A recent graduate of the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization has been awarded this year’s Governor General’s Gold Medal at the master’s level.
The award is among the most prestigious for students, with only one at the master’s level and one at the PhD level for the entire university.
Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs administers the annual award, with each faculty allowed to nominate a single PhD and a single master’s candidate.
Simone Hu, this year’s winner at the master’s level, successfully defended her dissertation and graduated in the fall of 2021. She has since taken up PhD studies at Oxford University, where she is continuing her ground-breaking work.
“I’ve been interested in the combinatorics of quantum field theory, more specifically on the graphs behind scattering amplitudes and the properties of a related arithmetic invariant called the c2 invariant,” Hu says
“Essentially, what that means is I’ve been working on a conjecture that helps researchers in physics to better understand how things work at the tiniest quantum level. There are applications in other fields, too.”
Another part of Hu's research focused on Le diagrams, but still with the same flavour of using combinatorics to understand the properties of scattering amplitudes.
Hu started out at Waterloo as an undergraduate student and took courses widely across the Faculty of Mathematics. She says that what eventually drew her to combinatorics is that it makes connections with computer science, physics, pure mathematics, and applied mathematics. She also says that she was drawn to the visual, artistic and graphical nature of the research.
“I loved taking courses in statistics and in pure math especially,” she continues. “I had some amazing professors and then got to work with Karen Yeats, who later became my supervisor. That sealed the deal for me, and I was all in for combinatorics. She was so inspiring, and the work was so interesting to me. I knew I’d found my niche.”
It wasn’t all work for Hu, as she made her way through the undergraduate degree and then her master’s. Along the way she got involved in several clubs in the Faculty of Mathematics, including MathSoc, Math Finance Student Association, and the Computer Science Club, as well as helping with Math Orientation.
“Some of the friends I made gave me a push when I needed it,” Hu says. “It helped to see other people getting through the program and succeeding. It reminded me that I could succeed. My family was also in my corner the whole time, even if the work I was doing was more on the theoretical side and didn’t seem to have an obvious career path.”
This stellar student will have little worries about career paths now, having already completed an advanced degree and moved on to another challenge in her PhD. As for what’s next, Hu says she would love to eventually pursue a postdoctoral fellowship and continue advancing her research.
“If there is one piece of advice I’d give to other students, it’s that it’s okay to take a bit longer to find your path. There can be pressure sometimes to have everything figured out. But sometimes it’s by exploring new things that we find what we’re meant to do.”