Science Communication workshop done!

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my first intensive module for my Masters Programme for Science Communication. It lasted two weeks, every day from 9 am to 4 pm. It was held at the Singapore Science Center, and our guest lecturers flew all the way from Australia to conduct the module and workshop (depending on who is attending the module and for what purposes).

It was quite tiring, having to sit in for the lessons every day, but at the same time rewarding, as I actually learned a lot about science communication on a deeper level now. Being a module at a Masters level. The topics and concepts covered during the two-week intensive period were sometimes technical and abstract. Many contemporary issues were discussed with regards to Science Communication, such as what Science Communication really means to us as educators, scientists and even the general public. We also learned the evolution of Science Communication as an expanding and increasingly more important field of science to be taken seriously.

In between the topics to ponder on, we also got the opportunity to learn from the very best in conducting science demonstrations and the innovative ways one can use when conducting science demonstrations to the general public or a specific audience. The hands-on experience was invaluable, as it really opened our eyes to a myriad of ways we can approach in teaching certain basic science concepts using demonstrations. The most striking aspect of science demonstration for me was the popular misconceptions in science when conducting certain classic demonstrations. It brings potential pitfalls in using science demonstration as a tool to teach science and it taught us to be keenly aware in how we should perform certain demonstration without introducing misunderstanding or cultivating certain misconceptions about the science along the way.

Overall, I had fun with the module. Now comes the challenging part, which is to complete a series of writing assignments that are going to take some time to complete it. It will constitute about 70% of the final grade (30% being participation marks and a group presentation that we did on the final day of the workshop).

The submission deadline is the last day of July, which gives me about a month to complete those assignments.

My ‘Dark Rage’ gaming rig is not only for gaming

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It is also doing good, productive work in the name of science. Every evening, after coming back from work, I would naturally switch on my gaming PC. On some nights, I don’t play games at all. On many occasions, my PC is just idling, or working minimally, while I browse the web and listen to my favourite music.

It is on these occasions, that I fired up BOINC. BOINC stands for Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. What it basically does is that it acts as a hub to coordinate volunteer computer resources around the world. Rather tham having my PC idling, doing nothing, I made sure that my gaming PC is hard at work, receiving packets of information that requires computational power and mathematical number crunching either via the CPU or the GPU, and then returning those results back to their central servers.

For my case, I selected 2 projects, one taking advantage of the computer power of the CPU, while the other, the GPU. They are SETI@Home and World Community Grid. There are tons of other projects out there, from simulating weather pattern, to proving or disproving a mathematical theory or conjecture, to searching for larger prime numbers or deepening our understanding of quantum physics through mathematical modelling, there is definitely a project that one might be interested in participating.

SETI@Home is a scientific initiative aimed at listening and picking up radio signals out in space for signs of extra-terrestrial life. The amount of data that this projects received is tremendous and would take years for a single cluster of supercomputers to sieve out the signal from the noise (if there is a signal -indicative of intelligent life out there, in the first place). This is where distributed computing comes in. My computer that is idling, and millions around the world, are willing to contribute their spare computing power to process all these information from SETI@Home. The combined computational power of millions of computers pales in comparison to the largest supercomputer out there right now. Together, we can crunch those data into meaningful information much faster.

World Community Grid is a collection of biological and life science research projects that requires huge amounts of computing power, such as the search for compounds and ligands that would interact with a particular HIV protein, potentially finding a cure or a treatment. Malaria is another project that is underway, as well as Zika and cancer research. Finding a potential compound, ligand or simply understanding how it interacts with a target protein at a molecular level requires a lot of mathematical modelling and simulations that only, through a network of computers, would achieve tangible results faster that any supercomputer out there. And the cost is almost nothing to the researchers, as they need not maintain and manage expensive clusters of computers. They simply seek volunteers, like me who would be willing to contribute spare computing power for the greater good.

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I have been doing this for 3 months, contributing anywhere between 15 minutes to several hours, sometimes leaving the computer overnight for at least once a week. I have made progress through the number of points I received based on the number of work units done. So far based on the stats taken from http://stats.free-dc.org which keeps tracks on users progress on a number of projects, I am currently in top 200 (out of 7300) contributors within my country, Singapore, in contributing to SETI@home. I am in the top 400 in my country in contributing to World Community Grid. I joined Crunching@EVGA, a group with members that collectively contributes their computing power under one banner (presumably these members also have some from of EVGA products, most likely EVGA graphics card). Within the team, I am in the top 50 (out of 350) for contributing to SETI@home, and top 200 for the combined points received for contributing to various projects as a whole. Although comparing with volunteers from around the world, and on an individual levels there are tens of thousands of people ahead of me, I have made a lot of progress so far, especially when I am representing my country, Singapore.

I wish that more Singaporeans like me would participate in BOINC. I know that there is a sizeable community of PC gaming and gaming rig building enthusiasts in Singapore. If only more participate, we together could make an impact for the good of science. For me, I will continue to contribute whatever spare, idling computing power for BOINC and the projects I am passionate about (so long as my GPU and CPU continues to survive and function properly in the years to come. My gaming computer now does more than just gaming.

Master in Science Communication

I got accepted! A few weeks ago, I got an email from NUS saying that I got accepted into the Masters programme! I went for the interview and it now I finally got accepted! Everything is going so fast. School will be starting in January 2017 and will last two years, since I am taking the course part-time, working and studying at the same time.

I need to review important dates that I need to take note, like course registration, matriculation and other administrative stuff before school actually starts. I do not want to miss any important stuff regarding the course.

2017 is shaping up to be pretty exciting!

That sense of purpose.

It’s been a little more than 2 weeks since I started work and things have gone pretty smoothly. As a research officer, I am blessed to be under a supervisor that laid out his research plans and strategies to tackle certain research problems openly with me right at the beginning. This open communication with my supervisor has enabled me to to have the same vision with him when it comes to research. With that, I am glad to have a sense of purpose when I’m doing my work. I know what needs to be done and how it needs to be done to accomplish the research goals and objectives that he has laid out before me. 

My research involves skin research, and my team is interested in finding treatment strategies to treat and alleviate a certain genetic disease that affects the function of normal skin. My supervisor spent 2 hours on a one-on-one presentation and information sharing session with me and it was really an eye opener. He already laid the groundwork for me on what needs to be done with regards to this research. After hearing him out, I finally had a sense of purpose! Not just what I need to do in the lab, but the very nature of the project itself. I am doing research that could potentially help a lot of people with this skin disease! It may be a small step forward, but it is highly significant if it turns out really well. I am, for the first time, contributing something meaningful to society. I am truly using my skills and effort in my work to really make a difference in people’s lives.

I don’t know how the project will turn out. Will it succeed? Or will it fail? What I do know for sure, is that with that sense of purpose, I can now go to work with the proper motivation, drive and mind frame. And I think that is very important for me. With a sense of purpose, I am eager to go to work and do my best and work closely with my supervisor. I cannot let him down, and I definitely cannot let myself down.