Ontario government invests in Queen's research

Research funding

Ontario government invests in Queen's research

The university receives provincial funding to advance research projects and ensure Ontario’s ability to attract and retain the best and brightest research talent.

By Kayla Dettinger, Special Projects Officer

March 21, 2024


[Kingston Hall on Queen's campus]

The funding helps cover the direct and indirect costs of research and infrastructure, equipping research facilities with laboratories and the latest technology.

The Government of Ontario recently announced funding to support 406 projects at institutions across the province to advance ‘made-in-Ontario’ research and innovation. Of the $278 million administered through the Ontario Research Fund and Early Researcher Awards programs, 13 Queen’s researchers have received more than $3 million to accelerate innovations in critical areas – from cancer research to low-carbon energy. These provincial funds work in coordination with federal and university programs to support early-career researchers and large-scale infrastructure through sustained investment in multi-year projects.

"By investing in cutting-edge research, we are safeguarding Ontario’s position at the forefront of innovation that continues to be competitive on a global scale and has the ability to attract the best and brightest talent to our province," said Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities.

The funding also helps cover the direct and indirect costs of research and infrastructure, equipping research facilities with laboratories and the latest technology.

"The Government of Ontario is committed to supporting the province’s research ecosystem so that discoveries and innovations can have a direct impact on the lives of Ontarians," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "My sincere thanks and appreciation to Premier Ford and Minister Dunlop for their investments in Queen’s and our research community."

Learn more about the funded projects:

Early Researcher Awards (ERA)

The ERA program awards $140,000 in funding to assist early-career researchers in accessing the latest technologies, equipment, and talent to build teams to advance their research projects. Six Queen’s researchers have been awarded funding to support innovations in artificial intelligence, plastics pollution, cancer, and low-carbon energy.

Diane Orihel (Biology and School of Environmental Studies): Ecosystem-Scale Experimentation to Inform Policy Actions on Plastic Pollution: Response of Amphibians to a Whole-Lake Microplastic Experiment

There are 26 species of frogs, toads, and salamanders that make up Ontario’s native amphibians. They are subject to many anthropogenic stressors such as pollution and environmental change resulting from human activities. Dr. Orihel’s project will investigate the potential harm caused by plastic pollution in lakes to the health of amphibian communities by conducting a globally unique whole-ecosystem experiment at the Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario. The research team will assess the effects of microplastics by tracking changes in the abundance and diversity of amphibians inhabiting the experimental lake. They will also conduct smaller experiments on selected amphibian species to answer mechanistic questions about how microplastics cause harm.

Suraj Persaud (Mechanical and Material Engineering): Developing New Materials to Enable Carbon-Free Small Modular Reactors

Nuclear power is a technology-ready, very-low carbon energy source that can address international climate change concerns. Canada and the Ontario provincial government have recognized this and developed roadmaps to deploy safer, cost-effective, and efficient smaller modular reactors (SMRs). However, success of SMRs hinges on addressing key concerns, such as better understanding the corrosion of materials in extreme environments. Dr. Persaud’s project will address the vital knowledge gaps, explore avenues to develop novel materials for SMRs, and combine cutting-edge experimental facilities, including a proton accelerator for irradiation, one-of-a-kind corrosion facilities, and state-of-the-art microscopes to advance materials discovery.

Colleen Renihan (DAN School of Drama and Music): Gesturing Toward Selfhood: Investigating the Effects of Musical and Physical Gesture on the Wellbeing of Ontario’s Older Adults and Their Caregivers

Developing a multi-pronged approach to support the wellbeing and selfhood of older adults is crucial. Dr. Renihan’s project will investigate the potential for personalized vocal and physical gesture exploration to enhance and affirm selfhood, increase wellbeing, and decrease feelings of loneliness in older adults in Ontario. Moreover, examining the way in which the dyad, or older adult and caregiver, engage in these activities can reveal their impact on the relationship between them. The findings will contribute to our understanding of the ways integrated arts practices can support positive aging and quality of life for order adults. They will also inform ways that music and movement might be mobilized in community arts and long-term care settings to affirm selfhood through memory, alleviate loneliness, and improve the wellbeing of older adults.

Nir Rotenberg (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy): Giant Photon-Photon Interactions on a Chip

Light is one of the most important resources in our society as it powers all our communication networks and carries information long distances with low losses. This same ability makes light crucial to emerging quantum technologies. However, it also brings additional challenges as quantum circuits process information by acting on a quantum state (a single unit of light, the photon) in different ways depending on the state of different photons. Dr. Rotenberg’s project will create a photonic chip that uses single quanta of matter (artificial atoms) to enable efficient and controllable photon-photon interaction for the first time. This will enable the on-demand generation of entanglement, a key resource in quantum communications or quantum logic for quantum computation. The research team’s work will contribute to Ontario remaining a world-leader in the quantum sciences and technologies that stand to revolutionize industries from communications to pharmaceuticals.

Bhavin Shastri (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy): Photonic Neural Ordinary Differential Equations

Artificial intelligence (AI) enabled by neural networks (NNs) and inspired by the human brain has impacted many industries, from medicine to finance and communications. However, software implantations of NNs on conventional computers are limited in speed and energy efficiency. Dr. Shastri’s project will explore photonics (physics of light) to enable novel AI algorithms, leading to a first-of-its-kind integration of a photonic processor (computer powered by light) on a silicon platform to implement an entirely new class of NNs called neural ordinary differential equations. This analogue photonic processor could solve such tasks on a nanosecond timescale, which is a million times faster than digital computers, and could be applied to fast irregularly sampled data (e.g., from particle detector experiments to understand the nature of the universe).

Kevin Stamplecoskie (Chemistry): Emerging Material at the Forefront of Cancer Therapy

More than 100,000 patients are diagnosed with cancer each year in Ontario. Of these, 30 per cent ultimately succumb to the disease, making cancer the leading cause of death in the province. Despite medical advances, some cancers remain a death sentence due to the inability to treat the affected organ or severe damage to healthy tissues during treatment. Metal clusters are an emerging material that can be tailored to improve treatment for cancer patients receiving radiation therapy. Dr. Stamplecoskie’s project will synthesize metal clusters that are engineered to selectively target cancer cells, mitigating the risks to healthy tissues. Through collaborations with cancer research experts these materials will rapidly translate to clinical applications. 

Ontario Research Fund (ORF)

The ORF provides investment for a range of activities that support research from operations to facilities. The Small Infrastructure Fund (ORF-SIF) helps cover the cost of acquiring and renewing research equipment. These funds are paired with the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund to ensure maintained project support.

As part of this announcement, Ontario has awarded matching funds of $1.1 million to George diCenzo (Biology) and his project co-lead Ivan Oresnik (University of Manitoba) for their work to reduce GHG emissions associated with fertilizers. Their team has secured $6 million to advance their research, including $3 million from Genome Canada’s Climate-Smart Agriculture and Food Systems initiative.

Seven additional projects at Queen’s have received support for state-of-the-art equipment, technology, and hardware.

Faith Brennan (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences): Harnessing Macrophage Biology to Control Neuroinflammation – $150,000

Neurological disorders represent a major public health burden in Ontario. Neuroinflammation is a hallmark of all acute and chronic neurological injuries and diseases. Understanding how major inflammatory cells called macrophages contribute to tissue damage and poor functional recovery will accelerate the development of novel therapeutics. By establishing an Advanced Confocal Imaging Suite, Dr. Brennan’s research will build on the existing surgical, behavioural, molecular, and cellular facilities at Queen’s to enable the discovery and translation of strategies designed to reduce the burden of neurological disorders. This is a novel approach in Canada and has the potential to serve as a framework to develop interventions for other complex conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.

Suzan Eren (Electrical and Computer Engineering; Queen’s National Scholar): Fast-Charging Infrastructure for Electric Vehicles – $97,536

Current worldwide government incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have spurred electric vehicle (EV) development, especially for urban use. The number of EVs is expected to grow exponentially to 30 million by 2040. Some of the major challenges with the mass development of battery EVs is the lack of charging stations in shopping areas and workplaces and the time required for recharging. Dr. Eren’s project is seeking to develop next-generation EV battery charging stations. The team will design stations that not only increase recharging speed and reduce the amount spent on electricity, but also decrease unnecessary energy losses with a compact design. They aim to develop ultra-fast charging stations that could charge EVs in about the time it takes to fill a gas tank.  

Ryan Grant (Electrical and Computer Engineering; Ingenuity Labs Research Institute): Smart Networks for Scientific Computing – $152,000

Smart Network Interface Controllers (SmartNICs) or Data Processing Units (DPUs) are hardware components that add the ability to compute in a never before available location in a High-Performance Computing (HPC) system. Dr. Grant’s project aims to build the world’s first intelligent software layer at the network hardware layer itself to optimize the performance of HPC systems. The team will find new methods for optimization and apply them in an open-source code that can be deployed on HPC systems for scientific discovery and applied in industrial settings to enhance productivity. This work will enhance investments in Ontario’s compute infrastructure in the future as such SmartNIC components become common in data centres.

David McLagan (Geology and Geological Sciences; Environmental Studies): FEWA Contaminant Biogeochemistry Lab: Holistic Assays of Hg Biogeochemical Cycling in Forest Ecosystems – $120,000

Deforestation and land use change, climate change, and contaminant inputs threaten the Earth’s finite forest ecosystems. Dr. McLagan’s research group, FEWA Lab, will utilize a total systems approach to examine the biogeochemical cycling of contaminants, particularly mercury, through forest and other vegetated ecosystems. They aim to understand the cycling and archiving of mercury through individual trees across a range of species, improve our understanding of wildfire pollutant emissions and in-plume chemical interactions using mobile sampling platforms (drones/vehicles), and examine vegetation as biomarkers for mercury pollution near Artisanal Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) activities. The goal is to undertake a global research strategy to elicit critical information about the impacts of wildfires and mercury on human and environmental health that will have a positive influence on policy making at local, provincial, national, and international levels.

Teresa Purzner (Surgery): Identifying Predictors of Recurrence and Developing Novel Therapies for Patients with Brain Tumours – $100,000

Dr. Purnzer is seeking to build new therapies that drive pediatric brain tumour cells to turn into becoming benign neurons.  Their team will be employing a high-throughput automated microscope to screen thousands of combinations of drugs, that would not be feasible manually, to identify which drug combinations are most effective. In addition, the Purzner lab is focused on building technology to identify, in real-time, areas that are high risk for early recurrence at the time of the initial surgery. If successful, the project will bring real-time personalized, precision surgery for patients in Ontario diagnosed with brain tumours for the very first time and will set the stage for Ontario to be a global leader in differentiation therapy as a novel approach to pediatric brain cancer.

Abbas Taheri (Robert M. Buchan Department of Mining): Time-Dependent Rock and Joint Behaviour in Deep Underground Environments – $175,600

One of the most significant challenges to the future of the mineral industry is the reduction in the mineral resources inventory due to high production rates and difficulties extracting deep-earth resources. The mining industry in Ontario generates more than $10 billion in annual mineral production and supports 75,000 direct and indirect jobs in Ontario. However, many of Ontario’s known mineral assets will be nearly exhausted within the next decade. Exploring greater depths could be a solution in the longer term. Deep mining and energy extraction are associated with high in-situ stress and water pressure which can cause disasters that are often complex and difficult to forecast and control. Dr. Taheri’s project will develop an advanced high-pressure triaxial compression test system and a large direct shear test system capable of applying complex stress histories to rock and discontinuities and measuring properties. The new system will provide scientific insights and quantitative studies with advanced experimental techniques on the pre-peak and post-peak failure behaviour of intact rock and discontinuities.

Sebastien Talbot (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences): Neuro-Immunity in Cancer and Allergy – $250,000

Dr. Talbot aims to define the mechanisms and molecules that regulate the interplay between the immune and sensory nervous systems. The project will decipher how and which sub-population of sensory neurons controls innate and adaptive responses and develop new therapies for the resolution of inflammatory diseases. Using a fluorescent microscope, his team will build on existing facilities at Queen’s to enable the discovery and translation of strategies designed to reduce the burden of neurological and immunological conditions in Ontario. This new framework may also have the potential to develop interventions for other acute and chronic inflammatory disorders. Centering translational pipelines around state-of-the-art imaging infrastructure is a novel approach for Canada and will ensure Ontario leads the discoveries of new treatments for cancer and allergy.

For more information on this latest Ontario research investment, visit the Ontario Newsroom.

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