Three York graduate students awarded Governor General’s Gold Medals

GG Gold Medal winners featured

Three York University graduates are the recipients of this year’s Governor General’s Gold Medals, which recognize the outstanding scholastic achievements of graduate students in Canada. This year’s recipients are Gehrig Carlse, Junjie Kang and Jordana Waxman.

About the recipients

Gehrig Carlse earned a BSc (Honours) in biophysics from York University before continuing on to earn his MSc in physics and astronomy. His master’s thesis investigated the kinematics of airborne microparticles on timescales at which diffusive motion transitions to ballistic motion. By confining these tiny particles with free-space optical tweezers – essentially holding particles at the centre of a focused laser beam – he developed a new technique to rapidly characterize and measure their masses with high levels of precision.

“I am very grateful to be receiving the Governor General’s Gold Medal,” says Carlse. “I know the award is an individual honour, but in my case, I think the recognition really reflects the contributions of my family, friends and colleagues, who have all helped put me in a great position to succeed.”

Interestingly, the microparticle measurement technique that Carlse created was made possible due to a new class of high-power diode laser systems that he also had a hand in developing in conjunction with an industrial project that he worked on during the summers of his undergraduate studies. But despite his direct role in these scientific breakthroughs, Carlse insists on sharing the credit.

“There are so many exceptional graduates at York who likely all deserve this distinction just as much as I do,” he says. “It is really the efforts of the people supporting me who have helped me stand out in any way that I have.”

After finishing his master’s degree, Carlse decided to continue his education at York, this time to pursue a PhD in physics and astronomy with his supervisor, Professor Anantharaman Kumarakrishnan. He is continuing to work with high-power lasers, but now he is trying to perform precise measurements of the Earth’s gravitational acceleration using ultracold atoms.

Junjie Kang earned a PhD in earth and space science and engineering from York University under the supervision of Professor Zheng Hong (George) Zhu, Tier I York Research Chair in Space Technology and academic director of the Research Commons. Kang’s research focused on tethered space systems and their application in space debris removal.

“I am really honoured to receive the Governor General’s Gold Medal,” says Kang. “This medal is a recognition of my research in the journey toward my PhD. I will take this medal as encouragement to continue my research about dynamics and control of tethered space systems.”

In 2018, during his studies at York, Kang received the highly prestigious Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Outstanding Paper Award for Young Scientists for a paper he co-wrote with Professor Zhu and published in COSPAR’s flagship journal, Advances in Space Research. The winning paper, titled “Fractional order sliding mode control for tethered satellite deployment with disturbances,” which sought a fast and stable way to deliver a satellite into lower Earth orbits using a tether, was also deemed one of the “Most Cited Advances in Space Research Articles” since 2017. In 2021, Kang received the Faculty of Graduate Studies Dissertation Prize.

Kang credits the mentorship from his supervisor, the valuable advice from supervisory committee members Professor Dan Zhang and Professor Franz Newland, and the support from the Department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering for getting him to this point.

“I am also grateful for the opportunities I have had within the York University community,” he says.

Speaking of opportunities, during his PhD studies Kang participated in a CubeSat mission called DESCENT, led by his supervisor and sponsored by the Canadian Space Agency. With Kang as one of the primary researchers, together with his supervisor they successfully conducted the tether deployment in a microgravity environment by the parabolic flight campaign in Ottawa in 2018. The satellite was successfully deployed from the International Space Station on Nov. 5, 2020.

After graduation, Kang went on to share his wisdom with fellow space enthusiasts as an associate professor at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in China.

Jordana Waxman earned her PhD in clinical developmental psychology and a specialized graduate diploma in health psychology from York University in October 2020. Her dissertation research, supported by institutional, provincial, and national granting bodies, focused on better understanding how behavioural and physiological pain-related distress regulation develops across the second year of life.

“I am thrilled and honoured to receive the Governor General’s Gold Medal,” says Dr. Waxman, “given the number of talented and hard-working doctoral students at York University.”

Dr. Waxman credits her research supervisor, Professor Rebecca Pillai Riddell, as well as the many graduate and undergraduate students in the Opportunities to Understand Childhood Hurt (OUCH) Laboratory for supporting her academic journey.

“Without their support and collaboration, my doctoral research would not have been possible,” she says.

Currently a pediatric health psychology Fellow at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, Dr. Waxman is working in the areas of oncology, pediatric obesity and eating disorders, as well as conducting clinical research in neonatal neurology.

About the awards

For more than 140 years, the Governor General’s Academic Medals have recognized the outstanding scholastic achievements of students in Canada. They are awarded to the student graduating with the highest average from a high school, as well as from approved college or university programs. Pierre Trudeau, Tommy Douglas, Kim Campbell, Robert Bourassa, Robert Stanfield and Gabrielle Roy are just some of the more than 50,000 people who have received the Governor General’s Academic Medal as the start of a life of accomplishment.

Today, the Governor General’s Academic Medals are awarded at four distinct levels: Bronze, at the secondary school level; Collegiate Bronze, at the post-secondary, diploma level; Silver, at the undergraduate level; and Gold, at the graduate level. Medals are presented on behalf of the Governor General by participating educational institutions, along with personalized certificates signed by the Governor General. There is no monetary award associated with the medal.