“It’s in the dust you find diamonds”

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What made you choose the 18this “Vietnam Encounters” in Quy Nhon? What do you think about science?

I come here because Professor Trân Thanh Vân and the association “Rencontres du Vietnam” organized an international scientific conference in France, which attracted many researchers from many countries and territories around the world. His subject – topological and quantum electronics – was also mine, which I researched with international scientists.

We had the opportunity to discuss a lot of new ideas and talk about what we were working on. Because there are problems to which we cannot find all the answers. Many ideas and experiments are underway to test and discover novelties in quantum mechanics.

In Quy Nhon (Binh Dinh Province, Center) there are many things that have happened every day within the framework of the international scientific seminar entitled “Topological quantum electrons that interact personally” (Topological quantum electrons interacting personally), on the occasion of the 18is “Vietnam Dating”.

I hope that young people will be inspired by it, because my little passion for science also came from a teacher at my high school. And you know science doesn’t naturally appeal to people. So you have to be “inspired” by someone. Engaging in science is an interesting journey that you will never know the end of. Obviously, not everyone is going to win the Nobel Prize, but scientists all have the opportunity to get one (even if the probability is low).

If you study hard and keep an open mind, you are likely to encounter new problems that you did not expect. Everything you discover will be interesting. Scientists like us are usually very familiar with the goals of our work, but there are always surprises along the way. If you’re lucky enough to spot them, you’ll find most of them interesting, and they sometimes explain things that humans couldn’t explain before.

When I went to school, I learned a lot of things that have been completely changed or updated until now. So science continues to be supplemented with new knowledge. And it is a wonderful life experience to be a part of this quest, especially since it has implications for the future development of humanity.

I guess we don’t know what will happen next. No one can make predictions about the problems happening around us like climate change, for example. Therefore, it is necessary to learn to adapt to it. And the important task of science is, for example, also to develop new varieties of a plant that can survive climate change or to find new remedies against new diseases, etc.

Therefore, science is the root of the solution to many problems. When new knowledge is discovered, it is also the “seed” for new technology. I think there is no turning back for science. All researchers engaged in science and technology are capable of making significant contributions to the world.

How do you assess the development potential of scientific research in Vietnam?

In scientific research, a leader in a research field can play an important role. Professor Dàm Thanh Son is a “leader” in theoretical physics. Its successes will inspire many Vietnamese and foreign researchers.

Professor Duncan Haldane lights the torch of knowledge on 11 July at ICISE.

Vietnam’s scientific research is now in a relatively good development. During the working sessions held at the International Center for Interdisciplinary Science and Education (ICISE) in Quy Nhon and during my public lectures, I noticed that a large number of Vietnamese students participated. It impressed me a lot. In a decade, scientific research must experience a significant development in Vietnam if the country still seeks to transfer inspiration and passion for science to younger generations.

What advice do you give to young researchers?

It is important for them to believe in their studies and their research, without forgetting to defend them if they believe they are valid and significant results. The lines are very thin, but I think that when they have confidence in their work, they will be able to protect it.

Usually, experienced teachers like us often have a very strong belief in what they have learned and taught in schools. Thus, it is very difficult for them to accept news discovered by young people.

They must then prepare the necessary knowledge to cope with the difficulties when their research does not achieve satisfactory results. Sometimes you have to understand the background of the events. Imagination and studies are very important to change life and the world.

During my two public lectures in Quy Nhon and Hanoi, I will pass on my passion for scientific studies to young people. Good preparation and a determined attitude are necessary. No one thinks about doing research to receive the Nobel Prize or other prestigious awards. We just do it out of passion, to discover mysterious things, problems that no one has yet”affected”.

For my Nobel Prize in Physics in 2016, I was surprised by my discoveries in the phases of topological matter in 1980. At the time, many scientists dismissed them. Some even said it was patently wrong. And then my article was rejected three times for publication in scientific journals. But I didn’t feel frustrated.

Finally, experimental physics successfully tested my research and confirmed that my results were correct. Also in 2012, an experimental physics research group from Tsinghua University (which is considered one of the most prestigious in China) successfully tested another unexpected discovery that I made in 1988. And in 2016, as you know, I received the Nobel Prize.

The importance of basic science, what do you think?

Developing countries like Vietnam oscillate between basic science and applied science. Its relevant agencies such as the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Science and Technology want to see applied research immediately.

Professor Duncan Haldane (centre) poses witha journalist from the Courrier du Vietnam, July 16 in Hanoi.

As in high-tech agriculture, an important field in Vietnam, its applications require research in genetic transformation, variety selection, etc. But these are basic scientific problems. If the authorities thus only select application-oriented projects and subjects, it can limit and impoverish basic research projects. In the meantime, it’s possible that insights from basic science can pay big dividends later.

What suggestions do you have for promoting scientific research in Vietnamese universities?

I think that studies will often start out of curiosity, without putting too much emphasis on applied research. In the United States, we have programs at the national level to support such basic research (research driven by curiosity about unusual things that scientific researchers notice).

The country’s competent bodies should provide investment funds for scientific projects based on assessments by researchers and experts rather than managers. It is very important to select and fund the most excellent research.

What should Vietnam do to interest more and more young people in scientific research?

Young people who are really talented and enthusiastic move abroad, where their gray matter is better valued and better paid. In fact, many young researchers have achieved remarkable success abroad.

It is thus very important to have good teachers who must also know how to pass on their passion to the students so that they move towards science courses. In every field of research, it takes a talented person who transfers his love to create an environment of competitiveness. This will encourage young researchers to do everything to achieve concrete results.

I am still continuing my research. Even you have achieved results from it, don’t stop. Keep walking the path you have discovered! And sometimes it’s in the dust that you find sparkling diamonds.

Interview by Thanh Tuê/CVN
Photos and graphics: Truong Trân – Lâm Thiên/CVN

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