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Faculty of Science

Faculty of Science News

September 17, 2013

Computer science professor Alex Ferworn has been chosen as one of six finalists in a Science Slam to compete in Washington D.C. If he gains the title EURAXESS Science Slammer North America, he will be on his way to Brussels in November to compete with scientists from around the world.

The Science Slam is run by EURAXESS —an initiative of the European Commission. It gives scientists a chance to show their work to non-experts in a clear and original way.  Regions around the world host competitions; finalists compete in Brussels.

Unlike a poetry slam, the EURAXESS competition uses video. Scientists upload a short video onto YouTube or DropBox. They then post a link on the EURAXESS LinkedIn site. Only finalists (up to seven in North America) present their research live in front of an audience. They have ten minutes to give a lucid and entertaining presentation.

Not to be daunted, Ferworn is organizing a team of dogs to help him present. “Canine rescuers” are crucial to the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Task Force that responds to major disasters in the United States. Ferworn only hopes they can show up on time in uniform.

The relevance is clear the minute you start watching Ferworn’s video. Spoiler alert: a highly-trained dog searches through rubble to find a live victim (all simulated). He wears a harness that holds a robot. When he senses the man, who is “buried” out of reach, he barks—which triggers the release of the robot. The robot – unlike the dog – can stay with the victim and monitor conditions. It can send valuable information back to the rescuers. More details about the Canine Assisted Robot Deployment (CARD) project can be found on our Faculty research page.  

The other five finalists are from Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, Montana, and Washington. Ferworn believes he’s the only one flying from Canada.

Ferworn’s own ticket to Washington is paid for by EURAXESS. The Faculty of Science is funding a graduate student to accompany him. They have until next week to pull their act together. The North American slam is on September 24th.

Imogen Coe, dean of the Faculty of Science, is delighted that Ferworn took the initiative. “It is truly interdisciplinary research. And he’s chosen a great way to make it public!” Other Ryerson faculty involved are Lucia Dell'Agnese, from the School of Fashion, who provides design and sewing support for the harness and underdog. Devin Ostrom, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is creating a new release mechanism for the robot.

The “slam” idea isn’t new. Poetry slams began in the 1980s. Open-mike, competitive, and always in flux, they’ve got a lot of people—youth, especially—fired up about poetry.

The Science Slam is gaining ground.



written by Megan O'Connor

Alex Ferworn, crouching on ground, looks up at camera

Alex Ferworn began teaching at Ryerson in 1992. He holds degrees from the University of Waterloo (PhD), the University of Guelph (MSc), and Ryerson Polytechnic Institute (B.Tech). Information on his research team, N-CART, can be found here.