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Friday, March 14, 2003

  • Campus Day experience 'relaxed'
  • Smoke expert's models useful for security
  • And a little of this and that
Chris Redmond

Killed on the Ides of March


A natural leader? Actually, Catherine Fry was pointing directions for off-campus visitors when this photo was taken a couple of years ago. Now Fry, who works in the ethical behaviour and human rights office, will be one of two staff representatives on the UW board of governors. The university secretariat announced yesterday that Fry has been acclaimed to the staff seat that comes vacant May 1, as Ann Simpson of the Student Life Centre finishes her term. The other staff rep on the board continues to be Mark Walker of the registrar's office.

Campus Day experience 'relaxed'

The crowd for Campus Day wasn't any bigger than in previous years, after all, but this time it was spread over two days, says Heather MacKenzie, manager of the visitors' centre. "I would say that overall we had a little over 5,000 visitors to campus over the two days. This is around the same number as we've had in previous years."

The result: "a very relaxed, positive experience" for the visiting high schoolers and their parents, she says.

It was the first time Campus Day had included both Tuesday and Wednesday of the schools' March break week, in anticipation of a possible pre-double-cohort crowd. But the mobs really weren't there. Many visitors mentioned plans to hit other campuses in the course of the week, as most Ontario institutions are holding open house sessions or at least offering tours. Wilfrid Laurier University's big day is today, and the University of Guelph's huge College Royal is scheduled for the weekend.

Says MacKenzie: "People didn't feel rushed or crowded on the campus, and they were able to see the places and areas that they wanted to see. As my colleague Julie Primeau said today to me, this group of students have had a rough time of things over the past couple of years and do worry about the effects of the Double Cohort. The least we could do was provide an experience for them where they knew that they would get the personal attention and time that they need to make good decisions, and not make them feel like they are just numbers who are being herded to sessions."

She said attendance at the day's information sessions was "great. The 'younger students' session, which we offered for the first time, was very successful and a lot of prospective students who won't be applying until 2004-plus were able to learn more about UW."

MacKenzie called the two days' volunteers, both students and staff, "amazing" in the work they did to answer questions and help visitors find their way. "This day would not have been possible with out the hard work and cooperation of the faculty and university college reps, deans, professors, student services reps, Ambassadors, volunteers, and the registrar's office team."

Smoke expert's models useful for security

Some of what American "homeland security" experts know about defending against terrorist weapons -- such as gas used against city populations -- they know as the result of research by a UW mechanical engineering professor, Rob Macdonald.

Macdonald is an expert on smoke, not the pollutants inside it but the way it billows, spreads and eventually disperses. One of his basic findings was the subject of publicity in Britain's noted journal Nature last year.

[Red fluid, white Lego] He reported then that plumes emerging from smokestacks aligned with the prevailing wind direction are likely to rise higher and travel further downwind before they are broken up by turbulence. That way the negative impact of pollutants is reduced, since they become more widely dispersed than if the plume did not merge near the source.

On the other hand, when chimneys are lined up across the wind, the plumes rise more slowly, and mixing is hindered because the vortices at the edges of each plume tend to oppose each other. The main conclusion is that in designing a plant, it is desirable to align multiple stacks with the prevailing wind direction, especially if there is a residential area downwind.

The key to his research is the large "fluids lab" in Engineering III. Macdonald has completely rebuilt the lab's dispersion modelling water channel since his arrival on campus in 1998. He finds that using hot water, released from glass tubes in a water channel, produces plumes that act much like the full-scale plumes from a smokestack when they rise into the air. Provided the flow is turbulent, the "fluid mechanics" involved are essentially identical.

He can colour the water with dye, pass it through a glass-walled area, and watch as the plume rises and spreads much as smoke does from a smokestack.

One project involves looking into the dispersal of pollutants around buildings in a city. In this case tiny buildings were constructed in the water channel using toy Lego blocks, as pictured above. "Because the water picks up the dye we can readily visualize what is happening to it, and of course we can make quantitative measurements as well," Macdonald says.

Some of this work was funded by a group in the United States department of defense with a keen interest in the behaviour of chemical and biological agents dispersing in an urban environment. The information gained was used to develop a new dispersion model, which is now available for predicting the impact of biological and chemical agents in cities.

"I archived the data sets, and they are now using these to provide test scenarios involving dispersion of ground level sources in regular building patterns, to validate their computer modeling," Macdonald notes.

His PhD thesis also looked at this problem and was funded by the Chemical and Biological Defense Establishment in the United Kingdom.

Macdonald has also recently been involved in more traditional regulatory pollution software development with Lakes Environmental in Waterloo. He has also begun collaborating with James Sloan, who holds a chair in atmospheric sciences in UW's chemistry department. Sloan is interested in studying the spread of pollution over large distances using satellite technology.

[Downtown Waterloo fills the wall]

And a little of this and that

An information meeting about a proposed "university-wide health informatics institute" is being held this morning, starting at 9, in Davis Centre room 1304. (Apparently I got the room number wrong when I mentioned the meeting in the Daily Bulletin last week.) A similar meeting will be held next Tuesday, same time and place.

Today the new Integrated Centre for Visualization, Design and Manufacturing (ICVDM). will hold an open house to show off "one of its facilities for moving between the physical and virtual world" -- the Immersive Design Theatre (right) in Davis Centre room 1702. The theatre has an eight-by-ten-foot stereo display wall that immerses visitors in three-dimensional space, for research in anything from machine design to urban planning. Visitors are welcome between 9 and 5 today.

The computer store -- still in the Math and Computer building, although a move to the Student Life Centre is planned -- will be closed this morning as staff take the first steps in preparing for the move. The store will open at 12:00.

Architecture students who don't have spring term co-op jobs, following yesterday's match results, should turn in a Continuous Phase Registration Form and resumé package to the co-op department today. . . . The 30-Hour Famine continues in the Student Life Centre. . . . The Philosophy Graduate Student Association's annual conference is into its second day. . . .

Maria Liston, professor of classical studies, will speak at 4:30 (Modern Languages room 246) on "New Dirt on Old Bones: Geometric Burials in the Athenian Agora". And "a little festivity" is promised afterwards.

[Rainbow Reels logo] The Rainbow Reels "queer film festival" runs through this weekend on campus. Tonight's showing is at POETS pub in Carl Pollock Hall: "Yapping Out Loud" at 6:00, "Divas: Love Me Forever" at 8:00, and "21" at 9:30. Showings on Saturday and Sunday evenings are in Davis Centre room 1302. In several cases, filmmakers or critics will be on hand to lead discussion following the film. Altogether, organizers say, "the festival will be showcasing 10 films by Canadian and international filmmakers exploring a diverse set of topics from the sex trade to the story of a transgendered Thai volleyball team." It's sponsored by the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group and the Federation of Students.

"Moonchildren", this term's engineering student play, will continue tonight and Saturday at 8, plus Saturday afternoon at 2, in Environmental Studies II room 286. Tickets are $6.

The Graduate House is announcing a "St. Paddy's Day warm-up party" starting at 8:00 tonight, with "Irish music, revelry, Irish stew, refreshment".

And . . . suppose you were a couple of Waterloo students, brother and sister, and you'd really rather be in Ottawa? That would be the premise of the current episode of "Trading Places", on the Life Network. In each episode, the network explains, "Families across Canada swap towns, houses, jobs, hobbies, even friends and relatives, for a brief walk in another family's shoes." This time, apparently, the two UW students trade life in the Phillip Street co-op residence for life in the national capital. The episode was aired Tuesday night and will be broadcast again Sunday at (wait for it) 8:00 in the morning.


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