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U of T Scarborough lecturer wins national award for math thesis

Richard Pancer will be presenting his thesis work at a conference in Banff, Alberta next week. (Photo by Ken Jones.)

A PhD thesis written by Richard Pancer, a senior lecturer in the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences at U of T Scarborough, has won a prestigious national award.

Pancer’s doctoral dissertation has been recognized by the Canadian Applied and Industrial Mathematics Society (CAIMS). He will be traveling to Banff, Alberta to present his work and to receive the trophy, a monetary award, and a one-year membership to the society at its annual meeting from May 20 to 24.

“I was completely surprised,” said Pancer, who has been a lecturer at the Scarborough campus for eight years. “I didn’t think I had a chance because this is a Canada-wide award. In fact, I wasn’t going to apply at first. The members of my dissertation committee talked me into putting together the nomination papers, and I’m glad they did.”

The Cecil Graham Award recognizes an outstanding PhD thesis in the field of applied mathematics defended at a Canadian university during the calendar year 2006.  It is named after the late Cecil Graham, a renowned applied mathematician and researcher in the area of non-linear fracture mechanics and viscoelasticity. Graham was a loyal member of CAIMS from its inception.

Last summer, Pancer successfully defended his 321-page thesis, titled “The Parallel Solution of ABD (Almost Block Diagonal) Systems Arising in Numerical Methods for BVPs (Boundary Value Problems) for ODEs (Ordinary Differential Equations).”   

Math has always been Pancer’s favorite subject. “It is an exact science, or at least it is as close as you can get to an exact science.  I’ve always liked that,” he said. “The idea of being able to reach an answer without a lot of different interpretations has always appealed to me.”

A rural resident who lives on a farm between Sunderland and Uxbridge, Pancer earned all three of his degrees in computer science from the University of Toronto. He received his PhD at convocation this past fall. Pancer has taught at all three campuses of U of T, working for several years before returning to full-time studies to complete his PhD last year.

His specialty is numerical analysis, a field that falls under both applied math and computer science.  His thesis supervisor was Prof. Ken Jackson of the University of Toronto Department of Computer Science. Prof. Wayne Enright of the Scarborough campus was also on the dissertation committee.

“Richard Pancer’s thesis makes a significant contribution to a particular area of numerical analysis,” said Jackson. “It represents a state-of-the-art solution to a longstanding problem.”  

Prof. John Scherk, Chair of the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences, described Pancer as “an exceptionally good teacher -- we have been lucky to have someone so good teaching here with us for the past eight years.”

Scherk notes that Pancer started his thesis in the late 1990s, but due to the demands of teaching, was unable to return to it until two years ago. Pancer went on sabbatical two years ago from teaching in order to complete his dissertation. “Richard was able to immerse himself in the subject again, and brought such effort and dedication into writing what turned out to be an exceptionally good thesis,” said Scherk. “It's very difficult to pick up again on a thesis after a few years, and he deserves a lot of credit for such a remarkable achievement.”

by Mary Ann Gratton

© University of Toronto Scarborough