With a depth and breadth of expertise, over 1,100 students make up the vibrant Faculty of Mathematics graduate community. Read the stories below to learn more about a few of those students, and check back regularly for new feature profiles.
Building on an existing mathematical model of epidemics, Kevin Church (PhD '19) and his supervisor found that the timing of vaccinations is key to controlling disease outbreaks. “Most provinces’ influenza/vaccine awareness pages do not tend to emphasize the importance of getting the flu vaccine when it becomes available, with some barely mention timing.”
A modified model developed by Church and his supervisor, Professor Xinzhi Liu, is built around the idea of pulse vaccination, a disease control policy where, at certain times, a portion of the population is vaccinated altogether.
Adoption of their research could help manage outbreaks of diseases such as the flu and measles. "When vaccination is added to a time-delay mathematical model of epidemics, you can in some sense dictate when infection spikes happen if the vaccine is strong and enough people get vaccinated."
Read more about Kevin's research.
Irene Melgarejo Lermas
Condensing the complexities of quantum field theory into a three-minute presentation is a formidable task, but Irene Melgarejo Lermas rose to the challenge to win the Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition. She used a puzzle analogy to explain her research in quantum field theory, which lies at the intersection of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity. “Essentially, the detectors we use to study the quantum field can only give us small, scrambled pieces of the puzzle, so we turn to machine learning to see the bigger picture,” she explained.
As she completes her thesis, Irene has her sights set on another graduate degree from Waterloo. “I plan to continue focusing on machine learning now that I’ve seen its practical applications,” she shares. “Waterloo provides an ideal environment to study quantum computing. This is where new ideas begin.”
Read more about Irene's journey.
Combinatorics and Optimization
Not long after beginning his graduate program at Waterloo, Matthew Sullivan discovered a passion for Ultimate Frisbee. Today, he serves as the chief of the Ultimate Frisbee intramural program while continuing to referee and play as often as he can. “Like all the intramural sports at Waterloo, Ultimate provides a great way to de-stress, stay in shape, and balance the academic with the social,” he says.
A predictable, well-defined game of 14 players feels like a much-needed respite for students like Matthew, whose chosen field of graph theory is significantly less straightforward. At a basic level, graph theory examines the sets of points (“vertices”) and lines (“edges”) that model relationships between objects on graphs. From optimizing road networks to designing computer chips, graph theory presents an infinite supply of complex problems to solve. Matthew points to the many opportunities to collaborate with like-minded researchers as a highlight of his time at Waterloo. “As a graduate student, you get so many opportunities to connect with researchers from all over the world,” he shares. “This collaboration generates a great atmosphere for discovery.”
Read more about Matthew's experience.
Caelan Wang is the recipient of the Amit and Meena Chakma Award for Exceptional Teaching by a Student (2019). Wang believes that creating a healthy and engaging learning environment goes beyond simply giving information. It is about creating a friendly and personal environment that stimulates interaction and academic growth, while having some fun. Wang works to empower students and emphasizes to students to not let their perceived disadvantages or vulnerabilities define them.
Wang continues to look for learning opportunities to grow in her teaching, as well as in others by mentoring graduate students in their teaching through the Centre of Teaching Excellence as a Graduate Instructional Developer and a recipient of the Fundamentals of University Teaching Certificate.
Your Netflix suggestions and recommended connections on LinkedIn use graph databases to help make predictions. Computer Science PhD student Amine Mhedhbi's research focuses on understanding and developing new techniques across the graph database stack to improve execution performance of graph analytical workloads.
Mhedbhi leads a research project to develop a new in-memory graph database management system called GraphflowDB. His research focuses on two primary questions - how to perform very fast joins to detect complex patterns in graph-structured data, and how to scale an in-memory graph database system.
Mhedbhi's award-winning research helps to improve the capabilities for very complex queries, such as those that can detect intricate fraud patterns in financial networks. For this research, Mhedbhi was the only recipient from Canada to receive a 2020 Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship.
Read more about Amine's research.
While working on his undergraduate degree and Master’s in computational math, Maysum Panju started learning about machine learning. That led to his interests in developing algorithms and theoretical proofs, and he decided to start his PhD in statistics.
Now in his fifth year of his PhD, Panju is focused on tackling a problem called symbolic regression. “A common application of this could be learning the natural laws of physics. If you’re given data about a physical system, you don’t necessarily need to know the different physical laws; you can uncover the laws by uncovering the data sets only. That’s the problem I was trying to solve.”
Panju has always been interested in practical applications, but enjoyed the efficiency, accuracy and data requirements of theoretical proofs. He recently competed in the Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition and his presentation on his research earned him an award from the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science.
Read more about Maysum's research.