Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Research Prominence

Is it better to buy a real Christmas tree or a fake one?

 

[Decorated Christmas tree up close]
Christmas tree farms in Canada reported sales of $91.2 million in 2017. (Photo by TJ Holowaychuk / Unsplash)

It’s the holiday season again, and in the midst of making to-do lists and prepping for festive dinners, some people will once again ponder whether it is better for the environment to buy an artificial Christmas tree or to opt for the real thing.

It’s a good question to ask. We’re in the midst of a climate emergency and are becoming increasingly aware of our environmental impact.

Many of us are more likely to think about climate change when making purchases through the year. It makes sense to wonder if leaving trees in the ground to continue growing might not make a better contribution to the fight against climate change.

A decade to grow or keep

A natural tree of average size (2-2.5 metres tall, 10-15 years old) has a carbon footprint of about 3.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) — about the same as driving a car 14 kilometres.

This footprint increases dramatically if the tree is sent to landfill. When it decomposes, it will produce methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and generate a much larger footprint — close to 16 kilograms of CO2e. If the tree is composted or recycled, a common practice in many major cities — the environmental footprint remains low.

[Christmas tree in the centre of a mall]
Some artificial Christmas trees cost upwards of $300. (Photo by Yucel Moran / Unsplash)

By comparison, a two-metre tall artificial tree has a carbon footprint of about 40 kilograms CO2e based on the production of the materials alone.

Different types of plastics are used in artificial tree products. Some, like polyvinyl chloride, are very difficult to recycle and should be avoided. Polyethylene trees, which tend to look more realistic, have higher price tags.

The vast majority of artificial trees are produced in China, Taiwan and South Korea. Shipping from these distant factories increases the trees’ carbon footprint.

An artificial tree has to be re-used for 10-12 years to match the footprint of a natural tree that is composted at end of life. Even then, recycling the materials in artificial trees is so difficult that it is not common practice. Some old trees can be repurposed, but most artificial products will end up in a landfill.

Burning trees

This gives ecologically minded Canadians some sense of the impacts of their choice. But other factors are also at play. Real trees are becoming scarce and more expensive. In the United States, the average price of a real tree in 2019 has increased to US$78 from US$75 in 2018.

Weather has taken a toll on Christmas trees. In the U.S., hot weather and too much rain are considered contributing factors to a shortage of trees, and wildfires damaged or destroyed some farms. Heat waves in 2017 and 2018 killed young seedlings in Oregon and will impact tree supply in years to come.

In Canada, consumers who want natural trees have been warned to shop early, as many sellers have limited inventory due to fire, frost and insect damage that has accelerated over recent years.

Climate change will likely exacerbate these factors and could drive up the price of trees for years to come. Researchers have found that certain pests, like the balsam twig aphid, already a major pest in the Québec Christmas tree industry, will likely increase in a warming climate and harm commercial fir plantations.

[Artificial Christmas tree are lit up]
Canada imported more than $60 million of artificial trees in 2017, almost all from China. (Photo by Zac Agnew / Unsplash)

Oh, Christmas tree

Economics has also played a role in tree availability. Today’s trees were planted around the time of the Great Recession of 2008.

The impacts of this economic downturn were far-reaching in the industry. As demand fell during those years, many growers went out of business. This reduced the number of trees planted and contributed to the scarcity in today’s Christmas tree marketplace.

The Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association has shrunk dramatically in the past 15 years — from 300 members to about 80 today.

Is it time to give up on real Christmas trees?

Holiday trees provide wildlife habitat, protect soil, moderate floods and drought, filter air and sequester carbon while they grow. Tree farms also provide local economic benefits that don’t come with foreign-made products.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION
The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

The changing climate may not mean the end of holiday trees. Studies carried out in the Appalachians suggest that trees at lower elevations may be more likely to suffer from pests and damage as climate change progresses. They also found that tree farms at higher elevations may benefit from a longer growing season.

Research into the effects of temperature and precipitation extremes on cone formation may help growers maintain or enhance tree growth in response to changing environmental conditions. Forward-looking Christmas tree farmers may start planting a greater diversity of tree species to weather the impacts of climate change.

It is clear, however, that holiday trees face increasing risks from a changing climate and not all producers will be able to adopt cutting-edge methods; some will not choose the right trees.

Most Christmas tree operations in Canada are family businesses without deep pockets, and the costs of relocating tree farms to more friendly climes or higher elevations may put others out of business. The cost of a Christmas tree will likely continue to rise in the future.

___________________________________________________________________________________

The ConversationWarren Mabee is the Canada Research Chair, Renewable Energy Development and Implementation; Associate Dean and Director, School of Policy Studies; Director, Queen's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, and Head, Department of Geography and Planning at Queen's University.

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

You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter. ]

Will Kymlicka receives SSHRC Gold Medal

Queen’s professor and researcher is awarded one of the highest honours for the social sciences in Canada.

Will Kymlicka receives Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Gold Medal
Queen's University researcher and professor Will Kymlicka receives Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Gold Medal from Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, left, and Charles Taylor, Canadian philosopher and professor emeritus, McGill University. (Supplied Photo)

Queen’s University professor and researcher Will Kymlicka recently received the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Gold Medal.

The award, one of the highest honours for the social sciences in Canada, is given to an individual whose sustained leadership and dedication have inspired students and colleagues alike. Dr Kymlicka was recognized for his groundbreaking work on the link between democracy and diversity which has advanced knowledge on models of citizenship and social justice within multicultural societies.

In October, when the award was first announced, Dr. Kymlicka, Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy at Queen's, sat down and spoke about the importance of this latest honour and about his ongoing research.


Q: In a nutshell, tell me about your research on multiculturalism and minority rights? How are we viewing these issues differently as a result of your work?

A: Like other Western democracies, Canada is a “liberal democracy,” which means that we put a strong focus on the rights of individual citizens. The Canadian constitution also recognizes some group rights, but these have often been seen as anomalous, and perhaps even dangerous to liberal values. My work has tried to understand how we can make room in liberal philosophy for the rights of groups, and in particular the rights of minorities because they are the ones that need certain kinds of protections. 

When I started my work in the mid-1980s this topic was surprisingly neglected: there was barely any discussion in the literature about how a liberal democracy can recognize group rights. Today, there is a now a flourishing debate, in Canada and internationally, about what is sometimes called “liberal multiculturalism”.

The SSHRC Impact Award winners, including Queen’s University’s  Will Kymlicka are congratulated by Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry. (Supplied Photo)

I think this is a particularly important issue for Canada. Indeed, the very survival and success of Canada has depended on recognizing some group rights – for the Québécois, for Indigenous peoples, and for immigrant-origin ethnic groups. I have always thought of Canada as a kind of evolving experiment in how a liberal democracy can deal with issues of group rights, and I’ve tried to identify some of the important lessons we’ve learned over the years.

Q: In your career you’ve received more than 25 honours, fellowships and prizes. You’ve been called one of the world’s most influential philosophers. What does this award from SSHRC mean to you?

A:  It’s a special award, for several reasons. For one thing, it’s a Canadian award, and that means a lot to me. I’ve always wanted the work I do to be useful to my fellow Canadians, to help us better understand our collective experience and our future possibilities. I’d like to think that this award is a reflection of that.

Secondly, this award is interdisciplinary. This also matters a great deal to me. I want to do the kind of philosophy that is intelligible and useful to people in other disciplines as well, whether in political science, law, sociology or the humanities. I think philosophy has a lot to contribute to wider fields of research, but figuring out how to articulate philosophical ideas in a way that is both rigorous and accessible is a challenge. And here too I’d like to think the award is a sign that I’ve reached out beyond narrow disciplinary boundaries.

Q: Tell me about your early career. What started you on this path? What inspired you to look into these research areas?

A: Yes there was a very specific inspiration. I had planned to work on other issues in my graduate work at Oxford, but in 1985 I went to a talk given by Charles Taylor, the great Canadian philosopher (and, as it happens, the first winner of the SSHRC Gold Medal!). Taylor said that Canada’s existence depends on the recognition of group rights, but he also argued that there was no way to reconcile the recognition of group rights with the kind of liberal political philosophy that was dominant in the field. So he basically said we need to choose: do we endorse group rights or do we endorse liberal political philosophy? We can’t have both.

I thought that this was a powerful challenge, and I was taken aback that all the philosophers on the panel essentially agreed with him. Even the liberals on the panel agreed that there is no room for group rights in liberal theory. This didn’t make sense to me. After all, if we think about Canadian society over the past 50 years, it has become much more liberal, yet has also strengthened the protection of group rights, and in my naïve view, the recognition of group rights was part and parcel of this broader liberalization. So I didn’t see the inherent conflict or contradiction. So then and there, I changed my intended research topic, and took up the challenge of exploring how group rights fit into liberal theory.

Q: Your work has been translated into several languages and read around the world. What do you think your research legacy will be?

A: My work is part of a much broader debate about how we understand the liberal-democratic tradition. The liberalization and democratization of society has brought enormous benefits, I believe, but the liberal tradition of philosophy has often been narrowly individualistic. (Taylor calls it “atomistic”). I’m one of several people that are trying to develop a more “social” conception of liberalism, one that highlights how liberal values fit into complex and diverse social realities.

Q: Do you have any advice for young researchers and academics starting their own journey? Do you have any insights that could start them on the path to success?

A: I typically give my graduate students two pieces of advice. The first is to work on issues you care passionately about. Academia can be draining and frustrating, and you need to have a real commitment to an issue in order to get up every day and do the work.

The other piece of advice, particularly for young political philosophers, is that we need to get outside of disciplinary silos. If our work is to be useful, we need to be in conversation with other disciplines. In my work, I’ve drawn extensively on law, political science, history and social psychology. When political philosophers just talk to each other, the conversations quickly become arcane and disconnected from the real-world issues that require philosophical analysis. So that requires intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness.

Q: You have recently moved into a new area of research, on animal rights. Can you say a bit about that?

A: For the past 10 years or so, together with my partner Sue Donaldson, I’ve been working on how to bring “the animal question” into political philosophy. The lives of animals are often minutely governed by humans, but political philosophers have rarely discussed how we distinguish legitimate from illegitimate forms of governing animals, or how we can include animals in our conceptions of democracy or representation or citizenship. Animals are part of the “diverse social realities” I mentioned earlier, but they are invisible in political philosophy. So Sue and I are working to encourage research on how we relate to and govern the lives of animals in our society, including establishing an animal politics research group here at Queen’s. I think this will be a central issue for the future of political philosophy, and indeed for the fate of the world as a whole.

For more information visit the SSHRC website.

Digital economy’s environmental footprint is threatening the planet

Circuit board
The world’s data centres produce about the same amount of carbon dioxide as global air travel. (Photo by Malachi Brooks / Unsplash)

Modern society has given significant attention to the promises of the digital economy over the past decade. But it has given little attention to its negative environmental footprint.

Our smartphones rely on rare earth metals, and cloud computing, data centres, artificial intelligence and cryptocurrencies consume large amounts of electricity, often sourced from coal-fired power plants.

These are crucial blind spots we must address if we hope to capture the full potential of the digital economy. Without urgent system-wide actions, the digital economy and green economy will be incompatible with each other and could lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate climate change and pose great threats to humanity.

The digital economy lacks a universal definition, but it entails the economic activities that result from billions of everyday online connections among people, businesses, devices, data and processes, from online banking to car sharing to social media.

It’s often referred to as the knowledge economy, information society or the internet economy. It relies on data as its fuel and it is already benefiting society in many ways, such as with medical diagnoses.

Coal is still king for the internet

Rare earth elements form the backbone of our modern digital technologies, from tablets and smartphones to televisions and electric cars.

Preliminary data (p) on the global production of rare earth elements, 1988-2018.  (Natural Resources Canada, 2019)

China is the world’s largest producer of rare earth minerals, accounting for close to 70 per cent of global annual production. The large-scale production of rare earth elements in China has raised grave concerns about the release of heavy metals and radioactive materials into water bodies, soil and air near mine sites.

Research on the life-cycle assessments of rare earth minerals has found the production of these metals is far from environmentally sustainable, consuming large amounts of energy and generating radioactive emissions.

It’s sometimes said that the cloud (and the digital universe) begins with coal because digital traffic requires a vast and distributed physical infrastructure that consumes electricity.

Coal is one of the world’s largest sources of electricity and a key contributor to climate change. China and the United States are the top producers of coal.

Energy hogs

The world’s data centres — the storehouses for enormous quantities of information — consume about three per cent of the global electricity supply (more than the entire United Kingdom), and produce two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions — roughly the same as global air travel.

A report by Greenpeace East Asia and the North China Electric Power University found that China’s data centres produced 99 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2018, the equivalent of about 21 million cars driven for one year.

Satellite image of the Bayan Obo mine in China, taken on June 30, 2006. Vegetation appears in red, grassland is light brown, rocks are black and the water surfaces are green. (NASA Earth Observatory)

Greenhouse gases aren’t the only type of pollution to be concerned about. Electronic waste (e-waste), which is a byproduct of data centre activities, accounts for two per cent of solid waste and 70 per cent of toxic waste in the United States.

Globally, the world produces as much as 50 million tonnes of electronic e-waste a year, worth over US$62.5 billion and more than the GDP of most countries. Only 20 per cent of this e-waste is recycled.

When it comes to AI, recent research found that training a large AI model — feeding large amounts of data into the computer system and asking for predictions — can emit more than 284 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent — nearly five times the lifetime emissions of the average American car. The results of this work show that there is a growing problem with AI’s digital footprint.

Another area of concern is Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which rely on blockchain, a digital ledger with no central authority that continually records transactions among multiple computers. The amount of energy required to produce one dollar’s worth of Bitcoin is more than twice that required to mine the same value of copper, gold or platinum. A 2014 study found Bitcoin consumed as much energy as Ireland.

Blockchain technologies such as Bitcoin are energy inefficient and unless their potential applications are developed sustainably they will pose a serious threat to the environment.

Thinking differently

JOIN THE CONVERSATION
The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

The digital economy is accelerating faster than the actions being taken in the green economy movement to counter negative environmental impacts. To move forward fast, we must first start thinking differently.

The world and its intractable challenges are not linear — everything connects to everything else. We must raise awareness about these major blind spots, embrace systems leadership (leading across boundaries), boost circular economy ideas (decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources), leverage an eco-economics approach (an environmentally sustainable economy) and encourage policy-makers to explore the interrelationships between government-wide, system-wide and societal results.

We must also consider collective problem-solving by bringing together diverse perspectives from both the Global North and the Global South. We should take an inventory of the global and local damages caused by electronic devices, platforms and data systems, and frame issues about the digital economy and its environmental impact in broad societal terms.

Perhaps, the way to move the current discussion forward is to ask: What needs to be done to set the world on a sustainable human trajectory?

We must not only ask what the digital economy can do for us, but what we can collectively do for both the digital economy and the environment.

___________________________________________________________________________

Raynold Wonder Alorse is a PhD Candidate in International Relations (International Political Economy of Mining) at Queen's University.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter. ]The Conversation

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

Research @ Queen’s: Engineering environmental solutions

Leachate, liners, landfills, and learning – how Queen’s researcher Kerry Rowe is working with, instead of against, nature to solve an environmental problem.

Kerry Rowe, Canada Research Chair in Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering and professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, researches landfill management and is developing techniques that work with nature rather than fighting nature. (Photo by Bernard Clark / University Communications)

“Part of what we’ve been doing is developing techniques [for landfills] that work with nature rather than fighting nature, and trying to make nature work for us instead of against us.” Kerry Rowe

RESEARCH @ QUEEN’S
Did you know that the university recently launched a new central website for Queen’s research? From in-depth features to the latest information on the university’s researchers, the site is a destination showcasing the impact of Queen’s research. Discover Research at Queen’s.

Human beings have undoubtedly been throwing things away for as long as we have had things to throw. These ancient middens – the predecessors of our modern landfills – provide a treasure trove of artefacts for archaeologists, who sift through discarded items for clues to how people once lived.

Today’s dumpsites may well offer up similar insights to future investigators, but they are already revealing a great deal about how our environmental sensibilities have evolved over the last 60 or 70 years.

Continue the story on the Research at Queen’s website.

Wildlife exposed to more pollution than previously thought

Scientists have a new approach to understanding how pollution threatens species-at-risk in Canada.

Air, water, land and wildlife are tainted with thousands of chemicals that we cannot see, smell or touch — and may not be considered a threat to wildlife. (Photo by Andrew Ridley / Unsplash)

Sometimes, pollution is blatantly obvious: the iridescent slick of an oil spill, goopy algae washing up on a beach or black smoke belching from a smokestack. But, more often than not, pollution is more inconspicuous.

Our air, water, land and wildlife are tainted with thousands of chemicals that we cannot see, smell or touch. It may not come as a surprise then, that this unnoticed pollution isn’t considered the important threat to wildlife that it should be.

The planet has entered the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals, according to scientists, and Canada is not immune. More than half of Canada’s grassland birds and aerial insectivores have been lost in only 50 years, and between 1970 and 2014, the more than 500 mammal populations monitored in Canada shrank by an average of 43 per cent.

But the assessments that evaluate species to determine those that are at risk of extinction are underestimating the importance of pollution. The good news is that my colleagues and I think we have come up with a potential solution to this problem.

So many chemicals, so much pollution

The prothonotary warbler was one of the species that had a highly polluted habitat. (Judy Gallagher/flickr), CC BY

Globally, tens of thousands of chemicals exist in commerce today. The global chemical industry exceeded US$5 trillion in 2017, and is projected to double by 2030. These chemicals are used in all facets of our daily lives, from pharmaceuticals and fertilizers to pesticides and flame retardants.

Here in Canada, about five million tonnes of pollutants are produced each year by more than 7,000 industrial facilities. More than 150 billion litres of sewage is discharged yearly into Canadian waters.

Close to 700 pipeline spills over the past decade have led to the release of natural gas, crude oil and other substances into the air, soil and water. More than 23,000 federal contaminated sites — such as abandoned mines, airports, and military bases — are known or suspected to be contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons, heavy metals and other pollutants.

In a nutshell: The current process

Expert opinion is an essential and invaluable part of the assessment process to list wildlife species at risk for extinction in Canada.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION
The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

This process relies on scientists to estimate the proportion of a species’ population that may potentially be affected by a pollution source — this is called scope. A small team of scientists with expertise on the species considers scope along with the potential severity of the impact to determine the threat from pollution, along with 10 other potential threats.

However, the breadth of expertise of the team assessing a particular species may not necessarily cover all categories of threats, and based on our experience, ecotoxicologists — the scientists who study the fate and effects of environmental contaminants — are often underrepresented on these committees.

My colleagues and I suspected the committees might be underestimating pollution as a threat to species, and so we set out to find out if this was the case — or not.

What did we do and what did we find out?

We began by mapping all the point sources of pollution in Canada we could find from existing, publicly accessible databases. This included household sewage and urban waste water, industrial and military effluents, agricultural and forestry effluents, among others. We used the same pollution categories as COSEWIC, but we compiled a large database of geospatial information on all known pollution sources.

The phantom orchid is endemic to the Pacific Northwest. There are eight known populations in Canada.(Wikimedia/sramey)CC BY-SA

Next, we secured information on locations of almost 500 terrestrial and freshwater species — including everything from mosses and lichens to birds and mammals — from NatureServe, a non-profit organization that compiles data on species occurrence across North America.

We put these two sources of information — that is, pollution sources and species occurrence — together onto one map, so we could calculate the percentage of the species’ habitat that was covered by pollution. Then, we compared our calculations to those determined by expert opinion in the COSEWIC process.

We found two important things.

First, we found that, on average, more than half of every species’ habitat is polluted in some way. The species that had pollution in most, if not all, of the places they live include the prothonotary warbler, gypsy cuckoo bumblebee, copper redhorse fish, a freshwater mussel called the round hickorynut and several perennial plants, including the American columbo, green dragon and phantom orchid.

Second, we found a very weak relationship between the scope of pollution for a species that we calculated and the scope of pollution scored by expert opinion in the COSEWIC process.

In other words, scientists scoring threats were not particularly good at identifying sources of pollution that may be having negative effects on the species at risk they are trying to protect. Scientists sometimes identified exposure to pollution as negligible even for species whose entire ranges overlapped with pollution sources. This was especially true for vascular plants and terrestrial mammals.

We haven’t yet assessed whether the type of pollution found within the species’ habitat was a known threat to that species. But that is a logical next step for future research.

The path forward

Our work represents a major first step toward a more objective and rigorous assessment of the role of pollution in the decline of species-at-risk in Canada — one that we hope will be adopted.

More broadly, it points to the need for a more holistic approach to protecting wildlife species and their habitats.

The Trudeau government has pledged to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct by securing the necessary actions for their recovery, under its 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada. Yet the high prevalence of pollution we found in the homes of many wildlife species in Canada is a reminder that the government must take a much more proactive approach to the regulation of chemicals in the environment if we are to truly protect Canada’s biodiversity.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Diane Orihel is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology and the School of Environmental Studies, and the Queen’s National Scholar in Aquatic Ecotoxicology.

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

Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day. ]The Conversation

 

 

Advancing research with The Conversation Canada

CEO and Editor-in-Chief of The Conversation Canada to deliver workshops on the international news platform.

Scott White delivers workshop to Queen’s faculty and students in February 2019
Scott White delivers a workshop to Queen’s faculty and graduate students in February 2019. (University Communications)

In the era of fake news and alternative facts, global citizens are thirsty for fact-based, in-depth analysis on issues important to them. That’s where The Conversation has found its niche by paring academic experts with experienced journalists to write informed content that can be shared and repurposed by media outlets worldwide.

Global Reach
Founded in Australia in 2011, the online news platform has nine editions with 30,000+ academics from 2,065 institutions as registered authors whose articles attract 38.2 million readers worldwide. The Conversation’s Creative Commons Licensing has meant that over 22,000 news outlets around the world have shared and repurposed content.

Queen’s is a founding member of The Conversation Canada, which launched in 2017. It’s one of 10 international affiliates of the news outlet. On Wednesday, Dec.  4, Scott White, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of The Conversation Canada, will be on campus to deliver two workshops open to Queen’s researchers interested in using the platform to mobilize their work and to share expertise.

The workshops will explore the changing media landscape in Canada, why researchers should write for The Conversation, and how to develop the perfect pitch. Registration for the workshops is open to faculty, graduate students, and research staff, with two sessions, 10-11:30 am and 1:30-3 pm, taking place in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies building, room 101.

Building on a record of success

As a founding member of The Conversation Canada, over the last two years the Queen’s research community has embraced the platform as a unique tool for sharing their research expertise and engaging with the media. Over 125 Queen’s researchers have published 202 pieces that have received an impressive 2.8 million views via The Conversation Canada’s website.  Through the platform’s Creative Commons Licensing and newswire access, dozens of major media outlets, including Maclean’s, The National Post, CNN, TIME, The Washington Post, The Sydney Herald, and Scientific American, have republished these pieces.

Research @ Queen’s
Did you know that the university recently launched a new central website for Queen’s research? From in-depth features, the latest news, and featured researchers, the site is a destination showcasing the impact of Queen’s research. Discover Research at Queen’s.

“As the media landscape evolves, The Conversation is a tremendous resource and opportunity for any researcher seeking to promote their research beyond the academy,” says Michael Fraser, Vice Principal (University Relations). "So far, Queen’s has done an enviable job of working with The Conversation Canada to relay the impact of the scholarship happening at Queen's to a variety of external audiences, and we hope to continue to build this partnership."

It’s time to join The Conversation

Queen’s is looking to add to its roster of authors taking part in The Conversation Canada. Faculty and graduate students interested in learning more about the platform and research promotion are encouraged to register for the Dec. 4 workshops or contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, for more information.

Nobel Laureate earns international honour

Queen’s Professor Emeritus Arthur McDonald named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Queen’s University Professor Emeritus and Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He joins only 15 other Queen’s academics, starting with Alfred Lothrop in 1915, who have earned this honour since the Association was formed in 1848.

Arthur McDonald has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (Photo by Bernard Clark / University Communications)

The world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society, the AAAS has members in more than 91 countries around the globe. This year 443 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

Dr. McDonald is being honoured “For leading the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory scientific collaboration in the discovery of neutrino oscillations” and his role in establishing the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO), now SNOLAB, located in Vale’s Creighton Mine near Sudbury.

“It is indeed an honour to receive this award for our scientific work from this respected organization,” Dr. McDonald says. “I hope that our success will inspire future scientists in understanding our world at a very fundamental level.”  

Joining Queen’s in 1989 as a professor in the physics department, Dr. McDonald worked as the director of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO), the world’s deepest underground laboratory. The SNO team discovered that neutrinos – sub-atomic particles considered the basic building blocks of the universe – change from one type to another on their journey to Earth from the sun. This finding confirmed that these fundamental particles have a finite mass and that the current models for energy generation in the sun are very accurate.

For his research efforts, Dr. McDonald was named the co-winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics for SNO’s research into neutrinos, one of the fundamental particles that make up the universe.  In 2016, he and the SNO Collaboration members were awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, an award that recognizes profound contributions to human knowledge.

After being awarded $63.7 million through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, Queen’s University unveiled the new Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute in May 2018. The institute is a partnership of eight universities and five affiliated research organizations headquartered at Queen’s. In total, 100 people, including faculty, staff, and students across the country are members of the institute, all working to advance its research and outreach goals, carrying on the legacy of Dr. McDonald.

Nobel Journey
Interested in discovering more about Arthur B. McDonald’s path to the Nobel? Take the journey into the world of astroparticle physics by visiting Research @ Queen’s.

“Dr. McDonald has created a lasting legacy at Queen’s and inspired a generation of young scientists,” says Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane. “He has also contributed significantly to our knowledge of the world around us and opened up exciting new possibilities in the study of astrophysics.”

New Fellows will be presented and an official certificate and a gold and blue rosette pin on Saturday, Feb. 15 during the AAAS annual meeting in Seattle. AAAS is the publisher of the high-impact journal, Science, established in 1848.

For more information about the AAAS Fellows, visit the website.

John Smol appointed president of the Academy of Science, Royal Society of Canada

Queen’s professor and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change John Smol (Biology) assumed the role of president of the Academy of Science, Royal Society of Canada, for a three-year term, on Sunday, Nov. 24. 

Dr. Smol was elected in 2018 (and has since been serving as president-elect) on a platform focused on concerns of a developing crisis in science literacy and communication and, by extension, how science is used to formulate evidence-based policy.

In his inaugural speech to the Academy on Saturday, he said: “It is easy not to engage… (but) I strongly believe this is our fight … If the RSC is not ready to lead the way, then who is?” 

Since 1882, the Royal Society of Canada, as the country’s national academy, has had a mission to serve Canada and Canadians, in part, by mobilizing Canada’s leading intellectuals in open discussion and debate, advancing knowledge, and addressing issues critical to Canadians. Queen’s has long been engaged with the RSC, and currently has 91 affiliated Fellows and Members of the College of New Scholars.

For more information on the Royal Society of Canada, please visit the website.

Research @ Queen’s: Empowerment through revitalization

Lindsay Morcom, Canada Research Chair in Language Revitalization and Decolonizing Education, has focused her research on the revitalization of Indigenous language and culture.

[Original image of two Indigenous speaking with plants blooming out of their mouths]
Illustration by Chief Lady Bird

“To do Indigenous research well, regardless of your heritage, you should never go in and tell the community what to do. Instead, you go in and you listen, and then you ask them what they want.”

Lindsay Morcom

Research at Queen's
Did you know that the university recently launched a new central website for Queen’s research? From in-depth features to the latest information on the university’s researchers, the site is a destination showcasing the impact of Queen’s research. Discover Research at Queen’s.

Lindsay Morcom (Education) thinks of the various aspects of her research as being like three strands of sweet grass braided together. “They’re three different streams, but closely connected,” she says, explaining that each explores an aspect of Indigenized education and reconciliation. “We can’t have one without the other.”

Since joining the Faculty of Education as an assistant professor in 2013, Dr. Morcom, who is also the coordinator of the Aboriginal Teacher Education program (ATEP) at Queen’s and a Canada Research Chair in Language Revitalization and Decolonizing Education, has focused her attention on the revitalization of Indigenous language and culture.

Continue the article on the Research at Queen’s website.

Diabetes on the rise in First Nations populations

New report shows the disease has reached an all-time high within Canada’s First Nations communities, impact on children is concerning.

A first-of-its-kind, First Nations-specific report, co-authored by Queen’s University professor Michael Green, shows the number of First Nations people in Ontario living with diabetes is at an all-time high at 14.1 per cent.

According to the report, developed jointly by the Chiefs of Ontario (COO) and ICES, the increase is particularly concerning as there is a rising, disproportionate number of First Nations children affected by diabetes.

Research at Queen's
Did you know that the university recently launched a new central website for Queen’s research? From in-depth features to the latest information on the university’s researchers, the site is a destination showcasing the impact of Queen’s research. Discover Research at Queen’s.

“Lower monitoring, lower levels of diabetes control and less access to primary care mean First Nations people are more likely to experience complications of their diabetes at an earlier age and sooner after their diagnosis which is why focusing on prevention is key to making to changes to how diabetes affects First Nations people,” says Dr. Green, professor in the Departments Family Medicine and Public Health, and a senior scientist at ICES.

First Nations and Diabetes in Ontario takes a detailed look at diabetes and its consequences on First Nations people in Ontario from 1990 to 2014. The data presented in the report highlights specific inequalities and supports the development of effective health policies and programs to prevent diabetes in First Nations people.

The researchers highlight that the three dominant individual risk factors for type 2 diabetes among First Nations people living in First Nations communities are physical inactivity, weight/obesity and smoking. However, efforts to address these risk factors must consider the cumulative effects of ongoing racism, dispossession from land, childhood and intergenerational trauma, changes in diet and an increase in sedentary lifestyles associated with colonization.

The report found that in 2014/15, 39.3 per cent of First Nations people living in First Nations communities had good control of their blood sugar, compared to 56.5 per cent of other people in Ontario.

“This report is a step in the right direction to fill information gaps which have led to health policy gaps. This report builds on relationships and formal agreements to understand Indigenous health today, and in order to do that we have to know Indigenous history, government relations with Indigenous people, and the collective that the people have experienced,” says report co-author, Jennifer Walker (Laurentian University), the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Health and the Indigenous Health Lead at ICES.

A series of studies, including this one, are being published in the journals CMAJ and CMAJ Open. These studies are the start of a series of papers on diabetes and First Nations health. They are part of a partnership between researchers and COO which engages First Nations patients, families, elders and community members in the project.

The research was funded by the Ontario SPOR SUPPORT Unit.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Research Prominence