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Wednesday, April 2, 2003

  • Officials issue advice about SARS
  • Young PhD folds himself a prize
  • Astronaut gives annual lecture
  • Notes and events of the day
Chris Redmond

Ann Landers called it Reconciliation Day

Officials issue advice about SARS

Wash your hands! That common-sense advice is mentioned in a memo issued at UW this morning about the current outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, in various parts of Canada and the world.

The memo lists "precautionary measures" that should be taken at UW. It comes from an ad hoc group representing officials at health services, international programs, student services and the co-op department. Here's what it says:

From Hong Kong, co-op accounting student Joe Fung sends some observations, as well as a link to the Hong Kong government's public health bulletin about SARS. He writes: "I ventured out to a local mall today and it seemed eerily quiet for a Saturday afternoon. I also noticed that about half the people on the streets wore face masks -- last week there were barely any. There was even a story in the papers about counterfeit Louis Vuitton and Gucci limited-edition face masks circulating!

"I'm actually on holiday during my work term. I opted not to work and am travelling around Asia. Just got back from Beijing last night -- nobody wore face masks there at all despite a few suspected cases there."

"UW staff and faculty who experience fever, cough, shortness of breath or chest cold, are asked to remain at home and contact their community physician regarding management of their condition.

"Phone UW Health Services (888-4567, ext. 3544) or Waterloo Region Public Health (883-2289) if you have a fever, cough or chest cold and visited Scarborough Grace Hospital or York Central Hospital after March 16; or, returned from Asia in the past 10 days; or had close contact with a person ill with SARS.

"For UW students who do not fall into the above criteria, but are experiencing fever, cough, shortness of breath or chest cold, please see a nurse at UW Health Services to access the necessary treatment.

"UW staff, faculty or students planning trips to countries designated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) as SARS areas of concern -- Hong Kong, Vietnam, China, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand -- are being urged to reassess their plans and defer travel until further notice. UW staff, faculty or students currently abroad in these areas should consider returning to Canada as soon as possible and should follow local health authority instruction with regard to SARS. UW officials will continue to monitor DFAIT bulletins on international travel on a daily basis.

"All UW staff, faculty and students are being urged to follow common sense health and hygiene procedures, such as thoroughly washing their hands regularly with soap and water.

"UW health officials continue to be in daily contact with provincial and regional public health departments to monitor developments in the spread of the infectious disease."

Young PhD folds himself a prize

A University of Waterloo graduate who is the youngest professor ever hired at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has won one of Canada's top science and engineering prizes for new researchers.

[Demaine] Erik Demaine (left), 21, is a mathematical prodigy in computational origami -- the geometry of paper folding -- and will receive a 2003 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada doctoral prize in the engineering and computer sciences category. The $10,000 prize will be presented in Ottawa later this year.

"Today's awards recognize some of the best and brightest minds in the country," said Alan Rock, federal minister of industry. "Supporting successful Canadian researchers will help us achieve our goals of making Canada a world-leader in research and development."

Demaine was home-schooled from age seven, toppled Dalhousie University's age barrier by being admitted at 12, and was admitted to UW at 14. His doctoral thesis solved what is known as the Carpenter's Rule Problem.

It's "a sexy problem", he says now from his MIT office. "It's a very attractive problem because it's very simple to state. And yet it was very hard to solve. The problem goes back about 25 years and dozens of people had worked on it, though no one could solve it."

The problem gets its name from the real carpenter's ruler: a series of bars connected together by joints so that it can fold into a compact form. In the Carpenter's Rule Problem, the joints are assumed to be able to fold to any angle. The question is: Is it always possible to fold the chain while it's flat on the table from one configuration into any other configuration without any of the bars crossing one another?

"The answer is yes," says Demaine, who has posted an animated visualization of the solution on his web site (go to "Videos" and click on "Linkage Animations"). Still, he cautions that the Carpenter's Rule solution doesn't apply to 3-D movement, so the makers of robotic arms like the Canadarm need to pay careful attention to how the arm is constructed.

It's more than a kind of "Rubik's Cube" puzzle for geniuses. Understanding the possibilities and limits of folding and unfolding in general is important to a wide range of applications, from sheet metal fabrication to airbag storage and bioinformatics, where the math is used to understand, and perhaps predict, how proteins fold. The Carpenter's Rule Problem also applies directly to the design of robotic arms used in industry.

"You needed the right people, with the right points of view to solve the problem," explains Demaine of his several year off-and-on journey to crack this geometric riddle. The solution was achieved through collaboration with Robert Connelly, an expert in rigidity theory at Cornell University, and Gunter Rote, an expert in geometric optimization at the Free University of Berlin.

"Collaboration is a big part of what I do," says Demaine, who has co-authored more than 100 scientific papers with, at latest count, 96 colleagues. Prior to the Carpenter's Rule Problem, Demaine had already cut his teeth on numerous complex folding questions. During doctoral research with his supervisors, Anna Lubiw and Ian Munro, he created the proof for what's known as the Fold and Cut Problem. In a paper co-authored with his father (now a visiting scientist at MIT) and others, they showed that it's possible to create any straight-sided shape, from a simple star to a breathtaking dragon, by folding a piece of paper in a specific way and then making a single cut through it.

He's still at work on folding questions, including probing the limits of building 3-D objects from a single piece of cut sheet metal.

NSERC president Tom Brzustowski said the five winners of this year's prizes "have already shown a very high level of achievement. We expect to hear a lot more from them as their careers progress."

Astronaut gives annual lecture -- from the UW media relations office

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who conducted research at the University of Waterloo in 1982, returns to the UW campus to deliver the 11th annual Friends of the Library lecture today.

Hadfield's public lecture, titled "Space Flight: An Astronaut's Perspective", begins at 1 p.m. in the Theatre of the Arts, Modern Languages building. Admission is free.

As always, the Friends lecture will be accompanied by an exhibition (in the theatre lobby) of work by UW authors, artists and musicians that was published or performed during the past year.

A colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces and a top air force pilot, Hadfield served as Mission Specialist No. 1 on STS-74, NASA's second space shuttle mission to rendezvous and dock with the Russian Space Station Mir in November 1995. Born in Sarnia, Hadfield received a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering (with honours) in 1982 at the Royal Military College in Kingston. That year, he conducted post-graduate research at UW. He received a master of science degree in aviation systems from University of Tennessee in 1992.

He was selected as one of four Canadian astronauts from a field of 5,330 in June 1992. Two months later, he was assigned by the Canadian Space Agency to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. His work at NASA has included technical and safety issues for Shuttle Operations Development, shuttle glass cockpit development and launch support at the Kennedy Space Center. As well, Hadfield was NASA's Chief CAPCOM, the voice of mission control to astronauts in orbit, for 25 space shuttle missions. He also served for four years as chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency.

In the last two years, Hadfield was in Star City, Russia, as NASA's director of operations at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre. In serving as NASA's lead representative, his work included coordination and direction of all Space Station Crew activities in Russia and oversight of training and crew support staff. Since then, Hadfield has trained and qualified as a cosmonaut to fly in the Soyuz as a flight engineer, as well as to do spacewalks wearing the Russian Orlan suit.

"We are thrilled to have someone of his calibre speak on campus," said Murray Shepherd, university librarian. "It is a good time for the campus to come together to be inspired and to learn from his unique insights."

Each year, the Friends of the Library organization hosts a public lecture that focuses on the creative process. The lecture is designed to bring the campus community together to be inspired by the creativity expressed in all disciplines. The event reflects the fundamental work of the library -- bringing together information from a diverse range of disciplines for the purpose of creating new knowledge.

The Friends of the Library is an association representing people who contribute, either financially or through gifts of collections, to the university resource. The group is interested in the library's well-being as well as promoting the role it plays in academic and creative pursuits.

Notes and events of the day

Staff and faculty members can expect their pay scales to go up by 2.6 per cent as of May 1, the board of governors was told last night. Salary structures for the two groups work somewhat differently, but both are in the middle of a two-year salary agreement and are looking for a 2003 increase based on the 2002 increase in the cost of living, which was 2.2 per cent according to annual calculations by Statistics Canada. On top of the 2.2 per cent comes a 0.4 per cent increase recognizing "excellence". Individual increases can be more or less than 2.6 per cent, depending on the salary formula.

The board gave approval to UW's 2003-04 operating budget, with its provision for a 2 per cent "expenditure reduction" on most of what's spent by UW departments, and millions of dollars of "strategic investment". A particular emphasis in the new budget will be strengthening of graduate programs. "I hope to be able to deliver good news budgets in future," provost Amit Chakma told the board, "but I'm not quite sure."

[Singh] Science journalist (and particle physicist) Simon Singh (right), author of Fermat's Last Theorem and other books, will give two talks today. He's brought to Waterloo by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, St. Jerome's University, and the Centre for Applied Cryptographic Research. First, Singh will speak on "Cracking the Cipher Challenge" from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. in Physics room 145. A reception and book signing will follow immediately afterwards. The second lecture, "Mathematics of Chance", is presented as a public event hosted by the Perimeter Institute. Singh will speak from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Waterloo Recreation Complex. Tickets are free but should be reserved at 886-2375 or picked up at the Rec Complex, with "a small number" available at the door.

The annual graduate student research conference gets rolling today. Some 159 grad students will show off their research either through posters or in oral presentations today through Friday. There will also be a series of keynote talks by established researchers, starting with John Thompson, biologist and associate vice-president (university research), at 12:45. His topic: "Characteristics of a Cell Death Switch: Implications for Agriculture and Human Health". Tomorrow's keynote speaker, again at 12:45, will be Phelim Boyle of the school of accountancy, and Friday's is Keith Hipel of systems design engineering. The three are this year's winners of the UW "excellence in research" awards. The conference takes place on the main level of the Davis Centre.

The Muslim Student Association holds a bake sale in the Student Life Centre today, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. . . . The weekly open discussion at the Civics Research Group (70 King Street East, Kitchener) deals with "green electricity buying" and starts at 7:30 p.m. . . . Weather permitting, the astronomical observatory in the Physics building will be open for public viewing tonight from 9 to 10 p.m. . . .

The co-op and career services department will hold "Mission: Possible!" tomorrow, aimed at students who might be beginning to think that finding a co-op job isn't very possible. The all-day event offers "presentations and workshops providing job-finding support and advice", and starts with a gathering at 9:30 a.m. in Arts Lecture Hall room 116. Workshops will be offered on job search strategies, and field coordinators will be in their offices most of the day to provide individual consultation.

The Political Science Student Association will present "International Youth Leadership Experience and Future Opportunities" on Thursday at 12 noon in Humanities room 373. Fourth-year student Laszlo Sarkany will speak about his academic and cultural experiences at the international relations conference he attended in January in Prague, Czech Republic. The presentation will also offer information about further opportunities at this conference and elsewhere. A question and answer session will follow.

And . . . the front-page story on today's Gazette is about the 2003 winners of UW's Distinguished Teacher Awards, namely Ron McCarville of recreation and leisure studies, John North of English, Robert Ryan of French studies, and Anne-Marie Donovan of drama and speech communication. The four are profiled based information about them (and the enthusiastic things their students said about them) in DTA nominations over the winter. I'll be quoting some of this material in the Daily Bulletin around the time the four receive their awards formally at spring convocation.


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