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Wednesday, June 25, 2003

  • Physics prof joins the unretired
  • Seeking air pollution solutions
  • Pixels in the big picture
Chris Redmond

George Orwell, 100 years today

[Black] After June 30, Jay Black (right) will be a free man -- his term as associate provost (information systems and technology) will be at an end. Black gave a final briefing to staff in the IST department last Friday, with some thoughts on what's been done during his seven years in the job, how things stand now, and what lies ahead. UW's computing staff are "effective" but "stretched thin", he commented. And what's ahead for Black himself? As the PowerPoint slide shows, he'll start with a sabbatical leave before returning to full-time teaching and research.

[PowerPoint slide]

Physics prof joins the unretired

Retired but not gone -- that's the status of a growing number of faculty members, and there will be one more as of July 1, when long-time physics professor Bruce Torrie (pictured below) officially retires.

"His colleagues in the physics department may not even notice" his change in status, Barbara Elve wrote in the Gazette earlier this month. "While no longer in the classroom, Torrie will still be pursuing his funded research, joining the growing ranks of the unretired at Waterloo."

"I'll continue to have a presence here. My retirement won't make a big blip on the radar," he quips.

With space at a premium as the double cohort of high school grads descends on campus in the fall, the demand for office and lab facilities by retired profs is a growing issue, says Torrie, who is unsure how space will be found to accommodate the once-and-future profs.

He may be moving from his office into shared space, and he plans to conduct some of his research off site at the Chalk River laboratories.

"One always feels, perhaps, that what one is doing now is the most interesting thing," he says. That interest is focused on methane hydrates, which Torrie believes "will be a major source of fuel in the future. The basic idea is that a mixture of methane and water, for example, will form an ice-like solid if the pressure is high and the temperature is low.

[Torrie] "The 'ice that burns' is found naturally in the coastal trenches and under the permafrost. In the Canadian context, this means on the ocean floor west of Vancouver Island and under the permafrost in the delta of the Mackenzie River." Working with a group at the National Research Council in Ottawa and Chalk River, Torrie will use neutron beam diffraction studies to determine the arrangement, structure and motion of the atoms and molecules that make up gas hydrates.

During his days at UW, Torrie has seen research funding go from a time when it was difficult to scare up "a few tens of thousands of dollars to start a research program," to the funding climate today when, "with all the special government programs, a few hundreds of thousands of dollars is not unusual."

He's not complaining about the current state, but notes: "Funding puts a lot of pressure on people, having a lab full of expensive equipment. It can break some." In addition, there's the stress of constantly adapting to new technologies that "improve presentations and communication, but add to the workload."

Research hasn't been his only concern at UW. In addition to conducting his research and teaching activities, Torrie served as president of the faculty association in 1976-77 and was director of the Guelph-Waterloo Physics Institute 1993-96 and 2001-2002.

How's your sense of humid?

Iris Strickler of UW Graphics has some suggestions about how to cope when it is hot and humid and paper jams are driving you crazy.

She writes: "It is a fact that the environment affects the performance of photocopiers -- from your little desktop copier to the powerful production machines in Graphics' Printshop. During times of hot temperatures and high humidity or even on rainy days, the paper in your photocopier will absorb moisture from the air and this causes paper to jam more frequently.

"It is frustrating but there are a few things that you can try before you call for service. Whenever possible, paper should ideally be kept in a dry storage place in its original packaging. When you notice that your paper is starting to jam frequently, try feathering or fanning the paper in your paper tray and turning the stack upside down. If that does not seem to help, remove the paper for future use and open a new package. These techniques are frequently very successful."

Seeking air pollution solutions

A release from UW's media relations office highlights the Waterloo Centre for Atmospheric Sciences -- "a multi-disciplinary organization involved in teaching and research in important issues relating to climate change, air pollution and space and planetary measurements".

The key figure in the recently-created centre is James Sloan (below), a professor of chemistry and physics, and research director for the centre.

Says the media release: "The research is seeking solutions to air quality problems ranging from smog in Southern Ontario to atmospheric contamination in the Arctic. Two of the most important issues are urban air pollution and climate change, with evidence indicating that aerosols affect climate as much as or more than greenhouse gases.

"Climate research is focusing on the little understood influence of clouds and atmospheric particulate matter (aerosols) on climate. The centre is combining laboratory experiments, satellite observations and modelling to investigate this complex atmospheric problem.

[Sloan] "Work includes regional atmospheric modelling to provide scientific information for air quality policy, in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Energy. As well, model development and support related to U.S.-Canada trans-boundary air issues are in a proposed partnership with Environment Canada."

Smog advisory continues today
Sloan's work is of special interest in the Ontario smog season. Working with the private sector, the research provides modelling tools and expertise regarding such things as motor vehicles, electric power and mining in ways to meet environmental standards.

"As part of its public outreach," the release goes on, "the centre is a public information resource on current atmospheric issues for the news media and non-governmental organizations. It provides technical support and develops models of interest to regional municipalities in southern Ontario."

A new atmospheric and planetary sciences undergraduate program has been developed in the science faculty, and a graduate program and technical short courses are planned for 2004.

The centre's research projects involving external partners touch on emission inventories, atmospheric mercury, pesticides, laboratory aerosol research and space-based remote sensing for greenhouse gases.

  • First Nations University of Canada is opened
  • Out-of-province universities draw Ontario students (Star)
  • Affirmative action upheld by court in Michigan case
  • Diversity still a critical issue (NY Times)
  • Making the leap -- student stress (Carleton Magazine)
  • Fees go down again in Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Congress of Social Sciences and Humanities meets at Dalhousie
  • Guelph's Bullring will become a coffee shop
  • It's a whole new Internet
  • Hearings planned on copyright law reform
  • Low payoff from academic R&D (National Post)
  • Pixels in the big picture

    A correction first: an article in yesterday's Daily Bulletin about "New Opportunities" research funding mentioned a grant to Michael Palmer, and said he was a faculty member in biology. In fact, he's in the department of chemistry.

    The Record runs a weekly column about local trails, and last week, in anticipation of UW's Canada Day celebrations on July 1, it talked about the ring road and Village pathways. "Ducks and geese with young ones in tow may cross your path," it said, politely not referring to anything the ducks and geese might leave behind on the pathway. But then: "Permitted uses: Hiking, cycling, inline skating." Sorry to break the news to trail users, and to all the on-campus folks who get around on roller-blades, but inline skating is not legally permitted on campus.

    The "Clarica Scholars" program will be running at UW this summer, for the third year. That's a program -- funded now by Sun Life, the parent company of Clarica -- that brings high school teachers and students to work with experts in the LT3 technology centre to work on developing electronic course materials. They'll be here for a week, and a similar group will be at Acadia University in Nova Scotia. Clarica has just announced the 31 schools that will be involved this year, and notes that for the first time, some French-language institutions are included.

    Controversy continues over the June 13 talk by pro-Palestinian academic Norman Finkelstein, which has been described by some audience members as not merely anti-Israel but anti-Jewish. A subsidiary controversy is also in progress, over whether the Federation of Students was right to withdraw its $500 grant to the event's organizers, on the grounds that having a moderator for the discussion was one of the conditions, and (apparently thanks to Finkelstein himself) there wasn't one. Perhaps you've heard that another result of the evening's excitement has been the formation of a group calling itself Good People Against Jews, apparently with satirical intent. Watch for more developments.

    Conrad Grebel College has just distributed the spring issue of its alumni newsletter, Grebel Now, and it includes news that hasn't previously been publicized outside the immediate Grebel community. The link between the college's two buildings, now under construction, is to be named the John E. Toews Atrium in honour of the college's immediate past president. "The building project has been proceeding well, despite some delays during the hard winter," writes Carolyn Sherk, chair of the Grebel board of governors.

    A few other notes about the campus today:

    And tomorrow -- not today, as I said yesterday, but tomorrow, Thursday -- award-wining journalist Anthony Reinhart of the Record gives a presentation for a recently-formed group that's calling itself "A Press Club". He'll speak on "the art of digging in order to develop a feature story from a routine event", at noon in the great hall of the Student Life Centre.


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