“Bright Minds in Their Life’s Prime” - Perimeter Celebrates Fifth PSI Class
June 25, 2014
Perimeter congratulates the fifth class to complete the Perimeter Scholars International (PSI) master’s program.
The fifth class of Perimeter Scholars International (PSI) celebrated their completion of the intense master’s program during a ceremony featuring science, a bittersweet farewell, and a surprising hip hop twist.
Thirty students from 16 countries, who have spent the past 10 months immersed in theoretical physics, were lauded at the June 21 ceremony by their instructors, peers, and award-winning hip hop artist Shad, who performed an original spoken-word piece written for the occasion.
Shad’s words poetically captured the spirit of intellectual adventure that has defined the PSI program since its 2009 launch:
“I’m seeing signs, these lights shining from bright minds in their life’s prime. This feels like once in a lifetime – like maybe we can do better than building pipelines, and fighting over conflict diamonds in Wolframite mines. And we can do more than just retweet or write rhymes; we can write history – right now is the right time.” (Read Shad’s entire piece.)
The event marked the culmination of what PSI’s new director, James Forrest, described as “a boot camp for theoretical physics.”
“These students eat, breathe, and sleep theoretical physics for almost a year,” said Forrest. “They do it with unbridled enthusiasm, optimism, and a willingness to question everything.”
Every year, Perimeter fields hundreds of applications to the program, which is unique both for the challenges of the subject matter and for its focus on teamwork between students, tutors, and faculty.
“It was an amazing opportunity, working and living with 30 students from every corner or the world, working not in competition but in collaboration,” said Nima Afkhami-Jeddi, who shared valedictory responsibilities with Neha Wadia.
“I consider it a great privilege to have spent the past 10 months learning with you all, and from you all,” added Wadia.
The ceremony also served as a bittersweet farewell to John Berlinsky, who launched the PSI program five years ago and served as its director throughout its growth. Berlinsky, who is transitioning to a new role as deputy director of California’s Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, received the first-ever honorary PSI degree.
Presenting Berlinsky with the framed degree, Perimeter Director Neil Turok said, “We wanted to create the greatest theoretical physics graduate program in the world, and John said, ‘When do I start?’ He got it immediately, and has been a huge part of its success and reputation.”
Having earned their PSI certificates, the latest cohort of students will receive their full MSc degrees from the University of Waterloo at a convocation ceremony this fall.
The weekend featured a number of related events and celebrations for PSI students, both past and present. The afternoon ceremony was followed by an intimate Shad concert in Perimeter’s Black Hole Bistro, featuring tracks spanning the Juno Award-winner’s career.
The following day, PSI alumni from over the program’s five years gathered – both in person and online – for a “virtual conference” called “Action at a Distance.” Participants delivered short presentations about their post-PSI careers, from PhD studies in particle physics and economics to actual rocket science at SpaceX.
The weekend’s events exemplified the spirit of PSI – collaboration in pursuit of deeper understanding of the universe and our place in it. Perimeter Faculty member Asimina Arvanitaki, who delivered the keynote address during the celebration ceremony, eloquently summed it up.
“We are in the truth business,” she told the students. “Think big, be critical, and have fun. We do what we do because we love physics.”
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.