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Graduate Studies

A Golden Future

Alexander Wong

As the adage goes “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And no one knows that better than Alexander Wong, the university’s Alumni Gold Medal winner for the year’s top PhD graduate.

Since graduating in October 2010 with his doctorate in systems design engineering, he has worked as a researcher alongside radiologists and clinical scientists at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Research Institute, developing new computerized approaches to prostate cancer detection.

Wong, an NSERC postdoctoral fellow, uses computerized multiparametric cancer information taken from MRI acquisitions and combines it to develop comprehensive data. Using that data, radiologists are able to detect cancer earlier.

Wong is no stranger to original research having published an impressive 80-plus papers. He attributes his time at Waterloo, which included completing computer engineeringundergraduate and master’s degrees, as contributing to his success today. “Waterloo has a strong co-op program and industrial ties,” says Wong. “That helped me make the transition from research to something operational and practical.”

Highlights

  • Raymond Legge, a chemical engineering professor, was appointed engineering’s associate dean, graduate studies and international agreements. Legge succeeds Peter Douglas, also of chemical engineering, who is now the director of the University of Waterloo’s UAE campus.
  • Mohamed Kamel of electrical and computer engineering and Alex Penlidis of chemical engineering were two of four University of Waterloo faculty members selected to receive the university’s 2010 Award of Excellence in Graduate Supervision.

Grad students inspire

When David Duong decided to continue his studies his first choice was Waterloo Engineering where he’d completed his undergraduate engineering degree. “At least in my field it offers one of the only graduate studies programs that is world renowned,” says the civil engineering doctoral candidate.

Duong (BASc ’06, Civil) also mentions the calibre of his fellow grad students, the funding to attend conferences and the opportunity to work on major government projects as reasons to stay. He has been able to establish himself as a researcher with two journal papers and eight conference papers to his credit. “Everyone here is hard working, so you have to keep up,” he laughs.

Today, over 1,740 engineering students from around the world are pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree at Waterloo. And while they benefit from Waterloo Engineering’s top-notch faculty and facilities – plus financial support averaging $27,000 a year – the school reaps just as many benefits.

Master’s and PhD students not only do research, they drive it as well, explains Raymond Legge, engineering’s associate dean, graduate studies and international agreements. “Grad students teach and inspire undergraduates,” says Legge. “And they serve as ambassadors for the school when they move into industry, government and other universities.”

Crash test dummies go virtual

After poring over car accident data for two years mechanical engineering master’s student Jennifer DeWit no longer crosses her legs or slouches when she’s in a vehicle.

As part of the Global Human Body Models Consortium, DeWit, along with her colleagues and her supervisor, mechanical and mechatronics engineering professor Duane Cronin, are developing a virtual model of the human neck that responds to trauma the same way a real neck would.

The crash tests used to improve car safety are expensive to run, explains DeWit. Additionally, it’s not possible with a crash test dummy to understand what would be happening inside the human body. That’s why automakers and researchers around the world are trying to produce computer models that could ultimately replace some of that physical testing.

Spending most of her day debugging simulations isn’t glamorous, DeWit laughs, but it’s rewarding when you get something to work. There are other rewards as well, like the Best Paper by a Young Researcher award she took home from an international biomechanics conference in September 2010. And then there’s the real-world relevance DeWit points out. “It’s nice to know that what you’re doing may actually make a difference in the long run.”