Saturday, April 16, 2005

Korea University: Upcoming Nobel Laureate Lecture Series 2: Steven Chu

Last month at Korea University, Nobel Prize winner Daniel McFadden lectured on economics for the inaugural lecture in KU's Nobel Laueate Lecture Series.

The second lecture in this series is coming up Monday, April 18. Although a few posters announcing it appeared on campus early this past week, I've seen no English-language announcements anywhere else, not even on Korea University's English Website (when I last checked).

So, in the interest of those in the foreign community here in Korea who need announcements in English (and happen to be reading my blog), you learned it here:

Steven Chu (朱棣文: Zhū Dìwén) will lecture on Monday, April 18, at 1:30 p.m., in Inchon Memorial Hall, Korea University.

For those interested in knowing more, follow this pdf link to Chu's Nobel Lecture. To learn more about Chu personally, read his Nobel Autobiography. For the master site to these and other links, go here. Chu also has a webpage at Stanford's Department of Physics, but he's on leave and currently working as the Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Before I attend Chu's lecture, I intend to read up on his life and work. I've already been reading a bit and have come come across an interview with these interesting words (bold font mine):

[There's a] misconception that many people have about scientists, or doing science and learning science. The misconception is you go to school, you take classes, you study -- years and years of study. You learn everything there is to know in a certain sub-field, a very narrow sub-field, and then you do work in that area. That is the form, but it's rarely taken. It's especially not true the way I do it.

Maybe it goes back to my high school days, when I was not such a good student. In actual fact, if one wants to go into a new area beyond your school days, you can pick up a classic textbook and begin to read, and begin to read in the literature; but it's not as much fun. When I was going into biology maybe a dozen years ago, I did try that. I picked up a big, fat tome called Biochemistry, a classic textbook. I started reading; it was 1,500 pages. I got to page 150, and I was deciding, "Well, it's beginning to slip out of my head as fast as it's going in now." I reached a "steady state!"

So I said, "Well, this isn't going to work." So I would look around, and I had some [knowledge] from reading newspapers and magazines such as Science, Science Times, The New York Times, Scientific American, things of that nature. I had an interest in these biological problems, and I would pick something that I was interested in. But, of course, since I wasn't an expert in biology, I didn't know, "Is this a stupid question? Is this a deep question? What?" I would say, "Well, I think I can do something here and I have some interest." So I'd trot over to the biology department or medical school and say, "Is this something we're studying? I think I want to do this." And they would tell me sometimes, "No, no, it's silly," or "It's been done before." Or sometimes they'd say, "This is a central problem in biology." That rarely happened.

But what happened is then I would start to collaborate with these people who spent their career in this specialty, and who grew up in this culture. They would say, "You should read this article, and that article, and that article." We would talk, and it was wonderful to learn that way. So you could sort of leapfrog over the years of school. Now to be sure, I'm not pretending I have as broad or deep as knowledge of that. But you start with a little, thin sliver of a particular problem, and you start to build knowledge around that thin sliver. By the time you've done the experiment and you're starting to write the paper, you better have some knowledge of what's around, because you won't even get to publish in the paper if you haven't referenced the right people or the precursors before you. But it's learning in that way.

Then you go back to the books, but now you use the index. You say, "I want to learn about this." So now I've begun to teach my students -- many of my students are physicists wanting to go into biology. I say, "Okay, we'll use the index. This is the problem. Why don't you look here, read these five pages in this book, and these ten pages here, and these fifteen pages here." By the time you read this review article, within a month, you're reading the primary literature.

I'm no Steven Chu (not that anybody thought so), and even though I do my work in the humanities, not the sciences, I find that his statements here resonate with my own experience. I moved into the field of English literature from history and have had to make a home for myself rather quickly. When I first shifted over, I needed to find a niche. Milton studies interested me, and although I hadn't read any of his works in about 20 years, I turned to Paradise Lost, his epic poem. I had long wanted to read in its entirety and understand it fully, so I picked up a scholarly edition (Fowler's) and began.

Interesting questions popped up constantly, and rather than set them aside as something to return to one future day when I would know enough to know what I was doing, I would repeatedly set the book aside, flick on my computer, and start trolling the internet for insights. I began to find scholars of and websites on Milton that enabled me to reduce months, perhaps even years of work into a few days or weeks of accelerated research.

By the time I started writing, I knew the most important scholars, books, and articles as well as some rather obscure passages from orginal and secondary sources that I could use to supplement my main argument. Publications followed (e.g., here). I've since applied this method to Beowulf.

I wouldn't claim that my articles are great. (Editor: "What do you mean? Of couse they're great!" Me: "Well, okay, if you say so.") But they're at least worthy of publication.

I try to impart this approach to my Korean students: Genuine learning is not about memorizing; it's about asking questions that lead you somewhere. Start from what you know. Find some question that interests you. Let it lead you into new territory. Ask knowledgeable people for directions. Keep exploring until you reach your goal. Then draw a map to help others get there.

If that's too metaphorical, see again Chu's words above.


At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I''m familiar with this subject too

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for visiting, Mr. Dentler. Do say more.

At 10:13 AM, Blogger Vig said...

Hi Mr. Hodges, I have recently arrived at KU to teach for a semester and was planning to attend the lecture series event on the 28th Sept thanks to reruns of Dr. Chu's lectures on the campus TV network.

It's great to see how you and Dr. Chu were able to apply what others would call an ad-hoc method of learning to abbreviate the learning process. My approach towards towards education (both as a student and an educator) has been that time efficiency of learning is just as important as the quantity you absorb. This is precisely what makes Wikipedia such a brilliant resource (if a much maligned one in academic circles).

Quick question about the lectures themselves. Does one just show up and take a seat in the hall to attend them?

Hope to see you at Dr. Gross's lecture. Physicists' lectures always turn out to be philosophically quite interesting :)

At 7:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hello, Vig. Good to hear from you.

I'm no longer at KU, for I'm now teaching at Ewha, but I'm glad that you came across my blog entry.

As for the Nobelists' lectures, I simply turned up and attended. I don't know about other lecture series, however.

Since I'm not at KU, I won't be attending any lectures there, but I hope that you enjoy the ones that you attend.

Jeffery Hodges

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