Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Queen's University Queen's University
    Search Type

    Search form

    Research Prominence

    A shot in the dark worth taking

    Renowned French astrophysicist Gilles Gerbier officially became the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Particle Astrophysics on Sept. 26. Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer, caught up with Dr. Gerbier a week before the official announcement to discuss his new position at Queen’s and SNOLAB and what he hopes to accomplish. 

    [Gilles Gerbier]

    Mark Kerr: Why did you want to come to Queen’s and SNOLAB?

    Gilles Gerbier: I’m interested in dark matter physics and this research is performed in underground labs. There aren’t many underground labs in the world and SNOLAB is arguably the best one because it’s very deep and very clean with available space.

    Another reason is that I knew most of the team members at SNOLAB and at Queen’s. They’re very good physicists, and I really wanted to work with them.

    MK: What is dark matter?

    GG: We have many hints that dark matter should exist through observations of celestial bodies: stars moving around in galaxies, galaxies moving relative to each other. All of these observations point to the fact that, in addition to the matter we know such as atoms and nuclei, there is additional mass that accounts for the difference between the higher measured speeds of objects orbiting around each other than what we would expect from only normal/shining matter. So there should be additional matter that we don’t see, which is why we call it “dark.”

    MK: What are the goals of your research program?

    GG: There is a large consensus among scientists in this field that the dark matter is made up of new particles, yet undiscovered. The goal is to perform studies on the identification of these particles. These particles, if they constitute dark matter, should be around us, crossing the earth, and would interact in detectors that are deep underground at SNOLAB. The research has to take place deep underground to avoid parasitic signals at the surface.

    MK: How will Queen’s and SNOLAB serve to advance your research?

    GG: So far, we haven’t observed dark matter’s existence so we must do more sensitive experiments in SNOLAB with European and North American teams. One of my goals, which I have already started pursuing the past few years, is to bring together these big groups and have larger experiments that are more sensitive. This is something that could be ideally done in SNOLAB because the North American groups have already planned and been funded to perform experiments there.

    The second project is related to a new kind of technology to identify these particles using spherical gaseous detectors. I’ve started this innovative research with a colleague in France. We already have hints that it will bring new insights to dark matter but of course we have to build the experiments and tune them to make them better. SNOLAB is a great site to base this experiment.

    [Gilles Gerbier]

    MK: Why are you interested in this field?

    GG: I came into this research a long time ago after my post-doc at Berkeley. I started in particle physics and found the idea that three-quarters of the mass of the universe is something we don’t know and may be made of new particles to be really intriguing. Now I’ve been in this field for 30 years.

    Certainly, it may look a bit discouraging not having found anything, but you have to be patient. Sometimes it takes a long time to find what you are looking for and maybe we are going to find something different than what we thought. So I do hope to contribute and identify dark matter working in a better environment with new people, new ideas and significant funds to do experiments.

    MK: Was it a difficult decision to leave France and move to Canada?

    GG: Maybe it would have been more comfortable to stay in France, but our kids are grown up and mostly on their own, so in some ways it was less complicated for my wife (Francine) and me to move.

    The move was also made easier because of the connections I’ve made in Canada through my work, in particular with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). For three years, I have served on a committee that dispatches NSERC funds to the particle physics community. I was very impressed with the way it was done and I appreciated the Canadian style.

    Mission accomplished for veteran research fundraiser

    • Van-Allen Turner, Senator Joseph Day, Stephanie Belanger, Brew Pub assistant manager Honey-Lee Pratt, Alice Aiken and Brew Pub general manager Andy Sakell (left to right) gather outside the Kingston Brewing Company to celebrate the success.
    • The team gathers to celebrate the success while wearing some of the 1,000 T-shirts sold over the past year.
    • A total of $20,000 was raised from T-shirt sales. Holding the cheque are (l to r); Stephanie Belanger, Alice Aiken, Van-Allen Turner and Senator Joseph Day.
    • Kingston town crier Chris Whyman opened the event at the Kingston Brewing Company with his usual flourish.
    • CIMVHR Associate Director Stephanie Belanger and Director Alice Aiken enjoy a laugh during the presentation.
    • CIMVHR Director Alice Aiken shows what she thinks of the success.

    The Kingston Brewing Company took on the challenge in 2013 of selling 1,000 T-shirts to support the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) based at Queen’s University. On Thursday, a celebration was held at the Kingston business to celebrate reaching that milestone and, in turn, raising $20,000 from the sales.

    CIMVHR Director Alice Aiken (School of Rehabilitation Therapy), Associate Director Stephanie Belanger, Senator Joseph Day and Kingston Brewing Company owner and manager Van-Allen Turner took part in the celebration.

    The event was a lead-in to the upcoming Forum 2014 From Science to Service, a conference hosted by CIMVHR and held this year in Toronto. The event will feature presentations from some of the top researchers and clinicians in veterans’ health research. Keynote speakers include the Hon. Julian Fantino, Minister of Veterans Affairs Canada, and Gen.Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff. The event runs from Nov. 24-26.

    The mission of CIMVHR is to enhance the lives of Canadian military personnel, veterans and their families by harnessing the national capacity for research.

    Body Mass Index lower in foreign-born youth

    New research from Atif Kukaswadia shows foreign-born youth have lower BMI than Canadian-born youth.

    Atif Kukaswadia

    Foreign-born youth have a lower body mass index (BMI) than Canadian-born youth, says a new study from researcher Atif Kukaswadia in the Department of Public Health Sciences, under the supervision of Dr. Will Pickett and Dr. Ian Janssen.

    Additionally, these differences in BMI did not disappear in the years after immigration, with East and Southeast Asian youth consistently having a lower BMI than Canadian youth.

    Using the theory of acculturation, the team were correct in their expectation that children born to foreign parents in Canada would have a higher BMI. This theory states that the longer immigrants are in the host country, the more they take on that country’s cultural values and lifestyle.

    “Canada has an obesogenic lifestyle – a lifestyle rich in influences that promote obesity in individuals or populations - and we expected that this would influence children born here, whether their parents are immigrants to Canada or not,” says Mr. Kukasawadia. “These findings stress the importance of considering both ethnicity and country of birth when designing and implementing weight-loss interventions.”

    The study used data from the 2009/10 Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Survey, a survey of over 26,000 youth in grades 6 -10 in all Canadian provinces and territories except Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. The general health survey included questions about topics from physical activity to drug/alcohol use and peer relationships.

    “Canada receives between 250-300,000 immigrants each year and 10 per cent of them are below the age of 14,” says Mr. Kukaswadia. “We were interested in what happens to their health after they move here, specifically their physical activity and BMI.”

    The research teams organized youth into the following ethnic groups: Canadian (European, North American and Aboriginal), Arab and West Asian, East Indian and South Asian, Each and Southeast Asian, Latin American and other (mixed ethnicity).

    “We had 3 main findings,” says Mr. Kukaswadia. “Firstly, children born abroad had a lower BMI than those born in Canada; secondly, average BMI differed by ethnic groups; finally, East and South East Asian children consistently had a lower BMI than Canadian children with no differences based on where they were born.”

    Moving forward, Mr. Kukaswadia and his team hope to further study why BMI is so different between Canadian and foreign-born youth.

    This research titled, “Influence of country of birth and ethnicity on body mass index among Canadian youth: a national survey” was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Open. The Canadian Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children study (Principal Investigators: John Freeman and William Pickett) was funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada. This analysis was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Atif Kukaswadia was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarships Doctoral Award. Ian Janssen was supported by a tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Obesity.

    Queen's names newest Canada Excellence Research Chair

    • Steven Liss (VP, Research) speaks at the announcement.
    • Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder officially pins Gilles Gerbier.
    • Master's student Ben Broerman chats with Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder.
    • Gilles Gerbier (l) walks with Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder and Steven Liss (VP, Research).
    • Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder speaks at Friday's announcement.
    • Principal Daniel Woolf addresses the audience at the announcement.
    • Gilles Gerbier speaks at the announcement after being welcomed as a new CERC.
    • Steven Liss (VP, Research) hands Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder the CERC pin while Gilles Gerbier looks on.
    • Steven Liss (VP, Research) speaks at the luncheon.

    Gilles Gerbier has joined Queen’s University as the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Particle Astrophysics. Dr. Gerbier is working both in the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy and at SNOLAB in Sudbury, researching the mysteries surrounding dark matter.

    “I’m very excited to work at SNOLAB,” says Dr. Gerbier. “It is a unique site — one of the world’s premier underground research laboratories — and it is operated as a clean room. The technicians, engineers and scientists working there are highly skilled, and the resources, availability and equipment are second-to-none. Once I found out that the CERC funding was in place for the chair at Queen’s, moving to Canada was a straightforward decision to make.”

    The goals of Dr. Gerbier’s research include strengthening the Canadian presence in a joint North-American/European SNOLAB project to search for low-mass dark matter particles and facilitating the sharing and transfer of expertise and knowledge between European and Canadian researchers.

    “Queen’s University is a natural home for Dr. Gerbier given our strength in this area,” says Principal Daniel Woolf. “He is not only a perfect match for the university’s research interests, he is an exceptional leader and mentor, and will be a catalyst for future international collaborations.”

    Dr. Gerbier is a graduate of the École Centrale Paris, and in 1983, he obtained his PhD from the Université Paris XI for work on neutrino interactions in bubble chambers. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, he became a founding member and team leader of the Beijing-Paris-Rome-Saclay Collaboration, producing seminal work on the characterization of scintillators for dark matter searches.

    A shot in the dark worth taking
    Read the official Queen's news release, the Q&A with Dr. Gerbier and the official government release

     In 2005, he became the team leader of the EDELWEISS experiment and in 2010 of the EURECA European collaboration, dedicated to the direct detection of dark matter particles with bolometric detectors located at the Modane Underground Laboratory (LSM) in France.

     “Attracting one of the world’s leading researchers in particle astrophysics to Queen’s will have tremendous benefits for not only our scholarly community, but for all Canadians,” says Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research). “Dr. Gerbier’s research into the mysteries of dark matter will deepen our understanding of the vast complexities of our universe. His work with colleagues at SNOLAB will strengthen our research ties with scholars worldwide and secure the reputation of Queen’s and Canada as leaders in the field.”

    Dr. Gerbier is also a major contributor to the astroparticle community. He has served as director of the LSM, project manager of the large European Network: Integrated Large Infrastructures for Astroparticle Science, and co-ordinator of the France-China Underground Lab network.

    The man behind the lens

    In his new photography exhibition, Inside Kingston Penitentiary, photographer Geoffrey James showcases images from the final months of the Kingston prison. The exhibit, featured at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, memorializes the institution that operated from 1835-2013. Mr. James’ first photography exhibition took place 30 years ago in 1984 at the Agnes. Communications Officer Andrew Stokes chatted with Mr. James about his work.

    Andrew Stokes: What led you to take on this project?

    Geoffrey James: Everyone is curious about prisoners and prisons as they’re very mysterious places. The prison has a limited visual record and I felt like if I didn’t photograph it then nobody would — there would be no one who was able to walk through the space and capture a sense of how it feels before it closed.

    Photographer Geoffrey James when he received the Governor General's award in Film and Media in 2012.

    AS: Your shots cover a wide range of time and throughout the series it’s evident the seasons are changing. Why did you make that choice?

    GJ: I shot the photos from May to September because I usually work in that mode. Getting to shoot a number of different times is a luxury because you get to review your photos and see what you’ve captured and what you’re missing. When photographing the Pen I couldn’t really take being in there for more than three days at a time because it was too difficult for me.

    AS: Many of the photos in the exhibition show vacant cells and empty spaces. Why did you make that decision?

    GJ: I photographed most of the cells the day they were vacated when there was nobody in them because I didn’t want to pry or intrude into people’s space. What I captured instead was what people left behind. What the inmates left drawn or gouged on the walls was a significant part of the story and I feel like it spoke very eloquently.

    AS: Many of the photos that do feature people come from an Aboriginal changing of the seasons ceremony you photographed. Is there a particular reason for that?

    GJ: When I was walking around taking photos, group shots were very difficult. Most groups didn’t want anything to do with me, but with the Aboriginal group it was different. I found it very moving, and it was a situation where they weren’t like inmates anymore. They cooked their own food and so were able to eat elk stew and bannock. When I gathered them for a group photo, they were very proud to be together, and the warden even allowed me to produce a copy of the shot for each of them.

    AS: This collection of photos exists somewhere between documentary photography and art photography. How do you negotiate the two genres?

    GJ: I don’t really differentiate the two, and I really try to avoid making “art” photos. I avoid dressing like a photographer and never carry a camera bag or anything — the camera I do use looks rather quaint I think. My hope is to make intelligent photographs that do justice to their subjects and that are affecting in a simple way. 

    When David beats Goliath

    Body size has long been recognized to play a key role in shaping species interactions, with larger species usually winning conflicts with their smaller counterparts. But Queen’s University biologist Paul Martin has found that occasionally, small species of birds can dominate larger species during aggressive interactions, particularly when they interact with distantly related species.

    The new findings provide evidence that the evolution of certain traits can allow species to overcome the disadvantage of a smaller size.

    The Sparkling Violetear Mulauco was one of the bird species biologist Paul Martin studied for his research into understanding why species live where they do.

    “We want to understand why species live where they do, and how different species partition resources, like food, in nature,” Dr. Martin explains. “This research feeds into that. The 'larger animal wins' rule that usually governs species interactions, and often influences where smaller species can live, is more likely to break down when the interacting species are distantly related.”

    For his research, Dr. Martin examined the outcome of 23,362 aggressive interactions among 246 bird species pairs including vultures at carcasses, hummingbirds at nectar sources and antbirds and woodcreepers at army ant swarms. The research looked at the outcome of aggressive contests for food among species as a function of their body size and evolutionary distance.

    The research found that the advantages of large size declined with increased evolutionary distance between species — a pattern explained by the evolution of certain traits in smaller birds that enhanced their abilities in aggressive contests.

    Specific traits that may provide advantages to small species in aggressive interactions included well-developed leg musculature and talons, enhanced flight acceleration and maneuverability and traits associated with aggression including testosterone and muscle development.

    “This study examines broad patterns across many species, and now we would like to understand the details of these interactions by studying specific groups,” says Dr. Martin. “We really want to understand why some species can overcome the disadvantages of small size, while other species cannot.”

    The research was done in collaboration with Cameron Ghalambor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, who received a Good Family Visiting Faculty Research Fellowship to come to Queen's for the work.

    The research was published in the latest issue of PLOS ONE.

    Principal Woolf releases strategic framework report

    Principal Daniel Woolf

    Principal Daniel Woolf presented an initial report on the strategic framework to the university’s Board of Trustees at its meeting on Sept. 19.

    The strategic framework was introduced by Principal Woolf earlier this year as a capstone planning tool to strengthen Queen’s vision as a balanced academy over the coming five years.

    “The strategic framework is designed around four strategic drivers, each of which is critical to Queen’s success as a research-intensive university that delivers a transformative student learning experience,” says Principal Woolf. “While most universities focus on either teaching or research, Queen’s has chosen the path – a difficult one – of striving to excel at both. We believe however that they are mutually beneficial aspects of our academic mission.”

    The strategic framework's four strategic drivers are: the student learning experience, research prominence, financial sustainability and internationalization. The initial report highlights a number of ways the university is advancing the framework’s four strategic drivers, including:

    • Enhancing student engagement and experiential learning
    • Creating new, high-quality academic programs
    • Promoting international research collaborations
    • Attracting more international students
    • Carefully containing costs across the university

    The report also features several performance metrics that will help gauge the university’s success in each strategic driver. Alan Harrison, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic), says that one of the next steps in implementing the framework is to set university level targets for these performance measures which, he says, will allow us to measure our progress throughout the five-year life of strategic framework.

    The initial report can be read here, and more information is available on the strategic framework website.

    Principal Woolf announces his priorities for 2014-2015

    At the beginning of each academic year it has been my practice to outline for the community, in broad strokes, the goals and priorities I intend to pursue over the course of the year. These goals are, unsurprisingly, aligned with the four strategic drivers identified in the Queen’s University Strategic Framework 2014-2019, a document that will guide the university’s decision making over the next five years.

    Principal Daniel Woolf speaks with students during an event on campus. Strengthening the student learning experience is one of his goals for the 2014-15 academic year.

    As I commence my second term as Principal my overarching goal remains unchanged-- to advance Queen’s as a university that uniquely combines quality and intensity of research with excellence in undergraduate and graduate education. The strategic drivers – the student learning experience, research prominence, financial sustainability and internationalization – directly support the success of Queen’s as a balanced academy.

    It should be noted that the framework builds on and is fully aligned with The Third Juncture, a 10-year vision for Queen’s that I wrote in 2012, as well as a number of other recent planning documents including the Academic Plan (2011), the Strategic Research Plan (2012), the Teaching and Learning Action Plan (2014), and the Campus Master Plan.

    In this context, my senior administrative colleagues and I are committed to:

    1. Strengthening the student learning experience

    A transformative learning experience is central to the Queen’s identity and to our vision as a university. Our academic plan outlines the centrality of developing our students’ fundamental academic skills while also providing them with learning opportunities that will help prepare them for the future. Goals related to this priority include:

    • Increasing the number of new opportunities for expanded credentials, as well as more opportunities for experiential and entrepreneurial learning, both on and off campus.
    • Further integrating technology into the delivery of course content where it enables improved learning.
    • Continuing to focus on strategies for teaching and learning based on student engagement and broad-based learning outcomes.

    2. Strengthening our research prominence

    Queen’s is recognized as one of Canada’s outstanding research institutions, but sustaining and enhancing our status means we must guide and support our research enterprise while resolutely pursuing funding. Goals related to this priority include:

    • Maintaining success rates in applications for Tri-Council funding.
    • Remaining among the country’s top three universities for faculty awards, honours and prizes, and election to major learned bodies such as the Royal Society of Canada.
    • Supporting the development and engagement of Queen’s faculty members as set out in the Senate-approved Strategic Research Plan.

    3. Ensuring financial sustainability

    To support teaching and research into the future, we will need stable and diverse revenue streams, particularly as government funding, per student, continues to fall. Goals related to this priority include:

    • Continuing strong revenue growth together with revenue diversification.
    • Meeting our $60 million annual fund raising target as part of the Initiative Campaign, while focusing on its overall achievement by 2016.
    • Pursuing long-term sustainability for our pension plan.

    4. Raising our international profile

    Two years ago I stated in The Third Juncture that as global competition among universities increases over the next decade, it will not be sufficient to be simply ‘known’ in one’s own country. Increasingly, the value of our students’ degrees will be tied to our international reputation, as will our ability to attract international students, who raise our profile and contribute a great deal to the academic environment. Goals related to this priority include:

    • Moving forward on multi-year plans to increase undergraduate international enrolment.
    • Maintaining our strong record in attracting international graduate students.
    • Supporting growth in international collaborations and partnerships.

    5. Promoting and developing talent

    We will need to ensure that we are able to acquire, develop and retain top quality faculty and staff to thrive as an institution. Our talent management strategy, which I initiated last year, will provide a strategic approach to ensure we have the right leaders in place and in the wings as we advance our academic mission and work to secure financial sustainability. Goals related to this priority include:

    • Continuing with succession planning efforts for academic and administrative leadership roles across the university.
    • Developing a competency model that will be used to identify necessary competencies when hiring, and for leadership development and performance dialogue discussions.
    • Refining our hiring practices.
    • Promoting discussion among the Deans around faculty renewal. 

    Research leaders earn prestigious medals

    Queen’s researchers Guy Narbonne and John McGarry were honoured today by the Royal Society of Canada for contributions to geology and political science, respectively.

    Dr. Narbonne (Geological Sciences) is the recipient of the Bancroft Award for publication, instruction and research in the earth sciences and his contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of the subject of geology.

    John McGarry has won the Innis-Gerin Medal.

    Dr. McGarry (Political Studies) is the recipient of the Innis-Gerin Medal for his contribution to the literature of the social sciences. The medal has only been awarded 21 times since its inception in 1967.

    “Drs. Narbonne and McGarry have been leaders in their respective fields for many years and these medals are recognition of their outstanding work,” says Principal Daniel Woolf. “The fact that Queen’s won two medals out of the 14 available in 2014 caps off a banner year with respect to Royal Society of Canada awards and honours.”

    Dr. Narbonne is best known for his research into evolution’s first foray into complex multicellular life, the Ediacaran biota, a group of large, soft-bodied creatures that populated the floor of the world’s oceans 580 million years ago after three billion years of mostly microbial evolution. His multidisciplinary research on the origin of Earth’s earliest animals has been widely reported in the scientific literature and through public outreach.

    Guy Narbonne (r) works with David Attenborough at Mistaken Point.

    Dr. Narbonne also played a major role in establishing the Ediacaran Period, the first new geological period recognized in more than a century.

    “I’m thrilled for the recognition this brings to Queen’s since to win this medal, you have to excel in three different areas – research, communication and tangible contributions to science,” says Dr. Narbonne.

    Dr. McGarry is the Canada Research Chair in Nationalism and Democracy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the winner of both the Trudeau Fellowship and the Killam Prize. Since 2009 he has worked as a part-time senior advisor on governance to the United Nations-mediated negotiations in Cyprus. He is viewed by many as one of the world’s leading experts on power sharing, federalism and constitutional design.

    “It is thrilling for me to receive an award that is named after two of Canada’s most famous social scientists, and whose first recipient in 1967 was Queen’s own W.A. Mackintosh,” says Dr. McGarry.

    For more information on the medals visit the website.

    Queen's technology considered for Ebola fight

    AsepticSure was tested last week to see if it could slow the spread of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

    • [Field hospital tents]
      Two tents were set up at Innovation Park to mimic a field hospital.
    • [Medizone AsepticSure machine]
      AsepticSure, a technology created by Dr. Dick Zoutman from Queen's, is currently used to sterilize hospital rooms between patients to help prevent hospital-born infections.
    • [Medizone AsepticSure machine in action]
      The technology, pictured here, produces a patented gas to destroy all pathogens in a room.

    AsepticSure co-inventors Dick Zoutman, a researcher at Queen’s, and Michael Shannon met last week with representatives from portable shelter company Design Shelter Inc. to test whether the technologies could be combined to fight the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.

    AsepticSure combines ozone and peroxide to create a patented gas that has yet to encounter a pathogen it couldn't destroy. 

    "The ozone-peroxide combination works in the same way the human body does to kill pathogens,” says Dr. Zoutman. “AsepticSure permeates all surfaces to kill 99.9999 per cent of all bacteria, spores and viruses. We’ve already seen the technology kill the coronavirus, the virus responsible for the MERS outbreak, so if it can kill the coronavirus then there’s no reason it can’t kill the Ebola virus.”

    Dr. Shannon says that if the team were asked to go to West Africa and begin their efforts to destroy the virus, they could be there with the equipment to do so in a week.

    The team hopes that AsepticSure will, at a minimum, provide adequate protection for all hospital staff in West Africa – the most valued commodity in fighting the Ebola outbreak.

    AsepticSure is a portable hospital sterilization system that can be used by trained maintenance staff. Rooms can be sterilized to the same standard as surgical equipment withing 80-90 minutes for a room of 4,000 cubic feet. For more information on AsepticSure, visit the website.

    The AsepticSure technology was developed at Medizone’s dedicated laboratories in Innovation Park at Queen’s.


    Subscribe to RSS - Research Prominence