From learners to creators: Perimeter’s ninth PSI class graduates


Class of 30 students from 23 countries celebrate their year exploring the breadth of theoretical physics at Perimeter Scholars International

After 10 months clambering up a steep learning curve, the 2017/18 class of Perimeter Scholars International (PSI) this week reached the pinnacle, and the view was grand.
 
Together, the class of 30 students from 23 countries had crammed the amount of material typically covered in a two-year master’s program into less than a year, tackling the breadth of cutting-edge theoretical physics, from quantum theory to early universe cosmology.
 
At their June 18 graduation ceremony at Perimeter Institute, the students and featured speakers reflected on some of the big lessons learned over a year of PSI – and many of those lessons didn’t have anything to do with science.
 
Academic Programs Director James Forrest noted that, no matter how smart you are, there will be somebody smarter, and that a Canadian winter is nothing to be frightened of (although the same can’t be said for the Canadian geese that hiss grumpily at passersby outside Perimeter during hatching season).
 
The PSI class “proved to be a fantastic group,” Forrest said, “and I think they’ve learned a lot more than just physics – they’ve learned about collaboration … and made enough memories to last a lifetime.”
 
Having earned their PSI certificates, the students will receive their MSc degrees from the University of Waterloo at a convocation ceremony this fall.
 
University of Waterloo Professor James Taylor pointed out that many in the class will go on to pursue things outside of physics. “Physics doesn’t have a monopoly on all the interesting problems in the world,” he said.
 
And Perimeter Faculty Chair Luis Lehner encouraged the graduates to embrace the possibilities that await them as PSI graduates. “This year, you transitioned from being consumers of knowledge to being developers of it,” he said. 
 
For class valedictorian Katarina Martinović, from Montenegro, the spirit of exploration and camaraderie was evident from the early days of the program. For her, the diversity of the program – in terms of countries represented and gender mix – was deeply important.
 
“I was no longer the woman in the class. I was a woman in the class,” she said. “It’s not just something women benefited from, but both genders.”
 
It’s not just the learning that makes PSI special, said Djordje Minic, a physicist at Virginia Tech who has been a PSI final examiner since 2012. It’s the global nature of the program, the collaboration it requires, and the depth of the scientific enquiry students pursue.
 
“PSI is one of the brightest examples of a diverse physics program,” he said. “[As final examiner], I’m allowed to witness the future of physics. It is clear to me that some of the students here will be leaders of theoretical physics – indeed, already are.”
 
Tenille Bonoguore

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About Perimeter Institute

Perimeter Institute is the world’s largest research hub devoted to theoretical physics. The independent Institute was founded in 1999 to foster breakthroughs in the fundamental understanding of our universe, from the smallest particles to the entire cosmos. Research at Perimeter is motivated by the understanding that fundamental science advances human knowledge and catalyzes innovation, and that today’s theoretical physics is tomorrow’s technology. Located in the Region of Waterloo, the not-for-profit Institute is a unique public-private endeavour, including the Governments of Ontario and Canada, that enables cutting-edge research, trains the next generation of scientific pioneers, and shares the power of physics through award-winning educational outreach and public engagement. 
 

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“I was no longer the woman in the class. I was a woman in the class.”
 
PSI graduate Katarina Martinovic