2x, h(x)=12/x, j(x)=2x,
then the original question isteacher-651318_960_720
= j(h(g(3)))
= j(h(2(3))
=j(h(2(3)))
=j(h(6))

=j(12/6)
=j(2)
=2(2)
=4

Is maths difficult?

Yes, in a sense it can be difficult.

However, people like me who have a passion for maths find it challenging rather than difficult. There are always solutions to the problems, at least up to the undergraduate level. Of course, there are lots of long-unsolved problems for experts to deal with. But the problems students face are manageable.

Unfortunately, students at the junior levels find it difficult because they do not see the full picture. They may ask why they have to study decimals, or prime numbers, or probability. Students at the senior levels may find the topics too abstract. They wonder why they have to learn matrices or the rules of trigonometry, and so on. Some teachers themselves do not know the reasons and the application of these topics.

The reason I don’t find maths difficult is because I didn’t learn it at school. I explored maths myself out of curiosity. I could see “maths” everywhere from a very young age, which was even before I could walk or talk.

It probably started with my Mum. When I was a baby, she carried me up and down the stairs many times every day before I could walk. She would entertain herself by counting aloud each of her steps “1, 2, 3…13”, and did this for nine months.
She did not realise the numbers she counted over and over again had an effect on a little baby. I started to understand everything is countable. Counting is actually a pattern.

In fact, everything has a pattern. I was fascinated by the “imaginative” patterns around me. I amused myself by playing around with this idea. When I look at a cloud, I imagine it as an oval. I then imagine a triangle inside the oval, and then a square inside the triangle, then a hexagon…and so on, until I have run out of ideas. I then started thinking how many shapes and the sizes I could put inside the cloud. It went on and on and on.

Another benefit from this counting was that I could count to any number, as I learned that there are only ten digits. I could still remember the startled look of another mother at the playgroup when I counted the pieces of coal that Thomas the Tank Engine was carrying before I was two. She was stunned and screamed, “Tristan can count!”

Without knowing what a toddler could know about numbers, my Mum, gobsmacked of her reaction, mumbled, “probably to hundreds, or thousands? I really don’t know his limit.” The other mother almost fainted. Luckily, my Mum did not tell her I was already doing Sudoku and algebra, otherwise, we might have had to call an ambulance.

Learning maths is easier if students can explore it for themselves before going into a proper lesson. Exploration can also help students to discover their passion. Here’s an example – I started learning piano when I was five. Although I received outstanding results from the graded exam, honestly speaking, I did not enjoy it.piano-31357_960_720

I had to follow the teacher’s instructions on how to sit, how to position my hands on the piano, and how to follow the music notes exactly. I barely practised it as I found it repetitive. I thought music should be creative but I never felt that way. I quit when I was eleven.

Later, I got an electric keyboard. This time, I had no teacher and no music books. I can now play freely, and surprisingly, I am hooked on it. I play songs my way and I create music. After playing music for six years, I finally can feel the sense of being in the moment when playing an instrument.

This feeling is just like exploring maths or some other knowledge on my own; I am immersed in inspiration and I forget my own existence. Is this the right way to learn? I suppose so. What motivates people to be persistent in their tasks? I believe it is the passion discovered through natural curiosity or nurtured through early enjoyable experiences.

“Free learning” of maths could be far more effective in unlocking someone’s full potential. Taking the academic pressure off can help students become more interested in maths for its own sake. I received a very touching email:

envelope-34531_960_720I saw you on TV one’s Seven Sharp tonight so, being an adult with a fear of Maths, was very curious as to how a smart boy like you went about learning and teaching yourself, and others, how to understand Maths.

I went to your website and have just finished Geometry lesson 1 and I so enjoyed it so I thought I would let you know.

I am going to go thru every lesson one by one until I understand what your teaching because, despite my fear of maths, I believe I can do it and with a boy like you online helping people like me to think about what maths is all about, I’m sure it will be a breeze! Once again thank you Tristan for your help and allowing people like me to think perhaps I could learn the mysteries of mathematics and find there may not be any mystery to maths after all, just hard work. I will keep you posted as to my progress or if I come across any difficulties I need clarification for.

I feel very proud if I’m able to pick up the world of maths from a little boy, at my age lol. Your parents must be very proud of you. 🙂

Is maths useless?

Unlike other languages, the language of maths is universal. There are more than 6,500 languages in the world but there is only one maths. Proficiency in this language can help us make important decisions and perform everyday tasks.

Maths can help us with anything, from shopping wisely to keeping a budget, to predicting events and creating art and design. It is always around us, although we might not notice it.

Plant growth can be mapped using maths, our laptop uses maths to code, and we are even made of maths. The functions of our bodies revolve around many equations which tell them how to operate, when to breathe, when to eat, when to sleep, how we see, how we think and how we feel.

All occupations use maths as well. Neuroscientists map out the brain and its functions with maths; accountants analyse the financial records with maths; artists use proportions to make their work pleasing with maths.

Maths is with us. Maths is around us. Maths is in us.

There are many different types of equations. Some are hard and some are easy but they all involve maths. I would like to share with you some of my favourite equations. I am taking a risk here. Stephen Hawking’s publishers once told him that every equation he chose to publish would halve the sales of his book. He ignored it. I agree that equations are too important to be hidden away.

At school, we are told that we cannot take the square root of negative numbers. But in reality, we need this group of numbers for calculations. These are called imaginary numbers “i”.

√-1 = i or i² = -1

We use this relationship to analyse complex numbers. It is the foundation of quantum mechanics and is one of the key methods to understand electricity, waves, heat, and magnetism.

Another of my favourite equations is the famous equation of Albert Einstein:

E=MC²albert-einstein-300x300

This explains the relationship between E, the energy of a body, and M, the mass of a body. C is the speed of light. It shows that mass and energy are very closely related. This is used for many things, including predicting what happens to a black hole, predicting the reaction of particles when they collide, or how to make nuclear bombs.

Albert Einstein once wondered:

How is it possible that mathematics, a product of human thought that is independent of experience, fits so excellently the objects of physical reality?

Isn’t maths amazing?

Last but not least….

Maths is one of the most beautiful things in our universe. The relationships and its processes are just like a work of art. Maths is poetry, pictures and stories. Mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell described his sense of mathematical beauty in these words:

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.

I believe maths should not be taught as an empty shell. If maths could be explored naturally, and not presented as a bunch of meaningless numbers and symbols, perhaps every student could see the beauty of maths as we do.

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“Science that is not heard is not science at all”

Published: 25/9/2016

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Professor Shaun Hendy is no stranger to the Science Scholars Programme. He came to talk twice this year. He is an excellent communicator on top of his expertise in science. There were always something I could take away when listening to him.

I then bought Shaun’s book Silencing Science. It’s a real page-turner. I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down once you start reading it. The cases quoted are so familiar to us, but yet we couldn’t have a chance to grasp the complete picture from the broken piece of information from the news. Worse of all, they may not be 100% true. It is something that’s always bothering me. I read the newspaper every day (analytically!). Mostly the printed one! Yes, you are right. An obsolescent 14-year-old Gen Z boy! I just like the feeling of holding and flipping the real one, not only the newspaper but books, games – board games! Definitely not the online games! Oh… got carried away, let’s go back to the book.

This book was not just to satisfy my curiosity. It’s the “Science that is not heard is not science at all” that strike me. Ping! Aha. An epiphany!

At the beginning of this year, we had an assignment, ENGAGE, from the Science Scholars Programme. I put a question at the end of my assignment – what should a scientist do when a finding may lead to a negative effect on a big company, which may ultimately create an economic crisis? Particularly if it is a publicly listed company and there are lots of small investors, the negative news may probably intimidate the interest of the general public.

No answer was heard, I thought. But I am wrong. The answer has been revealed bit by bit throughout the year. Cather’s session, Shaun’s sessions … then leading to my urge to read Shaun’s book. I got an answer now!

Why does it bother me so much? It all started with my curiosity three years ago when I was still a year seven student. At the beginning of 2013, Fonterra launched a new packaging for their product, “Triple Layer” milk bottle. They claim that it blocks the light and prolongs the freshness of the milk. Meh. Does it really matter? My milk normally is gone long before the use by date. Umm. What’s good about the new bottle! I can’t even see how much milk were left in the bottle!

Inquisitiveness kicked in. I spent one whole day dissecting each layer with my clumsy fingers and tiny cutter. Big discovery! A black layer is hidden between two white layers! What?! Even a little kiddy knows black colour absorbs heat faster! I wondered if that black layer would create the opposite effect to what the company had claimed. I set up my home lab right away and tested my hypothesis by doing a few different tests on this bottle and the traditional milk containers, i.e., semi-transparent and Tetra packs.

One of these tests was a light test. I put a light source inside the bottle and measured it with a lux meter. Right! Passed! The triple layer milk bottle was the most effective one in blocking visible light. Then, an acid test with a PH meter. I put the bottles under the sun for some time; the results were as I expected. The temperature of the milk inside the Triple Layer milk bottle rises quicker than the other bottles!

How many times do the people leave the bottle with left-over milk on the dining table for quite some time after use! How often do the people leave their grocery bags (with milk) in the car longer than they should because they are going somewhere else after shopping! Bacteria grows exponentially.

This project made me won at the school science fair, then NIWA Science Fair. It attracted the media (Fonterra bottles fail boy’s acid test, Award-winning young scientist).  The public was interested. There were thousands of people who commented on the NZ Herald Facebook page. They liked this news because Fonterra failed!

TED organisers heard it and sent an invitation to talk to this brave little boy. I accepted it provided IMG_0153that I didn’t need to mention Fonterra. I felt that it’s only a simple experiment, and it’s just common sense. I could remember my reason for rejecting them, “Fonterra is already in a very tough time with the botulism scare. People are attacking them harshly!” They laughed, “You are so kind-hearted! Sympathy doesn’t work in this case!” I compromised a bit, only a bit. I briefly mentioned this finding in less than a minute at the end of the 8 minutes talk.

That summer, I got a chance to test the three different materials at Cather’s photon factory. The accurate results had proved me right. The media chased after me. The Ph.D. students also suggested me to make this finding public. But I decided not to, because I believed such a big company should already have scientists and how an 11-year-old could think better. In truth, the packaging was probably a commercial decision to attract more customers.

But I didn’t know if I was right to keep quiet. In these three years, the role of the scientists in the world and their relationship with the commercial firms and the government perplexed me.

Got it now!

Thanks, Science Scholars Programme! Thanks, Shaun!

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The Theory of Everything

Published: 18/9/16

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I got attracted to string theory when making a video for an international challenge last year. Among 7,000 participants, I was lucky enough to be qualified as a semi-finalist. The organiser invited me to re-enter my video this year. I then sought advice from my academic mentor Professor Richard Easther, an expert in String Theory, to see if there’s anything I can improve on.

Richard gave me a new insight. Some scientists now view string theory as a tool for various science fields. They are no longer hoping for a single theory to unify our entire universe. As in the recently published Quanta Magazine article, “String theory has so far failed to live up to its promise as a way to unite gravity and quantum mechanics. At the same time, it has blossomed into one of the most useful sets of tools in science.”

I follow this new direction and found that this theory is mathematically rigorous too. Let’s have a look at the beauty of it…

close-string

(Source: https://math.berkeley.edu/~kwray/papers/string_theory.pdf)

The course Maths 320, Algebraic Structure, which I am taking now helps me understand a bit of it. It made me more excited about this research and would like to keep on with it.

So, why the birth of string theory? We know that our universe is made of smaller atoms and sub-atomic particles, held together by four forces, Gravity, Electro-magnetism, the Strong Nuclear Force, and the Weak Force. Most scientists believe that they understand all of these forces except for gravity which is described by General Relativity while the other three forces are described by the Quantum Theory. These forces are so important but yet so contradictory. Scientists believe that String Theory unites them.

In brief, string theory describes the smallest “thing” as strings, instead of point particles. These can be either open, ends not connecting, or closed, forming a loop, about 10−35m long. The type of string depends on the particle that is replaced by the string. If an atom was enlarged to the size of the solar system, the string will be the size of a tree.

If you are interested, please watch my video – The Theory of Everything 

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Intellectual Property

Published: 28/8/16

intellectual-property-1

Our Science Scholars’ topic is always conforming to what is currently popular. While we were listening to the Intellectual Property last Wednesday, there was a piece of related news on the Herald soon after.

It’s all about a name “Split Milk”. One of them is a milkshake and coffee truck in Epsom and the other one is a Vietnamese cafe in Pt Chevalier. The truck owner claimed that he started using this name since October last year but he didn’t apply to protect his trademark. He only officially registered “Split Milk” with Auckland Council on the 5th of May while “Split Milk” in Pt Chevalier registered its trademark on the 30th of May.

The truck owner said, “I naively assumed I wouldn’t need to defend my name to protect my rights to use my intellectual property.”

This is every creator or inventor’s nightmare and should have avoided. I heard of some unfortunate stories. A popular one was John Forbes Nash Jr. He was an American mathematician who made fundamental contributions to game theory, differential geometry, and nonlinear partial differential equations. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1994, and in 2015, he received the Abel Prize for his work on nonlinear partial differential equations.

Long before Nash got his prizes, in about 1956, he was working on proving Hilbert’s nineteenth problem, a theorem involving elliptic partial differential equations. He learned that an Italian mathematician had published a proof only a months before he got his proof. Nash was in great shock.

The world is so big and it’s not uncommon that another person somewhere thinking of the same thing at the same time. The rule of thumb is whenever the new idea is ready, get it published and registered to protect the rights.

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Medication, Meditation, Mindfulness

Published: 21/8/16

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Ministry of health-supported mental health services released that there were 575,533 help requests from Kiwis under the age of twenty in the financial year of 2015 – the highest number in five years. The figure is alarming.

Coincidently, the topic of Science Scholars Programme last Wednesday was also about mental health. During one of our group discussions, we concluded that the suffers need medication and therapy.

Medication is the most effective and fastest treatment to stop the symptoms especially for the serious cases such as Dissociative Identity Disorder.

However, I don’t suggest to just rely on medicine simply because it triggers side effects due to their chemical structure. It also creates drug dependence. Medication along with some other methods to ease the problem or for prevention are necessary.

Shaun Robinson from the Mental Health Foundation believed mindfulness helps. He said, “We’d like mindfulness to become a standard part of the school curriculum and think this will go a long way towards preventing and managing mental health problems.” 

I couldn’t agree more. I started practising mindfulness aged five at Ficino School (a philosophically inspired primary school and the very first school in NZ which introduced mindfulness to students). We “pause” a few times a day. We started doing meditation at age ten. In my school, you can hardly find an unsettled student. A few seconds of “pause” every now and then helps us to stay calm and focused. Five minutes meditation morning and evening helps us to reduce stress, anxiety and improve personal wellbeing.

I live a very busy life. Some of them can be very stressful such as going on stage for speeches or being interviewed by media. I practise the “pause” before the events if the time is limited; and if I have sufficient time and have a quiet environment, I meditate. It makes a big different.

To be honest, when we discussed depression last week, I couldn’t connect to the topic. Generally speaking, I am a very happy person. It may due to my relaxation through mindfulness. Nothing really upsets me a great deal. Negative thoughts won’t stays inside for too long. Mindfulness improves our general wellbeing and resilience.

For more benefit of mindfulness, please google this topic or view “20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today” on Psychology Today .

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Pseudo-Science, Pathological Science, Bad Science – is money one of the factors?

Published: 15/8/16

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Yes, among many other things which are beneficial to an individual or group.

This is one of the good examples. Once upon a time in the mid-19th century, people believed that asbestos was the best composite material and it became a common material in buildings and industrial plants. But then, decades later, asbestos dust was found to cause serious illnesses like cancer and is now a well-known silent killer of a large number of workers. It has cost countless lives, as well as resources in paying compensation and demolishing the structures containing this material.

The root cause of the problem was the insufficient research carried out before asbestos was widely used in our living environment. This is just one of the many examples of the so-called “great human inventions” by scientists and industrialists used in our recent past.

There are many inventions which are similar in that they were driven by concerns about cost. If proper research was done before its general use, then a lot of people would not have suffered or died as a result. In my view, all leading research should be done without any financial burden and without the fear of upsetting any provider of funds. The Government and industry should provide funding to an independent fund administrator to allow research and development to take place without external pressure.

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Finite or infinite?

Published: 07/8/16

A talk about “The Infinite Game” by Dr Niki Harre last week inspired me to look at this topic a little more. Dr Harre shared James Carse’s book “Finite and Infinite Games”. To summarise the concept, a finite game is played with the purpose of winning (thus ending the game), while an infinite game is played with the purpose of continuing the play.”

finite_and_infinite.games

It is a highly rated book. I haven’t got a chance to read it but it sounds like a very inspiring book. It is on my reading list now!

We need both finite and infinite elements. They serve different purposes and are not able to ignore one over another. I look at it from a very simple angle. Infinite is something like life goals. A goal such as becoming a researcher to help find out the misery of our universe is infinite (as we believe that the universe is infinite). Then, how do we achieve our goals? It needs something finite– milestones. The milestones guide us stepping forward. Each milestone we reach becomes an incentive for the next. For example, getting into a good university, obtaining a good GPA to be qualified for a PhD…etc. Without setting and completing the milestones, the goals will not be achieved.

Is life finite? In a sense, yes. We have a limited lifespan. However, it should be everyone’s goal to live the life infinitely. If we help make a difference in the world, our lives will become infinite. The contribution from Isaac Newton is infinite as he inspired many great scientists including Albert Einstein. And for so many decades after their death, people are still applying their theories to explain the natural phenomena. The scientists keep on their quest to find out more about our universe. This is what humankind should live like this – an infinite life applying the finite elements. This is also my lifelong goal!

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Hey scientists-to-be, are you ready for the media challenges?

Published : 31/7/16

Prof Shaun Hendy and the New Zealand Herald science reporter, Jamie Morton, gave us a wonderful talk on “Scientists Communication” last Wednesday at our Science Scholars* session.

Great timing for this topic! It just happened that I was full on with media activities last week… (tl;dr Lots of media stuff happened)

• First, my interview with Mensa Spain was published. One of the questions they asked me was “Quite a lot of people nowadays look at science with mistrust. What would be the best way to counteract that perception?” Here, I gave an example of the use of asbestos. If you are interested, please click here for Spanish (p.21-26), and click here for the English translation.

• Also, a video recording session with the multi-million dollar company Crimson Hub where I spoke about (1) How to skip high school and go straight to the university, (2) University Experience of a 12yo, (3) How to get straight A’s, (4) The University of Auckland – Science Scholars Programme.

• Later, a university filming session, promoting the new science centre.

• And, my radio programme “Youth Voices with Tristan Pang” where I have featured my favourite scientist Dr Cather Simpson about her Engender which is “using novel microfluidics and laser photonics to sort sperm with X or Y chromosomes using the same physics that Nasa uses to propel solar cells in space, but applied to single cells.”Mensa world cover boy

•Then, featured as a cover boy (lol) of Mensa World Journal for awarding a world’s  prestige Mensa International Scholarship.

• And then, an interview with the Australian National TV on their Child Genius series. It was done by satellite. Please click here for my other blog for more about satellites, and here for my interview.

•And finally, this blog  🙂 Social Media is super powerful!!! YAY!!!

I did all sorts of media interviews and speeches with my life experiences and personal thinking. Although I haven’t had any significant discoveries in science yet (but I hope I will in the near future!), I know the media and public speaking experiences are very valuable to me. Scientists do need to communicate well with the media and eventually educate the general public.

Overall, the media people are friendly and are keen to report things that are new and of interest to the audience. If the scientists can make good use of it, they can get their messages across, and ultimately, we will have a better world.

As scientists-to-be, we should equip ourselves for this future challenge. Are you ready yet?

*for QIF viewers, please visit the website of University of Auckland Science Scholars Programme for details. ^Back^ < Previous |^Contents^|Next>

From the media to satellites to Pokémon Go …

Published : 31/7/16australian tv

Satellites are one of the most important communication tools in the media industry. Unfortunately, it is very expensive as it needs crystal clear pictures and sound, in other words, a large bandwidth.

In my case, the amount that the Australian National TV paid for my 5-minute interview to the satellite service could actually cover my return tickets to and from Sydney and Auckland. To save some cost, our live communication was a two-ways audio and one-way video. The TV presenters and the audience could see me while I couldn’t and I could only hear them in one ear. Using the satellites to transmit the video signal to the studio in Sydney from TV3 in Auckland for broadcast also involves a bit of delay. The situation could be very pressuring. I felt like I was in a daze trapped in between a dream world and reality.

However, large distance communication is a major advantage of satellites. One example is, a 15 minutes talk I did at the UAE last year. It cost the organiser about NZ$20,000 for me to travel there. If cost is a topic of concern (but not in this case), it will be more cost-effective to use a satellite.

Alright. Before we get carried away, let’s go back to the technical bit. First of all, just to get things clear, the satellites we are talking about are ones that orbit Earth to communicate or collect information. Not the general definition of an object that revolves around a larger object in an orbit.

So, why does a delay occur? During the interview, the signals of audio and data are transmitted from a station to satellite then back down again. Since communication satellites are normally placed in geostationary orbit (where it orbits at the same time the Earth revolves at around 35000 kilometres up), signals travel over 70,000 kilometres which takes around 0.25 seconds at the speed of light. And for a 2-way conversation, the delay will double to half a second, which doesn’t account for the delays caused by the system, such as encoding and decoding signals. Adding this to human response time and thinking time, this delay could last more than a few seconds.

So, what is the application? Well… application of satellites are huge – satellite phone, television, radio, internet, and weather forecasting, astronomy, navigation and a lot more.

And yes, the world hit Pokémon Go also uses satellite, obviously!  Players search the real world to find Pokémon near them using a satellite signal to locate them. Well…in fact three signals, to pinpoint you to a few metres. Errrr…but…this is not my cup of tea. Sorry, Pokémon Go fans!

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More on Satellites

Published: 31/7/16

Hurricanes are one of the most devastating storms in the world. But there is no effective way to observe them as they are formed mainly in oceans. As when they reach land, it will already be too late for preventive action.

One example is the deadliest Hurricane Katrina in America which killed 1,245 people.  At the moment, only Hurricane Hunters, are able to measure winds speeds inside a hurricane. But the good news is that eight more new NASA satellites called CYGNSS (Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System) are joining the team. Unlike Hurricane Hunters, CYGNSS are able to measure wind speeds inside a hurricane from the outside and observe its development.

SingleCygnss

Measuring wind speed is crucial as scientists know that a hurricane’s primary energy source is warm water vapour, and the amount of water vapour depends on the wind speed at the ocean surface.

The CYGNSS satellites are tiny compared to the usual complex weather satellites which are almost as big as buses. Each of the new satellites is only the size of a microwave oven. But when the eight little satellites are combined, they work as a big satellite. One of the many advantages of using the new satellites is to save cost. Instead of launching a giant satellite from the ground in a rocket, they are placed in two modules and mounted on a rocket. An aeroplane lifts the rockets the first 10km away from Earth. The plane then returns to Earth while the rocket continues on its own until it reaches an altitude of 500km. The eight satellites are then released and perform their job – to orbit Earth at a speed of 8km/s and an inclination of 35 degrees to the Equator.

cygnss-site-250

Besides the reduced cost of building and launching, and among other benefits, the CYGNSS satellites can improve the warning concerning hurricane strength accurately. Each of them can take four wind measurements at a time which makes 32 per second. Their antennas capture the signals and send them to a computer for processing and to calculate the wind speed at the sea surface. The scientists can then observe a hurricane from its formation and see how it develops and how powerful it will be. It will ultimately save lots of lives.

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