MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
The month of November is when October colors of red and orange fade away, usually leading to a grayer, colder hue, a foreshadow of winter to come. However, this year we had a very extended fall with one of the longest Indian summers I have ever witnessed. Some say a mild fall means a very severe winter and some say it means a short winter is awaiting us. Regardless, we are nearing the end of yet another year as we say hello to December.
For us the month of November this year again came with celebrations, observances and remembrances.
On November 10th, we mourned the Founder of our Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who passed away 81 years ago. This year, I was again very much inspired and touched by the wonderful message of the Chairman of the Board of Koç Holding, Mr. Ömer M. Koç. For the past fourteen years, Koç Group has been issuing highly original tributes to the lasting legacy of Atatürk on this day of national mourning, widely seen and shared throughout Turkey on many television channels and other news outlets. This year’s theme, that our path has always been our Founding Father, his principles our route and his ideas our compass, was again emotional, thought provoking and moving, all at the same time. Ever since I realized my own 57th birthday, I have pondered how our country would have been had Atatürk lived longer than his 57 years and overseen the full development of his young Republic. Aside from his military genius, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was one of the most revered statesmen as well as a true intellectual, having read profusely in many languages and having written nine books, one of which is on geometry, as well as speaking many foreign languages. I am certain that he would have given so much more to the development and elevation of our country, in almost every walk of life, had he lived longer.
We had a great opportunity to once again remember and celebrate Atatürk as the Teacher of all teachers on November 24th, Teachers Day, where we recognize his vision and the importance he attributed to education, especially of young minds. Each of us must remember the incredible teachers that have touched us in our own education. For myself, my dearest ‘teacher’ during high-school at TED Ankara College was Kıvılcım Özkök, from whom I learned so very much not only about English and English Literature but also about dignity, pride and hard work. She was a truly exceptional person and a teacher, who later on moved to become the High School Principal but succumbed to cancer at such an early age. A wax statue of her currently stands in her model classroom at TED Ankara College, which I was truly touched to visit back in 2011. Although I am largely a person with technical/science interests, I owe my love of literature and language, as well as my command of English and my perfectionism in writing to Kıvılcım Hanım.
As we talk about teaching, I cannot help but mention the fact that I have been greatly enjoying this semester teaching Physics 101, to a class of about 150 students. It is the first time in a long time that I have set out to teach an entirely new course, so preparations have taken a sizable amount of my time each week but teaching the most basic physics to a class of enthusiastic first year students has been well worthwhile. In this context, I am thankful to my faculty colleagues Dr Menderes Işkın and Dr Serap Aksu Ramazanoğlu, who are teaching other sections of the same class and who have helped cover my Lectures at those days when I had to be away because of my duties as President.
This newsletter has been a channel for me to share the happenings at Koç University and things that I encounter in the course of my work as the President of this wonderful institution. This month, I was surprised, honored and pleased to have been recognized by the Mustafa Prize, a top honor in the study of science and technology, granted by the Mustafa Foundation to prominent researchers and scientists in the Islamic world. The Prize was awarded for my research in the understanding of whistler-mode wave-particle interaction in near-Earth space, and the electrodynamic coupling between lighting discharges and the upper atmosphere, work I had done with a large team and my doctoral students back at Stanford University, in my Very Low Frequency (VLF) laboratories. I was one of the five scientists who were recognized this year and travelled to Tehran to attend the Award Ceremony on November 11th. During my trip, I had the opportunity to meet with many academics from Iran, visited 3 prominent universities where I was hosted by their respective Presidents and was part of a panel, where I discussed how the Islamic world needs broad education and interdisciplinary research and that people produce the best when they are the freest, thus underscoring the fact that a free environment needs to be provided and maintained in order for scientists to flourish.
In my acceptance speech at the awards ceremony, I underlined that the Mustafa Prize plays an important role in the universalization of science and puts on the map the contributions of the Islamic world to science in this new era of scientific leaps and major discoveries. I also emphasized that I was there not only as a researcher but also as the President of Koç University, which has emerged as the leading research university in the region in merely 26 years. A significant fraction of our PhD students come from Iran, a country with deep history and culture and great educational institutions so I was happy to spend time there and meet so many people. I do believe that my engagements and interactions should trigger more collaborations with universities from Iran.
The month ended for me with a visit to Japan, to attend the meeting of the Advisory Board of the RIKEN Institute, the oldest (1917) and largest comprehensive research institution of Japan. It was an intense 3 days full of presentations by the RIKEN Administration, the Heads of the many different Centers and discussions among our panel consisting of 19 different members of the Advisory Board. RIKEN built and operated the fastest and most powerful supercomputer in the world, the so-called K-computer, which has recently been decommissioned. An even faster and more powerful supercomputer that consumes substantially less power, Fugaku has been built and is to become operational soon. Our panel worked hard to complete a 25+ page report of recommendations that we presented to the RIKEN President Hiroshi Matsumoto. We hope that our comments and advice might allow them to more fully realize the potential of this great institution to force the boundaries of science and technology for many years to come.
Now onto December, as we reach the end of 2019 and look forward to 2020…
My best wishes and regards to you all,