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My Journey to OCPA8
A High School's Student's Reflections on Science Research
by Wang Shilin

y passion for science research is inextricably linked to my curiosity about nature — the need to better understand the way the natural world works, and the laws that govern the physical universe — and my desire to discover new knowledge by myself. In retrospect, my experiences in high school science research are collectively a journey of selfdiscovery and exploration of my passion in science, a journey that will eventually culminate in my participation in the poster competition of the OCPA8 International Conference on Physics Education and Frontier Physics (OCPA8). By participating in the poster competition of OCPA8, I had the invaluable opportunity of witnessing the latest exciting developments in theoretical and applied physics, and, no less importantly, the culture of collaboration and exchange of ideas in research that has been crucial in accelerating the growth of science. Science research has greatly expanded my horizons and deepened my understanding of science, and it is my hope that this will be one of the first steps that I take to pursue a career in science in the future.

The OCPA8, organized by the International Organization of Chinese Physicists and Astronomers (OCPA), was held in Singapore from 23 to 27 June 2014. For 5 days, eminent physics researchers from across the world, including Nobel Prize winner Prof Chen- Ning Yang, gathered and discussed the latest developments in physics research and education. As a high school student, I was given the opportunity to participate in the poster competition of this Conference. Not only did I have the chance to bear witness to the extraordinary work done by modern physics researchers, and their contributions to fields such as particle physics, nuclear physics and high energy physics, I was also given an invaluable opportunity to present my research project to several judges, and thus gain first-hand experience of the way researchers have to organize, communicate and exchange their ideas. Yet, my participation in the poster competition of this Conference is part of a much larger personal journey of discovery and exploration.

Science is arguably the most exceptional branch of human knowledge, because it demands clear, logical and unbiased answers to complex questions in nature. As a student, my fascination with science is in no small part due to my desire to understand what makes the world tick. I was most attracted to physics due to its intricate relationship with mathematics, which, in the words of Galileo, is the true language of nature and the physical universe. Hence, I have always sought to maximize the different opportunities given by my school to further explore and discover my interest in science. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to embark on a research project in my upper secondary years, which, like a spark, truly kindled my passion for science and research. Science research appealed strongly to my adventurous spirit, and I caught a glimpse of the independent inquiries conducted by researchers into the most remarkable branches of human knowledge. There was also immense pleasure to be derived from hands-on experimental work in the laboratories, a refreshing respite from textbook learning that can occasionally become dull. The application of existing scientific knowledge to solve practical problems, and to discover new knowledge by myself, proved to be irresistible, and captured my imagination. Hence, it was only natural that I took up another research project when I entered junior college.

My junior college research journey would prove to be one of the most fruitful and intriguing learning experiences in my schooling life. My research project is related to the study of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), a class of carbon nanomaterials that have gained increasing interest in the research community due to their exceptional mechanical and electrical properties.

Depending on the arrangement (chirality) of carbon atoms in a nanotube, a CNT can have different electrical properties. Thus, CNTs have already found applications in the electronics industry, such as in the manufacturing of transistors, low-resistance wires for power distribution grids and lightweight conducting wires for use in vehicles in which mass is an important consideration, such as space shuttles. In addition, the carbon-carbon bonds found in a CNT are well known to be among some of the strongest bonds in nature, hence a CNT can be up to five times stronger than steel. Size matters little in the case of a carbon nanotube, which has already proven itself to be one of the most exceptional materials ever found in nature, after nearly two decades of extensive research into its structure and properties since it was first synthesized by the Japanese researcher Sumio Ijima in 1991. My research project aims to propose a new method for the efficient and accurate characterization of the structure of synthesized carbon nanotubes using Raman spectroscopy.

I was given the exhilarating task of conducting an inquiry into the study of carbon nanotubes, and was required to study this broad and complex topic by compiling and reading various relevant research papers. In the course of doing this project, I also worked closely with my mentors, a post-doctorate student and an associate professor from Nanyang Technological University. It is often that I find myself engaging in thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating discussions with my mentors via email correspondence after school. Conducting experiments and collecting results proved to be most exciting, and were the fruit of months of laborious theoretical study. Collaborating with external researchers from a tertiary institution also put me under considerable pressure, as I was aware of the high standards of work that were expected. I had to ensure, in every step of the way, that the work produced was of the highest quality attainable.

Indeed, although the learning curve was initially steep, and the work physically and mentally exhausting, once I adapted to it, my knowledge of science outside of the school curriculum expanded dramatically. By standing on the shoulders of giants, I was able to see beyond my narrow horizons and hence deepen my understanding of the nature and purpose of scientific research, as well as its utility to society. I also became aware of research ethics, and the rigor that is demanded of research work in science.

My participation in the poster competition of OCPA8 is the culmination of nearly a year’s worth of hard work and collaboration with my mentors. I was required to present my research project to several judges, all experts in their respective fields, and defend my research findings. It proved to be an intriguing experience; challenging questions posed by the judges tested my knowledge of all aspects of my research project, and I engaged in an in-depth discussion with the judges with regard to my project, giving me new insights and perspectives into my research work. In addition, I treasure the opportunity to view the posters by senior researchers from local universities and overseas institutions (e.g. the Chinese Academy of Sciences). Viewing these posters allowed me to have a glimpse of the latest developments in theoretical and applied physics, and broadened my understanding of science research in terms of the work that is currently being done at the tertiary level and beyond.

My participation in OCPA8 is thus a fruitful conclusion to my junior college research project. However, it is not an end in itself, but is, rather, an important milestone in my personal learning journey. Hopefully, this will be one of the first steps that I take to pursue a career in science, as it has been a highly enlightening and intriguing learning experience.

Wang Shilin is a junior college graduate from Hwa Chong Institution. He participated in the High School section of the OCPA Conference Poster Awards competition. For more information on the article, please contact Dr Lim Jit Ning at limjn@hci.edu.sg

OCPA9 will be held in Beijing, China from 17 to 20 Jul 2017. For more information, please visit the OCPA website at https://www.ocpaweb.org/new/

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