An Interview on Science, Culture and Life with Prof. Dr. Saleh Sultansoy5 YEAR(S) AGO
We have had an interview with Prof. Dr. Saleh Sultansoy, a valuable faculty member of our university, who has made a distinguished name for himself for his studies in the field of particle physics. Prof. Dr. Sultansoy, a faculty member of the Department of the Materials Science and Nanotechnology Engineering, shares his experiences and adds: We must work hard! We wish success to our esteemed professor in his academic life and leave you with this delightful interview.
- Hello Professor Sultansoy; first of all we would like to thank you for setting time aside for us. We would appreciate if if you could tell us a bit about yourself in your own words.
I am an Azerbaijani Turk. I was born in Baku in 1952. I completed my university education in Baku. I, then, completed my doctoral studies at the High Energy Research Institute, located in some 150km distance to Moscow, which is known as the "CERN of the USSR". To speak on school basis; I chose to study particle physics or, in Mehmet Akif's words, the 'forces of the particles of matter', at very early age when I was at the secondary school. I had made my mind about it, and I planned my studies accordingly. I was probably most influenced and inspired by my, now deceased, parents about choosing this field. They were both geophysicists, and were the first scientists to start seismic earthquake studies in Azerbaijan. Also, my father was the first scientists to use a electron microscope in Azerbaijan. Naturally, I tended towards the physics. During my high school education, I came first and second in Azerbaijan at Physics and Mathematics Olympiad Contests for several times. I also came fourth once at the Mathematics Olympiad in the USSR. At high school, I and my friends, who studied in those fields, had founded a group, in which we discussed natural sciences as well as Turkish History, Islam and Holy Quran. An interesting group it was. At the university, I was interested not only in my own field of specialization but also such other subjects as Turkish History and Language as well as Turkish Architecture. Also at the university, I was the Chairman of the Students' Society for Fundamental Science of the Faculty of Physics. Furthermore, I served as deputy chairman at the university.
- We would love to talk about your career but, if you so please, let us talk a bit about your daily life, first. How would you describe one day of yours?
I mostly work at nights, which is a habit I made when I was at university, even when I was at the high school. I work until 3 or 4 am and sometimes until the morning. I, then, wake up at around 9 or 10 if I do not have an urgent business to attend to. Before checking my emails, I check out a database, where the latest developments and articles are published (https://arxiv.org/). I also recommend my students to keep track with the developments in their own field as the first thing to do. What are the latest developments? They are published there (on the database) before they are published in the periodicals. Recently, the range of subjects that the database contains has broadened. It would be useful for everybody to keep track with the latest developments in their respective field.
After that, I check my emails. Then starts my work with the students throughout the whole day. For instance; there are these four subjects. Meetings about those take place. Those are extra-curricular subjects. Beside those; I lecture Physics 1, Physics 2 and Introduction to the Physics of High Energy to undergraduate students. These courses are open to not only the students in our department but also those, who study at the Faculty of Engineering. Also, I lecture Accelerator and Detector Technologies to graduate program students. Students and faculty members from Gazi University and Ankara University visit me for twice or three times a week. We have work in progress that we carry out with them. In addition to those; usually, faculty members from various universities in Turkey pay visits at the weekends. We work until eight, maybe nine in the evening. After that, I continue working at home, too.
- You used the phrase the "forces of the particles of matter" by Mehmet Akif instead of High Energy Physics. We know that you are very fond of Mehmet Akif's poetry. You recommend your students to read Safahat. As a scientist, how is your relation with the literature?
I have read and still read, as much as I can, the World's Classics as known by everybody. I also read poets and writers such as Mehmet Akif, Hüseyin Cavid, Mirze Elekber Sabir and Cengiz Aytmatov. Apart from those, every Turkish young individual must read Kutadgu Bilig (The Wisdom That Brings Happiness). It is the most advanced sociological work of its time, and it discusses and describes what an ideal society should be like. There is a lot to learn from that book even today.
- Mehmet Akif is a peak in the last century. We often mention Asım's generation, lately. To understand what is really meant by Asım's generation, at least the sixth chapter (Chapter 6, Safahat) must be read. What is narrated in that chapter? What is its significance?
Looking at general Turkish History, we notice that certain Turkish states always made an impact on and influenced the world. The Ottoman Empire, too, is a peak. It has made it to the peak in all fields and disciplines, primarily including science and technology, in the 15th, 16th and the 17th centuries. Why? Because, they attached the utmost importance to science and technology. They studied and developed scientific knowledge as well as wisdom. Take Mohammad II (the Conqueror), for example. It is known that he has designed cannons himself. That would require a certain level of knowledge. Imagine the level of knowledge of the scientists in a country where the monarch has such an advanced level of knowledge. How come we remained behind the other in the 17th century? Because, we became distanced from science and wisdom. We disincorporated Istanbul Observatory, which was the greatest observatory in the world. We removed natural sciences from the curricula of madrasas.
"What is the science of future? Indeed it is awesomeIndeed, it will be challenging to deal with forces of the particles of matter
Mehmet Akif wrote those lines in 1919, that is eight years after the publication of Rutherford's experiment. That experiment is the foundation of modern science and technology. How was it possible that Mehmet Akif could write those when even most physicians did not have a thorough understanding of the subject? The answer is, indeed, simple. As it was also put by Mehmet Akif:
“We must take inspiration directly from the Quran
And have intellects of the time recognize Islam”.
The foundation of Turkish-Islamic Renaissance during the Ottoman and Seljuki eras was laid by the verses on thinking, science and wisdom of the Holy Quran. There are around six hundred verses, which instruct man to gain scientific knowledge. Ten of those include the phrase, reading 'Verses in Heavens and on Earth'. Getting estranged from that understanding, Islamic geography fell behind in science and technology. We must, therefore, embrace science and wisdom once again.
We must, also, know about İsmayıl Qaspralı, Ali Bey Hüseynzade’yi and Ziya Gökalp. And not only about the writers that I have mentioned, but we must know about much more. Approaching Islam and taking Quran as our reference, we must create a projection for the future. Doing so, we must give due consideration to the past, the History of Islam and the Turkish History.
- What are the verses in the heavens and on earth?
And how many a sign within the heavens and earth do they pass over while they, therefrom, are turning away.
This Verse emphasizes one of the biggest mistakes of the Sons of Israel. As Muslims, we must reflect on this matter. We must understand accurately and then put into practice the 10 verses about the 'Verses on within the Heavens and on Earth' and generally the 600 verses about science.
- As far as physics is concerned; what is your opinion about the position of our country? At what level are the endeavors in the field?
Where, generally, do we stand in terms of science and technology? If we look at the picture on hand: The population of each of France and Germany is nearly equal to ours; though, the quantity of the scientific publications developed and authored by each of those countries is roughly 3-4 folds of those we develop and author. How come? My point is that, given the level we must attain, we have a lot of distance to be covered. A significant amount of studies have been conducted especially in the last 10-15 years. There are certain basic indicators. One of those is the percentage of the gross domestic product allocated to R&D activities. There are minimum and maximum values for such ratio. In 1970s, the minimum value of it was 1% while the maximum value of it was 2% around the world. That percentage of lower than three thousandth in Turkey during the same period. In the 21st century, being the present; the minimum value of such ratio is 2% while the maximum value is 3%. The government, which was aware of that fact, aimed to increase that ratio for Turkey to 2% within a five years and to 3% within 10 according to the resolution on the matter of the Science and Technology Supreme Council. Unfortunately, we are yet to exceed the threshold of 1%. The President has made express statements on the matter. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan emphasized that, by 2023, the percentage of the gross domestic product to be allocated to R&D efforts must be 3%, and said that he would personally follow up the matter during his inauguration speech at the International Science and Technology Conference, held between October 3 and 6, 2016. It is my hope that the responsible organizations will take appropriate actions to that end.
Briefly, it is a fact that science and technology has, throughout the history, steered the other fields. Science and technology has become a macro component of macro economy, and has directly directed the economy within the last 50 years. In that regards, the amount of funds allocated to science and technology must be increased in Turkey. Also, it is not only a question of the amount of funding allocated but it also is a question of effective and efficient utilization of such funds. Effective and efficient investments require effective sources of information. Back in the history, one of the key factors that contributed to the development of Europe was the fact that the Europeans translated numerous books they obtained from us into their own languages. The works of such scientists and thinkers as Al-Farabi, Avicenna, Abdu'l-Hamid Ibn Turk and Al-Khwarizmi were translated firstly into Latin and then into the European languages. For instance, the similarity of the observatory in Prague to Istanbul Observatory is striking. In fact, TychoBrahe established and erected Prague Observatory with inspiration from the observatories of Samarkand and Istanbul. What we must, now, do is to study the world and to observe the actions taken and the activities carried out. We must develop an effective Turkish model for science and technology without undue delay.
- Could you inform us about Turkish City of Science (ATAM - Ankara Center for Fundamental Research) and Turkish Accelerator Complex (TAC)?
One of the reasons why I came to Turkey in 1993 was to contribute to the development of accelerator technology and high energy physics in Turkey. To mention about what happened before my arrival; I visited Turkey for an international conference held in Istanbul in 1991 upon the invitation of Prof. Dr. Engin Arık, now deceased. At that time, I and Prof. Dr. Asım Barut, also deceased, as well as Prof. Dr. Engin Arık were discussing that we needed to establish a national high energy physics and accelerator center in Turkey. We developed a project on the matter. We were ruminating about developing an accelerator complex that would contain all relevant technologies and would enable the conduct of research in a broad range of subjects including fundamental research.
If we look at the main models in the world, we see a large number of national laboratories and research centers in developed countries, including strategic technologies and priority research areas. Thousands of scientists and engineers work at each of those laboratories and centers. It is, thus, an essential requirement for us to establish a similar system.
The key to exceed the level of middle income is science and technology as Atatürk has also often emphasized. We must understand and interpret science and technology not only as the natural sciences but also such fields and disciplines as science, technology, social sciences and theology. Turkey will set a model for the entire geography if it achieves this.
- Universities have technocities. Could those be considered as the smaller-scale examples of the science-city model?
No, no. Those two are entirely different concepts. What could be considered similar to the science-city model is the Silicon Valley. The origin of the name of Silicon Valley is particularly important. If you have noticed, the name of the campus was selected to be a word related to hardware, not software. That is to say that software does not mean much without the hardware. One of the founding pillars of Silicon Valley is the linear accelerator of Standford University. Because, a great deal of information and technology are developed thanks to and by way of the utilization of accelerators. For instance, some 95% of GENOM project has been conducted through accelerators. It is not really possible to move ahead in such fields as micro-electronics and nanotechnology without the accelerator technology. We have been carrying out studies at our university about accelerators. Accelerators are one of the key components of the R&D infrastructures of developed countries.
Science city is a superior structure than Silicon Valley, it constitutes the main axis of development. It comprises all priority fields and strategic technologies. Japan started building the Science City of Tsukuba in 1964, and the Japanese miracle emerged in 1970s. South Korea laid the foundation for the Science City of Daedeok in 1973, and the Korean miracle emerged in 1980s. We prepared Turkish Science City project as a team including 15 scientists from Ankara University and Gazi University in 1994. In 1995, it was the second top priority item in the agenda of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey; but then, it was put aside because of the snap election. We must update that project and start building up Turkish Science City without undue delay.
- The science society has been keeping close track with the studies and endeavors carried out in CERN. We know that you have also participated in those studies and endeavors.
According to Quantum Physics, large amounts of energy is required in order to study small distances. The studies and endeavors at CERN progress by way of the utilization of high energy at teraelectronvolt (TeV) level. The Higgs boson, also known as the "God particle", was discovered in 2012. The discovery of Higgs boson was contributed also by TOBB ETÜ, which was one of participants of the studies conducted at CERN.
Currently, TOBB ETÜ is an effective participant of the ATLAS experiment as well as LHeC (Large Hadron electron Collider) and FCC (The Future Circular Collider) projects. The Higgs boson, which I have just mentioned, was discovered through the course of the ATLAS experiment. Upon our proposal, certain new processes started to be studied and researched in the experiment. LHeC project was proposed as a result of the co-works of CERN and Turkish scientists. It is planned to be set up in 2020s.
Another important point is that TOBB (The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey) is responsible for the cooperation between Turkey and CERN as well as the technology transfer to Turkey and the submission of bids by Turkish companies to the tenders held by CERN. In that regards, TOBB ETÜ's Technology Transfer Office (TTO) has critical duties on the matter. It must be noted that CERN is the top organization in terms of knowledge about accelerator, detector and information technologies.
- We have mentioned about the endeavors of TOBB ETÜ at CERN. How would you comment about the status of physics studies at our University? For instance, we have heard that there is an accelerator at the Technology Center. What should be don for further advancement?
The old television tubes are a simple example for accelerators. In a sense, there once used to be an accelerator in every house. We are working on the design and production of electron guns (used in welding in developed countries). We have a new project to reach higher energies. We have 4 klystrones that CERN donated. Currently, two of those are in operating condition. Using these we can reach the energies in mega-electronvolt (MeV) range (MeV energetic electron beam has many applications). The number of universities where such studies are conducted in our country is very small.
- You define the strategy for science and technology as the most strategic strategy in order to express the importance that you attach to the development of science and technology.
If the science and technology strategy is not well established, other strategies inevitably become less important. Science and technology directly affect military and economic development. A well-established science and technology strategy is needed to overcome the so-called middle-income trap. What is even more important is that a country must be able to stand on its own feet, which is only possible with the right strategy. The world history is full of the proofs of that fact.
- What would you like to recommend to the students at your University?
We must not only read the Holy Quran but also reflect on and comprehend it. We must read poets and writers such as Mehmet Akif, Ziya Gökalp, Yusuf Has Hacip, Hüseyin Cavit, Mirze Elekber Sabir, Cengiz Aytmatov and OljasSüleymenov. We must read the works of Atatürk.
I recommend the students to set a goal for themselves and work hard to accomplish it. They must dare to set their goal being the number one in the world at whatever branch they may choose. It does not matter if they actually make it to be the number one. Making it to be one of the top ten would be sufficient both for yourself and for your country. And that requires hard and efficient work.
You can have meetings with your friends, who study in the same field as you, for once or twice a week. You can discuss what is happening in the world about your field of study. Knowledge grows as it is shared.
You should not say that you cannot do it about anything. You can. The advancements in science and technology were achieved in our geography by Turkish civilizations for two thousand years within the seven thousand years of known history of civilization. Sumerians, Scythians, Seljukis, Ottomans... Have confidence in yourselves without going extravagant about it. We can contribute to the overall civilization of the world. Turkey is the only country in this geography that can initiate this process and undertake this mission. As I said, we must work hard day and night in order to gain an effective position.
We must embrace these words of Atatürk, which are also often mentioned by the Presdent: "We shall attempt to raise our national culture above the level of contemporary civilization". In order to achieve that, we must first thoroughly comprehend "our national culture" and the "level of contemporary civilization". Then, we must develop an effective Science and Technology strategy and implement it
Prof. Dr. Saleh SULTANSOY was awarded the Turkish Realm Red Apple Science Award (along with Prof. Dr. Aziz SANCAR ve Prof. Dr. Bürkit AYAGAN) by Turkish Asian Center for Strategic Studies (TASAM) in 2016 , and the Prof. Dr. Engin Arık Scientist Award by Turkish Physical Society in 2013.
Interview Credit: Hüseyin Yıldırım - Department of Elektrical-Elektronic Engineering
Photo Credit: Haydar İleli - Department of Mechanical Engineering