Nguyễn Ðình Ðăng, 58, is a Vietnamese nuclear physicist working at RIKEN, Japan’s largest research institution in a range of scientific disciplines. One of the few scientists with two doctorates, he is also a member of Việt Nam Fine Arts Association as well as Subject Fine Arts Association in Japan (Shyutai Bijutsu Kyokai). Ðăng’s latest research work, Simultaneous Microscopic Description of Nuclear Level Density and Radiative Strength Function, co-authored with Nguyễn Quang Hưng, associate professor of Duy Tân University, and Lê Thị Quỳnh Hương of the Univerity of Khánh Hòa, was published in the American Physical Society’s Physical Review Letters on January 9.
He shares with An Vũ his thoughts on his latest research as well as his passion for fine arts.
Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us something about the work that was recently published in the prestigious physics journal Physical Review Letters?
Although this is my fifth publication in Physical Review Letters, it is the first paper in nuclear physics with all co-authors being Vietnamese ever published in this top class physics journal.
The study of two quantities, nuclear level density (NLD) and radiative gamma-ray strength function (RSF), has been a key topic in nuclear physics, as they play significant roles in understanding astrophysical nucleosynthesis, as well as in nuclear energy production and nuclear waste treatment.
This study has picked up since 2000, after experimental physicists at the University of Oslo proposed a method to extract these two quantities in a single experiment. However, there has never been a unified theory capable of simultaneously and microscopically describing both quantities.
In the paper published in Physical Review Letters we proposed, for the very first time, a microscopic and consistent approach to simultaneously describe both the NLD and RSF. The results obtained within our approach agree well with the experimental data without introducing any new parameters. We do not need to adjust the existing parameters as the temperature and gamma-ray energy vary either.
Inner Sanctum: What is the practical meaning and prospects of this project as they pertain to nuclear physics and the recent decision by the Vietnamese government of abolishing the project of nuclear power plant in the country?
Nuclear physics is a fundamental research which helps us discover mysteries of the universe. Our Physical Review Letters’ paper shows that Việt Nam currently has some researchers, who are capable of conducting a high-quality research at the international level while working inside the country. This has an important meaning since it shows we can build up strong research units through our own efforts at home.
Nuclear physics research should not be confused with the business of nuclear power plants. Regarding the latter, after the world’s great disasters like those occurred at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, the world has focused more on developing clean energies like solar and wind energies, artificial photosynthesis, and biofuels.
At present, although clean energy technology may not be competitive compared to nuclear power plants, coal, oil and gas, we can’t say nuclear energy is the only choice.
No technology is perfectly secure. Accidents are still caused by unpredictable and random factors, where human errors often lead to severe consequences.
Moreover, nuclear power is quite expensive. It costs 1.4 to 1.7 times more than coal energy, and 1.3 to 1.4 times more than gas energy.
Therefore, I agree with the government’s decision to stop the nuclear power plant’s project in Việt Nam. With nuclear power, the consequence of an accident would be much worse, as not only the ocean and fish, but also the ecosystem and people’s lives would be in great danger.
Inner Sanctum: The study of science has always been a meaningful, but tough work. What are the difficulties in working on the project? Did your family support you?
Both science and art are like love. You don’t count when it comes to love. Rarely do I think about winning and losing with research work. I only think about doing what my passion tells me to do, what is meant for me. Science and art meet at one point: they both require creativity. The process itself is often more attractive than the result. In the end, I still find inner peace once I know I have done my best, no matter what the result is. I earn income by doing research in physics, which is sufficient to support the living of my family and schooling of my son from the elementary school until his master graduation.
Inner Sanctum: Besides being a nuclear physicist, you are also a painter. What are your favourite subjects in painting? What inspires you?
I like to draw and paint human figures in photographically realistic and super-realistic ways. Human figures are the most difficult and interesting elements in fine arts, in my opinion. Super-realistically drawing and painting humans, so that they become alive, require a great skill and talent, which only few artists in the world can have. For the past 25 years, I rarely painted landscapes or still-lifes. For me, they only serve as the setting for the human drama, which is the most important subject in arts. However, subjects alone are not my main concern. Idea is the decisive motivation, because “estranged from the Idea, Nature is only the corpse of the Understanding”, as Hegel said. Idea should be transformed into Soul, without which a painting is just a corpse of Fine Arts.
Inner Sanctum: How long does it take for you to complete a painting? What is your favourite material?
My favourite material is certainly oil on canvas. I also use pencil and pen to draw on paper. My most favourite work is always the latest painting I just finished or the one I am working on. The time spent on an oil painting generally depends on its size. My paintings are done by using a technique, which I developed based on the multilayer painting techniques of ancient Flemish, Renaissance and Baroque masters. This technique consists of several steps, such as priming the support with gesso, dead colouring, monochrome underpainting, laying colours, glazing. Therefore it takes a long time to execute a painting in this technique. However, the multilayer technqiues are the most comprehensive and powerful techniques in oil painting that mankind has ever invented. For a large work ranging from F100 (130 x 162 cm) to F130 (162 x 194 cm) it usually takes from 3 to 5 months. My day starts from 6 am. I paint until 9 or 10 am then go to the institute to work until 7 or 8pm. On the weekends and holidays, I paint all day long.
Inner Sanctum: Can you share with us your upcoming plants and ideas on your research work as well as art?
In physics, I wish to construct a micoscopic foundation for the phonon damping model, which I proposed in 1998 in collaboration with Professor Akito Arima, a renowned Japanese nuclear theorist, former president of the university of Tokyo and RIKEN, as well as former minister of Science and Education of Japan. This model has been applied with success in the last two decades to describe the giant resonance in highly excited nuclei, that is nuclei at a finite temperature, which may also rotate with a finite angular momentum.
I also hope the nuclear physics group led by Professor Nguyễn Quang Hưng, who was my former PhD student, will grow in close co-operation with nuclear experimentalists at home, laying a strong foundation for nuclear structure research in the country, capable of high quality research works of international standards.
In arts, I dream of restoring the glory of multilayer oil painting. In the last eight years, starting in 2009, I have written more than 30 articles in Vietnamese and delivered seven lectures in Hà Nội and HCM City on this subject.
These articles and lectures marked the first time that the knowledge of oil painting material and multilayer painting technique were systematically and thoroughly explained to the Vietnamese audience.
As for myself, I dream of one day being able to reach the perfect level of Jan Van Eyck, the master of all time in oil painting technique. VNS