It's 11:00 p.m. on May 8, 2017.
A few hours ago, I came to Pupin Hall at Columbia University, the home of the Manhattan Project, to write a letter to Sazid Hasan Xeon at the request of his father, Zahid Hossain. He believes that my letter will inspire his son to fall in love with math and science, especially physics. I’m a math and physics teacher and a doctoral student at Columbia University, and I’m so busy that I don’t even have time for my two sons, Refath Albert and Soborno Isaac, who are 14 and 5. So why am I taking a day off from my work to write a letter to the son of Zahid Hossain? Perhaps because I love education, or is it something else?
I have only known Zahid since March 3! He asked me to send him some good quality pictures of Isaac—who was recognized by President Obama for being able to solve PhD-level math, physics, and chemistry problems—which I never did. Then he asked me if he could write a book about Isaac, and I said no. He later said he dreams of founding the Isaac Foundation to promote the Isaac’s philosophy: “Let’s fall in love with math and science.” I said no. I refused all his requests because I did not feel comfortable dealing with a stranger. However, Zahid Hossain’s magic forced me to turn every “no” into a “yes. Zahid doesn’t actually know magic; he simply loves Isaac in much the same way that he loves Sazid, his own son.
I’m no Zahid—I don’t like dealing with strangers. However, I must write this letter, because I don’t have the heart to ignore the love of a father for his young son nor the dream of a father who thinks that his son can become the next Einstein. So, I have no choice; my pen has to unleash a great letter.
Greetings from Pupin Hall at Columbia University. I learned from your father that you have recently passed the S.S.C examination with a GPA of 4.5. He is quite worried that you may not be able to materialize his dream, which is for you to become a scientist like Sir Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein because of your poor performance in the exam. However, I disagree with your father; I have had much worse setbacks in my life, and I have overcome all of them through hard work. In this letter, I want to offer you three pieces of advice: (1) fall in love with math and science, (2) never give up, and (3) love the truth.
I’m writing this letter to you on the table where two physics professors, Fermi and Leo Szilard, collaborated to conceptualize the atomic bomb using Einstein’s famous equation, E = mc2. To do this, they used math, which is the language of physics. Mathematics is the native language of God because it explains the laws of physics beautifully, ranging from the deterministic nature of classical mechanics to the non-deterministic characteristic of quantum mechanics. I’m sure that you can become a fearless investigator of nature, just like Newton or Einstein, and thus reveal the secrets of God.
Just as detectives see what untrained eyes can’t, a person who knows mathematics can chip away at the mystery of universe, just like Newton, James Maxwell, Albert Einstein or Erwin Schrodinger had. They used mathematics to read the mind of God and described it in the form of equations, such as F=ma or E=mc2. In fact, these two equations, along with the Maxwell and Schrodinger equations, have changed the world: F= ma gave us the Industrial Revolution, the Maxwell equations gave us the electrical and computer revolution, E=mc2, gave us nuclear power, and Schrodinger’s wave equation gave birth to quantum mechanics.
These scientists helped us understand that there is physics in everything—even in observing the fall of an apple. But to read the mind of God, your own mind has to understand his language. Remember, he speaks in only one language—mathematics. Only care about the language God has used to communicate with Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, and Schrodinger.
We have already seen the advantage of understanding the language of God: Neptune was predicted by using the mathematics of Newton. In fact, NASA used nothing but his equations to land a man on the moon. In a set of four inch-long equations, Maxwell not only described the behavior and interaction of electric and magnetic fields, but also calculated the value of the speed of light—300,000,000 meters per second. Applying pure mathematics while sitting in a Swiss patent office, Einstein concluded that mass and energy are equivalent. He expressed this in a half-inch-long equation—E=mc2, which led to the invention of the atomic bomb here at the Pupin Hall by two physics professors Fermi, and Leo Szilard of Columbia University. His math also proved that the universe is expanding and provided evidence of a black hole. He did not believe it, but we ultimately found that it was true. When his theory of the photoelectric effect led to the birth of quantum mechanics, Einstein said that he refused to believe that God would play dice with the universe. However, Schrodinger’s wave equation shows that God actually loves to play dice. We must learn to understand the beautiful mathematical laws of physics to advance the cause of humanity one step further. This letter represents an opportunity for you to discover nature’s hidden beauty and illustrates the practical power of mathematical equations. This letter will turn you into physics detectives so you can become a great scientist like Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, and Schrodinger. By doing this, as Professor Sheikh Adnan Fahad, who teaches at Jahangirnagar University, said, “you can change the world”.
(2) Never give up:
Like your father, I know you too are sad because you did not earn a GPA of 5. Please don’t be sad, and don’t give up. I have had experiences a hundred times worse than yours. I failed calculus four times, but refused to give up. Now I teach the subject that I failed 4 times. You are probably sad because your GPA is not high enough for your to get into a prestigious college. It’s OK. I have received rejections from Columbia University so many times that I’ve lost count, but I never give up. Instead I earned one degree after another from less known colleges and universities because I don’t believe in giving up. I didn’t give up even when other people give up on me.
I still remember a conversation among my security guard colleagues (I have worked as a security guard for 15 years, from 2000 to 2015) that I overheard in Feb 2015, “Education is only for rich and powerful people. Poor people should never spend years after years at school because they will still end up being a security guard. Look at Mr. Bari. He has earned 5 bachelor's degrees and a master's degree as well. Now he is pursuing his second master’s at NYU but he is still a security guard and he always will be”. I disagreed with them because I had 100% faith in education and in the American system. Yesterday, as I was picking up my ID card from Columbia, I recalled that conversation and felt proud of myself for never giving up. I’m sure three years from today, you will be very proud of yourself as you will pick up your ID card from Dhaka University.
(3) Isaac often says, Newton and Einstein are my friends. However, my biggest friend is truth. That means always tell the truth and never tell a lie, not even when your life is at risk. Never compromise with truth. I will tell you a story to explain what Isaac mean by that:
One day there were three gentlemen about to lose their head in the guillotine: a priest, a lawyer, and a physics teacher like myself. First, they put the head of the priest on the board of the guillotine and asked him whether he had any last words. He said, “Yes, I have some last words,” and looking at the sky, then added, “God from above will set me free.” They turned on the guillotine—the rope came down, and the blade came down, but it stopped right before the priest’s neck. The mob was surprised because they had never seen this before. They said, “God has spoken, so let the priest go.” Then they put the lawyer’s head in the same place and asked if he had any last words. The lawyer said, “I know that Justice will set me free.” The same thing happened again. The rope came down, and the blade came down, but it stopped right before the lawyer’s head. The mob was even more surprised this time. They thought God and Justice spoke on the very same day, so they let him go as well. What happened with the physics teacher? They put him in the guillotine and asked if he had any last words. He said, “I don’t know anything about God, and even less about the law, but I know one thing—the rope stuck in the pulley. If you remove it then the blade should come down really well.” Big mistake—very big mistake. They cleaned the jam, the rope came down, the blade came down, and the poor physics teacher head came down. The moral of this story is never compromise with truth. Just like the physics teacher, you should put the truth above everything--even your life. Never lie.
Mathematics is the native language of, so, if anyone ever tells you that your GPA is not high enough, ignore them, just as Kadir Chowdhury Babul, the principal of Hope International School did. If someone tells you that you can’t become the next Newton or Einstein because you are not White, ignore them. Remember, your success doesn’t depend on your GPA, socioeconomic background, religion, or the color of your skin—it depends on only three things: your love of math and science, hard work, and never compromising with the truth. Don’t give up. As Steve Jobs once said, “Never settle for less.” Let’s fall in love with math and science. Sincerely, Rashidul Bari
Rashidul Bari, a doctoral student at Columbia University, teaches mathematics at Bronx C. Community College of the City University of New York and physics at Brooklyn Tech. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and website is Bari Science Lab