A Missing Flag

Guillermo Iturralde, Munger Residence staff, helps Estelle to place her flag in the Hall of Flags.

My journey in Physics started in my home country of Cameroon, completing a Master in Physics at the University of Buea in 2013 on the modelling of nerve impulses in biological neural networks. I then obtained a postgraduate diploma scholarship to study Condensed Matter Physics at the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP). There, my advisor Sebastiano Pilati introduced me to a research direction that involves using statistical mechanics tools to tackle optimization problems.

It was towards the end of my PhD that I noticed the interplay between machine learning techniques and the quantum-inspired classical optimization methods that we were developing. I then decided to enlarge my research interests by jumping into the field of machine learning for quantum physics. It is in this research field that I began collaborating with Roger Melko of the Perimeter Institute. The KITP program: “Machine Learning for Quantum Many-Body Physics”, coordinated by Roger, is what brought me to Santa Barbara.

The first thing I saw upon setting foot in the Munger Residence was the beautiful corridor of flags reflecting the international diversity of visitors at KITP. I thought about this representing the inclusive nature of research as is beautifully described by a quote emblazoned on the wall of the entrance of the ICTP, “Scientific thought and its creation is the common and shared heritage of mankind.”

As I was going in and out of the Residence every day, I secretly hoped to spot my flag among the concert of nations. One day as I was leaving I saw Carlos Marquez, the Residence Manager, at the front desk. I asked him what the flags represented, and the requirements to have one’s flag up on the wall.

He graciously told me that they represented the nationalities of the researchers currently staying at the Residence. I saw the occasion to make my case, gently mentioning to him that my flag wasn’t there. He immediately promised to look for it and if they didn’t have it, to order one to put up with the other flags. He did just as he promised and I was overjoyed. As if that wasn’t sufficient, he gave me the chance to put up the flag myself! I will be forever grateful for that.

My time at KITP was quite special. This was my first visit, and it was wonderful to meet other researchers that I am familiar with, and interact with them in person for the first time. Science is universal and I am very pleased to see that this is the prevailing message even in a leading institute like KITP. I am leaving KITP with a lot of new ideas that I look forward to trying out!

- Estelle Inack, Francis Allotey postdoctoral researcher at Perimeter Institute
KITP Newsletter, Spring 2019