The Year in Research 2023

Annual Research Recap

The Year in Research 2023

The Gazette celebrates the achievements of the Queen’s research community that have defined the last 12 months.

By Justine Pineau, Coordinator, Strategic Initiatives

December 13, 2023


2023 Year In Research Highlights - [Text: The Year in Research]

Some highlights from this year's research endeavors across the Queen's community.

As we bid farewell to 2023, we’re taking a moment to remember some of the milestones, funding, awards, and discoveries that shaped the Queen’s research community this annum.

Memorable moments

The year began on a high note with the announcement of a transformative $30 million investment from alumnus Bruce Mitchell (Sc’68, DSc’20), aimed to bolster research intensity, elevate graduate student recruitment efforts, and foster collaboration among scholars. The gift also established a funding avenue for the recruitment of 50 new doctoral trainees, broadening the landscape of high-quality research training environments at Queen’s.

In May, Science Rendezvous Kingston saw its most successful event to date, with over 5,300 attendees and 400 volunteers engaging in science outreach activities. The full-day festival featured distinguished guests, including Arthur McDonald, 2015 Nobel laureate and Queen’s professor emeritus, and Alejandro Adem, President of the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada.

May also saw the community celebrate the wrap up of the WE-CAN Project, designed to empower and equip women entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups or sectors with the resources to take their businesses to the next level. Over three years, the program supported over 1,300 entrepreneurs in Kingston and the region, and due to its success, it will continue to offer programming to women in business.

V. Ophelia Rigault, EDI Speaker, Trainer & Consultant speaks at the WE-CAN Wrap-Up event.

V. Ophelia Rigault, EDI Speaker, Trainer & Consultant speaks at the WE-CAN Wrap-Up event.

This summer, Queen’s secured the position of 3rd globally and 1st in North America out of over 1,700 participating universities in the 2023 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, marking its best performance to date. The rankings measure contributions to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals through research, teaching, and outreach activity.

Research leadership

Queen’s researchers again earned widespread recognition through national and international honours. Claire Davies (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) received one of eight Dorothy Killam Fellowships to advance her research in accessible communications. Praveen Jain (Electrical and Computer Engineering) was one of five researchers nationally to receive a Killam Prize, which recognized his world-leading research in power electronics.

The prestigious NSERC John C. Polanyi Award was awarded to Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry) for her innovative work on protecting metal surfaces using organic molecules. Recently, it was announced that Paul Kubes will join Queen’s as the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Immunophysiology and Immunotherapy, to advance critical research on cancer and chronic disease.

Dr. Kubes standing in a lab.

Dr. Kubes' research approach combines physiology and immunology to build synergies among clinician scientists, physiologists, cancer biologists, and immunologists to advance immune-based therapies from a holistic perspective.

John Smol (Biology) was honoured for lifetime research achievements with the Vega Medal, the Nobel Prize-equivalent in geography, awarded by the King of Sweden. He was also recognized by the Royal Society of Canada with the Sir John William Dawson Medal and appointed to the Order of Ontario, for his groundbreaking work on protecting lakes and ecosystems.

The Canada Research Chair in Youth and African Urban Futures, Grace Adeniyi-Ogunyankin (Geography and Planning; Gender Studies) was named a Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research’s new Humanity’s Urban Future program. Élise Devoie (Civil Engineering) was named a Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Azrieli Global Scholar, for her research in permafrost loss and its impact on ecosystems and Indigenous communities.

Post-doctoral researcher Irsa Wiginton (Cancer Research Institute) was presented with the Mitacs Global Impact Entrepreneur Award for her groundbreaking work launching a liquid biopsy for metastatic breast cancer. Recently, Queen’s graduate student and activist Glenda Watson Hyatt (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) also received a Mitacs Award, for Outstanding Innovation. Her research has been pivotal in empowering individuals with speech impairments to access employment opportunities.

Cao Thang Dinh (Chemical Engineering) won the Falling Walls international Science Breakthrough of the Year in Engineering and Technology for his research that investigates how to use carbon dioxide to generate sustainable fuels and chemicals.

Funding future research 

The Government of Canada pledged $105.7 million from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund to support a new interdisciplinary research initiative, Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society. This collaborative project between Queen’s and York University is assessing the risks and benefits of technology for humanity.

In August, the Honourable Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages, announced $23.9 million for Queen’s researchers across disciplines – advancing research from neutrino detection and climate action, to ensuring equal access in sport for Canadians with disabilities. The Queen’s funded projects include:

•    Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council – Partnership: Amy Latimer-Cheung (Kinesiology and Health Studies) and Heather Aldersey (Rehabilitation Therapy) received more than $4 million in Partnership Grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to advance their work on equity and inclusion for people with disabilities.
•    Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council – Insight: 30 Queen’s researchers were awarded over $3 million from SSHRC through Insight Development Grants, which support early research in its initial stages.
•    Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council – Discovery: $14.3 million in funding was awarded to advance innovative STEM and health research projects. In total, 43 Queen’s researchers were recipients of Discovery and RTI program grants.
•    Canada Foundation for Innovation – John R. Evans Leaders Fund: $2 million in funding was announced to equip Queen’s researchers with leading-edge labs and equipment.
In September, George diCenzo received $3 million in funding from Genome Prairie’s Climate-Smart Agriculture and Food Systems initiative to co-lead a project targeting agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by improving alternative microbial fertilizers.

Heather Aldersey and Amy Latimer-Cheung received over $4M in the latest round of Partnership Grants from SSHRC

Drs. Aldersey and Latimer-Cheung received over $4M in the latest round of Partnership Grants from SSHRC.

Additional funding that will support Queen’s future research includes:
•    The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Project Grant: ten successful Queen’s applicants received $6.48 million for projects spanning from cancer to autism and social determinants of health.
•    Nine Queen’s programs received $3 million from the federal government through the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF).
•    Queen’s secured over $15 million in support from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research’s Project Grant program to pioneer innovations and address critical health challenges. Research teams secured 12 of the competitive grants. CIHR also announced the recipients of their Team Grants with three projects led by Queen’s researchers receiving $5.71 million to advance innovative health research.
•    The Queen’s-Oasis Team received $1.8 million in funding from the Government of Canada’s Age Well at Home Program to establish new locations in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia, to promote healthy aging and overall wellbeing within Canada’s aging population.

Breakthrough research that made headlines

This year, the Gazette published dozens of research profiles and stories highlighting new research discoveries and publications, many of which made headlines across Canada and internationally.

While the mysteries of dark matter continue to elude us and inspire new experiments, in April, the SNO+ experiment, captured neutrinos produced in nuclear reactors hundreds of kilometres away using pure water, for the first time.

The 12-metre diameter acrylic SNO+ detector is filled with 780 tonnes of liquid scintillator and surrounded by 10,000 photomultiplier light detectors. Queen's Art of Research Submission: "The SNO+ Detector" by Dr. Alex Wright, Faculty (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy) for the SNO+ Collaboration, SNOLAB.

The 12-metre diameter acrylic SNO+ detector is filled with 780 tonnes of liquid scintillator and surrounded by 10,000 photomultiplier light detectors. Queen's Art of Research Submission: "The SNO+ Detector" by Dr. Alex Wright, Faculty (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy) for the SNO+ Collaboration, SNOLAB.

In July, Ontario’s Crawford Lake caught the world’s attention when it was recommended as the geological landmark to mark the start of the Anthropocene. Brian Cumming (Biology) and his lab were part of the interdisciplinary research effort to champion the site, which represents the newest chapter in our planet’s narrative and a pivotal moment in our collective environmental history.

Scientists also cracked the code of what causes diamonds to erupt. Christopher Spencer (Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering) collaborated with a team of international researchers to examine the effects of global tectonic forces on these volcanic eruptions spanning the last billion years. With findings published in Nature, their discovery identified the breakup of tectonic plates as the driving force behind the generation and eruption of diamond-rich magma from deep inside the Earth.

September saw a group of international astronomers, including Nathan Deg and Kristine Spekkens (Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy), identify two potential polar ring galaxies – the type of galaxy that exhibits a ring of stars and gas perpendicular to its main spiral disk. These new findings suggest polar ring galaxies might be more common than previously believed.

Researchers from Queen’s and Environment and Climate Change Canada discovered that accelerated 21st-century warming has triggered a striking shift in algae composition in Great Slave Lake, North America’s deepest lake. The team’s findings, led by Kathleen Rühland (Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Lab) and published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggest that declining ice coverage and other climate-related changes have marked the crossing of an important ecological threshold.

Clinician scientist, Maria Velez (Obstetrics and Gynecology), led a breakthrough study examining infertility and risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which included data from 1.3 million children born in Ontario between 2006 and 2018. Published in JAMA Network Open, findings suggest that children born to individuals who have been diagnosed as having fertility issues are at a slightly higher risk of ASD.

We continued our partnership with The Conversation Canada, the online news platform that pairs academic experts with experienced journalists to write informed content that can be shared and repurposed by media outlets worldwide. This year, 54 Queen’s researchers published 52 articles that garnered over 1.1 million reads. Some of our most popular articles covered topics like the impacts of ChatGPT, sustainable food systems, sexual health and wellness, as well as pay gaps and workplace productivity.

Mobilizing research

Queen’s aims to inspire emerging researchers, create research processes that are equitable and inclusive, and establish meaningful connections between academia and the wider community.

Our annual photo contest, Art of Research, showcased the beauty of research at Queen’s and recognized six outstanding winning photo and video entries. With a continued focus on the UN SDGs, the competition placed a spotlight on the intrinsic connection between research and social impact.

Art of Research submission by Siobhan Speiran (PhD Student, School of Environmental Studies). Category: Creative and Sustainable Communities. Title: Returning the Gaze. Location: Proyecto Asis, Costa Rica

Queen's Art of Research Submission: "Returning the Gaze" by Siobhan Speiran, PhD Student (School of Environmental Studies), Proyecto Asis, Costa Rica.

In November, a delegation of Queen’s researchers traveled to Ottawa to participate in the 15th Canadian Science Policy Conference and discuss how the federal government can support major research facilities and transformative research programs. Panel participants engaged in thoughtful deliberations on what Canada needs to emerge as a global leader in science.

Autumn also saw Queen’s gear up for the launch of its total solar eclipse campaign, a once-in-a-lifetime event that will occur on April 8, 2024, with Kingston in the path of totality. Robert Knobel, head of the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy is leading efforts to ensure the community can safely observe and learn about this rare celestial event.

This year, the university increased funding for undergraduate student research to bolster inquiry-based learning across various disciplines with an expansion of the Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowships (USSRF) and Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA) programs. With 178 positions supported, these programs provide enriching learning experiences that contribute to the development of future research leaders and innovators.

As move into 2024, we remain committed to creating the right conditions for research to thrive so we can remain at the forefront of academic excellence and societal impact.

Beyond research, the past year at Queen’s has seen new beginnings, renewal, key accomplishments, and important events. Learn more in our Year in Review.

Arts and Humanities
Business and Economics
Environment and Sustainability
Health and Medicine
Law, Governance, and Public Policy
Physical Sciences and Engineering
Social Sciences
Technology and Innovation
The Conversation Canada
Arts and Science
Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs
Health Sciences
Smith Business
Smith Engineering
Affordable and Clean Energy
Climate Action
Quality Education
Reduced Inequality
Sustainable Cities and Communities