President, Provost provide update on Omicron precautions
"Recent news about the rise of COVID-19 cases in Ontario, driven by the emergence of the Omicron variant, means that 2021 is ending with a great deal of uncertainty about the future, once again," says a memo written by President and Vice-Chancellor Vivek Goel and Vice-President, Academic & Provost James Rush circulated to employees and graduate students yesterday. "Scientists around the world are learning about Omicron every day. The keys to controlling this variant continue to be the same: masking, avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated spaces, and most importantly, vaccinations, particularly to reduce the risk of severe illness. Getting vaccinated – and getting a booster shot when you are eligible – well help Ontario mitigate the effects of this new variant."
"It is also clear that we need to act to protect the things that are most important to us like keeping schools open and allowing our students to take exams and learn together in person."
"To do this, we must limit all non-essential personal contacts to reduce levels of community transmission."
"Our plans for end of term exams will remain in place, but we are urging everyone to observe the latest guidance from Region of Waterloo Public Health and limit all other non-essential contact."
"This means we are cancelling all non-essential in person end-of-year gatherings and meetings on campus. We strongly urge you to cancel all work-related end-of-year gatherings off-campus, too. Please find ways to use virtual meetings and gathering tools."
"We’re also asking managers and supervisors to allow people to work from home immediately, where it is possible. Maintaining flexibility to work from home now will help us keep our contacts down while we increase vaccine levels and booster shots."
"We will continue to monitor the situation and public health advice and plan to share guidance about the next term before the University closes for the Winter break. While we can hope for the best, we must plan for the worst."
"Please keep watch on your email, our social media channels, and the COVID-19 information website for more help and information."
Thank you for supporting United Way's 2021 Campaign
A message from the United Way campaign.
Our 2021 United Way Campaign has wrapped up and we are so grateful to everyone who helped make this year a success. Whether you donated through e-Pledge, supported a department fundraiser, attended an event, or helped spread the word about the United Way, you made an impact, and we are so thankful for you.
Please enjoy this video from the United Way Campaign, with an appearance from our President Vivek Goel. Check it out below.
Despite our campaign once again being virtual and in a pandemic, we’ve raised vital funds for United Way Waterloo Region Communities. By coming together, our campus is helping families through difficult times and building a stronger Waterloo region by providing mental health services, combating social isolation, and ensuring people can meet their basic needs.
Thank you again, our community is a better place because of you.
Reminders of ongoing advances in science instil trust in changing COVID-19 guidance
This article was originally published on Waterloo News.
Officials could boost public trust in COVID-19 health recommendations by including reminders that changes to recommendations are expected as science evolves, a new study has found.
The research team first predicted and found that reminders of the frequent changes in safety guidelines caused people to judge experts negatively.
“People have often suggested that the revisions to safety practices might lead to distrust in the experts who are providing the guidance,” said study co-author Derek Koehler, professor of psychology at Waterloo. “Our goal was to examine the effects of salient changes in COVID-19 guidance—such as changes regarding mask-wearing—on trust in health experts, and to test interventions for enhancing trust.”
For a group of study participants in Canada, highlighting the frequent changes in guidance also lowered their intentions to download the COVID Alert contact tracing app.
To conduct the study, participants in Canada and the United States completed an online survey asking them to rate the perceived expertise and trustworthiness of public health officials and scientists during the COVID pandemic. Before completing their ratings, they were reminded of ways in which public health guidance on COVID had stayed the same or of ways in which it had changed over the preceding months.
Compared to reminders of consistency, reminders of changes in public health recommendations led people to rate public health authorities as having less expertise.
To test an intervention, the participants were presented with a “forewarning” message to accompany public health updates that emphasized how change in science is expected and is a good thing. It encouraged the study participants to take the perspective of a public health official who communicates this changing guidance.
“We found that this intervention helped make people more receptive to changes in guidance. For example, without forewarning, reminders of changing (as opposed to consistent) guidance led public health authorities to be seen as less trustworthy, but the forewarning message eliminated this negative effect,” said lead author Jeremy Gretton, who was a postdoctoral researcher at Waterloo when the work was conducted.
The study suggests communication strategies for public health updates that emphasize the recommendations are based on the latest advances in scientific evidence and understanding and that these will continue to evolve.
The study, A brief forewarning intervention overcomes negative effects of salient changes in COVID-19 guidance, authored by Gretton, Koehler, Ethan Meyers, Alexander Walker and Jonathan Fugelsang, was recently published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making.
Waterloo Centre for German Studies announces 2020 Book Prize winner
A message from the Waterloo Centre for German Studies (WCGS).
The Waterloo Centre for German Studies is pleased to announce the winner of its prize for the best first book published in 2020. Mobilizing Black Germany: Afro-German Women and the Making of a Transnational Movement, by Tiffany N. Florvil and published by University of Illinois Press, was selected from a shortlist of six excellent academic monographs. The prize includes a cash award of CAD $3,000.
In selecting Mobilizing Black Germany as the winner, jurors called it an “immensely important book” that breaks new ground in German social history. Florvil traces the modern history of Black German women, their struggle against discrimination, their important role in the transnational Black women’s movement, and their significance for the development of German feminism in the last forty years. This book will become indispensable to German studies scholars while also providing more general audiences with an accessible introduction to a less familiar chapter of German history.
Tiffany Florvil is Associate Professor of History at the University of New Mexico, where she has been teaching since 2013. She earned her BA at Florida State University, her MA at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), and her PhD at the University of South Carolina. Her areas of interest include race and ethnicity, gender, identity formation, social and cultural movements, Black internationalism, intellectualism, diasporas, and emotions.
The Waterloo Centre for German Studies takes great pride in sponsoring an award that celebrates the dynamic and engaging scholarship occurring in all fields of German Studies. The prize is adjudicated by a jury of German studies scholars chaired by James M. Skidmore, Director of the Waterloo Centre for German Studies. Members of the jury were Gary Bruce (University of Waterloo), Charlotte Schallié (University of Victoria), Kathryn Starkey (Stanford University), and Joachim Whaley (University of Cambridge). Over 20 books published in 2020 were nominated. In addition to Florvil’s book, five of the nominated books were named to a shortlist that illustrates the quality and range of German studies today:
- Amstutz, Nina. Caspar David Friedrich: Nature and the Self. (Yale University Press)
- Eicher, John P.R. Exiled Among Nations: German and Mennonite Mythologies in a Transnational Age. (Cambridge University Press)
- Eyerly, Sarah. Moravian Soundscapes: A Sonic History of the Moravian Missions in Early America. (Indiana University Press)
- Fleischman, Thomas. Communist Pigs. An Animal History of East Germany’s Rise and Fall. (University of Washington Press)
- George, Alys X. The Naked Truth: Viennese Modernism and the Body. (University of Chicago Press)
Waterloo and NRC reaffirm partnership on future-facing technology
By Sam Toman. This article originally appeared on Waterloo News.
If it makes you feel any better, robots get old too. Just like humans their joints begin to fail, and certain abilities fade or become less reliable over time. The difference (besides complaining about it) is humans naturally adjust or adapt their movement to compensate for decline.
Robots aren’t quite there yet, but research made possible by support from the National Research Council (NRC) is helping University of Waterloo researchers learn how the human brain processes decay over time, what adjustments it makes, and how that can help robots manage fading sensors and overworked joints as they wear down.
“Figuring out how our brains process declining movement involves an incredible amount of computer simulations,” says, Terry Stewart, an NRC Associate Research Officer at Waterloo. “These simulations have helped us create a biological representation of how the human brain might manage decline and given us a pathway to apply that to intelligent machines.”
Stewart and his team hope that this knowledge, combined with machine learning, can provide Canadian manufacturing with tremendous benefits and efficiencies.
“Let’s say a robot in a manufacturing plant performs the same function many thousands of times a day. Regular wear and tear can lead to that machine making mistakes. Even if it’s just a millimetre or two off, that can compromise its work.” says Stewart. “But if it can understand and predict that decomposition as it’s happening it can modify its motion.”
That project is just one of a host of NRC-sponsored projects underway at Waterloo making breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, the internet of things and cybersecurity.
Those projects include:
Automated Material Synthesis using Deep Reinforcement Learning
- Isaac Tamblyn (NRC)
- Mark Crowley (UWaterloo)
Battery-free Touch Sensors for Internet of Things
- Keiko Katsuragawa (NRC)
- Peng Hu (NRC)
- Omid Abari (UCLA)
- Daniel Vogel (UWaterloo)
Reliable Gesture Recognition in Virtual Reality Environment
- Keiko Katsuragawa (NRC)
- Ed Lank (UWaterloo)
Neuromorphics for Vision-Based Movement Planning and Control
- Chris Eliasmith (UWaterloo)
- Terry Stewart (NRC)
A Secure Scalable Quantum-Safe Blockchain for Critical Infrastructure
- Koray Karabina (NRC)
- Srinivasan Keshav (Cambridge)
- Michele Mosca (UWaterloo)
This second round of funding was reaffirmed by NRC President Iain Stewart as NRC and Waterloo come together on the development of five new upcoming projects, with Waterloo supplying matching funds bringing the total dollar amount to $900k. Those new projects will be decided on and announced March 31.
The NRC and Waterloo Collaboration will help position Canada as a global leader in these future-relevant areas and aid the NRC is its mandate to increase its collaboration with regional ecosystems like the one that exists in the Region of Waterloo and universities like Waterloo.
“The work being done thanks to the generosity of NRC is going to keep Canada at the top of the pile of universities on the cutting edge of technological research,” says Terry Stewart. “Advancements being made in our labs today will hopefully soon be deployed in Canadian Plants, homes and infrastructure to make our society more innovative and resilient.