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Research Prominence

Launch of Research Discovery Network

The Vice-Principal Research Portfolio has spearheaded a new initiative to support the Queen’s research community and enable interdisciplinary collaborations. The Research Discovery Network (RDN) is a digital platform designed to spark new engagement with groups in academia, industry, media, and communities from across campus to around the world.

The RDN builds off the success of Queen’s Translational Institute of Medicine (TIME), which has used the system since 2017. The platform has enabled TIME to showcase the breadth of their translational research, identify opportunities for members to collaborate, and maintain a directory for the state-of-the art technologies available for use at Queen’s. The university is now extending that network to researchers looking for profile and engagement for their own research, that of their group or lab, or sharing their research resources.

The two main features of the RDN include hosting a public profile and CV management. The profile tool helps researchers showcase their research interests, active projects, publications, and media engagements for optimized discovery on the network. Researchers are also able to leverage the network’s robust topic tagging system to find other researchers at the university to build collaborations and connections. The RDN also supports CV management through direct integration with the Canada Common CV (CCV) system. Researchers can simultaneously update their CCV and their public research profile while using a more intuitive and streamlined interface.

Profile-building is currently underway with information and resources, such as drop-in and training sessions and direct support, available on the Vice-Principal Research Portfolio website. A how-to webinar is also scheduled for June 22 with registration available as part of the Resources for Research at Queen’s (R4R@Q) series. If members of the research community have any questions or are looking for further information, a direct contact form is also available. 

$3.6 million boost for social sciences and humanities research

Federal funding announced today included support for 21 Queen’s researchers.

Today the Government of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) announced the results of grants under the umbrella of the Insight Program, which aims to advance our understanding of how individuals and societies think, live, and interact with each other and with the world around them. The program has a special focus on research that addresses complex societal challenges and opportunities.

“Now, more than ever, social sciences and humanities research plays an integral role as we navigate through the post-COVID-19 reality and continue to build a healthier, stronger and more prosperous Canada,” said the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. “These grants enable scholars to address complex issues about communities and societies, and to further our collective understanding so we can build a better future for all Canadians.”

Twenty one Queen’s researchers received funds totaling $ 3.6 million to advance their research projects.

“These important SSHRC programs fund projects at all stages of the research continuum – from early investigation to the dissemination of results,” says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). “The Queen’s projects all approach societal challenges in creative and innovative ways and, ultimately, support us in better understanding the world around us.”

The Insight Grants provide long term support (over two to five years) to research initiatives led by emerging and established scholars. Applicants are encouraged to consider addressing one or more of the 16 future global challenges identified by the SSHRC’s Imagining Canada’s Future initiative.

The Partnership Development Grants fund new or existing teams doing research or activities – including knowledge mobilization – in the social sciences and humanities, or designing and testing new models for research and related activities that can be amplified to a regional, national, or international level.

Finally, the Aid to Scholarly Journals aims to increase the dissemination of research results and encourage open-access publishing by supporting journals and their distribution on Canadian non-profit platforms.

For more information on the Queen’s recipients, please see below:

Insight Grants

Researcher

Project

Awarded amount

Robert Clark

AI-Powered Algorithmic Pricing and Collusion

$ 82,224

Dan Cohen

Engine of inequality? Central Banks, Economic Crisis, and Uneven Development

$ 359,643

Christopher DeLuca

Addressing Systemic Assessment Challenges and Inequities:  A Pan-Canadian Study Mobilizing Teacher-led Assessment Innovation

$ 330,300

W. George Lovell

Tracking the Archbishop: Cartography and the Depiction of Empire in Pedro Cortés y Larraz's Moral Geography of Guatemala, 1768-70

$ 97,093

Ryan Riordan

Carbon Finance: Can markets help in the fight against climate change?

$ 223,358

Darryl Robinson

A Critical Path for Ecocide

$ 83,276

Awet Weldemichael

Somalia after Piracy: The Political Economy of Maritime Resource Conflict in the Western Indian Ocean

$ 98,815

Beverley Baines

Transforming Judicial Outcomes for Women in Canada and Brazil

$ 69,745

Leandre Fabrigar

Solving the Objective-Subjective Attitude Structure Measurement Puzzle

$ 214,585

J. Andrew Grant

From International Best Practices to Conflict Prevention: Improving Security Governance and Protecting Human Rights in Natural Resource Sectors

$ 252,969

 

Thorsten Koeppl

Payments and Privacy

$ 61,940

Valerie Kuhlmeier

The Social Learning of Sharing Behaviour

$ 184,233

V. Carolyn Prouse

Tracking the Virus Hunters: The Power-Laden Geographies of Biosurveillance Economies

$ 216,875

Evan Dudley

Human-machine interactions in the over-the-counter market

$ 173,611

Laila Haidarali

Beauty and 'The Unfinished Business of Democracy':  Black Women, Fashion, and Modelling, 1945 -1955

$ 145,436

David Parker

Policymaking in the Mirror: Global Knowledge, National Image, and the "Social Question" in South America 1889-1943

$ 65,044

Sergio Sismondo

Epistemic Corruption

$ 266,369

Rebecca Hall

Futures of Care: Community Challenges to Extraction in South Africa and Canada

$ 384,694

Partnership Development Grants

Researcher

Project

Awarded amount

Eva Purkey

Mobilizing Community-Led Action: What Helps Families Thrive in the Context of Adversity During the COVID19 Pandemic and Beyond

$ 189,062

Aid to Scholarly Journals

Researcher

Project

Awarded amount

David Murakami Wood

Surveillance & Society

$ 88,200

David Gordon

Canadian Planning and Policy

$ 68,700

Capturing the Art of Research

With a reimagined focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the annual Queen's Art of Research photo contest reveals seven winning images.

From photos depicting the nanoscale to the freezing landscape of the Artic, the annual Art of Research photo contest takes us behind the scenes of the everyday research experience at Queen’s. With engagement this year from faculty, staff, students, and alumni, the contest aims to represent the diversity and creativity of research across disciplines and from all contributors to the research ecosystem.

The 2022 contest introduced five new categories inspired by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Guided by the mission and vision of the new Queen’s Strategy and the universal call to action of the SDGs, this year’s contest placed a spotlight on the intrinsic connection between research and social impact. Discover this year’s winners below and to view more contest winners and top submissions from the past six years, explore The Art of Research Photo Gallery.

2022 Art of Research Adjudication Committee

  • Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research)
  • Kanonhsyonne - Janice Hill, Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation)
  • Nicholas Mosey, Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Arts and Science
  • Heidi Ploeg, QFEAS Chair for Women in Engineering, Mechanical and Materials Engineering
  • Ruth Dunley, Associate Director, Editorial Strategy, Office of Advancement
  • Jung-Ah Kim, PhD Student, Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies
  • Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, University Relations
  • Véronique St-Antoine, Communications Advisor, NSERC

[Photo of the SNO+ detector at SNOLAB by Dr. Alex Wright]

Category: Innovation for Global Impact

The SNO+ Detector

Submitted by: Dr. Alex Wright for the SNO+ Collaboration
Faculty, Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy
Location: SNOLAB, Sudbury, Ontario

The SNO+ experiment studies the fundamental properties of neutrinos. The detector consists of an active volume of 780 tonnes of liquid scintillator housed within a 12-metre diameter acrylic vessel that is held in place by ropes and viewed by an array of about 10,000 photomultiplier light detectors. In this image, taken by a camera embedded in the photomultiplier array, the detector is illuminated only by light from the clean room at the top of the vessel neck, producing a beam effect. The SNO+ experiment is currently collecting data, carrying on the work of the Nobel-prize winning Sudbury Neutrino Observatory.


[Photo of 3D vascular trees in animal models]

Category: Good Health and Well-Being

The Tiniest Tree of Life

Submitted byDr. Elahe Alizadeh
Staff, Queen's CardioPulmonary Unit (QCPU), Department of Medicine 
Location: Queen's CardioPulmonary Unit

COVID-19, the second pandemic of the current century, is still an ongoing global health emergency. Its complications and mortality are associated with pneumonia and alterations in the pulmonary vasculature. Acquiring 3D images of vascular trees in animal models provide a useful tool to evaluate the effects of COVID-19 in humans. In our research aimed at finding new drugs for COVID-19 under the supervision of Dr. Stephen Archer, vascular trees of a mouse were pressure perfused to maximal dilation with a radio-opaque material (barium). The heart and lungs were fixed and scanned using VECTor4CT scanner. VECTor4CT is the first tri-modality imaging system equipped with an ultra-high-resolution micro-computed tomography (µCT) scanner at Queen’s University.


[Photo of George Konana collecting ice by Saskia de Wildt]

Category: Creative and Sustainable Communities

George Konana Collecting Ice

Submitted bySaskia de Wildt
PhD Student, School of Environmental Studies
Location: Gjoa Haven, Nunavut

The Inuit practice an ongoing relationship with the land through camping, hunting, and fishing. As part of the BearWatch project, I explore how such knowledge, accumulated over many generations, and Inuit values can be ethically engaged in a community-based polar bear monitoring program. This picture is taken on one of our trips out on the land around Gjoa Haven during spring 2022. It captures George Konana collecting ice from the lake for tea. He traces ice with the right quality to give his tea a nice ‘reddish, brown’ color. At this exact moment, he cracks out a huge piece, enough for a month of tea.


[Photo of a gastropod mummy laying eggs by Ruqaiya Yousif]

Category: Climate Action

Gastropod Mummy

Submitted byRuqaiya Yousif
PhD Student, Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering
Location: Qatar

This is a picture of a gastropod mummy laying down her egg cases. My research assesses the stable isotope (C and O), clumped isotope (∆47), and trace element compositions of living and quaternary shells from the Arabian/Persian Gulf. The aim is to link these analyses with modern oceanographic data to develop a robust proxy for understanding oceanographic change in the rock record. In other words, I am trying to link the shell chemistry with its surrounding environment and then use this link to assess oceanographic changes over the past 125,000 years. At the time of this picture, we were growing gastropods under laboratory conditions and performing invitro fertilization of oysters.


[Photo of a researcher collecting environmental DNA in a maternal polar bear den by Scott Arlidge]

Category: Partnerships for Inclusivity (Tied)

Polar Bear Denning

Submitted byScott Arlidge
Graduate Student, School of Environmental Studies
Location: Coral Harbour, Nunavut

This photo demonstrates the collection of snow from inside a maternal polar bear den to collect environmental DNA. When the mother digs out the den, skin cells from her paws are abraded and stuck to the snow. Some preliminary research shows that we may be able to identify individual bears by analyzing these snow samples, information which can inform polar bear population management. My research is a pilot of ground-based non-invasive polar bear monitoring techniques, with a focus on Inuit inclusivity. Inuit Elders and polar bear hunters are key knowledge holders and collaborators throughout this research.


[Photo of a mural of the Oasis logo by Riley Malvern]

Category: Partnerships for Inclusivity (Tied)

Aging with Oasis

Submitted byRiley Malvern
Staff, Health Services and Policy Research Institute
Location Kingston, Ontario

Oasis is a program co-developed by older adults to strengthen and sustain their communities to support aging in place. The Oasis Evaluation and Expansion research team has been working with Oasis communities since 2018 to expand the program across Canada and to evaluate a number of health and well-being outcomes. This photo depicts a mural that represents the power of communities coming together. Each square of this mural was designed by an Oasis member from communities across Kingston and Belleville. Together, these squares form the Oasis logo, which was designed by members of the original Oasis community.


[Photo of a crystallized decanoic acid by Dan Reddy]

Category: People's Choice

Crystalline Acid

Submitted byDan Reddy
PhD Student, Chemistry
Location: Chernoff Hall, Queen's University

This photo taken with scanning electron microscopy depicts an extremely small yet precise volume (i.e., nanolitre-sized) of crystallized decanoic acid. We are using these spots of crystalline acid to extract and preconcentrate, or soak-up, chemicals of concern like opioids from wastewater samples. This preconcentration step improves our ability to monitor these chemicals. By doing so, we can improve how we detect these harmful compounds and protect local watersheds.


To learn more about this year’s winners and explore past winners and top submissions, visit The Art of Research Photo Gallery on the Research@Queen’s website.

What we need to build a more inclusive future

Human resources management expert provides insights on gaps and best practices in addressing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workforce.

As Canadians celebrate both Pride Month and Indigenous History Month, June seems like the perfect time to reflect on the different aspects of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) – how we’ve worked to implement EDI in our lives and practices and the work we still need to do. One area that has seen attention over the past decade is how EDI practices can be beneficial for institutions and businesses.

Eddy Ng
Eddy Ng

Eddy Ng, the Smith Professor of Equity & Inclusion in Business and an expert in human resources management, focuses his research on how we can promote EDI in workplaces across Canada. He recently spoke to the Gazette about how the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened existing gaps and what current research says about hiring and management practices to promote EDI.

How did COVID-19 increase gender related inequalities?

First, women are disproportionately affected by business closures (e.g., retail, hospitality, service-oriented work) and hence they suffer in employment and income in relation to men. The aggregate number of hours worked by women decreased significantly, and the number of women owned businesses declined as a result of the pandemic. Thus, the gap employment and income gaps between men and women widened.

Also, pre-existing conflicts between work and family responsibilities magnified during COVID-19. Women shoulder a disproportionately larger share of household chores and caregiving. School and daycare closures have forced a third of working women to consider quitting their jobs. A noteworthy point of observation, women are less represented in senior management and leadership roles – which tend to be more pandemic-proof. 

We hear about post-pandemic economic recovery and a shortage of skilled workers. However, Indigenous and Black workers still struggle finding jobs that are consistent with their professional competencies. Why?

The post-pandemic recovery has seen a boom in the tech sector and sectors that are adaptable, but Black and Indigenous workers still are underrepresented in tech and other booming sectors such as banking and financial services, STEM professions, and information and communications technology. Historically, Black and Indigenous workers have lower levels of educational attainment and possess job skills that are prone to automation. Simply put, Black and Indigenous workers have not been set up for success in new economy jobs and in remote or “pandemic proof” careers. To address employment gaps, we need to have policies aimed at preparing Black and Indigenous populations for the new economy, and industry commitment as partners in the training and employment of severely underrepresented racialized workers.

Individuals are differently impacted based on a combination of factors (race, citizenship, gender, class, sexual orientation etc.). Do existing EDI practices address intersectionality?

Intersectional marginalized identities tend to be invisible; the Black lesbian small business owner is grouped with other Black small business owners. EDI policy surveys tend to address identities that are measurable or quantifiable, thus individuals with intersectional identities don’t receive the same attention. To address this, policy makers need to decompose aggregate data or collect better data. The challenge, as reported here, is getting individuals to respond to policy questions. Alternatively, equity policies should be as broad as possible to ensure that individuals with multiple struggles are able to receive more comprehensive support.

Hiring practices that aim to foster diversity and inclusion are frequently criticized based on the hypothesis that they might favour minorities and fail to find the best candidates for a position. Is that a fallacy? Why?

Hiring for diversity and hiring for excellence are not in conflict with each other. Hiring the "best" candidate implies there is a singular view of what is the best, established by the dominant group, so we are reproducing the dominant group perspective. This is why it is important to have targeted hirings so that we are not crowded out by dominant group views. Meritocracy and picking "the best" favour the dominant group that establish the rules. 

What strategies are successful in creating more diverse and inclusive hiring processes and promoting EDI in workplaces?

In comparing firms that are covered under the Employment Equity Act with those that are not, research shows that firms having to comply with public policies do better in hiring for diversity. Public policies create visible accountability across firms. Research also shows that leaders who create accountabilities for diversity goals, lead more diverse organizations. Implicit bias training, however, does not work well for several reasons. First, bias training tends to emphasize the negative (i.e., remedial training), generating skepticism and resistance among participants. Thus, bias training does not change attitudes or behaviours. Second, hiring managers don’t like to be told whom to hire. People tend to rebel against rules when discretion is taken away from them. Third, bias training, when improperly conducted, can reinforce stereotypes and undermine its very own purpose in removing biases.

We already have the knowledge and skills on how to become more diverse and inclusive. What is lacking are motives. Accountability and incentives provide that motive. Once we have the critical numbers in diversity, demographic faultline weakens and organizational climate shifts to one that is more accepting of differences. 

International effort to reduce concrete’s carbon footprint

A team of civil engineering researchers and industry and municipal partners are working to make one of the highest-carbon dioxide producing industries much cleaner.

Student working at Queen's civil engineering lab
Making the concrete industry more sustainable and environmental-friendly is the main goal of the research partnership.

How environmentally friendly is concrete? Less so than you might think. Reinforced concrete infrastructure accounts for almost 10 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions – far ahead of the two per cent of carbon dioxide produced by the airline industry.

Working to change that are two Queen’s civil engineering experts Neil Hoult and Josh Woods, together with their academic collaborators at the University of Toronto and the University of Cambridge and a number of industry partners who are invested in making their technology and processes more sustainable.

“If we can reduce the carbon produced in concrete manufacturing by even a fraction, it’s going to have a significant positive benefit,” says Neil Hoult, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering. “Increased urbanization means that the demand for concrete is going up. Our research aims to cut the carbon dioxide emissions generated by concrete production in half – the equivalent of eliminating the airline industry, twice over.”

The research program is supported by industry leaders like Arup, Aecon, KPMB Architects, and Lafarge, along with the City of Kingston and the Cement Association of Canada, with funding sources including Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Mitacs.

To achieve the goals set by Queen’s and its partners, several approaches will be explored to reduce carbon utilization. The first one is shape optimization, meaning studying how to better design structures to use less concrete – which reduces both material consumption and structure weight.

Neil Hoult and students
Neil Hoult and students work to reduce carbon utilization in concrete structures.

The second is what’s known as functionally graded concrete.

“We put concrete with higher strength where we need the strength, then we use lower strength concrete (which also means lower cement concrete) everywhere else,” Dr. Hoult explains. “We will be working on software packages that allow for these new techniques to be used in the design, optimizing structures for performance and low environmental impact.”

The bulk of the initial research and testing will be completed in the Queen’s civil engineering labs. Moving from the lab to practical applications, however, will take the project into the real world in Kingston, with the support of city and industry partners. The project includes the design of a demonstration structure at the Kingston Fire and Rescue Training Centre.

“The structure will be actively used by Kingston’s Fire Services as a classroom and as a living lab so that Queen’s and St. Lawrence College students can come and learn about low-carbon buildings. We’re aiming for a net-zero building philosophy,” Dr. Hoult highlights.

Speros Kanellos, Director, Facilities Management, and Construction at the City of Kingston, says the city has been working with post-secondary educational partners on ‘learning hubs’ to investigate new approaches and technologies to aggressively decarbonize infrastructure.

“We are working with the low-carbon concrete research team to develop a real-world application for demonstration purposes and ongoing research,” he says. “It’s really exciting to participate as a partner in the kind of initiative that embodies the City’s and university’s leadership on climate action.”

Partnership for health innovation

An evolution of the Human Mobility Research Centre, the Centre for Health Innovation connects researchers from across disciplines to tackle the most pressing human health challenges.

Cancer, infectious diseases, health data, and personalized care. The biggest challenges for human health can only be addressed by combining a range of expertise and disciplines. To foster these connections, Queen’s and Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) have partnered on the Centre for Health Innovation (CHI) – an initiative that brings together interdisciplinary investigators to fuel a solutions-based approach to translational health research, applying knowledge generated at the university to improving patient care and health outcomes.   

“CHI integrates insights from the frontlines of care to understand the real-world experiences and needs of patients and healthcare professionals,” says Amber Simpson, director of CHI and Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Computing and Informatics. “We are multidisciplinary because we understand the creative and innovative power of inclusion will forge a path to the next generation of transformative healthcare for all.” Members of the new centre have diverse backgrounds – from expertise in medicine, engineering, science, and technology to the humanities.

Amber Simpson presents at the Innovation for Good Symposium
Amber Simpson welcomes the audience to the first edition of the Innovation for Good Symposium, which celebrates the team work of the Centre for Health Innovation's members.

The Centre for Health Innovation is an evolution of Queen’s Human Mobility Research Centre (HMRC), which connected experts in medicine, engineering, and computer science to develop innovative treatments for bone and joint disorders. CHI will continue this work, while broadening its goals to address other health challenges, like infectious diseases, and using advanced technology to optimize treatment, diagnostics, and patient outcomes through precision medicine.

Solutions-based health research

The CHI team will pursue cost-effective, high-tech solutions that can be implemented within our current healthcare systems. This includes training and mentoring students and post-doctoral fellows in medical informatics, preparing Canada’s healthcare workforce to deal with rapidly growing field of digital health data.

A pivotal new connection spearheaded by CHI is building synergies between artificial intelligence (AI) and cancer research. Queen’s experts are looking at how machine learning techniques and artificial intelligence solutions might help physicians interpret cancer spread through imaging tests like CT scans and make better treatment decisions. While exploring new possibilities brought on by advancing technologies, the CHI team will also investigate the bioethical implications of using AI to predict metastasis and survival probabilities.

Also crucial for the future of the multidisciplinary centre will be the creation of shared facilities amongst the research community. In partnership with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG), the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and Queen’s faculty partners including Health Sciences, Arts and Science, and Engineering, CHI will undertake a large-scale expansion of histopathology and biobanking resources at KHSC. This will expand KHSC’s capacity as the home of the CCTG biobanking facility and support research that will help investigators study the pathological basis of diseases.

Innovation for Good

Today and tomorrow (June 6 and 7), researchers are invited to virtually join the “Innovation for Good” symposium, that will kick off the new centre’s activities showcasing innovative, radically collaborative health research occurring across Queen's and KHSC. For more information, download the event’s program. Click here to register and watch the sessions.

CHI is also developing a state-of-the-art genomics facility to allow the complete analyses of the DNA and RNA molecules in an organism. This expansion leverages work throughout the pandemic on sequencing COVID-19 variants of concern for the province as well as long-standing expertise in cancer biomarkers. Through CHI, investigators will have the ability to leverage genomics and histopathology with data science, a winning combination to change patient outcomes.

While CHI’s objectives and mission are firmly planted on the ground, its research goals also aim for the stars. With proximity to clinicians and access to the human tissue bank, an interdisciplinary team is looking at the impacts of space travel on health, including bone loss and aging.

“We expect the shared resources and specialized facilities will allow innovation in precision medicine and digital health, in alignment with private sector interests, informing government policy, and attracting R&D investment”, notes Dr. Simpson. “Building on the work of HMRC, we are establishing an integrated, truly multi-disciplinary facility that we hope will become a province- and nation-wide resource to support health innovation and research. Exciting things are happening and Queen’s and KHSC are proud to be at the forefront.”

Got the sniffles? An expert’s tips on dealing with seasonal allergies

Increased temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations caused by climate change and pollution can worsen symptoms.

Sneeze
Runny nose, sneezing, itchy/watery eyes, and occasionally coughing are the common symptoms of seasonal allergies.

Colourful flowers and delicate blossoms on trees are not the only sign that spring has truly arrived. For many, allergies are a sign the seasons have changed. Up to one in four Canadians suffer from allergic rhinitis and its symptoms – runny nose, sneezing, itchy/watery eyes, and occasionally coughing. With climate change, the problem might be getting more intense: experts believe increased greenhouse atmospheric concentration and higher temperatures cause plants to have longer flowering seasons, which leads to more pollen in the air. Also, seasonal allergies tend to be aggravated by air pollutants like diesel exhaust particles.

Anne Ellis, chair of Queen’s Division of Allergy and Immunology and clinical scientist at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), is paying close attention to how seasonal allergies have changed in the past decade. She has some disconcerting news: it is still hard to distinguish patterns and make assertive predictions.

“Every year is different,” she says. “This year’s tree pollen season actually started on time compared to 10 years ago, but in more recent past we’ve had a very late start to tree pollen season, owing to much longer winters.”

Changing cycles

While 2021 saw record-breaking levels of birch pollen, so far 2022 has been more typical in terms of overall counts for Southern Ontario. In April, however, warmer days followed by cold nights and even snow brought pollination to a halt.

“Expect the unexpected when it comes to your allergies,” is Dr. Ellis’ main advice for those reaching for their antihistamines each spring.

Anne Ellis
Dr. Anne Ellis

But Dr. Ellis believes shortening spring and fall seasons – with longer winter and summer – make a big difference, at least in how people perceive their allergy symptoms.

“We wind up with a longer winter and more time to ‘forget’ how bad our seasonal allergies can be, so they affect us more dramatically when they come back,” she says.

North America is also seeing hotter summers with higher humidity, which can be a challenge for people with asthma. Because humidity fuels dust mite growth, even staying indoors doesn’t always provide relief – at least if one doesn’t have air conditioning or a dehumidifier.

Some practical tips

Dr. Ellis recommends that people suffering from seasonal allergies keep their windows closed and the air conditioning on when possible, and to avoid hanging clothes on clotheslines outside to prevent pollen capture. Rinsing the nose with a saline solution might help, too.

At local pharmacies, people can look for non-sedating, second generation antihistamines such as cetirizine or loratadine – Dr. Ellis says it’s better to avoid older, sedating antihistamines that might have unintended side effects and are not as effective as the new ones. If over the counter medicines are not enough to provide relief, she suggests seeing a doctor for prescription medications such as new antihistamines and intranasal corticosteroids, which reduce swelling and mucus in the nose.

In case these tips don’t do the trick, seeing a specialist might be the best option.

“Ask your doctor for a referral to an allergist to be skin tested and find out what you are allergic to specifically,” advises Dr. Ellis.  “An allergist can offer customized immunotherapy options based on these results that actually treat the underlying allergy, rather than just masking symptoms.”

From a public health perspective, Dr. Ellis says urban planning can make a difference, for example, in planting female trees that don’t pollinate – while they drop nuts and fruits, which can be messy, they don’t cause increases in pollen counts.

Research in action

Dr. Ellis leads the Kingston Environmental Exposure Unit at KHSC. In this facility, she and her team have a meticulously controlled environment that allows them to study the impact of allergens in health at any time of the year.

“The highly controlled indoor environment eliminates the variables of weather, participant environment, and the changing characteristics of seasonal allergens,” explains Dr. Ellis. “A proprietary computer-controlled delivery system and stringent monitoring ensure that the levels of allergen maintained in the unity remain within specific requirements.”

Since the 1980s, the unit has been used to advance our knowledge of how effective different anti-allergic treatments can be, including antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids and other medications.

Rapid evolution has limits, and knowing this can help with conservation

Evolution by natural selection is a potent agent of change, allowing species to adapt to new and changing environments. But is it sustainable?

Purple Loosestrife in full-bloom
Purple Loosestrife in full-bloom. Although it's very pretty, it is an invasive species. (Unsplash/Shannon Kunkle)

Human impacts on global ecosystems can be severe, widespread and irreversible. But life on Earth has evolved to meet environmental challenges for 3.5 billion years: Could these same evolutionary forces help life on Earth persist in human-altered environments?

Our latest research finds that evolution seems unstoppable during a biological invasion, but then suddenly stalls after a century of rapid adaptation. Understanding why this happens could be key to managing biodiversity over the next century.

In the face of environmental challenges, natural selection can be a potent force for evolutionary change on contemporary timescales. Galapagos finches evolve different beak sizes to feed on changing seed sources, over-harvested cod are maturing earlier and purple loosestrife plants flower earlier in response to shorter growing seasons in northern Ontario. But evolution has limits.

Evolutionary constraints

For almost 20 years, I’ve studied how some species invade and thrive in new environments. At Queen’s University, I continue to work with students and collaborators to study rapid evolution in nature.

An emerging theme of this work is the interplay between natural selection and evolutionary constraint.

Adaptation to new environments requires new genetic variants. Natural selection can promote genes that improve survival and reproduction. But without new variants, adaptive evolution will stall.

Constraints are the reason related species share common traits, and the reason centaurs, mermaids and dragons exist only in mythology: no genes produce hooves or fish tails in humans, nor wings in large reptiles. By limiting the options available to natural selection, evolutionary constraints are the ultimate cause of extinction.

As a counterweight to natural selection, it’s surprising that evolutionary constraints aren’t studied as intensively. But there are experimental tools for this.

Common garden studies

The common garden experiment was introduced 100 years ago yet it remains the gold standard to study the genetic basis of rapid evolution.

It involves growing genetically related individuals in a uniform environment to observe genetic differences in growth and development. In our lab, common garden experiments with purple loosestrife reveal a delicate dance between natural selection and evolutionary constraint.

Purple loosestrife, or Lythrum salicaria, is known for its attractive purple-pink flowers in invaded wetlands across Canada and the United States. Over the span of 150 years, this one species spread from Maryland to as far north as Labrador and Saskatchewan, and south to the Gulf of Mexico and southern California.

Purple loosestrife, like other plants, has finite resources to invest in growth or reproduction. Some genes produce larger plants, others make plants that flower earlier. But no genes do both. This represents a genetic constraint to flower earlier or grow bigger to collect more resources.

Plants with more resources are more competitive and can produce more flowers. But extra resources are wasted if flowers are produced too late in the season, when temperatures are too cold for pollinators and seed development to ensure the passing of genes for larger growth. This delicate balance yields an optimal flowering time that tracks changes in the length of the growing season.

The medium tree-finch is a small, critically endangered bird found on Floreana island.
The medium tree-finch is a small, critically endangered bird found on Floreana in the Galapagos Islands. (Galapagos Conservation Trust)

Rapid spread

So how did natural selection and evolutionary constraint shape flowering time of purple loosestrife as it spread across North America? We can’t travel back in time, but natural history collections provide a tangible connection with the past.

Dried specimens of purple loosestrife are stored in the Fowler Herbarium at Queen’s University, and in dozens of other herbarium collections across North America. Recorded with each carefully preserved specimen is the location and date of collection.

Using historical weather records, we reconstructed the local growing conditions of each specimen to computationally predict what each plant would look like if it were grown under uniform growing conditions — a virtual common garden.

No longer constrained by viable seed collections, we would use the virtual common garden to reconstruct 150 years of evolution across North America.

The results are striking. Earlier flowering repeatedly evolves in response to shorter growing seasons across North America. But after about a century, the rate of evolution seems to stall, constrained by a trade-off between flowering time and size. This kind of evolutionary stasis is also observed in the fossil record over much longer timescales. It seems to be a common feature of evolution.

Constraints are a good reason to be skeptical that evolution will save species from extinction in stressful environments. But constraints also make evolution more predictable, at least on the shorter timescales most relevant to human civilisation.

And this is just the beginning — a single species among millions. How does the balance between natural selection and constraint play out in other invasive species, or in species facing extinction? Natural history collections help us understand the past, to make predictions about our future. It’s time they get the attention they deserve.The Conversation

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Robert I Colautti, Assistant Professor of Biology and Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Rapid Evolution, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Data surveillance accelerated by pandemic

New report released by the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s finds that thoughtful, decisive action is needed to confront the evolving world of surveillance.

Headshot of David Lyon
David Lyon, principal Investigator of the Big Data Surveillance Project

Data surveillance continues to grow rapidly in Canada, and most Canadians don’t know how their data is being used. David Lyon (Sociology), Professor Emeritus and Principal Investigator of the Big Data Surveillance Project, recently released a report based on the team’s research from 2016-2021. This Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)-funded project identified key challenges and areas of opportunity in data surveillance — including the need for more transparency in data collection and analysis, and calls for new digital rights and data justice for Canadians. The Gazette spoke to Dr. Lyon about the report and the Beyond Big Data Surveillance: Freedom & Fairness Conference that brought together people from government, industry, and academia to discuss this increasingly complex field of research.

Can you share with us what the key findings are from the Beyond Big Data Surveillance: Freedom & Fairness report?

Our report shows that several forms of contemporary data surveillance are growing rapidly in Canada, accelerated further by the pandemic. While few kinds of surveillance are inherently undesirable, none are neutral, and many violate human rights and privacy law. But the reasons why this is problematic relate to four critical findings:

  • Lopsided information: companies and agencies collecting, analyzing and using our data know a lot about us; we know next-to-nothing about how they use our data.
  • Tangled surveillance: today’s surveillance is highly complex, often based on inscrutable algorithms and using and reusing data for different purposes — for instance, during the pandemic, police in Canada sometimes had access to public health data.
  • Inadequate instruments: laws relating to personal data were designed for an early computer age, not for smartphone society. New platform companies lack public guidance in shaping their systems for human benefit.
  • Exposed groups: we’re not all in this together. Some vulnerable groups — especially women, Black people and Indigenous people — find their situations worsened by surveillance.

Can you tell me about the collaboration with researchers from across Canada and other countries on this report?

Ours was a Partnership Grant from SSHRC so the academic core team — colleagues from Queen’s University, University of Ottawa, University of Victoria, University of Laval, and the University of St Andrews in Scotland — worked together with regulators and several civil society groups to shape and respond to the research findings. It was also a multi-disciplinary group — we worked not only within the social sciences, but also with colleagues from computing, AI, neuroscience, business, and, for thinking about the pandemic, health sciences.

The Beyond Big Data Surveillance: Freedom & Fairness Conference took place on May 18-19. What were some of the main points or takeaways from the conference in Ottawa?

The final conference last week was public facing, where we debated the findings for practical use in security, policing, marketing, management, and ‘smart’ urban development. MPs, regulators, civil liberties professionals, and others populated the panels. The keynote speakers were Elizabeth Denham, UK Information Commissioner (2016-2021) and Jim Balsillie, former co-CEO of Blackberry.

Conference attendees were delighted with the report, and the clear findings will help them seek not just better privacy provisions but also digital rights and data justice in their fields. Several said that the report was very usable for many contexts and committed themselves to following up on the three main recommendations:

  • To “persist with privacy, add data justice” — recognizing that the potential harms are not just ‘personal’ but social, economic, and political.
  • To “increase collaboration” — many were galvanized to find others, from other backgrounds, with whom they could work to help shape technology for a more human world.
  • To “enable public and popular awareness” in imaginative ways.

As an example, some who had not previously come across the short film series, Screening Surveillance, created by our research project, were pleased to find an accessible tool to use with any age group, to help stimulate debate about today’s surveillance.

What sort of changes do you hope to see in Canada when it comes to Big Data Surveillance in the coming years?

I hope to see creative new initiatives to open the potential of the digital society for everyone — not merely profiting monopolistic global tech corporations. This could occur through a commitment to “data commons” where the benefits of digital technologies could be shared through publicly accessible and accountable infrastructures. It would require big changes, for example, in computer education and data science, where students could learn about the social responsibilities of design and development. As Jim Balsillie remarked, we “need pressure from broader civil society and from antitrust experts which is why conferences like this one are coming at a critical juncture for Canada.”

Can you tell us about the work the Surveillance Studies Centre (SSC) at Queen’s does and what you hope to see come out of the Centre now that you’re retiring?  

The SSC grew out of research first made public in the early 1990s with the very first international “Surveillance Studies” research workshop being held at Queen’s. We became the “Surveillance Project” in 2000 and have been “The Surveillance Studies Centre” since 2009. We worked alongside privacy commissions and civil society groups from the start, and were invited to give evidence to parliamentary committees and to advise the new airport security body (CATSA) formed in the wake of 9/11. Our work became increasingly international as we welcomed PhD students and visiting professors from around the world.

My hope is that the work done by the SSC will continue to innovate and evolve, maintaining its reputation as a vehicle for seeking appropriate standards for new surveillance technologies, its focus on just and fair benefits for all, especially those currently marginalized, and continuing to lead by example in collaborative research on surveillance for practical human flourishing. I am not sure how exactly this will happen, but a good foundation has been laid for whatever does. There are already other centres and networks in other countries — Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Italy, UK, and United States — that are at least partly inspired by the Queen’s surveillance studies community.  

David Lyon, Professor Emeritus, is the author of Pandemic Surveillance (Polity Press 2022), and former director of the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University.

Queen’s launches Carbon to Metal Coating Institute

Translational research program will develop solutions to extend the lifespan of metals across industries.

Modern living heavily depends on metals, from the cell phones we communicate with to the cars we drive to the bridges we cross. But even though they are used to build our strongest structures, most metals remain fragile, corroding and degrading when in contact with oxygen. Coming up with a solution to protect these critical metals from breaking down when exposed to air or water is the main goal of the new Carbon to Metal Coating Institute (C2MCI), launched last week.

Cathleen Crudden
Catheen Crudden welcomes team members and guests to the Carbon to Metal Coating Institute launch event.

The Institute’s international, interdisciplinary team led by Cathleen Crudden, Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry and professor in the Department of Chemistry, received  $24M in support from Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund to advance this research. Their novel approach to protecting metal surfaces relies on a molecular primer capable of slowing or preventing oxidation and ultimately, degradation of metals.

During the launch event on May 25, Queen’s Principal Patrick Deane highlighted many years of research that built the foundational knowledge to advance this new solution. “The launch of this Institute is very exciting,” said Principal Deane. “The research associated with it will be truly transformative. This will have a positive impact on our environment and helps deliver on the university’s commitment to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

Patrick Deane
Principal Patrick Deane participated on the event, held in person at Queen's campus on May 25, 2022.

As the new research could enable production of more resilient infrastructure for transportation and green energy, it supports Canada’s transition towards a more environmentally friendly economy. More resilient metals will reduce the demand for metal extraction processes, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and this will minimize leaching of contaminants into the environment from corroding metals.

Potential applications of the new method also include designing new microelectronics manufacturing processes to prevent the breakdown of microchips in electronic devices such as computers and phones, and improving precision, safety, and effectiveness of nanomedicine therapies, particularly in cancer treatment. If implemented, these coatings could help countries save billions across industries, each year.

[Graphic image] Carbon to Metal Coating Institute

“Chemists have known for a long time that carbon-metal bonds can be very strong, but our group at Queen’s was the first one to look at whether this works to create strong coatings on metal surfaces as well,”, said Dr. Crudden. “This work was called game-changing by chemistry and physics experts”.

Dr. Crudden emphasized the importance of collaborating with academic, clinical and industry partners in countries like Japan, United Kingdom, USA, Finland, and Sweden, ranging in expertise and from basic to applied sciences. The mixture will allow the new institute’s translational work from lab research to real-world trials to large scale production.

The creation of the Carbon to Metal Coating Institute will provide the team with the administrative infrastructure to advance research, develop high qualified personnel, and support the international network of collaborators. It will also provide enriched interdisciplinary and international training opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students.

One of the strengths of the new institute is that it embeds equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) principles into its processes – for example, it will have allocated budget to foster EDI initiatives and engage students from equity deserving groups. “We believe EDI is essential for a successful project,” says Dr. Crudden.

For more information on the Carbon to Metal Coating Institute, visit the website.
 

In January, the Government of Canada announced the results of its New Frontiers in Research Fund, which provided $24 million in support to Dr. Crudden's program. To learn more, watch the video:

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