Sat, Oct 13, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Students of science need training in the basics

By Lee Chia-tung 李家同

In its eagerness to upgrade industry, the government has come up with catchy, dazzling slogans regarding the Internet of Things, big data, Industry 4.0 and artificial intelligence (AI). It seems that these technologies are necessary for the nation’s salvation.

Instead, the government should understand that basic science — physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology — is essential to upgrading industry.

Take electric motors: Everyone wants to make an advanced electric motor, and electromagnetism is a key operating principle in such devices, so an understanding of electromagnetism is essential.

Similarly, many people admire Google’s successes, but few know that a search engine requires a technology called “string comparison,” which depends heavily on mathematics.

When it comes to manufacturing composite materials, a proper understanding of chemistry is a must to see particles dispersed evenly and homogeneously throughout a material.

To make thin film requires pressurized gas spraying techniques, which are impossible without an understanding of the properties of gases.

People studying electrical engineering often hope that one day they will be able to design high-end chips, but few know that the design of expensive chips requires a firm grasp of mathematics.

People studying telecommunications know that advances in the industry have depended on the many professionals in the sector who are highly skilled in mathematics. Without them, modern telecommunications would not be possible.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Education is planning to decrease compulsory credits for these subjects at the senior-high school level.

At universities, compulsory credits in the colleges of engineering cover a wide range of subjects, from the most basic sciences to basic understanding in specialized subjects, such as electronics in electrical engineering or unit operations in chemical engineering.

Many academics feel that engineering students do not need this “old” knowledge and instead should be in more contact with businesses to learn what technologies are in demand, but without proper training in basic science, they could not make any substantial contribution.

Electrical engineers are familiar with Hewlett-Packard and admire the company’s ability to manufacture high-end electronic devices, but few know that the company’s two founders — Bill Hewlett and David Packard — were highly skilled electrical engineers, which enabled them to design a complicated electronic oscillator.

Without a proper education in electronics, one cannot understand the operating principles of an oscillator.

Moreover, laser printers rely on a technology known as corona discharge, which one would never understand without proper training in physics.

Government officials must understand the importance of basic science and stop misleading young people to think that flashy knowledge alone will save the nation.

Take AI technology for instance. Putting aside the discussion of its importance, if the technology is important, expertise in the field still requires a firm grasp of mathematics.

To make complex robotics requires sensors, but how many factories in Taiwan can manufacture high-precision sensors? In addition, robotic arms must position themselves with precision and there can be no movement once they have stopped. All this requires knowledge.

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