SCIENCE | MY PASSION
According to the definition taken from the Polish Language Dictionary, science is complete human knowledge arranged into a system of problems, but also a set of ideas that constitute a systematic whole and comprise a specific research field.
Science is also activity: learning and teaching.
Please read the “Science | My Passion” series, where our researchers present their work and show that science and research process can really draw us in.
At the beginning, an exceptional high school
As I sat down to write this article, I began to wonder if my professional career could have turned out differently and why I ended up becoming a scientist, and more formally, a “research and didactic employee”. In my search for answers, my memories go back to primary school. I had a very demanding maths teacher, with whom I later did my teaching apprenticeship as part of my studies. I remember my first minor success in the 7th grade, when I managed to solve some Olympic tasks at the blackboard, without any preparation. Then I decided to choose (probably) the best mathematical high school in Silesia, the so-called “Pik” (currently Maria Skłodowska-Curie High School No. 8 in Katowice). And so in the 1980s, in the period after martial law, I joined the maths and physics class. Again, I was lucky and had amazing teachers who definitely learned us a lot (among my class graduates are medical professors, judges, scientists, engineers, etc.). Here, I would like to mention Mrs. Krystyna Skórnik, PhD, my maths teacher in the last two years of high school. She was also a research employee and then a long-time president of the Upper Silesian Department of the Polish Mathematical Society. She managed to introduce academic teaching in high school. Everyone interested in the subject could develop their passions, and the material we were working on at that time was partially identical to the material for the first year of mathematics studies. I must also mention computer science classes, where in the first year of high school we programmed on ZX Spectrum computers, writing, inter alia, algorithms and programmes based on the theories of Cramer or Kronecker-Capelli or… we wrote programmes that dealt cards in bridge, and they were later printed (at school it was forbidden to play cards, but not on printed hands!). Yes, in the first year of high school such topics were covered almost 40 years ago.
However, my professional career could have turned out quite differently. From the age of eight I was training tennis, and I won the Polish vice-championship in junior doubles just before my final exams. I was faced with a dilemma: what to do next in my life? However, it was 1989, the system was changed in Poland, clubs were closed, there was no money for trainings – these were not favorable conditions to continue with professional sports. Here I will quote a famous sports journalist, Bohdan Tomaszewski: “Tennis is not only an artistry of the game, it is also math. There are no miracles – you have to win the most important points, you have to defend setballs and matchballs.” Perhaps this combination of sports and mathematics (and computer science) turned out to be good for me. As I once said in another interview: “Sport teaches humility in terms of both failures and victories – this must be learned, as well as discipline, this knowledge turns out to be necessary not only on the court, but also in scientific work and in life.”
Science, that is certain…
In such a socio-economic and political situation, the decision to study mathematics was actually rather obvious. And that’s how I “landed” here, at the University of Silesia in Katowice, on applied mathematics. Another important event in my life was the purchase of our first IBM 386DX computer by my parents. I was in the second or third year of my studies at that time. This allowed me to write my master’s thesis that combined elements of mathematics and computer science. After the graduation, I was offered to stay at the university. At that time, you didn’t need to have an idea for a doctorate ready, as it is required now. My supervisor was Józef Drewniak, PhD, DSc, the director of the IT department. I became interested in the research of multi-valued logical connectives, in particular implications with an infinite (continuous) set of values, which in present publications are called fuzzy implications. It is to Prof. Drewniak that I owe my adventure with fuzzy logic, which combines elements of mathematics and computer science. At the very thought of studying some fragment of the broadly understood artificial intelligence, shivers ran down my spine.
Does coincidence decide?
In the previous articles from the series “Science – My Passion” you can, among others, read that a coincidence can often decide our fate. For me, such a “coincidence” took place on 12 February 2003 at 18:24 (which is almost 20 years ago). A scientist from India asked for one of my research papers to be sent via e-mail (I still have this e-mail in my mailbox today). Then there was the first phone call to India, the first scientific and general talks, eg after the Pope’s death in 2005. And this is how the “virtual” scientific acquaintance with doctor (now professor) Balasubramianam Jayaram was born. Long, sometimes everyday conversations through the Internet have brought me a significant development, not only scientific, but also personal. On the one hand, I had the opportunity to work with someone who was educated in completely different scientific and social realities, on the other hand, not only did my access to literature increase, but I also got to know the English language and the culture of the Far East better. Moreover, thanks to conversations with Jayaram (then PhD), I began to focus more on research related to the use of intelligent systems. After almost two years of our acquaintance (100% virtual, with the use of Google Talk!), we decided to tighten our cooperation and in September 2005 we signed a contract with the Springer publishing house to write a book on properties and applications of fuzzy implications. We firt met face to face for the first time at the Bratislava train station in December 2007. During this period, everything happened very quickly. The book “Fuzzy Implications” was published in 2008, it became the basis for my habilitation in technical sciences in the field of computer science, and while writing it, we encountered so many unsolved and interesting topics that we could later use them as material for many more scientific articles. Me and Prof. Jayaram are still friends.
My researcher’s life
In the research work itself, I like the thrill of seeing that I am getting closer and closer to the expected result. The life of a researcher is also a constant development. The conducted research allowed me to work with many scientists all over the world. Hardly any other profession has as much acquaintances as we, scientists, do. I correspond or talk to other scientists almost every day, including those from India, Spain, China, Slovakia, Australia and Canada. For example, I am just finishing the preparation of materials for a large congress in Iran and I correspond with scientists from that country.
And why fuzzy logic, not something else? Fuzzy systems are one of the possible solutions in all those situations where we have to deal with inaccurate or uncertain data, and at the same time we consider an imprecise result to be acceptable. At their source, they have concepts of human imitation, inaccurate, but usually efficient and effective process of drawing conclusions and making decisions. An additional advantage of using computational intelligence systems in the broad sense (because such a group includes methods based on fuzzy logic) is the speed of operation. In many situations, we know the exact mathematical or physical methods to solve a given problem, but their calculation takes too much time and is impractical in applications. My research methods consist in combining appropriate tools from several branches of computational intelligence and mathematics. In particular, I use the results obtained in the theory of functional equations and inequalities as well as in algebra to obtain significant conclusions, e.g. for engineers and practitioners.
Yes, science is my passion. However, I would not have been able to take so much time to scientific work without the support of my family. I also like teaching my students and watching them develop. I am a supervisor of a total of 47 master’s theses in computer science and mathematics and 5 bachelor’s theses. I am also a supervisor of 3 doctoral dissertations completed with the award of a PhD degree. Apart from that, my hobbies are tennis, skiing, mountain trips, travelling and listening to good music, regardless of the genre.
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