Friday, January 4, 2008

  • Two 'excellent' graduate supervisors
  • The conundrums of extra dimensions
  • More flakes in the daily flurry
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

Link of the day

Trivia Day

When and where

Office of research closed as renovations continue; staff will respond to e-mail and voicemail; office reopens Monday.

Retail services regular hours today and Saturday; bookstore, UW Shop and TechWorx extended hours (to 7 p.m.) January 7-10.

International student orientation session today 1:00 to 4:30, Needles Hall room 1116; will be repeated Thursday, January 10, 1:00 to 4:30, Davis Centre room 1302.

Warrior sports: Men's basketball at Lakehead tonight and Saturday. • Men's hockey at Queen's tonight, at Royal Military College tomorrow. • Women's basketball vs. Windsor, Saturday 2 p.m., Physical Activities Complex. • Women's hockey vs. Windsor, Saturday 7:30 p.m., Icefield.

Perimeter Institute panel of physicists including UW's Anthony Leggett, recorded last month, broadcast on CBC radio's "Quirks and Quarks" Saturday 12:05 p.m.

Buddhist Dharma talk: Ven. Wuling, Buddhist nun, speaks on "Everything We Do Matters", sponsored by Infinite Light Amitabha Organization, Saturday and Sunday, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., Bricker Academic Building room 101, Wilfrid Laurier University.

Winter term classes begin Monday, January 7.

Federation of Students nomination period for 2008-09 executive January 7 through 21, information ext. 36781.

New student orientation Monday 4:30 p.m., multipurpose room, Student Life Centre, for both undergraduates and graduates, as well as transfer students, with information about services from UW, Federation of Students and Graduate Student Association.

Application deadline for Ontario secondary school students entering UW in September 2008 is January 9 (exceptions and details listed online).

Women in Mathematics Committee welcome-back supper party Wednesday 5:00, Math and Computer room 5158, open to women faculty and students in math, RSVP

FASS 2008 auditions January 9-11, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., Humanities room 334; Faculty, Alumni, Students and Staff welcome; this year's show, "Global Warming: Kiss Your FASS Goodbye", hits stage February 7-9.

Canadian Undergraduate Technology Conference January 10-12, Hilton Hotel, Toronto, details online.

Environmental studies open house and information session about graduate studies, Thursday 2:30 to 4:00, Environmental Studies II room 286.

St. Jerome's University dean Myroslaw Tataryn gives the Waterloo Catholic District School Board Lecture: "God Keep Our Land", January 11, 7:30 p.m., Siegfried Hall.

Blood donor clinic January 14-15 and 23-25, Student Life Centre, make appointments now at turnkey desk.

Fall term marks for undergraduate courses now appearing on Quest; marks become official January 28.

Montréal alumni networking event January 30, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Ecomusée du fier monde, register online by January 25.

37th annual Hagey Bonspiel for faculty, staff, retirees and friends, Saturday, February 23, Ayr Curling Club, registration online.

One click away

Prof fears future of Grad House is in question
Cambridge officials anticipate expansion of UW architecture school
Maclean's high school blogger thinking of coming to UW
UW featured in Canadian Blood Services newsletter
Quantum computer 'closer to reality' (National Post)
Local university research 'reshaping our world'
Aviation student's scholarship featured in The Star
Former UW student suing U of T over transfer
Profs' new article in the Journal of Automated Reasoning
Vancouver paper says Johnston should recommend no inquiry
Preston Manning on federal science policy
New title for the Canada Graduate Scholarships
NSERC conducting 'surveys and reviews'
'On being a zoological generalist'
University students aren’t having much fun (Star)
New appointments to the Order of Canada
WLU art exhibition explores 'gun culture'
Faculty locked out at St. Thomas U in Fredericton

[Big grin, arms around students]

UW's residences launched their new "Right Fit" marketing campaign late in the fall term; university housing officer Chris Reid, centre, hams it up with Marlon Rodrigues, who serves as a don, and first-year student Steph Nicoll, who spoke at the launch about how her experiences with roommates and community living have changed her life. The campaign's message is that students in all programs, from all backgrounds, with all sorts of similar or different interests, can fit in and succeed while living in UW's variety of housing. The residences will open for the winter term early on Sunday morning.

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Two 'excellent' graduate supervisors

Two faculty members will be honoured later this month as the 2007 winners of the Award of Excellence in Graduate Supervision, the dean of graduate studies has announced.

[Hipel][Thompson]Mary Thompson of statistics and actuarial science (left) and Keith Hipel of systems design engineering (right) will be guests of honour January 17 at a reception that also recognizes the winners of President's Graduate Scholarships and NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Awards for this year.

The graduate dean, Alan George, announced the winners on behalf of the selection committee, and observed that "Graduate student supervision has many dimensions, including being a mentor, advisor, collaborator, strategist, sponsor, supporter, and sometimes a life-long friend. The relationship between graduate student and supervisor is complex, and effective graduate supervision requires dedication and commitment to all aspects of the welfare and success of the student. The Graduate Studies Office, in collaboration with the Graduate Student Association, established this Award to recognize faculty members who have demonstrated outstanding commitment and success in the supervision of their graduate students."

Both of this year's winners already hold other distinctions, holding the rank of University Professor at UW and being Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada.

Keith Hipel is a winner of the Distinguished Teacher Award and the Excellence in Research Award, and was the founder of the Waterloo-Tottori student exchange program, which began in November 1987. Says a citation: "One of his first Japanese students describes his Canadian experience and the fact that Dr. Hipel was so supportive to him and the other 90 Japanese students that participated in this program. 'Dr. Hipel’s support was not limited to academic and research; he took the students to his home and on outings on the weekend.' This support helped the students 'overcome their frustrations due to the language barrier and cultural differences. Many of these Japanese students became international engineers.' Other students describe Dr. Hipel’s supervisory qualities as always scheduling weekly meetings, setting goals in a timely manner, and encouraging students to attend conferences. He pays attention to the overall welfare of his graduate students. He has supervised 21 PhD and 40 master’s students."

Mary Thompson is a former acting dean of mathematics and UW "colleague" at the Council of Ontario Universities. Says her citation: "All of Dr. Mary Thompson’s students talk about her encouragement to think outside the box and her guidance of students so that their research experience would be successful. 'I learned in my interaction with Mary that when faced with a problem think positively — every problem has a solution; our mission is to find/discover that solution!' Dr. Thompson was always '“willing to help and guide not only her own students, but also students from her colleagues and students from other Departments as well.' She would communicate her ideas so that they were understandable. She always attended the presentations of her students and encouraged their career pursuits. . . . Mary Thompson’s own superb research skills along with her quiet, modest manner, the care she shows for students and her close attention to detail meant that many students in the Department and across the University have benefited from her supervision.”

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The conundrums of extra dimensions

by Angela Roorda, from the Arts Research Update newsletter

What does philosophy have to offer physics? According to UW philosopher Steve Weinstein, quite a bit. Particularly in cosmology and quantum gravity, where current theoretical models of the universe have outstripped the scientist’s technical capacity to test them, the logical and analytic skills of the philosopher can help navigate through the theoretical debates. In short, questions emerging from current mathematical models of the macro and micro worlds raise questions that are as much epistemological and metaphysical as they are physical.

Weinstein, who holds a cross-appointment to Physics and is an affiliate member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, cites string theory as an example. A unified theory of gravity and particle physics, string theory is currently the mainstream candidate for the elusive “Theory of Everything.” It holds that all particles and fundamental forces of nature can be modeled as vibrations of tiny “supersymmetric” strings. While proponents argue that it is the most comprehensive explanatory framework to date, string theory has also introduced a host of new conundrums — mainly having to do with questions of observation.

For instance, in developing mathematical models that manage to describe all of the known types of matter and their interactions, string theorists have needed to assume more than 3 —in some cases, as many as 25 — space dimensions. Such mathematical models, in turn, imply the possibility — at least mathematically, and theoretically — of “universes” other than our own within entirely different dimensional configurations. For Weinstein, these mathematical speculations about multiple space dimensions and a “multiverse” of parallel worlds raise compelling philosophical questions — questions that physicists ask, but are not always the best equipped to answer. In particular, as he notes in a recent article in Physics World, “how should the theory be tested in view of the very many different universes that it is able to describe,” and furthermore, “what is the nature of time and space?”

Curious (as no doubt we all are) about the possibility of other universes inhabited, or inhabitable, by creatures like ourselves, string theorists are struggling to pinpoint whether, how, and to what extent we might be able to determine the statistical probability of such sister universes. Focused on a concept known as the “anthropic principle” (which, Weinstein explains, is the notion that “what we can expect to observe must be restricted by the conditions necessary for our presence as observers”), the question of string theory’s predictive value is currently generating intense debate among physicists, with little input from philosophers. Weinstein sees this debate as useful, but considers the lack of philosophers unfortunate: “The general problem of assigning a probability distribution to a set of possibilities in the absence of any prior knowledge has been discussed by philosophers over the years, especially in conjunction with attempts to ground inductive reasoning in Bayesian methods.” In other words, what is new and uncertain terrain for physicists is familiar territory for philosophers, who can complement the physicist’s expertise in measurement and mathematical modeling with the philosopher’s expertise in argumentation and thought.

“While fruitful collaborations between physicists and philosophers are rare,” says Weinstein, “there is little doubt that string theory forces us to tackle issues that cross both disciplines.” In his own research, he is approaching these broad questions from a slightly different angle. If theoretical physicists can conceive of a proliferation of space dimensions, why limit themselves to just a single time dimension? Weinstein has embarked on a SSHRC-funded study to explore the implications that the notion of multiple time dimensions might have for theoretical physics. “Though one can straightforwardly make mathematical sense of the idea of multidimensional time by using differential geometry,” he says, “deep questions remain as to whether one can construct a model of the — or a — physical world, and if so of what an observer living in such a world might observe. Answering this question forces us to confront some of the most basic puzzles in philosophy: what is a (physical) thing, and what is the relationship of observers or selves to the physical world?”

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More flakes in the daily flurry

A new issue of the UW Retirees Association newsletter is at hand, and it includes a piece about Elaine Reaman, who retired some 20 years ago as head of circulation in the Dana Porter Library. Although she now lives in Victoria, on Canada's west coast (rain today, with a high of 9 Celsius), "she has remained connected and committed as a retiree," the article reports. "Most recently, Elaine has made a generous and welcome donation to the Library's Special Collections that has enabled the department to purchase new display cases for highlighting the Collections' many often-hidden treasures. Framing the Special Collections entranceway, the controlled-lighting display cases are prominently visible from both the department and adjacent study room. These bright and inviting cases send the message that rare research materials are not solely for preserving — they are also for viewing and enjoying." The article adds that some of those rarities in the library's collections were earlier donations by Reaman, including the papers of her father, historian Elmore Reaman, who served UW in its earliest years.

Also hitting the desk this week is a flyer from the recently created Confucius Institute at Renison College, announcing a series of non-credit courses to be offered this term: conversational Chinese, "integrated Chinese", tai chi, and calligraphy and painting. Fees are at various levels. Information: ext. 28648. "The Confucius Institute at the University of Waterloo," a web site explains, "is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of and development of Chinese language, culture, studies and business. It is a joint venture between the Office of Chinese Language Council International, the University of Waterloo, and Renison College. Nanjing University, one of China's top universities, is the officially designated partner university."

If you use a Dell computer, you'll want to note this message from the information systems and technology department: "Dell has an extended warranty program for Optiplex SX270 (ultra small chassis) and GX270/GX280 (any form factor chassis) which is terminating on January 31, 2008. The warranty covers replacing the system board due to faulty capacitors which can swell and leak, sometimes resulting in a dead system or intermittent operations. Even if your system appears to be in good working order, it is very likely that the system board is defective as a high majority of the above systems are affected. If you have one of these computers please bring the computer to the CHIP in Math and Computer room 1052 to have it evaluated as soon as possible."

A flyer is out listing the courses offered this term in the Skills for the Electronic Workplace program, including short sessions about Bookit, SharePoint Services, Outlook 2007, DreamWeaver and other software. • The staff association has named a new administrative assistant — Darlene Garside, formerly of the faculty of applied health sciences — who will be at work in the association office starting Monday. • Ken Hull, chair of the UW department of music at Conrad Grebel University College, is on sabbatical January through June, and the department will be headed by former chair Len Enns.


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