Math phenom found his feet at York

Gábor Lukács (PhD ‘03) was three weeks shy of his eighth birthday on Oct. 11, 1990, the day he boarded a train with his father to flee Hungary and a painful childhood, reported The Globe and Mail Dec. 14. He grew his hair out and wore a girl’s blouse with a pair of white shoes and pink laces to help him evade authorities. “It was like an adventure,” he said. His dramatic escape was the beginning of an extraordinary childhood. Today, Lukács, at 24, is the youngest professor at the University of Manitoba, where he teaches an introductory math course. He began his undergraduate studies in Israel at 12, enrolled for his PhD at York University at 16, and started teaching at the University of Manitoba this fall at 23.

After their escape his father won a second custody battle, allowing him to continue what he’d started soon after his son was born – filling his son with knowledge. They would talk for hours about poetry, classical music and physics, giving the youngster a vast knowledge base that would later impress his professors at York. York took notice and was the only institution to accept him into a doctoral program.

Jianhong Wu, a professor in the Department of Math & Statistics in York’s Faculty of Arts and the former graduate program director for the department, said he immediately noticed Lukács’ “great potential” that other institutions failed to recognize. “The issue was not whether we should admit him, it was only ‘What are we going to do when we meet him?’ ” Wu said. There were concerns about how the young PhD student would adapt to a new program in a new country, so the university made professors from Jewish and Hungarian cultures available to him, and the dean always opened his door. But he rarely asked for, or needed, any assistance. Eventually, he flourished with the help of his supervisor, Walter Tholen, a professor in the Mathematics and Statistics Department in York’s Faculty of Arts.

In many ways, Lukács found his feet at York. He had to fend for himself without his father. And it was there that he met – and broke up with – his first love, a law student. Yale University eventually came knocking. He had applied earlier, but was no longer interested because the prestigious US school required him to fill out reams of paperwork and could not provide housing. “I got to like York. It felt good,” he said. “In retrospect, it was a good decision. There’s not a good political climate [in the United States].”

Precarn and York University sponsor new assistive tech network

Ottawa-based not-for-profit company Precarn Inc. is partnering with York University to create a research network focused on developing technology to help seniors and people with disabilities, reported the Ottawa Business Journal Dec. 13.

The organizations are sponsoring the Intelligent Computational Assistive Science and Technology (ICAST) network, which will increase cooperation between academia and the private sector in the research and development of mobility and communication aids, smart homes and other assistive technology.

“We are putting our heads together to ensure we benefit from each other’s research and focus on what is needed, whether it is mobility technology that senses surroundings and helps people with disabilities interact with their environments, or technology that can increase safety for seniors in their homes,” said ICAST Chair John Tsotsos, who is a computer science and engineering professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering.

  • Precarn, an Ottawa-based organization that funds technology research, is working with Canadian universities on new technology aimed at the needs of seniors and the disabled including intelligent wheelchairs and fall-detection technology, reported the Ottawa Citizen Dec. 14. York University, UBC and other universities have formed the Intelligent Computational Assistive Science and Technology (ICAST) network to drive development.

  • A new network of researchers and companies working on technology to aid seniors and the disabled is being hailed as the first of its kind, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 14. Intelligent Computational Assistive Science and Technology at York University aims to improve connections between scientists, engineers, clinicians, industry and organizations for the disabled.

Projects include intelligent wheelchairs that are self-guided, wearable robotics, technology that prompts a user with dementia through an everyday task, and smart homes that anticipate occupants’ needs.

Police canvass York area for tips

Police will go door to door in an area near York University where a sex predator is active, after the release of a composite sketch drew only a trickle of calls to investigators, reported The Toronto Sun Dec. 14. “We did not get much so far,” Toronto police sex crimes unit Det. Doug Sansom said. “We were expecting a little more than we got.”

The suspect has struck twice in The Village, a residential area south of the University, near Murray Ross Parkway and Sentinel Road, both times dragging teenage university students between houses and sexually assaulting them. In one case, the attacker held a gun to his victim’s head. Sansom said it’s believed the man may live near the area and police hope someone who lives in The Village will recognize the likeness.

Astronauts play Canadian ‘video game’ in space

A made-in-Canada experiment testing astronauts’ skill at video games was performed by NASA astronauts in orbit on shuttle Discovery, reported Dec. 13. Sunita Williams was using a joystick to zap targets on a computer screen while floating in near-zero-gravity conditions, thanks to Barry Fowler‘s experiment.

The kinesiology professor in York’s Faculty of Health wanted to learn more about astronauts’ mysterious loss of hand-eye coordination while in space. In a phenomenon labeled “perceptual-motor deficits in space,” usually-rock-steady astronauts can become butter-fingers. That’s a problem when precision maneuvers like docking the shuttle with the International Space Station are required. Williams took joystick in hand in an attempt to explain the effects. She also had to point to targets on screen using a stick, and then press a button every time she heard a beep in a test on multi-tasking abilities.

  • On Tuesday, a Canadian experiment called Perceptual-Motor Deficits in Space, designed by Barry Fowler of York University, was aimed at determining the causes of astronauts’ reduced coordination, reported Canadian Press Dec. 13.

“Once the why of perceptual-motor deficits in space is known, we can start looking at how to remedy this problem,” Fowler said in a news release from the Canadian Space Agency on Wednesday. “This research in space could also lead to new medical knowledge on how the brain adapts or not to disease or injury that can confound hand-eye coordination.” he said. This article appeared in newspapers across Canada, and was distributed internationally by the Associated Press.

‘Naillies’ sculptor David Gerry Partridge dead at 87

Canadian artist David Gerry Partridge, known for his unique sculpture technique using nails, has died at age 87, reported CBC News online, Dec. 13. His murals of nails, created with a technique he called “Naillies,” adorn public buildings such as Toronto City Hall, Ottawa’s Capital Congress Centre and York University’s Scott Library. The Metropolis nail mural is one of the most popular attractions at Toronto City Hall. He also sold work to the National Gallery, Art Gallery of Ontario, the Tate Gallery in Liverpool, the Gallery of New South Wales in Australia and the Art Gallery of Windsor.

Expected better from McGuinty

Dalton McGuinty says that giving himself and fellow MPPs a 25 per cent pay raise is “the right thing to do.” The students of this province beg to differ, wrote Edward Fenner, president of the York Mature Students’ Organization, in a letter to the Toronto Star Dec. 14. Each $22,000 raise would about pay the entire four-year tuition for an honours arts undergraduate in this province. It seems this raise is much more like “the right-wing thing to do” when you stick students with higher tuition fees and trips to the food bank while he and his fellow legislators engorge themselves without shame. I look forward to casting my vote to fire his government in the next election. It has been a massive disappointment – especially after the horrors of the Harris-Eves years. We expected far, far better from him.

On air

  • Arthur Hilliker, biology professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about his views on Ontario’s move to abolish mandatory retirement, on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Morning” Dec. 13.