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Friday, June 15, 2001

  • Convocation continues with science
  • Tomorrow, math and engineering
  • Systems design prof is doubly proud
  • A weekend under the sultry sun

[Scarlet and blue]
Where did you get that hat? From the University of Southern California, actually; that's where kinesiology professor Jim Frank earned his PhD. He posed with a hatless Mike Sharratt, dean of applied health sciences, before Wednesday's convocation ceremony, at which Frank was receiving one of UW's distinguished teaching awards.

Convocation continues with science

The convocation spotlight turns to the faculty of science today, and to physics graduate Ivan Booth, who will receive a Governor-General's gold medal recognizing the highest standing in a graduate program at UW in the past year.

Booth -- who actually received his PhD last fall -- wrote his thesis in the field of gravitational physics, supervised by UW professor Robert Mann. He's now working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta.

He's the best of a very good lot, says Jim Frank, associate dean of graduate studies: "The selection was made from a group of nominees with superb intellectual achievement and international reputation established while they were students." Booth is already the author of seven published papers, including one in Physical Review Letters, the premier journal in his discipline, Frank said.

Today's convocation -- starting at 2:00 in the Physical Activities Complex -- will see the awarding of 540 degrees and diplomas. Will Leckie, whose BSc is in honours physics, will speak as the valedictorian on behalf of those new graduates.

Also scheduled today:

And Paul Karrow, who retired recently from the department of earth sciences, will be honoured with the title of Distinguished Professor Emeritus.

Convocation on the web

Perhaps inevitably, there were some technical problems with the convocation webcast yesterday, but I'm told that the plan is to have them all fixed by this afternoon. The live webcast of each ceremony can only be seen with Windows Media Player; past ceremonies are also available, and a wider range of video software will work. The webcast page has brief instructions for both Windows and Macintosh users.

Tomorrow, math and engineering

"There just aren't enough hours in the day," UW registrar Ken Lavigne was saying yesterday, and that'll be doubly true tomorrow, which brings not one but two ceremonies as the university's spring convocation winds up.

In the morning -- starting at 10:00 -- convocation is for the faculty of mathematics, and will feature the installation of Jim Kalbfleisch as UW's first-ever Provost Emeritus. A professor of statistics at UW for almost forty years, he served as dean of mathematics (1986-89) and as vice-president (academic) and provost from 1993 until his retirement at the end of 2000.

Terry Stepien, winner of the Graham medal this year, will give a seminar this afternoon at 2:30 in Davis Centre room 1302. Topic: "Go Mobile, Get Wireless: The m-Business Revolution".
Also scheduled at the math convocation is the presentation of this year's J. W. Graham Medal in Computing and Innovation. The medal winner is Terry Stepien, president of iAnywhere Solutions, who in fact was a protégé of computer science professor Wes Graham, for whom the medal is named.

Mathematics students will receive a total of 539 degrees and diplomas -- BMath, MMath, PhD, and one post-degree diploma in actuarial sciences. Richard Hoshino, graduating with a degree in combinatorics and optimization (teaching option), will give the valedictory address on behalf of graduates -- and has put his text on the web for the benefit of those who can't be there:

Instead of saying goodbye in a somber way, let us take comfort in knowing that the experiences and memories we have created with one another will last us for the rest of our lives. That is something that nothing, not even time, can ever take away. . . .
The morning's honorary graduate is Cleve Moler, educator and software developer. Through his contributions to numerical mathematics and development of Matlab ("Matrix Laboratory"), Moler has had a major influence on education and research in numerical mathematics and scientific computing.

Also being presented are the alumni association gold medal, for the highest standing in the BMath program, to Joel Kamnitzer (applied math and pure math), and the Samuel Eckler Medal, for the highest standing in actuarial science, to Ryan Ho.

And there will be a Governor-General's silver medal for Eran Guendelman, receiving a degree in computer science and pure mathematics. This medal represents the highest standing in an undergraduate program, and UW awards two of them each year, one in the engineering, math or science and one in arts, AHS or ES. The winner of the other silver medal (which I managed to call gold in yesterday's Bulletin) was Lauralee Haas (geography, St. Jerome's).

The program for Saturday afternoon's convocation, oriented to the faculty of engineering, was still being printed as of midday yesterday, so I don't have full details for that one. I do know that a total of 726 degrees and diplomas are being presented.

The honorary graduate and speaker for Saturday afternoon's ceremony is Duncan Dowson, engineering professor at England's University of Leeds. Dowson was instrumental in establishing the Leeds-Waterloo exchange program, which has been in operation since 1988 and has involved about 160 students.

Finally, a correction to yesterday's Bulletin: I (and Renison College) misspelled the name of the winner of the academic achievement award in social development studies for this year. She is Gayle Frisa.


Systems design prof is doubly proud

John McPhee (right) of UW's department of systems design engineering was happy to get some news by e-mail on Monday. "My students have won the first round of a major competition sponsored by Texas Instruments," he reports.

The winners are the team behind Hexplorer 2000, "a six-legged walking robot" that's the successor to several previous Hexies over the past five years. (An early version, dubbed Hexotica, was named "Cool Robot of the Week" in the spring of 1997.) Team members this year have been fourth-year students Chris Collins, David Orr and Chad Schmitke. Their web site tells more:

Walking robots have many potential applications in areas where uneven terrain prohibits access by wheeled vehicles. Fuelled by recent technological endeavors such as the Mars Pathfinder, Hexplorer is an on-going project in the Systems Design Engineering Department to develop a small, six-leg, autonomous walking robot. This project involves many facets of design including motor control systems, sensory apparatus, walking gait algorithms, PCB design and mechanical design.

The current version of Hexplorer has a circular body configuration with six legs mounted at equal intervals around its circumference. Each leg has a full three degrees of freedom, facilitated by three independent motor-controlled joints. The mechanical design has been recently prototyped by ATS Automation Tooling Systems.

Hexplorer has been designed using the Texas Instruments C2000 series DSP platform. Seven DSPs have been incorporated into the design. One DSP acts as a central brain, sending and receiving instructions to the six other DSPs, each controlling one leg. Each leg represents a self-contained system, relying on positional data from the brain to establish a trajectory for motion.

The Hexplorer program has taken full advantage of the Digital Motor Control Software Library provided by Texas Instruments.

The team now receives a $1,000 regional award in TI's "DSP and Analog Challenge" for this year, and now has a chance to compete for a finalist position and a grand prize of $100,000.

A final note in the congratulatory memo from TI says that a local representative will be dropping in soon "to confirm the existence and basic functionality" of the robot.

Meanwhile, McPhee has a second reason for pride this week. "I found out," he writes, "that I won the I. W. Smith Award from the Canadian Society of Mechanical Engineers for 'outstanding achievement in creative mechanical engineering within 10 years of graduation' from my PhD program." The award was announced last week at the CSME's annual banquet, held in St. John's -- and McPhee is chagrined that this is the one year he didn't make it to the CSME convention.


A weekend under the sultry sun

There's still a smog advisory for Waterloo Region, with "high levels of ozone and particulate", and extremely high levels of conversation about the weather. The official advice: "When an advisory is issued, try to reduce the amount of time you spend outdoors. Avoid outdoor exercise, particularly in the afternoon and early evening. You should also limit activities that contribute to air pollution, such as taking unnecessary trips in the car, using gas-powered machinery, and using solvent-based paints."

It's the last day of the co-op interview period for most students, and the day when architecture students travel to Toronto en masse for an interview blitz with firms there. (Surprise: Toronto is under a smog advisory too.)

One summer activity that I haven't mentioned in the Bulletin yet this year is the NMR Summer School sponsored by UW's physics department. NMR is nuclear magnetic resonance, and the school brings about 80 people, mostly young scientists, to campus for a week "for discussion of NMR and applications at all levels, in both a lecture and informal setting". This year's school winds up tomorrow.

Tonight brings the annual general meeting -- and potluck dinner -- of the Women's Association of UW. The meal starts at 6 p.m. Gloria Pageau in the finance office (phone ext. 2135, e-mail gapageau@uwaterloo.ca) can provide more information.

A natural gas shutdown that had been scheduled for all day tomorrow in several science and engineering buildings -- to make preparations for utilities on the CEIT construction site -- has been cancelled, the plant operations department reports.

Sports of a sort this weekend:

And Monday brings the 12th annual (is it really only the 12th?) Matthews Golf Classic, an event for staff, faculty and retirees.

The Contemporary School of Dance has the Humanities Theatre booked for the weekend, with performances Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.


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