The University of Waterloo is proud to announce that three of its students will receive one of Canada’s highest honours in academia — the Governor General’s Gold Medal.

For highest standing in a doctoral program, Mathematics PhD graduate Patrick Naylor is recognized for his research in low-dimensional and geometric topology. Michael Tyler Paris, a PhD graduate in Kinesiology, is also being awarded for highest standing in a doctoral program and for his accomplishments in clinical research. Naylor and Paris have convocated previously but will be attending the Spring 2022 Convocation to accept their medals within their respective faculties.

Simeng Simone Hu, who is graduating this spring with a Master of Mathematics in Combinatorics and Optimization, will receive the award for highest standing in a master’s program and for her research that developed mathematical structures to help explain quantum field theory.

Patrick Naylor

Patrick Naylor

Patrick Naylor

Having graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy (Mathematics) in 2021, Naylor’s list of accomplishments continues to grow. In addition to his PhD research, he has also authored six additional research articles during his graduate studies. Naylor was also a member of the UW Cross Country team finding balance between his academics and fitness endeavours.

Naylor’s research focused on low-dimensional and geometric topology by studying orientable and non-orientable manifolds. Manifolds have intrinsic dimensions and are believed to be one of the most fundamental objects in modern geometry. Specifically, he studied knots and links in 3-dimensions, and “knotted” 2-dimensional surfaces in 4-dimensional spaces. Naylor’s research has shown that generalized trisection can be drawn even for non-orientable 4-manifolds — a foundational result in geometry that will be effective enough to last for a very long time.

“In general, dimension four is home to a wide variety of unique and fascinating mathematical behaviour,” Naylor says. “Surprisingly, the same phenomena do not occur in any other [higher or lower] dimensions, which is one reason I find the subject very interesting. Believe it or not, you can really “knot” a sphere in 4-D!”

Naylor says that the main reason he chose to study at Waterloo was to work alongside his advisor, Dr. Doug Park. However, a more personal reason for his choice was brought by the friendly and welcoming environment of graduate students and faculty members at the University.

“I was invited to visit for a day or two to see the department and was immediately struck by how friendly and welcoming everyone was and even a few of the other students took me out for lunch,” Naylor says. “I knew that this was the place for me.”

Naylor credits his success to support from his family and friends, his supervisor Dr. Park, and research collaborators Zack Cramer, Maggie Miller, Anton Mosunov and Hannah Schwartz. “I was really surprised by this award, there are a lot of other deserving people out there doing amazing things especially during the pandemic.”

Currently, Naylor holds a NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship at Princeton University.

Michael Tyler Paris

Michael Tyler Paris

Michael Tyler Paris

Paris’ PhD research has gained him national and international recognition. He received multiple invitations to give presentations and workshops to clinicians from around the world, including the American Society of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, John Hopkins University, and other high-profile organizations.

Paris’ research focused on characterizing changes in body composition throughout the aging process among adults and how these changes impact the metabolic health and activities of daily living. His research developed and validated approaches which leverage clinically available imaging tools such as ultrasounds to accurately quantify these changes in body composition. Through his research, Paris hopes to make these measures more accessible within clinical settings.

Organizations are now using his ultrasound techniques in research and clinical practices in ICUs, cancer treatments and other muscle wasting illnesses. These techniques help identify adults in need of nutrition, rehabilitation and pharmaceutical intervention to help improve their survival and health outcomes.

Paris credits his supervisor, Dr. Marina Mourtzakis, for her support and the Department of Kinesiology at Waterloo for being home to a diverse and renowned group of health science researchers. “This diversity of research enabled me to expand and explore research opportunities and collaborations from basics of metabolism to clinical work within the intensive care unit.”

His ongoing expert consultations and leadership exemplifies the innovative impact of his thesis findings in clinical research and practice. Paris currently holds a NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Western Ontario.

Paris’ advice to incoming students is to “Cherish your time as a graduate student — never again will you have such an opportunity that enables you to fully explore and develop your research interests,” Paris says. “Be creative and take an active role in developing and carrying out your studies, as the skills and abilities you develop from these activities will be invaluable to your growth and guiding your future endeavours.”

Simeng Simone Hu

Simeng Simone Hu

Simeng Simone Hu

During the final year of her undergraduate degree, Hu was fascinated to learn about the connection between two fields — combinatorics and physics — two areas of science that when combined can help apply quantum field theory. This realization led Hu to want to continue exploring these connections as a research topic and was motivated to stay at Waterloo to pursue a master’s degree in Combinatorics and Optimization.

Hu’s master’s thesis focused on combinatorics that emerged from scattering amplitudes in quantum field theories. Through her research, Hu developed mathematical structures that help explain quantum field theory — the theory of the fundamental building blocks of reality.

“Specifically, I looked at how we can use the underlying combinatorial structures like graphs with certain properties,” Hu says. “And then use combinatorial methods on them to give some more insights to explain something about the numbers or maps that are of interest in physics.”

Hu’s findings have made significant progress in scientific community on a problem that is 10 years old and have challenged famous mathematicians including the notable algebraic geometer, Francis Brown. Along with her research supervisor, Dr. Karen Yeats, Hu’s research is recognized as the most important progress anyone from the fields of physics and mathematics has been able to make on this one problem.

After spending years at Waterloo, Hu says she will miss the small things from going to the market or Waterloo Park during the weekends, to getting coffee between classes with her friends and participating in student clubs.

“Everyone has their own journey and it’s perfectly fine to take your time and to explore new or different areas,” Hu says. “Sometimes useful tools or ideas can come from unexpected places and areas, and you may even discover a new topic that interests you. Also, writing always takes a lot longer than one thinks!”

Currently, Hu is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Mathematics at the University of Oxford.

About the Governor General’s Gold Medal

Created in 1873 by Canada’s third Governor General Lord Dufferin, the Governor General’s Gold Medal is an award given out annually to students from different institutions who achieve the highest level of academic scholarship for their cohort at their institution. The award is divided into four categories ranging from bronze at the secondary school level to gold at the graduate level.