by KT Leong
A book launch for “A Guide for Independent-Minded Scientists” by Dr. Francis Ng was held at the Haven last Sunday, with the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, YB Mr. Chang Lih Kang being present.
Dr. Ng, who joined the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) in 1964 and became its Deputy Director-General in 1986, and then joined the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations as Chief of its Service for Forestry Research, Training and Education; gave a brief speech prior to the official launching of the book.
In this speech, he essentially recounted the first few chapters of his book, in simple language that’s understandable by the layman.
He began by mentioning the scientific method, which was used by Galileo Galilei to observe the swing of a pendulum. He not only observed the swings of the pendulum, he tested it by changing the length and weight of the pendulum. After collecting his observations (data), Galileo came to a conclusion and The Law of the Pendulum was discovered.
Basically, Galileo discovered that no matter how big the swings were, the time for each swing of a pendulum was exactly the same. This was extremely important because it meant that humanity could finally consistently measure time. We did not have to depend on the length of a day anymore, which could change according to the time of year anyway. This led to the invention of clocks.
From there, it was realised that the swing of a pendulum was actually a vibration. And that a quartz crystal can be used to tell time, as quartz crystals will vibrate when an electrical charge is run through them. This led to the invention of watches.
This also led to the realisation that time can be measured more precisely when observed on a smaller scale, which resulted in the atomic clock.
Time can also be used to measure distance. For example, if you are travelling at 60 kilometres per hour, we know that you will be 60 kilometres away in one hour, 120 kilometres away in two hours, 180 kilometres away in three hours and so on.
Using this knowledge, along with an atomic clock, we can measure how long it would take for a radio signal from us to reach a satellite orbiting the Earth. And if there are four satellites, we would be able bounce those signals around and determine our location on Earth. Which led to the invention of the Global Positioning System (GPS).
So from Galileo observing the swings of pendulums 400 years ago, this directly led to all the tools that we can’t live without. From clocks, watches and GPS, to the internet, car odometers and heart pacemakers. This highlights the importance of science and scientific study.
Dr. Ng would go on to highlight the importance of publication and how a scientist needs to think strategically in order to optimise their resources in a practical way.
When we think of scientific studies these days, we think of huge experiments with thousands of participants that run for years, however, this is simply not economical or efficient in all cases. So scientists should be willing to start small and if the small experiments return good results, they can scale up little by little, until they can justify running a huge experiment.
The book is filled with these kinds of practical advice for scientists, presented in a systematic way with easy to understand language. Although the book is meant for scientists and the language can be slightly complex for non-scientists, the advice here are all practical and can be utilised by people outside of the scientific community. It basically encourages objective reasoning and offers suggestions for economic, efficient and practical solutions.
Limited signed copies can be acquired from Perak Academy. Email to inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org