Recognizing early-career research excellence

Research excellence

Recognizing early-career research excellence

Three researchers are recognized with Queen’s highest internal research award for their field-leading research and innovation.

By Kayla Dettinger, Special Projects Officer

March 21, 2024


Drs. Alyson Mahar, Ali Etemad, Farnaz Heidar-Zadeh

Alyson Mahar (Nursing), Ali Etemad (Electrical and Computer Engineering), and Farnaz Heidar-Zadeh (Chemistry)

The Vice-Principal (Research) Portfolio has announced the recipients of their annual Prizes for Excellence in Research for Outstanding Emerging Researchers. This year’s recipients Alyson Mahar (Nursing), Farnaz Heidar-Zadeh (Chemistry), and Ali Etemad (Electrical and Computer Engineering) have all demonstrated significant contributions to advancing their respective fields. The prize also serves as Queen’s highest internal research award to recognize excellence amongst early-career researchers.

Candidates are nominated by their faculty deans and are reviewed by a selection committee comprised of faculty and students representing all stages of the research career trajectory. An emphasis is placed on representing the diversity of the Queen’s community and its research. Recipients are awarded $5,000 as part of the prize.

"Recognizing research excellence is important at all stages, but it is particularly gratifying at the early-career stage," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "I am delighted to present the Prizes for Excellence in Research, our highest internal research recognition for early-career researchers, to Drs. Mahar, Heidar-Zadeh, and Etemad. Their work to advance research in health care delivery, quantum chemistry, and artificial intelligence is helping to solve some of the most urgent challenges facing society."

Partnering with patients and communities, Dr. Mahar’s team is using inclusive, cutting-edge approaches to data and research design to understand the complexity of intersections among the social determinants of health, people’s identities, and the policies and systems we live in. Dr. Mahar’s interdisciplinary team is working towards addressing inequitable health care delivery by advancing understudied areas of cancer care, mental health, and the defence and public safety sectors.

Dr. Heidar-Zadeh is researching the development of new mathematical tools, numerical algorithms, and computer software to qualitatively and quantitatively predict the outcome of chemical phenomena using strategies from quantum chemistry and machine learning. Her group is also the lead developer of ChemTools, a collection of tools for interpreting the numerical output of quantum chemistry calculations to gain chemical insight. Among the potential applications of Dr. Heidar-Zadeh’s research is the design and testing of molecules that could be used to develop new drug treatments. She was awarded the 2021 Polanyi Prize in Chemistry from the Council of Ontario Universities. Recently, she was selected as a Cottrell Scholar by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, the first person at Queen's to receive this honour.

Dr. Etemad is a Mitchell Professor in AI for Human Sensing and Understanding and a faculty member with Ingenuity Labs Research Institute. His internationally recognized research program continues to push the state of the art in novel artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms for analyzing and interpreting human-focused data such as video, audio, and signals from wearable devices. The overarching objective of Dr. Etemad’s work is to understand human behaviour, identity, health, and emotional states with the goal of improving user experience, health outcomes, and overall quality of life.

The Prizes for Excellence in Research will be presented at spring convocation. To learn more about the award and past winners, visit the Vice-Principal (Research) Portfolio website.

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