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Research Prominence

Uncovering a human rights crisis in Haiti – what happens next?

Susan Bartels stands in the New Medical Building
Susan Bartels is an associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Queen's, a clinician scientist with research support from SEAMO, and a practicing emergency room physician.

Since the beginning of her career as a physician, Susan Bartels has felt a pull toward social justice, and to addressing the broader issues of health care inequity around the world.

It’s no surprise, then, that her latest research into the impact of the long-standing UN peacekeeping presence in Haiti follows that same trajectory.

The study, conducted with Sabine Lee, Professor of Modern History at the University of Birmingham, and published in The Conversation, details how girls as young as 11 are being sexually abused and impregnated by UN peacekeepers and left, often in extreme poverty and disadvantage, to raise children alone and, in most cases, with no assistance from the fathers. The research has garnered significant attention around the world, and is steadily creating awareness and change around a very troubling issue.

Dr. Bartels – who is an associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, a clinician scientist with research support from SEAMO, and a practicing emergency room physician – became interested in Haiti, particularly because it presented an interesting case example. While there has been a peacekeeping mission in Haiti for many years due to political instability and the 2004 coup, there has been no actual armed conflict in the country. Severe natural disasters, including the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, have made the situation even more complex.

“Because the peacekeepers have been there for nearly two decades, we knew there were likely interactions that had happened and lived experience we could document, with children born and paternity claims made,” she says.

Dr. Bartels explains that she and her team were fairly certain the sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers was happening in Haiti, but interestingly, she was surprised to learn that the story was more nuanced than she had thought.

“There was much more transactional sex happening than I expected, arising from the poverty and social situation in the country,” she says. “Overall, what troubled me the most was how normalized it was in Haitian society. For many there was an acceptance that ‘this is how it is.’”

Dr. Bartels’ research was published late last fall in the International Peacekeeping journal, and media interest was strong early on, with an article first in the Times of London, and then in the New York Times as well as other major media outlets.

“The attention was somewhat uncomfortable at first, mostly because my previous work has not been publicized to this extent,” she says. “But it has made me feel hopeful that the results of our study will make a difference and that with this exposure the information will fall on the right ears and have some impact.”

Indeed, the research seems to be falling on the right ears. Representatives from the UN have been in touch with Dr. Bartels – an unprecedented move – and her team looks forward to engaging with them. She is also in the final stages of editing a policy brief that will be shared with various UN offices. The study has also created a stir in many of the peacekeepers’ home countries. Notably, the Chilean government has already commissioned an inquiry into the issue. And locally, Dr. Bartels hopes to work with the Peace Support Training Centre in Kingston to incorporate her research into pre-deployment training programs for peacekeepers.

In the near future, she hopes to go back to Haiti to host a multi-stakeholder conference with the UN, the Haitian government, various NGOs, and women and girls with lived experience. But the current security situation in Haiti, with repeated lockdowns, has made it difficult to organize. She says she also hopes to interview peacekeepers, to provide a more balanced look at the situation.

“There is a lack of understanding of how the economic situation for women and girls in Haiti leads them to engage in transactional sex, and I believe the perception by peacekeepers is that the women and girls  are willing participants,” she says. “There is a lack of recognition around how the living situation and lack of choice compromises one’s ability to give consent.”

One of the great joys of being a researcher is to be able to ask a question and follow it through to the answers. Even more powerful is when those answers translate to changes in policy that will positively impact vulnerable or marginalized populations. As a Dean, I am proud of Dr. Bartels’ accomplishments so far, and will continue to monitor the effects of Dr. Bartels’ work on the ground in Haiti, and around the world.

This article was originally published on Dean of Health Sciences Richard Reznick's Dean's Blog.

Capturing the Art of Research

Celebrating its fifth year, the Art of Research photo contest is open for submissions until March 12.

  • "Love Under the Microscope" by Dalila Villalobos, MD, Resident (Anatomical Pathology)
    "Love Under the Microscope" by Dalila Villalobos, MD, Resident (Anatomical Pathology)
  • "Santa Fina" by Una D'Elia, Faculty (Art History and Art Conservation)
    "Santa Fina" by Una D'Elia, Faculty (Art History and Art Conservation)
  • "A New Light" by Robert Cichocki, PhD Student (Civil Engineering)
    "A New Light" by Robert Cichocki, PhD Student (Civil Engineering)
  • "Window on a Window to the Universe" by Mark Chen, Faculty (Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy)
    "Window on a Window to the Universe" by Mark Chen, Faculty (Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy)
  • "Platinum Surface Electrochemistry" by Derek Esau, PhD Student (Chemistry)
    "Platinum Surface Electrochemistry" by Derek Esau, PhD Student (Chemistry)
  • "Keep Cool Boy - The Jets Aloft in West Side Story" by Tim Fort, Faculty (Dan School of Drama and Music)
    "Keep Cool Boy - The Jets Aloft in West Side Story" by Tim Fort, Faculty (Dan School of Drama and Music)
  • "Nano-dendrite Collision" by Hannah Dies, MD/PhD Student (Chemical Engineering)
    "Nano-dendrite Collision" by Hannah Dies, MD/PhD Student (Chemical Engineering)
  • "Exploring Worlds at Home" by James Xie, Undergraduate Student (Engineering Chemistry)
    "Exploring Worlds at Home" by James Xie, Undergraduate Student (Engineering Chemistry)

Researchers … ready your cameras. Returning for its fifth year, the Art of Research photo contest is looking to celebrate and creatively capture the research conducted by the Queen’s community.

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@Queen’s.

Hosted by the Office of the Vice-Principal (University Relations) and open to Queen’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni, the Art of Research provides a unique and accessible method of sharing ground-breaking research happening at the university. It also represents the diversity of Queen’s research, with winners representing multiple disciplines and submissions highlighting research happening at all career stages.

The contest is an opportunity for researchers to mobilize their research and spark curiosity. Visuals can create a more compelling and accessible research narrative. By looking at research from a different perspective, it is possible to find the beauty and art in any project.

Eligibility and Prizes

Any current Queen’s faculty, staff, student, or alumni are eligible to participate. Research depicted in the submissions must have been completed at Queen’s or while the submitter was affiliated with the university. More information about contest rules can be found on the Research@Queen’s website.

In addition to promotion across institutional channels and platforms, prizes of $500 will be awarded for the top submission in each of these categories:

Category Prizes

  • Community Collaborations: Research that partners with or supports communities or groups
  • Invisible Discoveries: Research unseen by the naked eye, hiding in plain sight, or only visible by using alternative methods of perception
  • Out in the Field: Research where it occurs, is documented, or discovered
  • Art in Action Prize: Research that is aesthetically or artistically transformed or research in motion as it happens
  • Best Description: To recognize the most creative and accessible description for an image
  • People’s Choice: Determined by an online vote by members of the Queen’s community

In honour of the fifth anniversary of the Art of Research photo contest, four special prizes of $500 each will be awarded to celebrate the diversity of research happening across the university.

  • The Innovation, Knowledge Mobilization, and Entrepreneurship Prize will be awarded to the submission that best demonstrates research that encompasses a spirit of the applied practices of innovation, entrepreneurship, and knowledge mobilization. (Sponsored by Partnerships and Innovation)
  • The Graduate Studies Prize will be awarded to the image submitted by a Queen’s graduate student or post-doctoral fellow that best embodies the School of Graduate Studies’ motto “Create an Impact.” (Sponsored by the School of Graduate Studies)
  • The Health Sciences Prize will be awarded to the image that best represents the Faculty’s mission of “ask questions, seek answers, advance care, and inspire change.” (Sponsored by the Faculty of Health Sciences)
  • The KGHRI Prize will be awarded to the image that best represents patient-oriented and clinical research. (Sponsored by Kingston General Health Research Institute (KGHRI))

The contest closes on March 12, 2020. The submission form can be found here and winning images from previous competitions are located on the Research@Queen’s website

Improving understanding of student stress

A Queen’s post-doctoral fellow is developing a method to better evaluate the sources of stress among post-secondary students.

photo of stressed student with computer
Post-secondary students face a range of stressors in both academic and social life.

There has been a growing demand for wellness services at universities across Canada in recent years. Brooke Linden, a post-doctoral fellow with the Queen’s Health Services and Policy Research Institute, believes that a lot of work still needs to be done to better understand the factors that affect students’ mental health and wellbeing. That’s why she is developing a method for determining the most impactful stressors for students.

“If post-secondary institutions have a method of understanding the most frequent and severe stressors on their campuses, they may be able to make positive adjustments to mental health promotion and mental illness prevention programming that can improve students’ overall mental wellbeing. But first, we need to improve our understanding of how to best target those efforts,” says Dr. Linden.

Finding the stressors in student life

As part of her research, Dr. Linden has developed the Post-Secondary Student Stressors Index (PSSI) that categorizes the stressors that affect students in five areas: academics, the learning environment, the campus culture, interpersonal stressors, and personal stressors. The tool, delivered in an online survey format, invites students to evaluate stressors by both severity and frequency. This allows for the identification of “low hanging fruit,” those frequent and severe stressors upon which schools can focus.

Dr. Linden developed the PSSI while earning her PhD at Queen’s from the department of Public Health Sciences, piloting the tool on campus in Winter 2019. To determine the stressors among Queen’s students, Dr. Linden consulted with over 500 of them from across the university through focus groups, cognitive interviewing, and online surveys.

Now, as a post-doctoral research fellow at Queen’s, she is working to evaluate the PSSI at other post-secondary institutions, with the goal of partnering with at least one university in each province. Dr. Linden is interested in determining whether different patterns of stress are observed due to factors like size, location, and campus type.

image of chart mapping student stressors
Dr. Linden has charted student stressors based on frequency and severity.

Choosing Queen’s

Dr. Linden first became interested in this work while pursuing her master’s degree in sociology. Her MA thesis focused on post-secondary student mental health, but she felt like she needed to adopt a more scientific method of understanding student stress.  

When exploring doctoral programs, she learned about the work of Heather Stuart, the Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Chair at Queen’s. As a result, Dr. Linden decided to make the jump from the social sciences to the health sciences, enrolling in the Mini-Master of Epidemiology program in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Queen’s, which she believed would offer her the intellectually dynamic environment she was seeking in a graduate program.. After defending her Mini-Master’s project, Dr. Linden was promoted to the PhD program. She completed and defended her PhD thesis three years later, in fall 2019.

“Dr. Stuart and Queen’s University have given me all the support I need to explore the issue of post-secondary student stress and mental health outcomes. I am confident that the PSSI is a well-validated tool that has the potential to make a positive impact on the current landscape of post-secondary student mental health at universities across Canada,” says Dr. Linden.

Learn more about Dr. Linden’s research by reading her open-access article on the PSSI.

Dr. Linden is not the only researcher at Queen’s investigating post-secondary student mental health. Anne Duffy, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, is currently researching the topic through a longitudinal study called U-Flourish. Read more about Dr. Duffy’s work on the Research@Queen’s website

Lessons learned from SARS

Queen’s medical experts discuss the ongoing response to the outbreak of a novel coronavirus.

Visual of the outbreak on a world map captured from the John Hopkins CSSE tracking dashboard.
The John Hopkins Centre for Systems Science and Engineering has been tracking the outbreak on a live map, pictured here.

The School of Policy Studies convened a panel of leading Queen’s medical experts to discuss how lessons learned during the 2003 SARS outbreak may inform our response to a growing number of cases of a new coronavirus strain.

“Ontario learned many lessons from SARS, says David Walker, Queen’s professor of emergency and family medicine, and former Chair of the Ontario expert Panel on SARS and infectious Disease Control. “We learned to respect surveillance, to communicate clearly, and to develop best practices in protecting the public and healthcare workers.”

Dr. Walker was joined on the panel by Gerald Evans, Chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Queen’s professor of medicine; Samantha Buttemer, Family Physician and Resident in Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Queen’s; and Kieran Moore, professor of emergency and family medicine, and Medical Officer of Health with the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington Public Health. They shared expert insight on how officials managed the 2003 SARS outbreak, and fielded questions from members of the public in attendance about their thoughts on the new coronavirus.

“The emergence of novel coronavirus in 2020 represents a real-world test of the collaborations between basic science, virology, modern medical science, infection prevention and control, and public health policy and their combined ability to control the spread of dangerous new pathogens,” says Dr. Evans. “The sharing of information between public health and medical officials, both nationally and internationally, and the speed at which we can communicate, are light years ahead of where we were in 2003 with SARS.”

Concerns over the current outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) originating from Wuhan, China, have escalated in past weeks as the number of cases has grown, leading to comparisons to the SARS outbreak that impacted Toronto 17 years ago. Canadian health authorities confirmed three cases of the disease – two in Ontario and one in British Columbia – but maintain that the risk of contracting the virus is low. Queen’s University is actively monitoring the situation and is providing pertinent updates to staff, student, and faculty on its Environmental Health and Safety website.

The public panel discussion took place on Jan. 30, 2020 at Queen’s University’s Robert Sutherland Hall. Below you can watch a recording of the event's online broadcast.

SSHRC president visits Queen’s

Ted Hewitt met with researchers and students to discuss challenges and opportunities within the Canadian social sciences and humanities research landscape.

  • Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC tours the Agnes Etherington Art Centre
    Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, centre, and Sandra den Otter, Associate Vice-Principal (Research and International), listen as Norman Vorano, Queen's National Scholar in Indigenous Art and Material Culture, describes one of the exhibitions at the Agnes. (University Communications)
  • Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, and Sandra den Otter, Associate Vice-Principal (Research and International), received a guided tour of Queen's Rembrandt at Agnes exhibit from Alicia Boutilier, Interim Director and Chief Curator at the Agnes.
    Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, and Sandra den Otter, Associate Vice-Principal (Research and International), received a guided tour of Queen's Rembrandt at Agnes exhibit from Alicia Boutilier, Interim Director and Chief Curator at the Agnes. (University Communications)
  • Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, attends a coffee and Q&A period hosted by Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, Fahim Quadir
    Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, attends a coffee and Q&A period hosted by Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, Fahim Quadir. Graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, including current SSHRC funding recipients, discussed their experiences navigating the Canadian research landscape. (University Communications)
  • Alicia Boutilier, Interim Director and Chief Curator at the Agnes, Tamara de Szegheo Lang, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Film and Media), Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, Sandra den Otter, Associate Vice-Principal (Research and International), Norman Vorano (Art History and Art Conservation).
    Providing a guided tour of the Agnes for Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC, centre, were, from left: Alicia Boutilier, Interim Director and Chief Curator at the Agnes; Tamara de Szegheo Lang, Post-Doctoral Fellow (Film and Media); Sandra den Otter, Associate Vice-Principal (Research and International); and Norman Vorano (Art History and Art Conservation). (University Communications)
  • During his visit to Queen's Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC met with an interdisciplinary group of researchers working on issues of AI and ethics.
    During his visit to Queen's Ted Hewitt, President of SSHRC met with an interdisciplinary group of researchers working on issues of AI and ethics. (University Communications)

Ted Hewitt, President, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and Inaugural Chair, Canada search Coordinating Committee, visited Queen’s on Friday, Jan. 24. As part of his visit, Dr. Hewitt met with researchers and students, explored research spaces, and learned about the SSHRC-supported work being done at the university. He also sat down with the Gazette to chat about new SSHRC initiatives and how Queen’s is contributing to the advancement of research and research training in Canada. 

Q: For the past seven years, SSHRC has led the Imagining Canada’s Future Initiative. Tell us about the goals of this work.

A: This is a really good way to stimulate thinking about research and societal issues that are not only affecting us currently in Canada, but those that are coming down the road. It’s meant as a reflective exercise, to engage faculty, graduate students, researchers, university administrators, as well as decision-makers from private, public and community sectors in collective discussions on research. Not only are we thinking about areas of future importance, we are also addressing areas that are top of mind within our provincial and federal governments, including immigration, our environment, and the impact of digital technologies. The initiative gives us a great tool to bring together the best minds in our disciplines in order to shed light on issues and create dialogue to promote the value of the social sciences and humanities.

Q: Promoting and supporting Indigenous research is a key pillar for SSRHC and at Queen’s. Collectively, what are we, as a national research community, doing well? How can we continue to grow and learn?

Within the last 10 years, Indigenous research has grown, and now accounts for between eight and 12 per cent of the research we fund. We established an Indigenous research policy a few years ago that laid out some of the ground rules for how we would do this in the right way. We listened to members of our Indigenous Advisory Circle, we listened to the research community, and we were clear that in promoting Indigenous research we wanted to ensure that work is done by and with Indigenous peoples. And when these project proposals are submitted, we want them reviewed by panels that include First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. This new thrust in support of Indigenous-led research work has accelerated in the last couple of years since we’ve been working in tandem with the other councils.

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.

All three councils (CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC) have adopted similar principles based on an engagement exercise that lasted well over a year and involved engaging with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, collectives and communities across Canada, and talking to Indigenous researchers and students in order to develop ways of better meeting Indigenous research and research training needs. And we’ve just released a strategic plan, Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training in Canada, which will guide our efforts to strengthen Indigenous research capacity still further. The new plan emphasizes building  relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples; supporting their research priorities; creating greater funding accessibility to granting agency programs for Indigenous organizations and students; and championing Indigenous leadership, self-determination and capacity building in research.

Q: On your visit to Queen’s University you met with several different researcher groups representing different fields – from the creative arts and humanities to the health sciences and engineering. What does the future look like for interdisciplinary research in Canada?

A: It looks brighter than it did 10 years ago. Most researchers in Canada could be defined as disciplinary in terms of the work that they do, but we have started funding more interdisciplinary work and we are continually opening new opportunities to do just this. By offering more interdisciplinary funding opportunities, we are responding to a need while still maintaining a base that supports disciplinary research. There seems to be an increasing call and need for novel approaches to old problems, and to new problems, and we need to invest in combining disciplines in new ways that might help us to tackle specific issues in innovative and creative ways.

Q: What did you learn about the research happening at Queen’s? How does it align with the future vision of SSHRC?

The most remarkable part of my visit was the recognition that Queen’s researchers are working on issues aligned with the themes that we had previously discussed within the context of the Imagining Canada’s future initiative -- particularly around interdisciplinarity. With respect to AI for example, it wasn’t all robots and systems and computer science, it was the more philosophical, ethical, social issues that surround AI. I thought that was remarkable and it’s in line with what SSHRC has been saying about the need to include social science and humanities research from the beginning. Sooner or later everything in the world comes back to people and the best science in the world has been managed by humans, so it’s time to start talking to social scientists and humanists at the beginning. I saw evidence here at Queen’s that this integration is really happening, and I find that refreshing.

Working to improve Canada's mental health

Heather Stuart, the Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Chair at Queen’s, has increased her focus on connecting people with resources.

Heater Stuart speaks about mental health to an audience in Mitchell Hall
Heather Stuart speaking about mental health to an audience in Mitchell Hall in 2019.

Every year on Bell Let’s Talk Day, it’s clear that the movement to end the stigma against mental illness has come a long way. It’s also a day when the Queen’s community can take pride in Heather Stuart, Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Chair, who has played a key role in this national movement.

Throughout her career, Dr. Stuart has committed herself to raising awareness about the damaging effects of stigma. While she’s still active on that front, she has also started taking on more projects that connect people with mental health resources.

“Over the past year and a half, my research has included more practical implementation than before. I’ve been working on ways to help people find the resources they need. While we still have work to do on stigma awareness, as a society we also need to think about what steps to take next,” says Dr. Stuart.

Supporting students and the military community

One of Dr. Stuart’s major projects over the past year has been a partnership with Queen’s, IBM, and the Department of National Defense. This project is creating an app to help members of the military address feel more comfortable addressing mental health concerns. When using this tool, military personnel and their families can have confidential, anonymous conversations with an AI interface. The AI will then make recommendations about next steps, including potential treatment options, such as recommending that someone consider approaching a mental health professional or their family doctor.

Dr. Stuart has also been actively working on supporting the mental health of post-secondary students. Along with Queen’s post-doctoral fellow Brooke Linden, she has been working to evaluate a tool that helps students develop resiliency. Called Surviving to Thriving, this pilot project provides students with a workbook that helps them identify mental health resources available to them. Surviving to Thriving was initiated by the Canada Life Assurance Company, which plans to spread the tool across Canadian universities.

With Bell and the Canadian Standards Association, Dr. Stuart has been part of a large team tasked with developing and evaluating voluntary standards for post-secondary student mental health. This will establish criteria that post-secondary institutions can adopt to ensure that they are meeting the wellness needs of their students. Dr. Stuart is on both the steering committee and the evaluation committee for this project.

Still challenging paradigms 

On top of her implementation work, Dr. Stuart is keeping up with her ongoing anti-stigma research. Recently, she has signed contracts to produce two books for Oxford University Press. One will be a collection that she is editing with a colleague from the University of Calgary. In this book, various contributors will reflect on the past ten years of anti-stigma work in Canada.

Her other book project is a sequel to her landmark study Paradigms Lost. Published in 2011, this book upended many common conceptions about stigma and how to fight it. Its sequel, Paradigms Lost and Paradigms Found, will explore what’s on the horizon for stigma reduction. 

Research @ Queen’s: Answering a global call for student mental health services

Queen's researcher Anne Duffy is addressing a global knowledge gap in understanding university student mental health needs.

[Illustration of students under a cloud]
Illustration by Gary Neill

Post-secondary institutions around the world take great pride in enhancing the talents of the best and brightest people that society has to offer, an undertaking that yields tangible benefits as graduates contribute back to that same society during the course of their careers. This prospect animates campus life with promise and excitement, representing the opportunity of a lifetime that is usually fondly remembered as a time of growth, learning, and fulfillment.

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@Queen’s.

Less fondly recalled may be those inevitable bumps in the road as students find their way, especially if they are living away from home for the first time. Some of the challenges are easily identified and addressed, such as learning to do laundry or shopping for groceries on a budget. Other issues may be more subtle. For example, young people who easily excelled in high school may find themselves surrounded by capable peers with whom they are evenly matched. This can lead them to question their abilities and even temporarily affect their sense of self. While most students build skills and develop resiliency as they settle into a new educational setting and phase of life, this period of social and academic transition can trigger self-doubt and anxiety that, for some students, can also compromise their long-term potential to succeed.

[Anne Duffy]
Dr. Anne Duffy (Psychiatry)
 

In fact, while late-adolescence and early-adulthood represent an important step toward more autonomy, new personal relationships, and the embrace of a broader perspective on life, it is also a time of heightened exposure to stress and risk. In the absence of support to help an individual stay on track, negative influences such as alcohol, drugs, or poor sleep habits can introduce mental health problems. As distress turns into the early stages of mental illness for some individuals, it does not discriminate on the basis of education or social status — it affects us all in one way or another.

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

Inspiring budding researchers

IGnite: Research Stories to Inspire Generations will feature talks on neutrinos, fundamental building blocks of the universe, and molecular interactions

[IGnite takes place on January 30, 2020]

Featuring topics from environmental solutions to gender policy, the IGnite lecture series has showcased the diversity of research happening at Queen’s to a captivated audience of campus and community members. On Thursday, Jan. 30 another lecture will take place on the topics of the underground search for neutrinos and the importance of molecular left- or right-handedness.

IGnite is a collaboration between the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute and the University Relations portfolio. Each event features two researchers from different fields discussing their projects and research experiences, while also including interactive demonstrations and poster presentations from students and additional researchers. The series offers a public platform where researchers can share what first ignited their curiosity and motivates them to pursue their research.

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@Queen’s.

Mark Chen (Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy) holds the Gordon and Patricia Gray Chair in Particle Astrophysics and is a Fellow at CIFAR. At the SNOLAB, he leads the SNO+ project, repurposing for a new mission the research infrastructure once vital to Queen’s emeritus professor Art McDonald’s Nobel Prize-winning work. Dr. Chen will present on how SNO+ is exploring the nature of neutrino mass and oscillations while also searching for neutrinos generated on Earth called geoneutrinos. His research will help solve physics mysteries such as why the Earth has a “neutrino glow”.  

For Dr. Chen, curiosity is an important part of the research process.

“Asking simple questions, asking big questions – that’s what research is about,” he says. “I’m always delighted to talk about where curiosity has led us in our understanding of the world around us, and what questions we are still seeking answers to.”   

Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry) will present on the topic of molecular left- or right-handedness. Her research investigates how organic compounds interact with metals to develop new catalysts important to pharmaceutical and biosensor innovations. In understanding how carbon-to-metal bonds can be significantly more stable than metal-to-organic linkages, her research group focuses on films 100,000 times thinner than human hair and nanoscopically ordered particles. Understanding which "hand" a molecule uses can make all of the difference in whether they work as intended when interacting with certain materials.

The event will take place Thursday, Jan 30, 6:30-9 pm at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library Central Branch (130 Johnson St.).

Registration is free on Eventbrite and light refreshments will be served.

For more information on the series, visit the McDonald Institute’s website.

 

New internal funding for research

Queen's Vice-Principal (Research) launches Wicked Ideas Competition.

Wicked problems are issues so complex and dependent on so many factors that it is hard to grasp what exactly the problems are or how to tackle them. Wicked ideas are needed to solve these problems, and demand the input of multiple disciplines, multiple perspectives, and relevant practical expertise.

The Vice-Principal (Research) has launched the Wicked Ideas competition as a pilot initiative to fund and support research collaborations that respond to local, national, and global challenges. Aligned with the concept of the Government of Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund – Exploration program, the competition “seeks to inspire projects that bring disciplines together beyond traditional disciplinary or common interdisciplinary approaches by research teams with the capacity to explore something new, which might fail but has the potential for significant impact.” Along with both disciplinary and interdisciplinary funding streams, the competition offers a “global challenge” stream, featuring climate change as a global challenge area.  Teams of researchers are invited to submit notices of intent by Feb. 3, 2020.

“This funding is designed to remove some of the financial barriers to high-risk, high-reward research, allowing scholars to push the boundaries of knowledge into uncharted territory,” says Dr. Kent Novakowski, Acting Vice-Principal (Research). “I greatly look forward to hearing about some of the paradigm-shifting ideas that come out of this new exploratory opportunity.”

Up to 15 teams will be awarded $75,000 each in the first phase of the competition in spring 2020. The 15 teams then will be eligible to compete for one of an additional five awards of up to $150,000 in the 2021 Wicked Ideas competition. The competition is open to all Queen's faculty across all disciplines. Co-investigators and team members also must be Queen's faculty members.

This is just one of several internal funding programs that have been launched by the Vice-Principal (Research) recently.  Other programs include the Queen’s Research Opportunities Fund (QROF) Post-doctoral Fund, as well as the Catalyst Fund – designed to enhance areas of research excellence by giving scholars an opportunity to accelerate their research programs.

A revised Prizes for Excellence in Research competition, which has recognized scholarly achievement at Queen’s since 1980, is set to launch soon.

More information about all of these programs, including terms of reference, is available on the Vice-Principal (Research) website.

Bird droppings provide clues to environmental change

Queen's University researchers John Smol and Matthew Duda have identified concerning trends in a vulnerable seabird.

Led by Queen’s researchers, a collaborative research team of Canadian universities (Queen’s University, University of Ottawa, Memorial University of Newfoundland) and government scientists have identified concerning trends in the population size of Leach’s Storm-petrels, a vulnerable seabird that mainly lives on Baccalieu Island, 64 km north of St. John’s, Nfld.

The study led by Matthew Duda, and co-authored by John Smol, suggests that marine wildlife, including the Leach’s storm-petrel, are not only confronting a range of recent human-induced pressures, but are also responding to longer-term environmental factors.

A sediment core collected from Baccalieu Island. (Photo by Matthew Duda)

“The seabirds act as ‘environmental engineers’ by depositing large volumes of nutrient-rich feces and other refuse, thereby changing the aquatic and terrestrial landscape,” says Dr. Smol, a biology professor and the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change at Queen’s University. “By taking sediment cores from storm-petrel impacted ponds, we can reconstruct past population trends going back centuries or millennia, where many important clues lay hidden.”

The researchers took advantage of the fact that storm-petrels build burrow nests on islands, often around freshwater ponds. Therefore, the ponds’ sediments preserve the effects of changes in the amounts of seabird fecal matter and provide a ‘history book’ of past changes in the environment.

Using a variety of biological and chemical indicators in dated sediment cores, the researchers could track changes in seabird populations going back more than 1,700 years.

Ongoing observations indicate that the seabird population has been declining in recent decades, but that striking changes have also occurred in the past, prior to human impacts.

“Our approach identified striking changes in the colony size of storm-petrels on Baccalieu Island," says Matthew Duda, Queen’s University doctoral candidate in the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory (PEARL). "First, we confirmed that the population has been declining since the 1980s. More surprisingly, however, we determined that the current colony underwent marked changes in the past, including rapid growth in the early-1800s. Furthermore, we identified an earlier colony about 1,500 years ago that declined without the influence of human stressors. So now in response to the ever-increasing pressure imposed by human activity, the situation is likely even more risky for this important oceanic bird.”

The authors caution that their paleoecological data further reinforce the fragility of seabird colonies and the critical need for evidence-based management.

The research was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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