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Research that could change your life...really!

Research that could change your life...really!

[Illustrations by Carl Weins]Could the way you walk affect the way you feel? Dr. Nikolaus Troje (Psychology, Biology and School of Computing) says yes. The Queen’s researcher teamed up with clinical psychologists from Germany’s University of Hildesheim to investigate whether walking in a happy or sad style has an impact on mood. They studied subjects who were asked to walk on a treadmill after hearing positive and negative words. When asked to recall those words, the subjects who had opted for a more cheerful gait gravitated towards the positive ones, while those who had walked in a slumped, depressed manner remembered those that were less optimistic. The result: a self-perpetuating negative cycle. An even more compelling reason to keep a spring in your step the next time you go for a mood-boosting walk!

Illustrations by Carl WeinsDr. Christopher Bowie (Psychology) wants to find out if brain stimulation treatments might be able to keep Alzheimer’s disease at bay. He is one of the lead investigators on a significant new research project that will study whether combining brain stimulation treatments delays or prevents the onset of the degenerative disease. Dr. Bowie, who will work with colleagues at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, where he has a research appointment, is combining his cognitive remediation treatment with a process that stimulates the firing of neurons in the prefrontal cortex. Alzheimer’s disease is often associated with early deterioration of function in the temporal lobes. Dr. Bowie hopes that stimulating some parts of the brain may compensate for deterioration in other regions.

[Illustrations by Carl Weins]While a jelly dessert might be a tasty treat, a jellified lake is something you want to avoid. But that, says Dr. John Smol (Biology), Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, is getting harder to do. Thanks to a legacy of logging and acid rain, calcium levels in many of North America’s soft water lakes have been depleted of calcium to such a degree that many of the organisms who depend on the element are no longer able to survive. Instead, they are being displaced by a different microscopic species with a jelly-like coating. These slimy, nutrient poor critters, which have lower calcium requirements, are less palatable to many predators and disruptive to lake ecosystems. They can also clog water intakes. Anyone feel like taking a dip? 

[Illustrations by Carl Weins]The future of crime fighting could lie in a single strand of hair. Dr. Diane Beauchemin (Chemistry) and her student Lily Huang (MSc’15), have developed a new technique for identifying human hair that is proving to be 100% effective. Their 85-second test, which involves grinding up hair, burning it, and then analyzing the vapour it produces, is faster than the DNA analysis techniques that are currently used in law enforcement. While DNA analysis can identify an individual, the new test can narrow down the number of suspects when DNA is not available or cannot be matched. Unlike blood samples, which can deteriorate quickly and get contaminated, hair is very stable and can indicate everything from gender and ethnicity, to diet and environmental conditions. And for anyone thinking about a quick dye job before a major bank heist, don’t bother: the test works on artificially coloured hair, too.

[Illustrations by Carl Weins]Could the key to cleaning up Canada’s more than 25,000 contaminated industrial sites lie in microscopic fungi? Dr. Sharon Regan (Biology) and her team are currently doing research at the Kam Kotia mine in Timmins, Ont., to find out. Though once a site for zinc and copper excavation, the abandoned site is now leeching heavy metals into the surrounding land and rivers. Dr. Regan’s work involves identifying beneficial fungi that can tolerate the conditions at the site, and helping to propagate those  that can help do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to cleaning up the soil. While they’re working to repair things, the fungi (which work in conjunction with plants) will also be able to help contain the spread of the existing contamination.

Illustrations by Carl Wiens

[cover of Queen's Review 2015-1]