Waterloo Chronicle – Global exchange

It all started with a paper about the hidden properties of waves — the kind that some of us will be enjoying at a beach this summer.

“This is about internal waves,” said Prof. Kevin Lamb, with the Applied Mathematics Department at the University of Waterloo. “They are waves that are below the surface that occur because of density stratification.

“The easiest example of that is when you go swimming in a lake this summer and you’ve got this warm water near the surface, but when you dive down it can be quite cold. Because of the temperature variation the density changes as well and that supports these waves called internal waves.”

Lamb first published a paper about the mathematical properties of these mystery waves six years ago and has only been following up on the research in fits and starts since then. There could be some important understanding that comes out of it, like where rogue waves come from.

So he decided to put it out as a possible research project as part of the Mitacs Globalink Program that attracts some of the brightest young minds from around the world and invites them here for the summer to help solve complex research challenges. There are a total of 18 international students from countries like India, China and Brazil in Waterloo this summer working with professors at UW and Wilfrid Laurier University on tough research projects.

The scholarship program takes care of all the details for these young researchers as they become acclimated to the culture and academic opportunity available in Canada. The goal is to reverse the brain drain and attract the world’s best minds to the area and help the country win a global race for talent.

Canada currently ranks sixth internationally in student recruitment trailing the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Germany and France.

Lamb was pleasantly surprised that a young engineering student from the Indian Institute of Technology, Aritra Sasmal, was interested in his research and signed on to the project. It was his first time participating in the program and he wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Lamb said Sasmal has exceeded all of his expectations, and is pushing him and his research in ways they haven’t been in years.

“He’s been a very quick learner and accomplished much more than I expected,” said Lamb. “I was really looking for somebody with some curiosity and inquisitiveness, and that’s really more important than somebody who has all the background material.”

Lamb said he has opened avenues and areas of research that has opened up ideas of where to go next. “He’s been really pushing me and asking all kinds of questions,” he said. “He’s given me the incentive to look at things I haven’t look at for years and seek answers for questions I don’t know.”

For the 20-year-old Sasmal, he had the choice between heading to Canada or Germany this summer and chose the Mitacs Globalink Program because it took care of the details. He didn’t have to waste time coordinating visas and negotiating the bureaucracy of travel, leaving him more time for research.

“I’m experimenting with everything and trying to find out what I really want to work on later,” said Sasmal. “This kind of fits my idea of exciting, and I said let’s go for it.”

He said he chose based on the project and was pleasantly surprised that it was tied to UW, which has an international reputation that precedes it. “I thought ‘ooh it’s at the University of Waterloo, lucky for me,’” said Sasmal.

He said he’s still trying to see what he’d like to pursue in the future, and this experience has opened him to the possibilities.

It’s definitely put Canada on the map as a future destination for his studies. “I’d like to come back after my undergraduate program is done,” said Sasmal.

That’s the goal of the program, said Arvind Gupta, CEO and scientific director at Mitacs.

“Mitacs Globalink seeks to put Canada on the academic map as a compelling, first-rate research and education destination,” he said.

By Bob Vrbanac, Chronicle Staff