I’ve been attending ISS (International Symposium on Superconductivity) since 1998. This symposium, organized by ISTEC, is held annually in Japan. This year, though, happens to be a rather special year, because for the first time, members of the CMPL (Condensed Matter Physics Laboratory) in NIP (National Institute of Physics), UP Diliman, had also participated. One of them happens to be my former adviser, Dr. Roland Sarmago. Somehow I knew that sooner or later we would meet in one of the scientific meetings on superconductivity, but never did I think that we would actually “converge” right here in Tsukuba. The first time I met a fellow Pinoy in ISS was way back in 1998 — some guy who was taking his PhD in Hokkaido University. Funny, I never saw him in the succeeding years. I envy the Indians, Chinese, and Koreans, who always manage to find their fellowmen in conferences like this. For the longest time I thought that I would be the only Pinoy representative. Until this year, of course. And I am so proud of them!
Anyway, Dr. Sarmago was surprised when I told him, “Do you realize that it has already been ten years since I left UP?” Has it really been that long? One thing I know, though, is that hadn’t been for CMPL, I would not be here. Dr. Sarmago was very instrumental in the shaping of my career path. My first ever paper, published in 1995, was the result of our efforts on the combustion method of preparing bulk superconductors. If that first paper had not been published, I doubt very much if I would still be working on supercon. I doubt it very much that I would even get the opportunity to come to Japan.
One particular highlight of their visit to Tsukuba, aside from the ISS of course, was to actually listen to Prof. Alex Muller’s lecture at AIST. Alex Muller, to those not familiar with the name, is a Nobel Laureate. He was awarded the Nobel prize, together with George Bednorz, for discovering high-temperature superconductivity in the La-Ba-Cu-O system. It was their work that spurred the fervent research on superconductivity in the latter part of the 1980s. In the poster prepared by the organizers, his photo bore the caption, “Kouon Choudendou no Chichi,” which literally means, “The Father of High-Temperature Superconductivity.” But I guess that is only half-correct. The other “father,” Bednorz, seems to have abandoned superconductivity altogether and is probably working on a different field. So I guess there would not be any opportunity to see him in any supercon-related conferences.
The first time I saw Prof. Muller was in Vienna, where he delivered a special plenary talk during EUCAS. In a later session, finding no other seats readily available (it was difficult to get into the seats in the middle because those sitting near the edge had to stand up), I saw an available seat which happened to be right next to Prof. Muller, who was sitting at the second to the last seat. Well, I thought, it wouldn’t hurt to sit beside him, after all, I’m a nobody, he could go right ahead and ignore me, haha. However, as soon as the current speaker was finishing his talk, Prof. Muller turned to me and said, “You can go and sit inside (gesturing to the empty seats towards the middle)…I will disappear in a while.” Then he stood up and allowed me to pass. I smiled at him and sat maybe three seats away from him. I’m pretty sure that he would not – ever – remember that incident. But for me, I will always have that anecdote treasured in my heart. Frankly, I was “this close” to asking him for an autograph. I had to try very hard to contain my Pinas-bred fan-feelings for the man who was responsible for the field I fell in love with.
Interesting trivia: Muller was 60 years old when he was awarded the Nobel prize in 1987. Right now I’m just about half his age then. Kaya may pag-asa pa ako sa Nobel!