Welcome!

I manage the University of Waterloo’s Engineering undergraduate admission process, which has become one of the most competitive in Canada.  So, I’ve created this blog to help applicants and their friends and families understand more about how the admissions process works from an insider’s perspective.  I’ll offer news and insights throughout the year as we work through the next admissions cycle.  I’ll also comment on interesting items related to engineering research, education, and teaching from time to time.  Click the “Follow” button to keep up to date on admission developments and information.  Comments are welcomed, but I can’t give detailed opinions on your specific circumstances or chances; please contact the university for expert advice.
 

Co-op students build first-of-its-kind machine in Canada | Engineering | University of Waterloo

An interesting article about some co-op student efforts in one of our research labs.  I learned about Spatial Atomic Layer Deposition, which is an interesting application of nanoscience and materials engineering.

With the help of seven University of Waterloo co-op students, Canada’s first Spatial Atomic Layer Deposition (SALD) system is up and running. At the celebratory ribbon cutting on May 10, 2018, project leader Professor Kevin Musselman said he couldn’t have done it without the co-op students who helped design and build the machine. “I was sitting at my desk the whole time. I don’t think I ever lifted a finger so it was entirely built by the students,” laughs Musselman.

Source: Co-op students build first-of-its-kind machine in Canada | Engineering | University of Waterloo

University of Waterloo engineering applicants sell themselves differently based on gender, new research says – The Globe and Mail

An interesting summary article of Prof. Golab’s semantic analysis work using parts of our Admissions Information Form.  Prof. Golab and his students are affiliated with our Management Engineering program, and semantic analysis is one aspect of data analysis and artificial intelligence.

Female applicants emphasized their desire to use engineering as a way to improve society. Male applicants choose to highlight their technical abilities

Source: University of Waterloo engineering applicants sell themselves differently based on gender, new research says – The Globe and Mail

These Are The Most Valuable Degrees In Canada In 2018

I’m always a bit wary of these rankings and their validity, but I’ll like this one because it has Chemical Engineering and Geosciences (which would include our Geological Engineering) in the top 5.  From Huffington Post…

The list ranks the top-10 bachelor’s degrees based on the highest average salaries as well as the most recent available tuition costs.

Source: These Are The Most Valuable Degrees In Canada In 2018

Is there grade inflation?

I get asked about the grade inflation that I’ve seen over the years.  I know that there is anecdotal evidence of grade inflation from various sources.  For example, the GCE A Level exams (based in the UK) had to introduce a new top grade (A*) because so many people were getting the previous top grade (A) that it was becoming somewhat meaningless.  Likewise, as I mentioned in another post there are reports that over half of U.S. high school graduates have “A” averages.  However from my side I can’t make any conclusions based on our admissions data.  Here is why… Continue reading

Garbage Research

Over the past month I’ve spent some time on research topics related to garbage.  Or more accurately, energy from waste, sustainable materials management, circular economy issues, reduction and recycling.  To the public, such things may not be as exciting as self-driving cars, but as landfills, oceans, and beaches fill with wastes they are becoming more noticeable and pressing issues.

First, I helped to organize our 5th annual Resource Recovery Partnerships Conference here at Waterloo in late June.  Over two days, we had lots of presentations and networking among academic, industrial and municipal government people discussing various issues related to waste reduction and management.  Shortly after that, I attended the Air & Waste Management Association’s annual conference, held in Hartford CT.  There, I saw a number of interesting presentations on “zero waste”, sustainability, and case studies of projects.  Between these two events I learned a few things that I can summarize below: Continue reading

Student design team flies high at rocketry competition

Congratulations to our rocketry team! I particularly like the fact that they design and build their own rocket engine; chemistry in action.

A student design team from Waterloo Engineering recently took first place in its class for the second year in a row at an international rocketry competition in New Mexico. Waterloo Rocketry, which is comprised primarily of engineering undergraduates, successfully launched its new rocket, Unexploded Ordnance (UXO), to an altitude of 13,412 feet to top 14 teams in the hybrid and liquid rocket category.

Source: Student design team flies high at rocketry competition | Engineering | University of Waterloo

College Admissions Are Getting Even Less Predictable – The Atlantic

When so many students have outstanding grades and test scores, schools have to get creative about triaging applicants.

Source: College Admissions Are Getting Even Less Predictable – The Atlantic

This is an interesting article from the U.S., and somewhat speaks to our situation.  So many applicants with high marks, it’s hard to distinguish among them.  One comment in the article stood out, namely “half of American teenagers now graduate high school with an A average”.  If that’s the case everywhere, no wonder it’s hard to differentiate between applicants. Continue reading

Teaching Climate Change

Since the 1990’s I’ve been teaching an elective course on Air Pollution Control.  We mainly focus on design of industrial systems, but I do include a small module on climate change science for background as to why certain things need emission control.  Over the past decades, some of the reports and discussions in the media and politics have been confused or nonsensical, so I try to keep it straightforward and factual.  I like to give the science a historical overview and context, to show where this all comes from.  The following is a very brief version of that overview.

The French scientist Joseph Fourier (famous for his work in heat transfer and mathematics) is credited for identifying the so-called “greenhouse effect” in the 1820s.  He didn’t know exactly what caused it, but recognized that the Earth’s surface is warmer than it theoretically should be, if there was no atmosphere trapping heat.

Some of the mechanisms behind the heat-trapping effects of the atmosphere were eventually identified, notably by the Irish physicist John Tyndall in the 1850s through his work on absorption spectroscopy.  He experimentally measured the heat absorbing effects of water vapour, carbon dioxide and other atmospheric gases.  These measurements and those by others provided the fundamental basis for the advances in radiative heat transfer used throughout science and industry to this day.

In retrospect, a big step forward in understanding and quantifying the physics of climate change came with work published in 1896 by the Swedish physicist/chemist Svante Arrhenius.  The first page of this work is pictured below, and in this work he calculated how much the global temperature would rise if carbon dioxide concentrations rose.

First page of Arrhenius’ paper on the climate effects of changing carbon dioxide concentrations. “Carbonic acid” is an older or alternate name for carbon dioxide in the presence of water.

Arrhenius is well-known by anyone who has taken chemistry (Arrhenius equation in reaction kinetics), and he received a Nobel Prize for Chemistry.  His work on climate change physics didn’t seem to receive much widespread attention at the time, since there was no particular concern that carbon dioxide concentrations were rising.  However it’s regarded as the first significant attempt to analyze the physics of rising carbon dioxide concentrations and over the subsequent century many scientists have modified and improved upon his initial work.  Arrhenius had to go through some rather complicated and laborious hand calculations, but in recent decades computers have made that work much easier and more precise.

So from this brief historical overview in my class (including some other work not mentioned here), we can see that climate change science has a solid basis in physics, dating back over 100 years.  Denying the basic physics of climate change is like denying the Bernoulli principle while watching airplanes fly overhead, or stepping off a cliff and denying that gravity exists.

Next I usually show some data for carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, usually from the Mauna Loa observatory operated by NOAA in the U.S.  An example is shown below that also includes my additions to illustrate the years when international  agreements have been signed to combat climate change at Rio, Kyoto, and Paris.  Unfortunately, the upward trend doesn’t seem to have been affected much, which is a bit depressing when considering our next generations.

Carbon dioxide measurement data since 1958.

In my class we then touch briefly on some of the current and future effects of climate change, such as sea level rise, extreme precipitation events and flooding, drought, and heat waves.  I ask students to try out one of the simpler carbon footprint calculators so they can see how their lifestyle contributes to carbon dioxide emissions.  They frequently comment on how surprising it is that air travel and meat consumption are significant factors in their total impact.  These estimates can help people understand the context and future challenges.

Finally, I conclude that as soon-to-graduate new engineers they will be dealing with climate change directly or indirectly throughout their careers.  Maybe helping with carbon emissions reductions, energy efficiency, electrification, alternative energy, process and materials redesigns.  Or if nothing much is accomplished in carbon dioxide emission reduction, dealing with the effects such as infrastructure repair and replacement, and water supply issues.  As a bit of personal advice, I usually recommend that they avoid purchasing property in coastal or low-lying areas, or anywhere within a 500 to 1,000 year flood plain.

 

 

Countdown

The deadline is quickly approaching for accepting offers on the OUAC application site.  Our deadline for Engineering offers is Friday June 1 at midnight (Toronto/Eastern time).  As a word of advice, don’t leave it to the last few minutes.  If you have computer problems and miss the deadline there aren’t any extensions available, the system closes.

Preliminary data indicates that we will likely meet or exceed our targets for the programs but we won’t know for sure for a few more weeks while we check the data and ensure that all the offer conditions have been met.  However, if you’re accepting an offer with the intention of transferring into Computer Engineering, it is pretty clear now that there will be no spaces.  If Computer Engineering is your true goal, you’re better off accepting an offer at another university if you have one.  This likely even applies to students in Electrical Engineering looking to switch to Computer.  In the past this has been straightforward, but the numbers may make this switch difficult from now on due to upper year course space limits.

Overall, our general advice still applies:  don’t accept an engineering offer with the intention of immediately trying to change programs.  Generally, this is not going to happen because our lab and class facilities are full and going any further impacts on the quality we can offer the current students.