Thursday, May 7, 2009

  • Physics department builds cosmology group
  • Canada's frequently asked flu questions
  • Parking tags will make car pools easier
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

Physics department builds cosmology group

by Patricia Bow, communications and public affairs

The long-standing relationship between the UW department of physics and astronomy and the independent Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics is about to be further strengthened, says Jeff Chen, the department’s chair. Physics is interviewing candidates for two new faculty positions in the area of cosmology, the study of the really big questions about the universe. The positions will be jointly held in Perimeter and UW, and will be at least tenure-track appointments in both institutions.

Brian McNamara, a physics professor who chairs the search committee for the new hires, says Waterloo already has considerable strength in cosmology. “We’ve had astronomers here for many years, but it’s only been in the last few years that we’ve grown to a critical mass of people.” The astronomy/ astrophysics group now includes seven faculty. With nine, the group will be one of the largest in Canada.

The new hires are expected to be top-calibre scientists who will in themselves bridge the theoretical work done at PI with the more observational work done at Waterloo, McNamara says. “The people we are interested in are studying the universe as a whole: trying to use the faint signals from the very early universe along with theoretical models to try and come up with a global understanding of how the universe began, formed, and evolved, and what its destiny will be.”

Several Waterloo professors, including McNamara, are also interested in black holes. “In the last ten years there has been a remarkable set of discoveries that are showing that super-massive black holes exist, with masses a million to a billion times the mass of our sun, and they live in the centres of galaxies. There is growing evidence suggesting that black holes may be the seeds out of which galaxies form, or that black holes form as a result of the growth of galaxies.”

At Perimeter, McNamara says, “they are primarily concerned with why the laws of physics are as they are. We at Waterloo are interested in how the universe formed and evolved, and we use the various branches of physics — general relativity, special relativity, Newtonian gravity, and quantum mechanics — to try to understand how this took place. The interesting thing about this relationship we’re building with Perimeter: we’re expanding more in the direction that they tend to go, and they’re pulling a bit closer into the areas that we are interested in. We’re hoping this will create a synergy that will allow us to have breakthroughs in understanding that might not occur in more standard settings.”

Chen notes that there are already many links between the physics department and PI. Raymond Laflamme, director of the Institute for Quantum Computing and a member of the department, is an associate member of Perimeter, which means he has full faculty status at both institutions. About half a dozen other physics faculty members are less formally involved with Perimeter as affiliate members (including Chen and McNamara), and nearly a dozen PI members are adjuncts in the Waterloo department.

Waterloo and PI are also linked through the new Perimeter Scholars International program. Chen says he thinks of the PSI program and the new joint hires as “the starting point of much more to come.”

“It’s an exciting time to be here,” McNamara says, speaking of the UW-PI hub. “We’re one of the few places in our field that’s growing: all over the world, other places are either static or shrinking. We are poised to really take off and be a world-beater in this area.”

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Canada's frequently asked flu questions

excerpts from an FAQ about H1N1 influenza (“swine flu”) issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada

What is it? H1N1 Flu Virus (Human Swine Flu) has been reported in Canada, Mexico, the United States and other countries around the world.

Swine influenza (sometimes called swine flu) is a strain of the influenza virus that usually affects pigs, but which may also make people sick.

H1N1 Flu Virus (Human Swine Flu) is a respiratory illness that causes symptoms similar to those of the regular human seasonal flu. The symptoms include fever, fatigue, lack of appetite, coughing and sore throat. Some people with H1N1 Flu Virus (Human Swine Flu) have also reported vomiting and diarrhea.

Are all pandemics severe? No. An influenza pandemic may be mild, moderate or severe. An influenza pandemic means the virus is spread easily between humans, and affects a wide geographic area. A pandemic influenza does not necessarily cause more severe illness.

If I have travelled to regions with reports of H1N1 Flu Virus (Human Swine Flu) and I’m feeling sick, what should I do? If you have travelled to any of the affected areas and you become sick with flu-like symptoms — especially respiratory symptoms such as, fever and cough or difficulty breathing — see your doctor and tell him or her that you have recently travelled to those areas.

I recently travelled to an affected area and I have no symptoms of illness. Should I stay home from work or school? No. Recent travellers who are symptom-free are advised to return to daily activities.

While it may be possible for people to spread the illness up to one day before they are ill, at the time, the amount of virus people are carrying in their system is very low, so the risk of transmission is low.

However, once people begin to develop symptoms, the amount of virus in their body increases, and transmission is much easier. Once someone is exhibiting symptoms, they should stay home to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Should I avoid contact with people who have recently travelled to an affected area? Returning travellers are being screened on arrival in Canada for early signs of illness. Those who are symptom-free are being advised to return to regular daily activities. Travellers who report symptoms associated with H1N1 flu virus (human swine flu) will be assessed and isolated, if required.

What can I do to protect myself from infection?

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, or use hand sanitizer
  • Cough and sneeze in your arm or sleeve
  • Get your annual flu shot
  • Keep doing what you normally do, but stay home if sick
  • Check for more information
  • Check for travel notices and advisories
  • Talk to a health professional if you experience severe flu-like symptoms

Does the Government of Canada recommend the closing of schools, and other gathering places to limit the spread of the virus? In Canada, decisions about school closures are made by local authorities. PHAC does recommend that people who are sick stay at home to reduce the risk of spreading infection. If this influenza virus spreads, people may want to avoid crowds to decrease the chance of exposure.

Should Canadians take any extra measures like wearing surgical masks to avoid catching H1N1 Flu Virus (Human Swine Flu)? Canadians should continue to take normal precautions to protect themselves as they would from a regular flu. While we are investigating to learn more about how this virus spreads, our best advice is for Canadians to wash their hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home when ill.

The Public Health Agency of Canada does not recommend that members of the general public wear surgical masks. Evidence shows that this is not effective in preventing transmission of influenza in the general public. People often use masks incorrectly, or contaminate them when putting them on and taking them off, which could actually increase the risk of infection.

The exception is people who are ill with H1N1 Flu Virus (Human Swine Flu) or people who are exhibiting flu-like symptoms. In order to protect those in close contact, like doctors, nurses, and caregivers at home, these people may be asked to wear a face mask.

Can I catch swine influenza from eating pork? No. H1N1 Flu Virus (Human Swine Flu) is not transmitted through pork meat.

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Parking tags will make car pools easier

A change in the way cars are identified in UW parking lots — with “hang tags” attached to the rear-view mirror, rather than windshield decals — is allowing car pools to be part of the system for the first time, says parking services manager Sharon Rumpel.

The new tags will also make life easier for anybody who has more than one car in the family and wants to bring different vehicles to campus on different days, she said.

They’re being introduced in about a dozen lots used for faculty and staff parking, starting with the smaller ones and working up to the main employee lots: H and A beside University Avenue, B off Phillip Street, and L near Columbia Street.

While a decal clings tight to the car it’s applied to, a hang-tag can be moved from one vehicle to another. However, Rumpel said, it’s still necessary to register all the vehicle licence numbers with parking services. Things will work the same way with car pools, and “a few test groups” are already in operation, using the same permit on a different car each day.

Parking officials started handing out the new tags to users of lots R and O, and have given that group until mid-May to pick up their new permits. Meanwhile, as new or replacement permits are issued for other lots, those are also being provided as hang-tags. “We didn’t want to do a huge number right away,” says Rumpel, so conversion of the other lots will happen gradually over the next few months.

For the moment there are no plans to adopt a hang-tag system for student parking lots on the main campus, she said. But it has already been introduced for student users, as well as faculty and staff, at the lot beside the Pharmacy building in downtown Kitchener.

Other announcements from parking services:

• Business hours will be increased as of June 8, with the office open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. (Outside those hours, UW police do urgent parking transactions.)

• The shuttle from parking lot X, north of the Optometry building, to the main campus was popular enough, since it was started experimentally in the winter term, that it’s being made permanent, and a bus shelter will be erected shortly in X lot. The service runs on a continuous basis for two hours each morning and two hours in late afternoon.


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'For each breath that you take, how many of the air molecules would also have been breathed by the patron saint of Physics, Sir Isaac Newton, during his lifetime (1642-1727)? The atmosphere is about 8 km high, and the molecules in the air each occupy a space representing a little cubic box about 33.3 x 10-9m along a side. The earth's radius is 6.37 x 106 m. Make reasonable assumptions for any data that you need!'

(A) 6 (B) 6 x 103 (C) 6 x 106 (D) 6 x 109 (E) 6 x 1012

That's a sample question from the annual Sir Isaac Newton Exam offered by UW's department of physics and astronomy. The 2009 exam is being written today by about 4,000 students from 400 high schools, says Rohan Jayasundera, SIN director. Each year several entrance scholarships are awarded based on SIN results.

Link of the day

Roy Campanella

When and where

Recreation and Leisure Studies 40th anniversary leisure studies research forum, 8:45 to 4:30, Lyle Hallman Institute. Details.

High school rugby tournament today, Columbia fields. Details.

Walking trails in the K-W area visual tour sponsored by UW Recreation Committee, 12:00 noon, Math and Computer room 5158.

‘Research tools and library services’ workshop for new graduate students, 12:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

International student orientation organized by Waterloo International, 12:30 to 4:00, Needles Hall room 1116. Details.

Surplus sale of UW furnishings and equipment 12:30 to 2:00, East Campus Hall.

Teaching Excellence celebration: wine and cheese reception to honour award winners, by invitation, 3:30, University Club, information ext. 33857.

Philosophy colloquium: Natalie Evans, UW, “The Autonomous Animal Self” 3:30, Humanities room 373.

Waterloo Public Interest Research Group introductory meeting (“find out how to get involved”) 5:00, Student Life Centre multipurpose room. Details.

Warriors Band practice 5:30, Physical Activities Complex room 2012. Details.

Architecture alumni reception at Ontario Association of Architects annual conference, 5:30 p.m., Westin Harbour Castle Hotel, Toronto. Details.

Formula SAE race car unveiling and open house, 5:30 to 6:30, Student Life Centre. Details.

Canadian Forum on Theology and Education meets at St. Jerome’s University May 7-9; details. Keynote speaker: Rev. Diarmuid O’Murchu, “Evolutionary Faith”, tonight 7:30 p.m., Siegfried Hall.

Graduate Student Leisure Research Symposium Friday, Lyle Hallman Institute. Details.

Wilfrid Laurier University “Development Day” with personal and professional development speakers, Friday. Details.

Information systems and technology professional development seminar: “Synchronous Web Conferencing/ Collaboration Project” Friday 9 a.m. online. Details.

Library workshop: “Primo: Find Books and More” Friday 10:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Department of Psychology third annual Ziva Kunda Memorial Lecture: Thomas Gilovich, Cornell University, “Where the Mind Goes”, Friday 3:00, MacKirdy Hall, St. Paul’s College.

Microteaching session sponsored by Centre for Teaching Excellence, Friday 3:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Graduate Student Association welcome back pub night, Friday 5:00 to 9:00, Grad House.

Art gallery reception:“The Maturity Playground” by fine arts graduate student Nathalie Quagliotto, Friday 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., Render gallery, East Campus Hall.

E-waste Green Day sponsored by UW central stores and Greentec Recycling Services: drop off electronic items (on approved list) for free recycling, Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., East Campus Hall.

Introductory Leadership Training: “Consensus Decision-Making and Anti-Oppression Training” Saturday 10:00 to 4:00, Student Life Centre, sponsored by Waterloo Public Interest Research Group. Details.

OUA women’s basketball all-star game Saturday 7:00 p.m., RIM Park, Waterloo, admission free.

DaCapo Chamber Choir, based at Conrad Grebel University College, spring concert, “Fire & Air”, Saturday 8:00, St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church, Kitchener, tickets $20 (students $15).

UW Blooms annual exchange of seeds and garden supplies, Monday, multipurpose room, Student Life Centre.

Book tour for Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy by Yves Engler, Monday 5:30, Rod Coutts Hall room 301.

Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing Gauss competition for grade 7 and 8 students, May 13. Details.

Herschel Space Observatory launch event with live video and remarks about UW’s involvement, May 14, 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., Humanities Theatre.

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