[University of Waterloo]

December 20

Past days


About the Bulletin

Thursday, January 2, 2003

  • Magazine explains quantum computing
  • A bit less on the bottom line
  • Criticism stings the universities
Chris Redmond

It's the International Year of Fresh Water

Back-to-work notes

It's the first day of the new year, and we're all learning to write "2003" (which is a prime number). . . . "New building now open!" says a big sign on the southeast side of the Co-op Education and Career Services building, to let winter term students know that's where co-op business will be done this term. . . .

Departments across campus are finding out if anything happened in their domain during the 12-day shutdown. Something certainly happened at Pastry Plus in Needles Hall: all the pop in the fridge froze and exploded. . . .

A man is in hospital in Hamilton as the result of a beating incident outside Federation Hall following the New Year's Eve party there. Regional police say they have three men in custody. None of the four are UW students. . . .

Students are trickling back into residences already. The cafeteria in Village I opens today, and REVelation in Ron Eydt Village will open Sunday. Classes for the winter term begin Monday, January 6.

Magazine explains quantum computing

It made her head hurt, but Linda Kenyon ended up understanding at least something about UW's newest glamour field, quantum computing.

[Magazine cover] Kenyon, who's editor of the UW Magazine, talks about her aching head in the magazine's latest issue, sent to some 95,000 alumni shortly before Christmas.

"I knew that quantum computing was going to be a tough thing to get my head around," she writes. "But we've tackled all kinds of challenging stories in this magazine. How hard could this one be? You do a little background reading, interview the researchers, and there you have it, right? Wrong.

"Quantum computing, I have discovered, is something completely different. Things get a little strange at the subatomic level. The classic laws of physics don't apply. . . . At the subatomic level, a particle can be in more than one state at a time. The nucleus of an atom, for example, can spin like a top in one direction, or another -- or both at the same time.

"Got that? Okay, now think about this. Classical computers use tiny switches to store information. These bits, as they're called, can be in one of two positions: open or closed. In a quantum computer, subatomic particles are used to store data. Quantum bits, or qubits, can be in three positions simultaneously: spinning in one direction or another or both. Actually, a qubit can be in an infinite number of positions, but my central processing unit can't handle that kind of information.

"Fortunately, magazine staff writer Patricia Bow's CPU is up to the challenge. . . . In our cover story, she explores the promise of quantum computing."

Key figures in Bow's story are Ray Laflamme and Michele Mosca, director and assistant director of UW's new Institute for Quantum Computing.

"If that kind of thing makes your head hurt too much," says editor Kenyon, "you can turn to the other feature stories in this issue. There's a fascinating piece on the Friedberg Genizah Project, which will involve the cataloguing, transcribing, translation, and digitization of some 250,000 manuscripts and fragments of documents found in a synagogue in Cairo in the 1890s. . . . Or you can read about the enduring allure of The Lord of the Rings, according to resident Tolkien expert Neil Randall. It's all about language and the importance of myth, he says.

"Quantum computing? Ancient history? Language and myth? Whatever makes your head hurt, you'll find it here."

The new issue is the first after a complete redesign of the magazine's appearance, done by Christine Goucher and Monica Lynch of UW Graphics. The cover of this issue is pictured above.

Says a memo from Martin Van Nierop, UW's director of information and public affairs: "As government funding decreases and competition for students increases, strengthening the bond between the University and its graduates and friends becomes increasingly important. The more they know about the accomplishments of UW's faculty, staff, students, and graduates, the more they know about the excellent teaching and research that goes on at this University, the more inclined they will be to support us, both financially and in other important ways as well. Producing an excellent magazine -- the main contact the University has with its graduates and friends -- is critical to Waterloo's success.

"The final product was developed with input from members of the magazine advisory board and with the help of alumni and publications professionals from across campus. With its larger size and bold use of colour and graphics throughout, we think it better reflects Waterloo's position as the most innovative university in the country."


Pat Robertson, who held positions in UW's senior administration (including vice-president, university services) from 1968 to his retirement in 1990, died December 28 at the age of 69.

A bit less on the bottom line

Most staff and faculty members will see more money coming off their pay for pensions and insurance, as several changes went into effect on January 1.

The biggest change is the move from 60 per cent to 100 per cent of "normal" level in premiums for the UW pension plan, as announced in October.

Sandra Hurlburt of the human resources department notes that premiums for pension plan members -- nearly everybody who works here -- are 4.55 per cent of salary up to the Yearly Maximum Pension Earnings (YMPE) of $39,900 and 6.5 per cent beyond that. UW as the employer also puts money into the pension fund: "The University's contribution to the Pension Plan must be at least equal to the required contributions of all Plan members," Hurlburt says.

Two government-mandated changes have also gone into effect:

Payday for faculty and monthly-paid staff this month will be Friday, January 24. The next biweekly payday is January 10.

Of interest on the web

  • Ontario offers more money for campus buildings
  • $900,000 study of Internet's effects
  • Human Sciences: The Challenge of Innovation (from SSHRC)
  • Canadian students drink less than Americans
  • Kitchener school offers International Baccalaureate
  • Book marks the 200th for St. Mary's U
  • Spying 101: the RCMP on campuses
  • Criticism stings the universities

    Mary Thompson, UW's faculty representative to the Council of Ontario Universities, briefed UW's senate just before Christmas about the most recent COU meeting, which included a discussion of a hot book: No Place to Learn: Why Universities Aren't Working, by Tom Pocklington and Allan Tupper of the University of Alberta.

    Review from the CAUT Bulletin
    "The authors argue," says Thompson, "that the research activities and aspirations of Canadian universities are taking precedence over the teaching of undergraduates, and that teaching undergraduates should be re-established as our first priority. The book has garnered a good deal of media attention.

    "Reactions to the book in the Thursday meeting ranged from qualified praise to unqualified outrage. If there was a consensus, it was that the book's message must be heard and talked about, but that the impact could have been greater had the arguments been more balanced and constructive.

    "Indeed, there is a good deal of faculty bashing in the text -- 'My brother-in-law will love this book!' predicted one Colleague. The main recommendations of the final chapter include (i) abandoning the "dogma" of "mutual enrichment" of teaching and research; (ii) penalizing high-performing researchers for weak teaching records; (iii) accepting research output of lower quantity (but high quality); (iv) assigning lower year classes to senior professors, who are well equipped to lay out the basic principles of their subjects, while deploying junior faculty and sessional lecturers to upper year, specialized classes."

    Later the COU representatives met with Robert Giroux, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. Giroux, says Thompson, "noted that he had heard some concern that AUCC's recent emphasis on the research agenda had relegated teaching to a lower position. This had not been the intention -- research funding has been emphasized because it is an avenue through which the federal government can contribute to the funding of universities. And as one executive head pointed out, increased federal funding of graduate students (if it materializes) will have important implications for the quality of our undergraduate programs, present and future.

    "Nevertheless, AUCC will be considering how best to make explicit its support of undergraduate teaching."


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    | December 20 Bulletin
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