Thursday, June 27, 2013

Meeting at Sursee

CHIPP is the acronym of Swiss Institute of Particle Physics, which I belong to, since the beginning of my PhD. The CHIPP annual planery meeting is usually 2 days long, but since there are many things going on this year, it was a 3-day-meeting at Sursee, in the Canton of Lucerne. Even though most of the students were not attending the meeting, I was pretty impressed by the number of particle physicist in a small country like Switzerland. Perhaps less than a dozen back in my howe town.

Along with updates from phenomenologist engaging with LHC physics, current status of the LHC experiments, ATLAS and CMS were also reported, neutrino updates, along with several planned experiments at CERN and PSI regarding anti-hydrogen and positive muon. While most of the items above were known before I arrive at the meeting, there were several "new and interesting" proposals going on at the moment.

First, LONG baseline neutrino experiment from CERN to Finland. Yes, no kidding,
read here for more details. Next, a 100 km tunnel for e+e- collider at CERN (read here).
Considering the time needed from planning to actual physics run of LHC experiments,
the plans were quite reasonable and sounded plausible from what we have achieved currently in the LHC and neutrino experiments. Hopefully all these projects get funded and receive huge international supports.

Other than physics related projects, it seems that plastic scintillating fibre detector is a hot research topic at the moment.  A professor from Geneva University claimed that it was his idea to start with, and now everybody is following the same path. Other than application for LHCb experiment, it is also intended for mu3e experiment where timing and very high rate are crucial for the reconstruction of muon decay vertex. Several type of MPPC arrays were also developed together with Hamamatsu and I hope that I am able to build something nice for my coming project in the muon compression experiment.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Learn to Teach

Some of the people are born as teachers but to teach is a skill that you have to go through intensive training and accumulate experience to excel. To teach is not only to stand in front of the stage and to give a talk. It is much more than that, and of course depending on which type of course or thing that you are teaching, theoretical or practical.

I have registered for this course "Learn to Teach" which is offered by the Learning Center of ETH Zurich and University of Zurich. And I am glad that I have attended this course. It was a 3-day course targeted at PhD and PostDoc who has teaching assignment now or plan to do so in the future, and only limited to 10 people.

On the first day, I was informed through the email to bring a thing that is related to your life or that could explain what kind of person you are. I brought my Japanese electronic dictionary which was with me most of the time when I was in Japan. Others have brought things like book, spoon, crystal and pencil, and each has an interesting story linked to the life of its owner. Then came the fun part; everyone has to give a 3 minutes presentation explaining their research works and they will be recorded! It was the first time I had such thing and I found looking at myself in the video very funny. Maybe I should have tried it before as I could see many of my habits, quite a few of bad ones, and also how my voice and accent were during the presentation.

After the presentations, we were taught about the important points when giving a presentation, especially the short one. Those are like understanding the level of your audience, speaking with confidence, engaging audience, etc. Also we have learnt about how to give feedbacks to our colleagues. While there is no strict rules, usually they are grouped into head, hand, heart and other observations. At the end, we reviewed all the videos taken and gave feedbacks one by one in details to everybody. I won't tell the details here but there was a lot of "aha" moments for me, and I will keep all of them in mind when preparing for my next presentation.

Second day started with the introduction to teaching portfolio, which is kind of similar to a documentation of your teaching, but including also your teaching style and what kind of teacher you aim to be in the future. This is particularly important when you are applying for a job with teaching assignment, and I believe this is also important for non-teaching positions because this shows that you have the experience of teaching and also communicating with the other people, unless your teaching is one-way-traffic. There was also a section about how to plan a lesson and it was very useful for my teaching duties in the advanced student laboratory of institute for particle physics.

The final session of the day was about "Use of media" and it was really interesting to find out the pros and cons of every available media nowadays, such as blackboard and whiteboard, flip chart, Overhead Projector (OHP), and the digital version of it (like a camera). We were being told to tell a story about using the media, and some of the groups did it really well and creatively. I was working with two others on the blackboard, and we have shown that blackboard is really good for teaching subjects like mathematics and physics where equation derivations are heavily involved. However, it is not so nice to use when you are teaching subjects like biology because it takes time to draw the cell, etc and a bad drawing often confuses the students. Also, as I have experienced it before, it is really bad for the students in the front row as they have to inhale a lot of chalk dusts.

On the final day, we were given some tips on how to deal with stress during teaching, and I am eager to try them out during my next presentation. Then I will tell you if it works or not. :) Finally, 10 of us were asked (a day before) to present something based on the topics discussed (Use of media, teaching portfolio, presentation, lesson plan, etc).
I spent my whole night preparing a teaching plan for my student lab and I received very helpful comments and also compliments from the others. Hopefully I can make my lab appear more interesting to the students and they learn more effectively with some guide from the plan as well.

The course ended with a final feedback session among the teacher and the students. I have complimented her for the well prepared course and also her concentration ability to absorb the content of the presentation and at the same time observing the "head, heart and hand" of the presenter. To me it was very difficult, as I could only focus on either one. Overall, this course was very successful as I can everybody was very happy with it, and I hope that everyone will continue to improve their teachings and to make this world more wonderful with their researches!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

CERN Computing School at Split, Croatia

About three years ago, I went to the Computing school co-organized by CERN and Brunel University at Uxbridge, London and enjoyed it a lot. This year I had the chance again to participate in the smaller version of it - thematic school, which means instead of focusing on network, computing and data analysis, it is now focusing on one single topic, which is computing technologies for this year. The school director is a very wonderful guy and his passion has bring the summer school to a higher dimension - study hard, play hard and social hard! I have been to many summer schools and have never experienced something like this. And this is going to be his last year organising such schools and he is retiring by the end of this year. :(

Port of Split, Croatia
The venue of the school was at Split in Croatia, and is a tremendously scenic city alongside with Dubrovnik. The city lies along the coast of Adriatic sea and within the region of Dalmatian. It has a very rich history, from Roman period until Communist period just 20 years ago. As they have became part of European Union (EU) since 1st of July, the country is developing fast and the standard of living will be improved over the coming years. The living cost now is just slightly higher than in Malaysia so act faster if you wanna enjoy this country with less $$.

Back to the school, we spent the whole week learning about the front end of computing technologies. Basically our situation now is different from like 15 years ago where every few months you will see a new processor with higher and higher frequency. The era of parallel computing is evolving very fast, not only CPU but GPU and accelerator are heavily involved in delivering high performance computing. Of course, without the software part, hardware is nothing. Currently there are several ways of parallelise your program such as OpenMP and Intel TBB. The former parallelise your program at compiler level whereas the latter is library-based. OpenMP is currently the standard and I have started to implement it in my simulation and analysis programs. It's pretty simple.

We had also other lectures about comparison of different compilers, awareness about memory when programming something, and data oriented design. Overall I have benefited a lot from it and got to know more people in the physics computing field. I am also very fascinated by the development of the Intel Xeon Phi coprocessor, which has 61 cores and 244 threads. This was unimaginable for me a few years back.

Closing dinner of the school (my table)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

First time living in a hostel with strangers

Arrived one day earlier at Split, I have chosen to live in a hostel, in a 6-bed room. (Well, for cost reason obviously! It was about 15 CHF) Many have done it before, some even frequently, it was the first time for me! Living with somebody else in a room is nothing new for me, as I had experienced it before in the past when I was participating in training camps and summer schools, where I knew who will be my roommate before hand. However, it was totally unknown this time and I felt both excited and anxious.

Tchaikovsky Hostel
Fortunately it turned out great and I got to meet a few young Asia students currently doing academic exchanges with European universities in different countries. What an exciting way of knowing new people! Perhaps I should try more in the future. :)

We hanged out together during the night and had dinner together as well. I particularly enjoyed the conversations regarding their experiences travelling in Europe during their 6 months stays over here. It was kind of luxurious to come to Europe when I was still studying in Japan but it seems that it is pretty common nowadays as the cost for travel has gone down. Also with lots of travel blog, offline phone map and Trip Advisor-like apps, it has became so easy and convenient to travel anywhere in the world.

After dinner