Interviews with Giants

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Andrew Siemion


A few decades ago, human kind managed to launch their first manned rocket in orbit. A few decades later, human kind realised that other beings may exist out there, maybe we are not alone. Some people believe we have been created as the only intelligent life form across the universe while some others tend to find this opinion quite arrogant. My belief is that questions concerning valid facts can only be answered experimentally; it is not a matter of belief but a matter of what really happens. This is what Andrew Siemion does via the SETI programme.


Motivated by a deep sense of awe and wonder about how the universe we live at works, he is now processing signals and all kinds of information that our telescopes and antennae provide in pursuit of conscious life. Many of us have been wondering whether there is life on another planet or whether there is intelligent life when gazing at the bright, celestial bodies. Thankfully, some people managed to work on seeking answers to such questions.


It is not an easy task. Obstacles have been surpassed, difficulties still exist, adversities will never cease appearing. One factor cannot be yet evaded or overpassed and that is the human factor. One has to understand that we are all only humans and we tend to think like that, unpredictably. This can result in a major problem when a task is not properly accomplished or at least not in the way it was initially supposed to be accomplished. On the other hand, a different opinion may result in a solution against a problem which seemed to have no solution. “Coming to understand that even the profoundest missions are ultimately carried out by human beings and face universal human challenges”.


Astronomy and marketing cannot coexist. Time, apart from having become relative, is precious and in astronomy “it is important to spend time doing careful and rigorous science than promotion”. Natural science should be like this at all subjects, not only astronomy, but it seems that the flow of money alters humans and human scientists tend sometimes to try to promote their work in order not to lose funding or gain some for their research. Personally, I would like to see researchers not having to worry about survival as their social work is extremely valuable but not always appreciated on time.


People’s attitude towards science is usually indifferent. This happens probably due to the fact that we faced difficulties in mathematics during school years. Even Einstein’s statement regarding the relation between imagination and knowledge has not been enough to inspire most of us to admire a scientific breakthrough, not until this finds an application to everyday life and can become commercial. An interesting point of view is that although there are museums all over the globe trying to promote natural science, still many people do not have the opportunity to visit them.


Natural beauty is here, is there, is everywhere around us and natural scientists put all their effort to comprehend the way nature works and creates such spectacular wonders. Unfortunately, there are people struggling to survive and not only can they not have access to such places but they are not at all interested in science as they have a more important issue to worry about, to live another day. Maybe natural science could achieve greater accomplishments if social inequalities did not exist or were reduced.


Astrophysics or astronomy (never before have I wondered about their difference but judging from the words’  etymology and scientific history, astronomy has too much of geometry and mathematics generally whereas astrophysics studies interactions between celestial bodies) seem to be able to capture and stimulate human mind and imagination. In some occasions the heart is devoted to these subjects of science. The best way to approach these subjects is an endless study of physics and mathematics. Even if the results seem pointless, most probably they are of vital importance but we have to discover their avail. Never give up in studying physics and mathematics: “I would always like to have taken more!”

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Jeff Chasnov


Hidden treasures can be found all across our planet. Real educators live their lives all around the world too but they are rarer than treasures. One of them lives in Hong Kong. He can initiate you into mathematics just by watching one of his online courses.


Jeff Chasnov is neither from Hong Kong nor he studied to be a mathematician. He started his career as a physics student. It seems that his research area in fluid turbulence had a turbulent effect on his life and career too. Jumping from physics, he ended up in a Math department (thankfully, for the rest of us). It is obvious that interaction between natural sciences occurs as it happens between molecules.


Just like everyone, he faced difficulties during his scientific career, although he might have been more familiar with chaotic life events due to his research in the fluid turbulence field. A low quota in his initial choice of scientific departments forced him to stay outside and almost to abandon all efforts. Despite the fact that a mountain of difficulties and disappointment obstructed his initial path, he persisted on pursuing his goal to study thoroughly natural science and “managed to find a supervisor at NASA” who took him as student. An obstacle can be overpassed or bypassed, the idea is not to forget the target and not to abandon efforts; persist and there are chances to succeed, withdraw from trying and there are no chances at all to succeed.


Either if money is the scientist’s motive, although “most of us scientists did not go into our careers looking to make a lot of money”, or if the mainspring is fame as “certainly, we would like our work to be known”, the art of marketing of one’s work may be of great importance. Unfortunately, scientists have been relegated to common professionals and since they already come in vast numbers, their work must be categorised and maybe differentiated from one another. Since the procedure is not done by a strict and unconscientious computer but human thoughts and emotions intervene in judging, then it is inevitable that good marketing of a scientist’s job and good public relations can cause a severe impact in one’s career, good or bad. Nevertheless, both marketing and public relations are considered to be sciences anymore and they are taught at universities evenly like natural sciences.


Some people have an innate tendency towards mathematics and science. These people would be attracted to natural science sooner or later. The rest would keep a passive stance towards mathematical thought. For those interested, there are plenty of videos online which “can serve to inspire more young people to go into math and science”. Many of these videos are extremely interesting but people seem to ignore their existence. It is of vital importance to make people turn their attention there and discover the greatness of mathematics.


Has he regretted for any of his decisions concerning his studies? "I am sure my study path would be somewhat different concerning what I know now”. Decisions usually oblige people not to choose what they want but what they are going to leave behind. The initial decision is the little start, the big bang of all the consequent events. And luck, just like turbulence, “has a lot to do with the trajectory of one’s life”. Still, we have not managed to fully comprehend luck and turbulence although we try. Some of us feel unlucky while some others feel as they have been favoured by luck. “And I feel like I have been lucky”. Perhaps it is just a matter of one’s point of view.

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P.W.Atkins


It is doubtful that there are chemists in the western world who have never heard of the name P.W. Atkins. He is famous mostly as the author of a spectacular volume of university books about chemistry. In my opinion, he should be honoured for 'The Periodic Kingdom' as it is an outstanding book capable of attracting newbies into the art of manipulating matter: chemistry.


He chose chemistry back at the age of 15 for several reasons, the most important of which was "the urge to share my joy of understanding from science". For many of us, the joy of understanding an obscure concept or meaning, the pleasure of comprehending a difficult problem or overpassing a mental obstacle is probably the greatest feeling. All students face difficulties, they get disappointed but those who insist, they manage to feel this overwhelming joy of understanding, the quintessence of learning. Science is plenty of such opportunities.


Difficulties arose during his scientific career too. His real problem was time devotion. Research is extremely demanding, "to do research requires total, obsessional commitment". But "to write books on a large scale requires the same". So how can one organise one's time? Human beings require some dead time to sleep, eat, drink, enjoy... No human mind can always be stretched and under tension, eventually it will crack like a bow. The decision though to abandon original research because "I was neglecting the young minds of my research group" reflects the altruism which, thankfully, exists into some scientists. There are many university professors and researchers who become pure and strict professionals, they just care about their work and neglect the painful job and stressful role of young assistants and students who sacrifice a lot of their time in order to demonstrate devotion and goodwill to their scientific supervisors.


It seems that science has not avoided the shroud of marketing. Fame, acknowledgement, money, vanity, still exist among human scientists too. So, this means that apart from being a good scientist, does one have to be a good marketeer too? Unfortunately, science has a gap that allows marketing and public relations to play an important role in one's career. Even today, physicists use the phrase "we believe that...", as in religion or other scientific fields different than natural science which are not based on mathematics. We should not "believe", we should accept facts as valid only when they are proven experimentally and they are consequently backed by mathematics.


Regarding ordinary people's attitude towards science, we all know that it is of vital importance to alter it. Science needs to become more attractive, more intriguing. Once upon a time, "I would have said 'television'", since television could be described as the fourth authority to create and alter consciences, "but these days people are spending more time away from broadcast TV and more on the Internet, where central authority has no influence. Perhaps some really good scientific version of 'Downton Abbey' would inspire interest". Many people avoid scientific thinking, mostly due to their bad experience with mathematics during school years. If mathematics could become more approachable with a less repulsive appearance, then more people would be attracted to science and spend at least a few Saturday nights occupying their minds with scientific matters. Definitely, mathematics are already simple, pure, universal and democratic as there are no discriminations but a lot of effort is demanded in order to think simply and discover their divine beauty.


When asked if he would choose the same field of study, if he had the chance to turn back time, the answer is clear: "Yes, it is the central science and enables you to embrace all others". It seems that this answer depends on the point of view of each scientist and the educational system at one's country. In any case, a scientist ought to do everything about science at one's maximum effort and capability. Choose properly, present properly and write about it properly.

Created by Gratiano - Curvy Mathematics