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Physics PhD student wins prestigious Vanier Scholarship

Linguistics grad also named Vanier Scholar

By Kelly Foss

Ping Lu, a PhD candidate from the Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, has been chosen as one of the first recipients of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, a prestigious doctoral scholarship valued at $50,000 per year for up to three years.

The scholarship was announced earlier this month by Gary Goodyear, federal minister of state (science and technology).

Mr. Lu was one of 55 recipients chosen by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), one of three federal research granting agencies responsible for the administration of the award. A total of 166 scholarships will be awarded this year.

The scholarship is awarded to doctoral students who have demonstrated strong leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and engineering, and health.

The decision was based on Mr. Lu’s record of academic excellence, research potential and communication, interpersonal and leadership abilities.

“It is a very generous award. I am very excited,” Mr. Lu said. “I am the only student who received this award at Memorial so it is a great honour.”

Mr. Lu is from Dalian, China, and received his bachelor of science degree from Jilin University in 2003. He completed his master of science program in the area of condensed matter physics at Memorial in 2007, and is currently working on his PhD under the supervision of Dr. Qiying Chen. The title of his proposed research is Microstructures in Optical Fibres and their Applications. As he only has two years remaining in his degree, he will receive a total of $100,000 over two years, although he can apply for a supplement.

Dr. Chen said the pair have been focused on fibre bragg gratings and their sensing applications.

“It is a microstructure imbedded inside the fibre which can be used as an environmental sensor,” explained Dr. Chen. “It is very impressive work and we have published 10 articles in top journals over the last year. I think, in part, that may have been why he was selected for the Vanier Scholarship.”

The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships program was launched by the Government of Canada in Budget 2008, with an initial $25 million investment. When fully operational, the program will support 500 graduate students per year. Both Canadian and international students are eligible to be nominated for a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.

Of the 166 awards, 129 scholarships will go to Canadian students pursuing doctoral studies while 37 will be given to international students pursuing doctoral studies at Canadian universities.

Vanier for linguistics grad

Will Oxford, who completed his MA in linguistics in 2007, will also receive the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.

Mr. Oxford will be beginning his PhD studies at the University of Toronto in the fall and is the only linguist to receive the award.

“Needless to say, I’m thrilled and honoured to receive the Vanier Scholarship,” said Mr. Oxford. “It’s an extremely generous award, and it will allow me to focus 100 per cent on my studies and research without having to worry about financial matters. It’s hard to express just what a difference this award will make. To be honest, I think I’m still in shock!”

The scholarship of $50,000 per year will fund Mr. Oxford’s PhD research topic, How to Build an Innu-Aimun Sentence: Syntax in a Free Word Order Language.

He is one of 55 recipients chosen by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), one of three federal research granting agencies responsible for the administration of the award.

Mr. Oxford explains that a “free word order language” is one in which the order of words appears at first glance to be completely random. Although Innu-aimun word order is more fluid than that of a language like English, it is still, in fact, governed by grammatical rules; the rules are just more subtle than those of English.

The goal of Mr. Oxford’s research is to help document the rules that determine Innu-aimun word order. The practical applications for this research include benefitting future English-Innu translation.

“Will Oxford’s work represents the unique focus of our department on combining a high level of theoretical expertise with solid field work on varieties of speech in local communities,” said Dr. Marguerite MacKenzie, head of the department of linguistics here at Memorial.

Originally from Lewisporte, N.L., Mr. Oxford’s master’s thesis, Toward a Grammar of Innu-aimun Particles, was published by the Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics Memoir series at the University of Manitoba last fall, a singular achievement for an MA thesis.