International Day of Women and Girls in Science
Celebrating women's leadership in science
February 9, 2024
Women researchers at Queen’s are leading critical advancements in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), with impacts felt across disciplines ranging from particle astrophysics to cancer treatments and beyond.
As the world readies to celebrate the United Nations’ ninth International Day of Women and Girls in Science—which promotes full access and participation of women in STEM fields—let’s look back over the past year at women-led research at Queen’s that has left a mark, not only on their individual fields of study but on our efforts to realize worldwide sustainable development.
"The UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in STEM is a chance to recognize that, while as a society we’ve made strides to ensure access and participation, there is still a lot of work to do. At Queen’s, we aim to create the conditions and rich training environments for women researchers to thrive and harness their talents to unlock the full potential of science."
– Dr. Nancy Ross
The Crudden effect
Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry) is a world-leading expert in materials science and organic chemistry who has been awarded the highly prestigious John C. Polanyi Award for her significant contributions. Her trailblazing research demonstrated that applying a thin carbon layer to metal surfaces can protect them from oxidation and extend their lifespans—findings that could revolutionize approaches to infrastructure, clean energy, electronics manufacturing, cancer treatment, and much more. Recently, Dr. Crudden was celebrated in a special edition of the Canadian Journal of Chemistry focused on her accomplishments and on her work’s influence, as told by colleagues, former students, postdoctoral fellows, and mentees who have been directly inspired by her work and leadership.
Math education made fun
Professor Emerita Lynda Colgan (Education) has been deeply committed to the goal of enhancing math literacy among Canadian youth throughout her career. In recognition of Dr. Colgan's lifetime achievements in this area she was awarded the 2023 Margaret Sinclair Memorial Award by University of Toronto’s Fields Institute of Research in Mathematical Sciences. This award honours educators in Canada who demonstrate innovation and excellence in promoting mathematics education at the elementary, secondary, college, or university level.
Queen’s researcher Farnaz Heidar-Zadeh (Chemistry) stands as the sole Canadian recipient of a 2024 Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement—the United States' first foundation dedicated wholly to science. Her innovative research has combined quantum mechanics and chemistry with machine learning to identify promising compounds worthy of further study. Among the potential applications of this work is the design and testing of molecules that could be used to develop new drug treatments. Dr. Heidar-Zadeh’s award win will see her research receive a $120,000 boost.
Top Canadian honour for field-leading researcher
Researcher Claire Davies (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) received the 2023 Dorothy Killiam Fellowship, which recognizes outstanding career achievements in health, engineering, humanities, natural, and social sciences that have contributed to building Canada’s future and increased the impact of Canadian research. Dr. Davies's fellowship project, called "Participation requires communication" will employ participatory research that works toward developing effective guidelines for assistive communication devices like speech aides. This work will help inform development of the new Accessible Canada Act.
Overcoming employment barriers for people with speech related disabilities
People living with disabilities often face heightened difficulty when seeking employment. For some people, like those living with communication disabilities, unemployment rates can reach as high as 86 per cent. Canada lacks research to inform best practices in recruiting, hiring, and retaining persons living with communication disabilities. Recognizing this gap, Queen’s graduate student Glenda Watson Hyatt is investigating employment barriers faced by people with speech disabilities—work which earned her the 2023 Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation—Master’s.
Researcher receives national award for cancer care innovation
Irsa Wiginton, a postdoctoral researcher at Queen’s Cancer Research Institute, earned national recognition for her ground-breaking work to monitor breast cancer using a routine blood test. The test—a liquid biopsy specifically for metastatic breast cancer—was developed by mDetect Inc, a company she co-founded, and is currently undergoing its first clinical trials. Dr. Wiginton received the Mitacs Global Impacts Entrepreneur Award for her efforts to turn research into an innovative business that impacts the lives of Canadians.
Exploring technology and community health
The Connected Minds project brings together researchers across eight faculties at York University and three faculties at Queen’s to assess the potential risks and benefits of technology for humanity. Awarded $105.7 million by the 2023 Canada First Research Excellence Fund, the project is taking a wide-ranging look at how disruptive technologies impact our daily lives. Queen’s researcher and core Connected Minds team member, Catherine Donnelly (Rehabilitation Therapy), is overseeing the project’s examination of technology and healthy aging. Some areas Dr. Donnelly will explore include how older adults identify technology needs and how they are involved in the co-design of technology.
Mechanical and materials engineering put into practice
Researcher Roshni Rainbow (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) is one of the faculty advisors involved in a partnership between Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre (SPWC) and Smith Engineering to aid animal rehabilitation. Dr. Rainbow’s students work with SPWC to understand issues faced in animal rehabilitation, brainstorm solutions, create mock-ups or prototypes, and discuss testing and budgeting related to their care for injured and orphaned wildlife. One of the team’s solutions—3-D printed splints for smaller animals like squirrels and raccoons—are already in use at the centre.
Frozen Lab – detecting neutrinos in ice
Queen’s researcher Nahee Park (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy) is chasing neutrino interactions at the IceCube facility at the South Pole. Thousands of kilometers to the south, in the middle of Antarctica, Queen’s is part of an international collaboration devoted to exploring the mysteries of outer space from right here on Earth. Dr. Park is the Queen’s lead on IceCube that is working with particles that have 10 to 15 times more energy than our eyes can see, which opens the universe up to further study. A recent paper she co-published in Science described how IceCube detected evidence of neutrinos coming from a galaxy 47 million light years away, marking the first evidence of neutrinos from an obscure environment.
The science of gender, sex, and sexuality
Sari van Anders (Psychology), Queen’s professor and Canada 150 Research Chair, believes new feminist and queer perspectives in science challenge status quo and open up new understandings of human biology and behaviour. She is a leader in the fields of feminist science, gender, and sexuality and has been researching social neuroendocrinology for over a decade. In 2022, Dr. van Anders was awarded the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Society for the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, and the Outstanding Graduate Teaching of Psychology as a Core STEM Discipline Award from the American Psychological Association's Board of Educational Affairs.
Underground research unlocking knowledge about the particles that make up galaxies
Situated two kilometres underground in the world’s deepest ultra-clean lab, SNOLAB is uniquely suited for investigating neutrinos and dark matter, two elements that could hold keys to understanding our universe. Queen’s professor and SNOLAB Executive Director Jodi Cooley (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy) oversees the facility’s ambition to become the leading international laboratory for deep underground science and host to the world’s most advanced experiments in particle physics. Dr. Cooley is also intimately familiar with the Nobel Prize-winning discovery at SNO that neutrinos have mass, having previously worked with Takaaki Kajita and the Japanese team who shared the prize with Queen’s Professor Emeritus Arthur McDonald.
Queen's researcher secures global scholarship
While permafrost thaw—the loss of areas where the ground soil, sediment, or rocks are at or below zero degrees Celsius for two or more consecutive years—may not be among the most widely discussed consequences of climate change, its impacts on northern ecosystems and on Indigenous communities are pressing concerns. Élise Devoie (Civil Engineering) is an expert in permafrost loss who was inducted into the 2023-2025 cohort of the CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars program. This program will support Dr. Devoie's work with two years of unrestricted research funding and a network of interdisciplinary global collaborators to advance our understanding of permafrost loss and its implications for humanity.
Showcase your research and passion for STEM by tagging @queensu and @queensuResearch on X (Twitter) to help us promote the contributions to ground-breaking STEM research made by Queen’s women-identifying researchers.