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Friday, April 8, 2005

  • Ideas near from co-op review
  • New insight on life's beginning
  • Exams begin, but there's more
Editor:
Chris Redmond
credmond@uwaterloo.ca

Birthday of the Buddha


[Cake and wine]

Beckoned to a new future is Terry Weldon, long-time laboratory technician and instructor in UW's department of electrical and computer engineering. He'll officially retire May 1, ending a Waterloo career that began in 1969. Weldon (seen with E&CE colleague Manisha Shah) was guest of honour at a pre-retirement reception on March 23. Photo by Bill Ott.

Ideas near from co-op review

Possible new directions for co-op at Waterloo will be on the table for discussion when the university's executive council holds its annual retreat just before Victoria Day, officials told the board of governors this week.

The review, in progress for the past year, is being headed by Bruce Mitchell, associate provost (academic and student affairs), to whom the department of co-operative education and career services reports. He and provost Amit Chakma told the board on Tuesday that even if the review isn't completely finished by mid-May, there will be fodder for some discussion when the two dozen top administrators go away for two days to talk and plan.

Mitchell said a few weeks ago that "there are some pretty clear issues emerging" from the review, and that a likely direction would be a UW emphasis on "other forms of work-learning integration", such as internships, exchanges and part-time employment, to complement what Waterloo already does in co-op programs and helping graduates find permanent jobs.

The review, launched early in 2004, is a study of co-op and career activity broadly at UW, as well as the specific operation of the co-op and career services department. As the study goes on, CECS is about to come under new management with the retirement of director Bruce Lumsden, whose successor is now being sought.

"The search process is starting while the review of CECS is still underway," Mitchell noted in a recent memo to staff in the CECS department. "That is a deliberate decision, and the search committee will be able to benefit from what is being learned in the review process even though it is not finished.

"As you will be aware, CECS, the Faculties and the FEDs submitted their self-study reports for the review by 11 February. On 21 to 23 March, an external assessment team visited UW, and will be providing its report by the end of April, before any interviews of candidates for the position will occur."

Actually the external team probably won't report until early in May, Mitchell said at the board meeting this week.

He said he was "very pleased" with the five prominent people who agreed to serve on the external group: Nancy Johnston, director of co-op education at Simon Fraser University; Iain Klugman, president of Waterloo Region's Communitech Association; Bret Leech, general manager of human resources for Bell Canada; Patricia Linn, a professor of psychology at the Center for Cooperative Education at Antioch College, Ohio; and Marilyn Van Norman, director of the career centre at the University of Toronto. Fred McCourt, chair of UW's chemistry department, agreed "to help the external assessment team members understand the culture of UW, and thereby be able to develop recommendations and suggestions that are more likely to be acted upon", Mitchell added.

[Standing in front of South Campus Hall]

'Commendable co-ops' is the label for Riccardo Muti, according to the UW Recruiter newsletter published for employers of Waterloo co-op students. "Often," says the most recent issue, it is the first-year students who "exceed expectations, like Riccardo Muti, a first year Software Engineering student who achieved an outstanding evaluation on his first work term at Microsoft Canada. As Technology Specialist Assistant, Riccardo completed several large projects, including a software development project where he designed a monthly report system for the Specialist Sales Team, greatly improving the efficiency of their monthly reporting process."

New insight on life's beginning -- from the UW media relations office

A new study by researchers at UW and the University of Colorado at Boulder indicates that Earth in its infancy probably had substantial quantities of hydrogen in its atmosphere, a surprising finding that may alter the way many scientists think about how life began on the planet.

Published in yesterday's issue of Science Express, the online edition of Science Magazine, the simulation study concludes that traditional models estimating hydrogen escape from Earth's atmosphere several billions of years ago are flawed.

The new study indicates that up to 40 per cent of the early atmosphere was hydrogen, implying a more favourable climate for the production of pre-biotic organic compounds like amino acids, and ultimately, life. The paper was authored by doctoral student Feng Tian, professor Owen Toon and research associate Alexander Pavlov of CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and by Hans De Sterk of UW's applied mathematics department. The study was supported by the NASA Institute of Astrobiology and NASA's Exobiology Program.

"I didn't expect this result when we began the study," said Tian, the chief author of the paper. "If Earth's atmosphere was hydrogen-rich as we have shown, organic compounds could easily have been produced." Earth was formed about 4.6 billion years ago, and geologic evidence indicates that life may have begun on Earth roughly a billion years later.

"This study indicates that the carbon dioxide-rich, hydrogen-poor Mars and Venus-like model of Earth's early atmosphere that scientists have been working with for the last 25 years is incorrect," said Toon. In such atmospheres, organic molecules are not produced by photochemical reactions or electrical discharges.

The team concluded that even if the atmospheric CO2 concentrations were large, the hydrogen concentrations would have been larger. "In that case, the production of organic compounds with the help of electrical discharge or photochemical reactions may have been efficient," said Toon. Amino acids that likely formed from organic materials in the hydrogen-rich environment may have accumulated in the oceans or in bays, lakes and swamps, enhancing potential birthplaces for life, the team reported.

While previous calculations assumed Earth's temperature at the top of the atmosphere to be well over 800 degrees C several billion years ago, the new mathematical models show that temperatures would have been far cooler. The new calculations involve supersonic flows of gas escaping from Earth's upper atmosphere as a planetary wind, in analogy with the solar wind.

"These simulation results are not easy to obtain because, mathematically, the flow exhibits a singularity point where the flow velocity makes a transition from subsonic to supersonic speeds," said De Sterck, who was recently hired as a faculty member for UW's new interdisciplinary computational mathematics program.

He added: "The use of appropriate computational mathematics tools and techniques allowed us to achieve this breakthrough result."

In 1953, University of Chicago graduate student Stanley Miller sent an electrical current through a chamber containing methane, ammonia, hydrogen and water, yielding amino acids, considered to be the building blocks of life. "I think this study makes the experiments by Miller and others relevant again," Toon said. "In this new scenario, organics can be produced efficiently in the early atmosphere, leading us back to the organic-rich soup-in-the-ocean concept."

In the new scenario, it is a hydrogen and CO2-dominated atmosphere that leads to the production of organic molecules, not the methane and ammonia atmosphere used in Miller's experiment, Toon said. Team members said the collaborative research effort will continue. This summer De Sterck will work on the supersonic flow modeling part of the project at UW with the help of undergraduate students funded by NSERC.

Exams begin, but there's more

The St. Jerome's Centre for Catholic Experience, which suffered a couple of cancellations by scheduled visitors this spring, is back in business tonight with a talk titled "Beyond Borders: Diversity as Moral and Spiritual Resource". The speaker is Marilyn Legge of the University of Toronto's Emmanuel College (the United Church seminary). Says an announcement of the talk: "Christians have often seen diversity as disunity. Marilyn Legge argues that the experience of diversity can give us new moral and spiritual resources to face the challenges of a world in conflict." Legge, author of books on feminist theology and "Doing Ethics in a Pluralist World", is past president of the Canadian Theological Society and a former member of the World Council of Churches' Women's Advisory Group. She'll speak at 7:30 tonight at Siegfried Hall at St. Jerome's; admission is free. The talk is sponsored by the Waterloo Catholic District School Board and the St. Jerome's Centre.

Something is being added to the plans for the north campus research and technology park, as long as the city of Waterloo will provide the necessary rezoning, UW's board of governors was told this week. "R&T Park tenants," a committee report said, "have requested construction of an amenities building in the Park which would house a day care, restaurant and fitness facility, with access, on a preferred basis, to tenants in the Park and those in the high tech businesses along Phillip Street."

ONE CLICK AWAY
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  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning will be shut down in the Tatham Centre from Saturday at 8 a.m. to Sunday at 4 p.m., and also on Monday evening. . . . John Seminerio, a UW graduate who's a partner in the capital firm of Magellan Angel Partners, is the speaker for Saturday's nights systems design engineering alumni banquet, being held in South Campus Hall. . . . The "Bon Appetit" cafeteria and Tim Horton's outlet in the Davis Centre will be shut down April 16 through 21 for renovations, billed by the food services department as an "X-treme Makeover". . . .

    The student music project "Warrior Nation" will be releasing its second annual "compilation CD" this fall, writes organizer and radio DJ (and math-and-business student) Arda Ocal. "They are looking for bands to submit demos for consideration for the new album. All bands with at least one member who goes or went to UW are welcome -- staff also. Warrior Nation 2006 will be a double CD, with the second disk being a video CD compilation. Warrior Nation is also looking for short films, music videos, clips and any sort of video from those who are UW-affiliated." More information: e-mail ifeelaok@hotmail.com. Deadline is May 15.

    A commercial event called Dance Odyssey will occupy the Humanities Theatre this afternoon, tonight and all weekend. . . . A group from the UW Recreation Committee is making an outing tonight to hear Celtic singer Allison Lupton at the Waterloo Regional Arts Centre. . . . The Computing Help and Information Place switches to spring hours starting Monday, and will be open 8:30 to 4:30 Monday to Friday. . . .

    Plans are under way for an Employee Wellness Fair to be held April 25-27, with sessions on "introductory yoga", "going the distance with your interpersonal relationships", "the truth about carbs", "heart-smart cooking" (at the University Club), "neck and back pain" and other key topics. Some run during noon hours or evenings, others during work hours. It's all sponsored, if I have this right, by health services and the Employee Assistance Program. I'll be describing more details early next week.

    CAR


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