physics

Postcards from Chinese Heritage Centre and the inspiring stories of the Yunnan Garden campus

Every graduate (and even dropout) feels something special about his/her alma mater. It is where one spent his/her youth, formed lifelong friends, and undertook intellectual challenges to prepare oneself for serving the society. Herein, I write about Chinese Heritage Centre at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), where I pursued my undergraduate study.

Schools and universities, especially those with history, are among places to visit wherever I travel. On the open house day of the Chinese Heritage Centre, I was very grateful that I could bring baby Ren to visit his mother’s alma mater.

NTU is the first university that baby Ren visited, and I deeply hope that he would visit and learn from a number of great institutes worldwide as time goes.

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart

If there are public transports to reach a destination and I am not short of time, I prefer to take public transports. Yes, I am concerned about sustainability and frugality. Experiencing public transports allow me to sense the feelings and the attitudes of people who commute to a particular destination.

I have been grateful that an NTU student volunteered to help carrying Ren’s folded stroller while we boarded the bus. I was alone, carrying Ren in front of me with a baby carrier, a backpack of his milk, hot water, diapers, toys at my back; my hands were to carry the stroller and tap the EZ-link card.

I really admire single parents, and people in the past had succeeded to raise many children. My thought went that, if these people can do it, so can we!

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart

We just need to be more strategic, such as anticipating possible scenarios and preparing for them. When I travel without Ren, tapping the EZ-link card is as smooth as waving a good bye. However, that day I had to plan carefully, so that the bus would not wait too long for me boarding and getting down from the bus.

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart

Ren’s uncle waited for us at the 179 bus stop. When I was an undergraduate of NTU, I brought Ren’s uncle – then a primary school boy to NTU and he posed for a photograph at the Lee Wee Nam library, one of my favorite places in NTU. Now, he ends up as an engineering student of NTU after studying hard in his high school. Perhaps, bringing young children to campus early can help them to define their dreams.

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart

On our arrival at the Chinese Heritage Centre, opposite the lush Yunnan Garden, two kind volunteers rushed down the main staircases to help us. Thank you very much! I did not know that there was a wheelchair access behind the building.

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart

Baby Ren was given a Doraemon (ドラえもん) balloon. Like many parents who aspire their children to be creative, I hope that Ren would have a lot of creative ideas that flow incessantly out of his mind, just like how Doraemon can always produce futuristic gadgets, medicines and tools from his 4D pocket.

We were fortunate to have a guided tour on two exhibitions: The Nantah Pictorial Exhibition and Chinese more or less (an exhibition of overseas Chinese identity).

I knew about Nantah (Nanyang University) since I was in high school. My chemistry teacher, Madam Yong Mu Lin, graduated from Nantah. She taught us not only chemistry, but also the virtues of hard work and commitment.

I remember clearly how Madam Yong willingly stayed two-day-per-week after school hours, to help weak students with more detailed explanation and to help me preparing myself to compete* in a national chemistry competition. I always think that emerging as one of the winners of that competition, helped me to win a Nanyang Scholarship** that has positively changed the trajectory of my life.

*In the initial stage, there were other students invited to join the training. But I ended up as the last who continued practising using China GaoKao 高考 materials. Grit matters. The psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth highlights that grit plays more significant roles than IQ, social intelligence, good looks or physical health for success.

**I am forever grateful to Nanyang Technological University, especially because my parents told me that I had to figure out the finance myself should I be interested in pursuing a tertiary education.

Perhaps, it was partly because of the tremendous dedication of Madam Yong, that I wanted to study at Nanyang Technological University, even though National University of Singapore has been more established and of higher ranking .

Perhaps, it is the Nantah Spirit and the story behind the founding and the demise of Nanyang University that allured me and many others to the Yunnan Garden.

I wonder if it is human nature to take for granted what we have and only long for things (and people) once they are gone forever. What we can do is to remind ourselves everyday (yes, every morning and every night) the importance of being grateful, as the thankful hearts are always closer to the riches of the universe, so that we can do more meaningful things in our limited hours, days and years.

♥ ♥ ♥

At The Nantah Pictorial Exhibition, we learned more about the history of universities @ Yunnan Garden, Singapore.

In 1953, the Chinese communities in Singapore, Malaya and other parts of Southeast Asia responded enthusiastically on the proposal to form a Chinese language university by Tan Lark Sye 陈六使 (1897-1972), a rubber entrepreneur and philanthropist who firmly believed in the value of education.

People from all walks of life in Singapore as well as other regions of South East Asia, from rich tycoons to poor hawkers and trishaw pullers, had made generous donations and rendered tremendous assistance.

I especially appreciate the contributions from the poor. For example, $1 may not mean a lot to the rich, but one who earns less than $2 has to sacrifice largely to donate $1 away for a cause that he/she believes in. I know each $ equals sweats, tears and bloods, for I also worked as a part-time student being paid $6/hour in the 21st century NTU.

In 1954, William Goode (Colonial Secretary) visited the construction site of Nanyang University, acompanied by Tan Lark Sye and Lien Ying Chow.

In 1955, the arch of Nanyang University / Nantah — the first and only Chinese-medium institute of higher learning outside China, was built.

In 1956, Nanyang University started classes for courses in arts, sciences, and commerce. The certificates of the degrees of Nanyang University were written in three languages, from left to the right: traditional Chinese, Malay, and English.

In 1964, Nobel Laureate Professor Yang Chen Ning 杨振宁 visited Nantah. Professor Yang works on statistical mechanics and particle physics. In 1957, he and Tsung-dao Lee received the Nobel prize in physics for “for their penetrating investigation of the so-called parity laws which has led to important discoveries regarding the elementary particles.”

In quantum physics, a parity transformation is the (simultaneous) flip in the sign(s) of spatial coordinate(s). The conservation of parity states that the parity of the total wave function describing a system of elementary particles is conserved. Parity is conserved in electromagnetism, gravity, strong nuclear forces, and strong interactions, but violated in weak interactions.

Do you think that Chien-Shiung Wu 吴健雄, who performed the decisive experiment verifying parity violation, should also be awarded the 1957 Nobel Price in physics, in a similar way that Rosalind Franklin (whose work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA, led to the discovery of the DNA double helix) should be awarded the 1962 Nobel Price for Physiology / Medicine? Sadly, Franklin passed away in 1958 at age 37.

Sorry, I digress. Let’s return to the history of Nantah.

In 1972, Queen Elizabeth II visited Nantah. Photographs of the Queen – wearing an aristocratic hat and sleeveless knee-length dress, at the same staircases where we just climbed with the assistance of the volunteers, made me imagine the campus atmosphere and the feelings of the students at that time.

At the era of Nanyang University (1956-1980), being a Nantah student was a very prestigious accolade. Not all young people had the opportunities to present the required intellectual requisites to be admitted, i.e. to pass the admission test.

I am curious if financial difficulties would hinder one’s aspiration to pursue study in Nantah.

A piece of story from a former staff serving the Nantah registrar, appears to highlight that financial challenges should not entirely thwart a dream to pursue a higher education in Nantah.

While a staff, he fell in love with a female Nantah student, who was as precious as panda. The power of love can be so great that he ended up realizing his university dream. He secretively prepared himself for the admission test to surprise her, was successfully admitted with flying colors, and worked hard to support himself financially. The only regret that he has is that he did not join as much student activities as he wished.

I recalled how my friends in the 21st century NTU enthusiastically dragged me to attend events, from VIPs talks to concerts. Honestly, I was a struggling student. I realized that to succeed academically, I need to spend more time studying than other students. I also had to do tasks for extracurricular activites (ECA), so that I had sufficient ECA points to stay on campus as off-campus accommodation has always been more expensive. I also worked part-time as a student assistance. When a friend managed to get a Fish Leong / Liang Jingru 梁靜茹 concert ticket for me, I was deeply touched. When a senior walked half the campus to my hall, to brought me a supper of nasi lemak on my birthday, I was tremendously grateful. There are many great memories on the Yunnan Garden Campus.

The friendships formed during our school years are among the most beautiful ones. The relationships of the young people, full of idealism, aspirations, excitements, hope and commitment, in the face of life challenges, will never fail as the themes of any drama, simply because every one is the actor / actress of his / her life, as the saying goes 人生如戏,戏如人生.

I personally know many friends who found the following treasures on campus: their lifelong and close friends (知心朋友), soul mate, wive, husband. All these people have become the support they have for the rest of their life.

In 1980, Nanyang University was merged with the University of Singapore, to form National University of Singapore. If you google to find out why, you will learn different perspectives explaining the destiny of Nantah, and it is up to you to make your own conclusion. The old Nantah administration building  of a beautiful Chinese-style architecture, now houses the Chinese Heritage Centre.

For a quarter of century Nanyang University, affectionately called Nantah, was a hope for the supporters of Chinese medium education and culture in Southeast Asia. Students hailed from not only Singapore, but also Malaya, Thailand, Indonesia, and the alumni are now all over the world.

In comparison with other universities, especially another alma mater of mine that celebrated 800-year anniversary recently, Nantah was indeed short-lived. However, the story behind the founding of Nantah and her development, growth and demise, will evoke strong emotions among many people today.

In 1981, Nanyang Technological Institute (NTI) took over the ground of former Nantah. NTI was an English medium engineering college.

In 1991, NTI was promoted to Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and merged with with the National Institute of Education (NIE).

In the 21st century, on a summer day I arrived at NTU, where the former Nantah was. The writing 自强不息 (continuous self-improvement) stroke me forever. Some places are especially magical because of people who had been there. Places where people have prayed for years and centuries, such as churches, temples and mosques are very sacred. Similarly, places where people have studied with their heart and hoped for the best, have that kind of spiritual forces that will never fail to encourage the future generations.

Every time I listen to the song Chuan Deng 传灯, I will remember Nantah. Perhaps, it is also the Nantah Spirit that has sustained me and my pursue of knowledge across oceans and continents, and now in the desert.

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah spirit Yunnan Garden servicefromheart
Nantah Spirit that I pasted on my study desk in my NTU hall room to remind myself to work hard.

♥ ♥ ♥

In 2001, NTU established School of Biological Sciences.

In 2004, NTU established School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

In 2005, NTU established School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

In 2009, NTU established School of Art, Design and Media.

In 2013, NTU and Imperial College London jointly established a new medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

In 2014, QS World University Rankings rank NTU first for Top 50 Under 50, 39th globally, and 6th in Asia, placing it in the top 1% of universities globally.

I am grateful that NTU is rocketing in the global competition. Based on the experience of many people whom I have encountered and mine, a good degree helps one to secure a good job and a good business contracts.

However, we need to remember that eventually it is the substances of the people that make a university strong and sustainable. Modern facilities or historical architectures alone are insufficient to create and sustain a good university, only when her graduates make significant contributions to the society and the world, the university is successful.

♥ ♥ ♥

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden hostel Hall 1 servicefromheart
My (transient) room in the oldest hall of residence in NTU: Hall 1 (established 1957). Looking back at this photograph, I realized that I am still using the same bed sheet of bears and pink stars. Wow!

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart heart love
There is something magical about the heart shape! A student committee posed in a heart shape on my request. Yes, I have been inspired by love and servicefromheart, since many years ago. I admire people who self-sacrifice themselves for others, like Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Mandela, and the list goes on…

 cupid love Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart

An angel or a cupid on campus (thank you our dear volunteer!) brightened the days of many women.

More:

Jurong West Nantah Arch by Remember Singapore
Childhood Memories at Nantah 南大 by Apple, a cancer survivor and a mother to a daughter with Down syndrome

With love,
ServicefromHeart
2014

Last updated 20141115

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Interview: Professor Athene Donald on connecting people and interdisciplinary scientific fields

In 2009, I helped a student-run publication to interview and photograph Professor Dame Athene Donald. When I embark on a (lifelong) project to learn about being creative and transforming our creativity into a reality, I strongly feel that her story of connecting her body of work is inspiring courage and creativity in others.

In her office at the legendary Cavendish Laboratory in West Cambridge, she generously shared her insights (some are applicable to life) and hopes for our future creative generations, especially those who are interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

♥♥♥

ServicefromHeart interview Professor Dame Athene Donald Cambridge Cavendish Laboratory

In the 800th anniversary year of the University of Cambridge, Professor Athene Donald of the Cavendish Laboratory, has received the 2009 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award. The awards established by the cosmetics company L’Oreal jointly with UNESCO, on the premise that the world needs science … science needs women, have annually celebrated the achievements of five leading women scientists – one scientist from each continent. Dubbed as the Nobel Prize for Women in Science, the award aims to change the perception of women in science.

Could you please tell us about your scientific contributions which have led to your L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award? 

Athene: “I found this a very difficult question, because I think it’s a lot of different thing and it’s the sum of all that I do. I have had a career where I have worked in lots of different area, and my strength is making connections between different fields.

I have done lots of works in electron microscopy, developed a technique known as environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) for samples which are traditionally very difficult to look at using an ordinary scanning electron microscope, which works in a vacuum.  If you are looking at wet or biological samples, you have to do a lot of sample preparation first. ESEM allows you to look at biological materials without drying them out and killing them.

We have also been looking at how native proteins stick together. When we deliberately denature proteins, they unfold and start to behave like synthetic polymers (plastics), which formed part of my earlier career. We use the ideas of polymer physics and apply them to biological materials.

By moving from traditional physics to non-traditional areas, you open up a lot of new opportunities. One of the things that I am very proud of is that we used Small Angle X¬–ray scattering to study the starch granule. We developed a structural model for how the starch granules are put together, and at one point this was being taught at Part IB Plant Sciences. I thought it was wonderful to be able to bridge into a different discipline!

How do you nurture inter-disciplinary collaborations? 

Athene: “Within the university, we have a lot of brilliant people. One of the challenges is finding someone to spend some time talking to you to the point that they understand what you are saying and vice versa. Sitting in committees with different people has helped to find new contacts. It takes time to do inter-disciplinary work. A key thing in my inter-disciplinary work is finding people who you like, who share ways of thinking about the world, and who are prepared to commit the necessary time.”

Athene is also the director of a newly-established Physics of Medicine Initiative in the University. She continued, “We try to bring physicists, biologists, and clinicians together. The traditional medical physics discipline is aimed at developing techniques, such as MRI and ultrasound, and to apply them in clinics. That’s what I would refer to as Medical Physics, and is not what we are doing.

We intend to take a different set of tools to solve biological problems, for example to use lasers to deform cells in order to distinguish healthy from cancerous cells. This is one step back from the clinic, but will give us a profound insight into what is going on. This is rather different from traditional medical physics. It is harder to find clinicians than scientists, who are willing to share what they need with us.”

Her secret is to be constantly innovative.

“I have never stayed working in a single area for very long. I always started working in a new area before I drop one. For me, I have never wanted to know absolutely everything about a very small area. I am much more interested in taking a broad approach. It’s risky.

Sometimes I am not always successful, but that way you get new ideas and new challenges. I started researching starch in 1986, it went on for 20 years, and now I am not working on it at all.

Knowing when to stop is important. Now, I am working on proteins, cells, and also photovoltaics. My projects tend to have about a ten-year lifespan. We take a technique, start off in a very simple system, and then make it more complex.”

How can we attract more female students to pursue science? 

Athene: “The first challenge is in school. Science is not a very popular subject, it seems hard and people don’t know what it can be used for in a career.

The second challenge is not to lose women at the later stages, when you are 25 and upwards. You talk to up and coming female researchers, who ask how can I manage to have a family and an academic career?

You don’t necessarily get your permanent position until you are in your 30s. There are too many people out there saying you can’t do it.

We need to counter that view, and there are many different ways of achieving your goals. If you want to be an academic scientist, it’s very hard work, you probably have to give up other things like much of a social life, but it’s not impossible.”

How do you combine family and work?

Athene shared, “my family is very important to me. My husband is a mathematician, so we can understand each other’s science up to a point. My husband has been fantastically supportive.

As a woman and a scientist, you really need a supportive partner. My husband actually stopped his career, he became the primary carer. Not every couple will find that solution acceptable, you have to find the right solution for you, and that’s going to vary for everyone.”

On renewable energy, Athene thinks that we need to do a better job in researching on energy, because the world is going to have problems if scientists can’t solve that. If we don’t solve the energy crisis, we may end up having to go back to living in something like Victorian-time conditions.

In the next ten years, Athene will continue to use microscopy and microrheology (a non-invasive technique to analyze the visco-elastic properties of complex fluids) for understanding particle diffusion in cellular systems.

At the time of this interview (200902), Athene and her collaborators, Viji Draviam at the Department of Genetics in the University of Cambridge, have just begun a project to make patterns on which to stick cells and to investigate on how the patterns affect cell divisions and the implications in cancer.

You may be interested in their 2013 publication on live imaging of the spindle orientation during cell division (mitosis) to determine the function of LGN – a protein that is critical for spindle positioning.

A final take home message : Athene advised that everyone should know that it’s okay to ask questions. Most people need help.

This piece of advice also reminds me on a Chinese idiom 不耻下问, which literally means No Shame To Question.
Never feel embarrassed to ask and learn.
♥♥♥

Many thanks
ServicefromHeart
201406