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Research Prominence

Funding tools for exceptional research

Eighteen researchers at Queen’s University receive funding from the CFI’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund.

Queen’s University has been awarded over $2.8 million in funding in the latest rounds of the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF). The money will help fund 18 projects at the university. 

The John R. Evans Leaders Fund helps exceptional researchers at universities across the country conduct leading-edge research by giving them the tools and equipment they need to become leaders in their fields. 

The funding will help support research in a diversity of areas, including plant reproduction, Northern geological environments, wearable technologies and intelligent mining systems. 

“Cutting-edge research requires infrastructure and tools,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research). “This support will allow researchers at Queen’s to garner and build the resources they need to accelerate their programs and establish competitive advantages in their fields.”  

The projects receiving funding are:

  • Jannice Friedman (Biology) - Evolutionary Genetics of Plant Reproductive Strategies, $130,000
  • Matthew Leybourne (Geological Sciences) - Advancing Detection Limits and In Situ Isotopic Chemical Chromatography for Astroparticle and Geochemical Research, $200,000
  • David Natale (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) - Stress-mediated Trophoblast Proliferation: Adaptation or Pathology? $100,000
  • Robert Way (Geography and Planning) - The Northern Environmental Geoscience Laboratory, $100,000
  • Che Colpitts (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) - Membrane Remodelling by Positive-sense RNA Viruses: Molecular Mechanisms and Cellular Responses, $150,000
  • Tricia Cottrell (Cancer Biology and Genetics) - Characterization of Immunological Mechanisms Underlying Evasion of Checkpoint Blockade in Non-small Cell Lung Cancer, $200,000
  • Graeme Howe (Chemistry) - Elucidating the Evolutionary Enhancement of Enzymatic Efficiency, $144,000
  • Shideh Kabiri Ameri (Electrical and Computer Engineering) - Nano-materials-based Wearable Sensors and Electronics:  Achieving Superior Performance and Visual Imperceptibility, $100,000
  • Lynne-Marie Postovit (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) - Research Center to Study Cancer with Single Cell Resolution, $240,000
  • She Zhe (Chemistry) Visualizing Soft Surfaces using Scanning Probe Microscopy, $180,000
  • Elisabeth Linn Steel (Geological Science) - Source to Sink Transport Dynamics: Exploring Evolution of Deltaic and Deepwater Systems through Physical Modelling, $75,000
  • Jianbing Ni (Electrical and Computer Engineering) - A Secure and Privacy-preserving Edge Caching Framework in Next-generation Mobile Networks, $125,000
  • Yuksel Asli Sari (Robert M Buchan Department of Mining) - Intelligent Mining Systems and Mine Automation, $125,000
  • Sameh Sorour (School of Computing) and Sidney Givigi (School of Computing) Advancing Edge, Cyber-physical, and Autonomous Systems for Smart Infrastructure, $400,000​
  • Jeffrey Wammes (Psychology) Investigating Representational Reorganization in Memory, $100,000  

CFI also partners with the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat’s (TIPS) Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program and Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) program through the John R. Evans Leaders Fund to create competitive packages for the funding of infrastructure and research support. Queen’s has received funding for three CRC-JELF projects: 

  • Amber Simpson (School of Computing and Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) Computational Phenotypes of Cancer, $76,000
  • Ning Lu (Electrical and Computer Engineering) Performance Evaluation of Networking/Computing Resource Management for Wireless Internet of Things, $150,000 
  • Anna Panchenko (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) - Decoding Cancer with Supercomputers, $235,550

For more information on the Canada Foundation for Innovationvisit the website. 

Don’t miss out on research funding opportunities, subscribe to the University Research Services Funding Opportunities listserv. 

How climate change could trigger ‘mega-tsunamis’

Damage caused by a tsunami at Lituya Bay, Alaska.
In 1958 a tsunami triggered by a landslide left a large swathe of damage in Lituya Bay, Alaska. (Alaska Earthquake Center) 

Just over 60 years ago, a giant wave washed over the narrow inlet of Lituya Bay, Alaska, knocking down the forest, sinking two fishing boats and claiming two lives.

A nearby earthquake had triggered a rockslide into the bay, suddenly displacing massive volumes of water. The large landslide tsunami reached a height of more than 160 metres and caused a run-up (the vertical height that a wave reaches up a slope) of 524 metres above sea level. For perspective, imagine run-up to about the height of the CN Tower in Toronto (553 metres) or One World Trade Center in New York City (541 metres).

Large landslides, like the one that hit Lituya Bay in 1958, are mixtures of rock, soil and water that can move very quickly. When a landslide hits a body of water, it can generate waves, especially in mountainous coastal areas, where steep slopes meet a fiord, lake or reservoir. Although mega-tsunamis are often sensationalized in the news, real and scientifically documented events motivate new research.

In late July, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake near Perryville, Alaska, triggered a tsunami warning for south Alaska, the Aleutian Islands and the Alaskan Peninsula. And scientists recently warned that a retreating glacier in a fiord in Prince William Sound, Alaska, had elevated the risk of a landslide and tsunami in a popular fishing and tourism area not far from the town of Whittier.

International research efforts are urgently underway to better understand these major natural hazards. This is critically important, since climate change could contribute to increasing the number and size of these events.

Recent giant wave events

Triggered by either an earthquake or higher than normal rainfall, another massive landslide occurred in Alaska in 2015. This one was in Taan Fiord, 500 kilometres east of Anchorage. This event was so powerful, it released an enormous amount of energy and registered as a magnitude 4.9 earthquake, approximately equal to the explosive force of 340 tons of TNT.

The landslide impact into the water was so strong that it generated seismic signals that were detected at monitoring stations in the United States and around the world. The impact generated a wave with a run-up of 193 metres. Thankfully, the area is remote and no one was killed.

However, the 2017 landslide into Karrat Fiord, Greenland, was deadly. It generated a 90 metre high tsunami at the impact site. This wave propagated 30 kilometres to the community of Nuugaatsiaq, wiping it out and killing four people. Other major landslide wave events have recently occurred in Norway and British Columbia.

Tsunamis are also generated by other mechanisms including earthquakes, volcanic collapse and submarine landslides. Earthquakes can trigger massive submarine landslides, which have been shown to be major contributors to the maximum tsunami run-up. This occurred when earthquakes struck Japan in 2011 and New Zealand in 2016, resulting in run-up of 40 metres and seven metres in each case.

Predicting the wave size

Large landslide tsunamis are difficult or impossible to measure in the field. They typically occur in mountainous regions with very steep slopes, and therefore are usually far from big cities. Geologists have documented many of the cases by mapping the run-up elevations or deposits of trees and rocks washed off slopes after these events, like in Taan Fiord.

In October 2015, a massive landslide fell into Taan Fiord and created a tsunami that stripped the land more than 10 kilometres from the slide. (Ground Truth Trekking), CC BY-NC

But these natural hazards pose a major threat to society. What if a landslide into a reservoir creates a wave that overtops a dam? This happened in 1963 in Vajont, Italy, killing more than 2,000 people who lived downstream.

A better understanding of how landslides generate waves is crucial. Experimental studies are a way to gain insight into these waves. Laboratory tests have led to empirical equations to predict the size of landslide tsunamis.

Recent research with detailed measurements using high-speed digital cameras is helping to determine the controls of the landslide properties on the generation of waves. This has led to new research at Queen’s University that has improved the theoretical understanding of how landslides transfer momentum to water and generate waves.

The wave size depends on the thickness and speed of the slide at impact. The shape of these waves can now be predicted and along with the wave amplitude (the distance from rest to crest), and be used as input to computer models for wave propagation and full simulation of landslide wave generation. These models can help understand and predict the behaviour of waves at the laboratory scale and at the field scale in coastal environments.

Past and future events

Since 1900, there have been eight confirmed massive wave events where large landslides have generated waves greater than 30 metres high. Two of these led to over 100 deaths in Norway in the 1930s. Of these eight major events, four have occurred since 2000.

However, other events with smaller waves have devastated more populated coasts. For example, the collapse of the Anak Krakatau volcano in 2018 generated a tsunami on the coast of Indonesia that caused over 400 casualties and major infrastructure damage.

Will more of these events occur in the future? Climate change could influence the frequency and magnitude of these natural hazards.

A warming climate certainly changes northern and alpine environments in many ways. This can include permafrost thawing, retreating glaciers and iceberg calving, more frequent freeze-thaw cycles and increased rainfall or other hydraulic triggers. All of these can contribute to destabilizing rock slopes and increase the risk of a major landslide into water.

These natural hazards can’t be prevented, but damage to infrastructure and populations can be minimized. This can be achieved through scientific understanding of the physical processes, site-specific engineering risk analysis and coastal management of hazard-prone regions.The Conversation

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Ryan P. Mulligan, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, Queen's University and Andy Take, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Queen's University.

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

Redesigning Canada for physical distancing and COVID-19

People sit in circles in a park for social distancing.
Some cities are drawing circles in the grass at parks to ensure physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Canada slowly re-opens during the COVID-19 outbreak, urban planners and politicians are working to re-configure their cities to adjust to life with physical distancing and reduce the spread of the virus.

City officials drawing large circles in the grass in parks to space people out and closing street lanes to create a wider area for people to walk, and stores dedicating the first hour of shopping to seniors and people-at-risk are examples of society adjusting to the new reality of COVID-19.

John Meligrana (MPL’91), a professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, has launched a study to discover the new policies and protocols that cities have successfully adopted. The research will be compiled in a report and shared with urban planners, politicians, and municipal leaders across Canada in the fall to help them re-open their towns as safely as possible.

While the world waits for a vaccine to be found in the next year or two, public health officials say physical distancing is one of the top weapons against COVID-19. Designing how thousands of people interact within neighbourhoods, buildings, and public spaces is what urban planners do, so Dr. Meligrana hopes his report can play a role in saving lives during the pandemic.

“We are all praying for a vaccine,” says Dr. Meligrana. “I am praying for all our first responders and praying for scientists to resolve this. But in the meantime, we need to rethink how we are using our cities. How do you achieve physical distancing in Canada’s most densely populated cities? That’s the question. That’s where we can contribute.”

The project is being funded by Rapid Response, a Queen’s project supporting research that contributes to the development, testing, and implementation of medical or social countermeasures to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Meligrana has hired two grad students (Claire Lee and Stephan Kukkonen) and is working with two fellow Department of Geography and Planning faculty members (Patricia Collins and Ajay Agarwal) to research and complete the report by the end of October.

They plan to look issues at related to public places (such as parks and sports fields), transportation, and vulnerable communities that have been impacted harder than affluent communities.

Dr. Meligrana is already seeing emerging trends, such as a movement toward “quiet streets.” With fewer people driving, some cities are closing roads to create more room for pedestrians. It doesn’t always work. Kingston recently closed parts of two downtown streets, but re-opened them a few days later after a public outcry. These experiences can provide valuable lessons to city planners.

“We know there are a lot of these good ideas out there,” Dr. Meligrana says. “We hope to catalogue them, package them, and share them with as many people as possible. Planners can play a big role in making communities safer.”

How to calmly navigate personal interactions during COVID-19

Two men wearing masks speak with each other during an outdoor workout.
Across Canada, as we enter new, expanded phases of reopening and increased contact, we may feel uncomfortable interacting in person again. There are many options available. (Unsplash / Kate Trifo) 

Thanks to COVID-19, we’ve slowly built new routines centred on being at home. But as we start to enter various phases of reopening and increased contact, we may feel uncomfortable interacting in person again.

Treating each interaction as a type of micro-negotiation provides a helpful road map for navigating these potentially tricky situations.

What once were automatic interpersonal behaviours now require explicit agreement.

What do you do if someone enters the elevator with you without a mask?

If a friend rushes close to greet you?

If someone stands too closely in line?

What if you are (perhaps unintentionally) the offending party?

These situations are increasingly common and can escalate quickly into full-blown conflicts if not handled carefully. I draw on research on effective negotiations and conflict management to offer concrete suggestions and practical tips for how to ensure everyone walks away happy — and safe.

Overall, treating each interaction as a micro-negotiation first involves a change of mindset. Productive changes to your behaviour will then follow more easily.

It is important to note that many interactions won’t require all the recommendations below. But thinking about each in advance can help you be ready in the moment. A negotiation done well in this case may be one in which you don’t even realize you’ve successfully negotiated until after it’s over. Practice and preparation are key so that these tactics become second nature.

Prepare and have a plan beforehand

In negotiations, an important concept is what’s known as BATNA, which stands for the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. It is what you will do instead if you don’t reach agreement with your negotiation counterpart.

For daily interactions during the pandemic, this means you should have a clear idea in advance of what you will do if a situation gets too uncomfortable. Research shows that having a defined, desirable alternative in mind helps negotiators perform better; the psychological comfort of having an attractive backup plan helps you feel more powerful and removes unnecessary stress in the current moment.

Rather than storming away in a huff, or escalating a conflict unnecessarily, plan ahead and have explicit options in mind. For example, if mask-wearing doesn’t seem to be enforced in a particular place, know before you leave your home what you will do: you might get takeout from a different restaurant, order groceries for pickup or delivery or simply come back at a different time.

Having your alternative in mind will help you remain calm, knowing that you always have a perfectly acceptable alternative. In fact, research shows that simply feeling that you can handle a tense situation can help you avoid reacting unproductively.

A couple wearing masks descend concrete stairs.
Despite our best intentions, it is likely that some interactions may lead to strong emotions, even anger. (Unsplash / Cheng Feng)

Respect other perspectives, but be creative

Although it might seem inconceivable that someone may have a different comfort level in terms of interactions than you do, it’s bound to happen and doesn’t mean the other person is crazy. (In fact, they may be thinking you are the crazy one.)

A more productive approach is to try to understand the other person’s perspective, and how you can satisfy both of your underlying needs in a creative way. Separate the position (the behaviour, or the “what” that makes you feel uncomfortable) from the interest (the “why” of the behaviour).

For example, if you’re not comfortable attending the “small” get-together of friends that somehow grew much larger in number, that’s OK. Simply say so explicitly, but also suggest an alternative that could meet both your and the host’s interests (to connect with an old friend) in a different format (taking a physically distant walk together later in the week).

Remember that respecting the other person doesn’t mean you have to agree with their position.

But by being creative and focusing on deeper, underlying interests rather than more superficial positions, you can keep everyone happy.

Don’t take it personally, and use threats wisely

Despite our best intentions, it is likely that some interactions may lead to strong emotions, even anger.

However, rather than reacting angrily to a situation, which can backfire depending on how it is received, take a step back and reconsider the situation from an open-minded, problem-solving perspective.

Use the other person’s reactions and emotions as a trigger to help you find out what’s really going on at a deeper level, which research shows shows can help you reach a more mutually beneficial solution without having to simply give in to the other person’s demands.

If you feel that you need to resort to ultimatums, do so carefully and purposefully. Research suggests that WISE threats — those that you are willing to enact, that serve your underlying interests, that help the other person save face or maintain their dignity and that are exact rather than vague — are more likely to lead to effective conflict resolution.

Thinking about each interaction you have as a form of micro-negotiation will help you practise a few fairly minor behavioural and mindset changes so that you, and those around you, are more likely to have positive interactions and avoid unnecessary conflict.

It’s important to remember that we’re all navigating uncharted waters, and negotiating what used to be mundane but now feels uncomfortable may not come naturally. However, with conscious practice and an open mind, it’s possible to approach even the most challenging interactions from a productive problem-solving mindset.The Conversation

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Laura Rees, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour, Smith School of Business, Queen's University.

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

Power professor: 100 patents and counting

Electrical and computing engineering professor Praveen Jain hits milestone of 100 patents of his research.

Preveen Jain shows off his lab
Praveen Jain (Electrical and Computer Engineering), a leading researcher in the field of power solutions, has surpassed 100 patents in his career. (Queen's University)

Patents do not just attribute intellectual property; they also recognize contributions towards scientific discovery and innovation. This is particularly true for Praveen Jain, a professor and researcher in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, with more than 100 patents to his name. Testament to his prolific contributions to the advancement of power solutions for an evolving world, Dr. Jain’s patents span the whole range of the power electronics field.

Originally from a small town in India, Dr. Jain recalls going to a school with only one teacher.

“I can remember much of my primary learning occurring sitting under a tree,” he says. “Many in my extended family were engineers, which later inspired me to study engineering.”

After completing his bachelor’s degree, Dr. Jain worked for two companies in India. One of his uncles, who had been mentoring him, suggested that he pursue higher education abroad, and in 1981 he was accepted to the University of Toronto as a graduate student. He completed his study focused on high-frequency power conversion, a topic that carved his future path.

Over the years, Dr. Jain explored power solutions in a number of different careers, beginning with Canadian Astronautics, where he worked on power systems for space applications, including the Canadarm2. This was followed by his employment at Nortel where he created many novel power solutions for telecommunications.

“I further developed my work on space power and applied that technology in telecom,” he says.

Making a difference

Since joining Queen’s, Dr. Jain’s work has spanned the field of power electronics, and included collaborations with peers and industry, as well as mentoring the next generation of researchers. He has founded two companies, CHiL Semiconductor in digital power control chips, and Sparq Systems Inc. in solar microinverters.

His research has been applied in more than 20 major engineering projects, demonstrating the breadth of his contributions’ significance. And his contributions continue: current research focuses on power electronics for smart micro-grids, renewable energy systems, electric vehicles, and information systems.

Consideration of Dr. Jain’s long-standing relationship with the former PARTEQ Innovations, now Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI), provides insight to this productivity. From 2008 to 2015, PARTEQ received numerous invention disclosures from Dr. Jain and his research group, based on their work with micro-inverters for renewable energy systems. During this period PARTEQ filed patent applications for 10 inventions, including three international patent applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). From those patent applications, 31 patents have been granted in Canada, United States, Japan, Australia, Mexico, China, and India, and three applications are still pending.

In the patent office of each country where a patent application is filed, the application is subjected to examination to confirm the invention is not only new but is not obvious in light of the closest prior work. 

Thus, “the grant of a patent attests to the significance of the contribution that the patent makes to its field of technology,” says Stephen Scribner, Director, Intellectual Property at QPI, who prepared and prosecuted these patent applications. 

As the director of the Centre for Energy and Power Electronics (ePower), Dr. Jain is collaborating with others to develop innovative solutions, and believes that distributed renewable power represents the future of energy systems.

“By the end of the century, I can see there being no electric grid, just distributed power,” he says. “We have important work to do to advance products and practices that will make better use of renewables and distributed systems that are more efficient, and better for our planet.”

 

This article is an adaptation of a piece written by Teegan Burks, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Sci ’21, for the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

To change coronavirus behaviours, think like a marketer

A couple wear facemasks and glasses
Wearing masks in public is the new norm, however, there remains some significant resistance and rates of COVID-19 infection continue to rise rapidly across the United States, as well as among Canadians aged 20-29. (Unsplash / Nathan Dumlao)

COVID-19 has been a humbling experience. From a frayed pandemic early-warning system to a shortage of personal protective equipment for front-line workers, public health experts have been playing catch up.

But it has also been a teachable moment. We now know, for example, that the usual approaches to convince fellow citizens to prioritize societal well-being over personal desires are not working. Rates of COVID-19 infection continue to rise rapidly across the United States, but also among Canadians aged 20-29. Public health messaging is clearly not convincing this age cohort to change behaviours.

This is a call to action for social marketing to evolve and leverage powerful behavioural and technological tools that successfully engage hard-to-reach groups. There is compelling evidence from here in Canada that such an approach can work.

Social marketing applies commercial marketing technologies to motivate voluntary social behaviour. These techniques have been used to boost home-based recycling, safe sex, to encourage people to quit smoking and use seat belts, among many other behaviours.

Good social marketing is more important than ever, particularly during a pandemic. In general, however, public health officials have been slow to adopt approaches that have been used successfully in the for-profit world.

The four Ps

In marketing, the shorthand for selling a product or service is “the four Ps”: product, promotion, price and place. Social marketing takes the perspective that selling an idea can be approached in the same way. This includes aligning and customizing messages to specific audiences, rather than assuming everyone will respond the same way.

In the case of COVID-19, data suggest that people don’t share the same perceptions of risk, and this can be seen in their individual behaviour and resistance to public health messages. Similarly, there is a mismatch between the audience and medium. The current approach of relying on traditional news outlets and advertising, media releases and news conferences to communicate critical COVID-19 information is not proving effective at reaching younger adults.

Think of the difference among law, public health and marketing as sticks, promises and carrots. During COVID-19, there have been lots of sticks and promises (“stay home, stay safe”) and not much in the way of carrots. But carrots are needed.

Being confined to your home is a fundamentally unpalatable product for people for whom isolation is a significant psychological burden. Families with small children that are struggling with working, teaching and general caretaking and need specific guidance on how to meet child-care needs safely. Everyone needs access to outdoor space for transportation and recreation, regardless of preferred activity, especially when those correlate with income and race.

At the outset, little attention was paid to recognizing and addressing these barriers to compliance with the desired behaviour. Yet we have a Canadian example of how to take a complicated issue and break down barriers, in the context of physical activity.

Worldwide leader

ParticipAction has been a worldwide leader for decades in presenting a range of possible activities that people can do in small bursts throughout the day or week to meet recommended guidelines, all without having a gym membership or being part of organized sports.

By recognizing barriers that prevented people from being active, it opened up possibilities to Canadians who considered the product and place of physical activity unattractive.

The social marketing version of price has always been the most challenging of the four Ps to tackle. It is difficult for individuals to change a behaviour they enjoy or one that provides personal benefit, especially when such change may not benefit them directly.

But the behavioural economic concept of “nudging” that includes small financial incentives has proven to be financially more efficient than expensive advertising campaigns in convincing people to change behaviour.

Our research on a now-defunct made-in-Canada mobile app demonstrates the potential for using cutting-edge commercial marketing techniques and technologies to tackle the challenges of social marketing.

Carrot Rewards was a mobile app that gave users points from their loyalty program (such as Aeroplan, Scene and Petro Points) immediately after they completed a health intervention, such as completing an educational quiz, getting information about the flu shot or walking a certain distance or length of time. (Carrot Rewards folded in June 2019 but was purchased later that year by a technology firm with a plan to relaunch the wellness app.)

A woman shops while wearing a mask.
Social marketing applies commercial marketing technologies to motivate voluntary social behaviour. These techniques have been used to boost home-based recycling and encourage people to quit smoking. (Unsplash / Arturo Rey)

Canadians love their loyalty programs

Loyalty programs are tremendously popular in Canada. Some 90 per cent of Canadians are enrolled in at least one program. Studies show that, on average, there are four programs per person and 13 per household.

Carrot Rewards leveraged the desire for small financial incentives (in the form of reward points for movies, groceries and the like), and attracted an engaged and involved audience.

It employed a digital platform that allowed for customizable content and high message complexity. Using multiple choice “quizzes” of five to seven questions each, it both involved users through gamification as well as provided additional information on the topic in question.

The app was also able to target content to specific audiences based on demographic characteristics and answers to previous quizzes, as well as track physical movement and location via a smart watch or smartphone.

Engagement stayed high

With an existing base of 1.1 million users across Ontario, British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador — and 500,000 active monthly users — Carrot could have quickly expanded into other provinces as a key component of an integrated federal COVID-19 campaign for education, contact tracing and possibly even symptom tracking.

Our research has demonstrated that Carrot rapidly attracted and enrolled users, and maintained consistently high levels of user engagement over time, even as rewards diminished. That engagement remained high even at a modest average reward per user of 1.5 cents per day. The age and demographics of the users varied by loyalty program, and the app provided a relatively representative cross-section of Canadian society in terms of education, income and urban/rural/suburban locations.

All in all, Carrot showed impressive results.

Financial sustainability challenges aside, policy-makers and public health officials would be wise to consider maintaining this modern, data-driven approach to social marketing in their tool box. It would not only prove tremendously useful in the COVID-19 era, but it would place Canada at the forefront of innovation in social marketing around the world.The Conversation

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Monica C. LaBarge, Assistant Professor, Marketing, Smith School of Business at Queen's University and Jacob Brower, Associate Professor and Distinguished Faculty Fellow of Marketing, Smith School of Business at Queen's University.

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

Aging, long-term care, and COVID-19

Dean Jane Philpott and members of the Queen’s community discuss the lessons learned about senior care during the pandemic with the second installment of the Conversations Confronting COVID-19 series

Watch the discussion

Lessons learned during COVID-19

Queen’s had a record turnout as more than 800 viewers tuned in to last week’s Conversations Confronting COVID-19 virtual event on the topic of aging. Moderated by Dr. Jane Philpott, Dean of Health Sciences, the event brought together experts in healthcare, research, and policy-making to discuss lessons learned about Canada’s elderly population and long-term care during the coronavirus pandemic. The panel included Laura Tamblyn Watts, ArtSci’94, CEO of CanAge, Dr. John Puxty (Medicine), Dr. Catherine Donnelly (Rehabilitation Therapy), and Dr. Kevin Woo (Nursing and Rehabilitation Therapy).

While the event focused on the response to COVID-19, the participants brought unique research and policy perspectives to senior care issues and the challenges Ontario and Canada may face moving forward post-pandemic. The panelists, including Dr. Philpott, spoke from their experiences and specific expertise, having pivoted their research and attention to focus on COVID-19 related issues or joined the frontlines to deliver senior care during the crisis.

Major discussion topics included what the response to the pandemic has taught us about our emergency preparedness, our success rate in safeguarding vulnerable members of our society, and how COVID-19 will influence Canada’s long-term strategy for healthy aging. The panelists looked at diverse senior care models in Canada ranging from long-term care to retirement homes and aging at home or alternative non-institutional settings and their responses to COVID-19, along with guidance for those navigating these systems. In particular, they described the mental and physical effects of social isolation for both seniors and their family members and their current research to address this crucial issue.

In response to some of the 100+ questions posed by audience members, the experts reflected on the impact of COVID-19 within BIPOC communities and where policy and collaborative research are needed to support fair overall healthy aging for all Canadians. Throughout the conversation, the panelists also examined opportunities for a pan-Canadian approach to long-term care, integrating care and care teams where possible, investing in education and the workforce, and applying best practices from other provinces and countries for sector innovation.

Guidance and resources for senior care

Many viewers also asked insightful questions around policies, as well as shared personal experiences for guidance on matters such as supporting family caregivers. While the panelists could not respond to each question within the hour, they have provided a list of resources ranging from information about senior care programs and policy actions to ways for the community to get involved through the Queen’s Community Connections Project.

Additional Information

Conversations Confronting COVID-19

Queen’s University Relations and Advancement offices are currently planning additional events in the Conversations Confronting COVID-19 series for the fall. To learn more about upcoming alumni events, visit the Queen’s Alumni website, and for more information about how Queen’s researchers are combatting COVID-19 explore the Research@Queen’s website.

Researcher Ahmed E. Hassan honoured by world's largest organization devoted to computing professionals

Canada Research Chair Ahmed E. Hassan has received the New Directions Award from the IEEE Computer Society Technical Council on Software Engineering.

Queen’s researcher Dr. Ahmed E. Hassan (School of Computing) has been awarded the 2020 TCSE New Directions Award from the IEEE Computer Society Technical Council on Software Engineering, along with Dr. Thomas Zimmermann (Microsoft Research). The 2020 TCSE New Directions Award recognizes those whose research contributions have moved software engineering in new directions. 

Photograph of Ahmed E. Hassan
Ahmed E. Hassan

Hassan and Zimmerman established the field of Mining Software Repositories (MSR). Over the past two decades, MSR has advanced software engineering with innovations that have improved software engineering practices by uncovering interesting and valuable information about software systems and projects using vast amounts of technical and social data, such as run-time telemetry and personnel communication. Mining this valuable information has helped companies and open source projects worldwide improve software quality and developer efficiency. Today, the MSR conference is one of the top ten high impact venues in software engineering.

Dr. Hassan is an IEEE Fellow, an ACM SIGSOFT Influential Educator, an NSERC Steacie Fellow, and the Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Software Analytics. His research focuses on the intersection of systems and software engineering. Hassan leads the Software Analysis and Intelligence Lab (SAIL) at Queen’s, where his team investigates approaches and techniques to support practitioners who are producing, maintaining and evolving   large-scale complex software systems which will allow more efficiency and predictability in results. Early tools and techniques developed by Hassan's team have been integrated into products that have been used worldwide.

For more information on Dr. Hassan’s research visit, the SAIL lab website

Wooden skyscrapers could transform construction by trapping carbon emissions

Wood skyscraper in Norway
The Mjøstårnet, an 18-storey mixed-use building constructed with engineered wood, overlooks Norway’s largest lake, in Brumunddal. (Woodify/YouTube)

All over the world, architects and engineers are crafting cutting-edge skyscrapers from one of the most renewable and sustainable materials available to humanity — wood.

For the time being, the tallest wooden building in the world is the Mjøstårnet, an 18-storey building north of Oslo that houses offices, hotel rooms and apartments, and stands just over 85 metres in height.

Canada has several tall wooden towers, including Brock Commons at the University of British Columbia (18 storeys; 58 metres) and the Origine eco-condo development in Québec City (13 storeys). A number of other projects, such as the 10-storey Arbour at George Brown College’s Waterfront Campus, are under development.

For some, wood may seem an archaic and even dangerous choice for tall building construction compared to modern alternatives like concrete, steel and glass. But as emissions associated with tall buildings continue to rise, governments at all levels are looking for low-carbon, low-energy alternatives.

In Canada, buildings account for 12.7 per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, buildings lead to 40 per cent of total emissions. For Canada, a country with abundant wood resources, investing in new tall wooden building construction is an opportunity for sustainable economic growth — but challenges remain.

Not your average log cabin

Today’s tall wooden buildings are different from the two-by-four wood framing usually seen in single-family homes or two- to four-storey condominium structures.

So-called “mass timber” construction is derived from old techniques of post-and-beam construction, but uses advanced technologies, including cross-laminated timbers (CLT) and laminated veneer lumber (LVL), which feature layers of wood bonded with adhesives and produced as either beams or panels. Some concrete and steel may be used around elevator shafts or stairwells in mass timber construction, but floors and beams may be made entirely of wood.

Structural wood products like CLT have a number of advantages in tall wooden building consruction: they are lighter than conventional materials, require less energy to make than either steel or concrete (and thus produce lower emissions), and can sequester carbon.

Their relative lightness makes it possible to assemble floor and wall sections off-site and ship them to the build site, significantly reducing the amount of building time required. For example, the on-site construction for the Origine project in Québec City was completed in only four months. Adopting tall wooden construction could greatly reduce the amount of disruption — dust, noise and traffic disruptions, for example - that construction brings to the urban landscape.

Building better, faster and greener

Prefabrication also means that building structures can be designed to maximize energy efficiency since individual components can be built precisely in a factory, minimizing errors and ensuring that measurements are exact.

Tall wooden buildings store carbon, preventing it from entering the atmosphere by sequestering it in the building for decades. In contrast, buildings made of steel and concrete generate large amounts of carbon emissions per tonne of material produced.

For example, the Brock Commons at UBC sequesters an estimated 1,753 tonnes of CO2. Research suggests that tall wooden buildings have a 20 per cent reduction in both their carbon and energy footprints.

These types of buildings could be important in helping Canada, and many other countries around the world, achieve net zero performance measures related to energy efficiency and overall carbon emissions that will be required in meeting future climate goals.

Workers build a Wood skyscraper at UBC
UBC’s Brock Commons floor structure contains cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels supported on glue-laminated timber (glulam) columns. The prefabricated panels shortened the on-site construction time. (KK Law/Naturally Wood/UBC)

Clear-cut solution?

The perception remains that tall wooden buildings less resistant to fire than a typical concrete and steel building. But the designs of these buildings meet stringent fire codes.

The U.S. National Fire Protection Association, in collaboration with Canada’s National Research Council, recently delivered a series of reports on the fire risk associated with tall wooden buildings, with particular focus on the behaviour of cross-laminated timbers or laminated veneer lumber.

Overall, their findings showed that tall wooden buildings can meet the minimum two-hour fire protection ratings required by most jurisdictions, if proper fireproofing materials and sprinklers are incorporated into the design. In the event of fire, the design minimizes danger in early stages, allowing inhabitants to escape and the fire to be brought under control.

Another challenge tall wooden buildings face is the environmental impact they may have on forests. If wood is not sourced from sustainable, responsibly managed forests, any benefit derived from the building itself would be offset by increased deforestation and habitat loss.

A number of tools, like the certification programs run by the Forest Stewardship Council or the Programme for the Endorsement of Wood Certification provide important third-party verification that forest harvests are done within a sustainable management regime; these schemes are constantly being reviewed to consider all aspects of forest sustainability, including carbon depletion in forest soils and impacts biodiversity. As tall wooden buildings take off, it is critical that the wood used in construction be sourced in an increasingly sustainable fashion.

Tall wooden buildings are likely to play an increasingly important role in our carbon mitigation strategies. Recent work suggests that shifting to wooden construction could act as an ever-increasing carbon sink, allowing more and more carbon to be sequestered safely in useful applications.

The crown for the tallest wood building will be hard to keep. In Tokyo, a proposal for a 350-metre tall, 70-storey building is currently vying for the title.

As architects, engineers and tradespeople become comfortable with these materials, tall wooden buildings will increasingly become a part of the urban landscape around the world.The Conversation

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Warren Mabee, Director, Queen's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, Queen's University.

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

Is DNA key to whether you get COVID-19?

Queen’s researcher leads Canadian arm of international project aiming to sequence the genomes of 100,000 COVID-19 patients to better understand their genes and the disease.

Artist's concept of DNA strands
New evidence may suggest more men get coronavirus than women has motivated an international hunt for which genes make people especially vulnerable or resistant to COVID-19. (Shutterstock)

The strength and health of one’s immune system is one key indicator of susceptibility to contracting pathogens, including the novel coronavirus. However, new evidence that may suggest more men get coronavirus than women has motivated an international hunt for which genes make people especially vulnerable or resistant to COVID-19.

Canada, in partnership with teams in the United Kingdom and the United States, hopes to contribute the fully decoded genomes of 10,000 COVID-19 patients to better understand the genes behind the disease – part of a global mission that’s aiming for 100,000 genomes. With support from the SEAMO (Southeastern Ontario Academic Medical Organization), the Canadian arm of the project is being coordinated by David Maslove, Clinician Scientist with the Department of Medicine and Critical Care Program at Queen’s and intensive care doctor at Kingston Health Sciences Centre.

Dr. Maslove spoke to the Queen's Gazette about the potential links between DNA and coronavirus as well as the international project underway.

What is the suspected connection between DNA and coronavirus susceptibility?                                              

Previous studies have shown that susceptibility to infection may be, at least in part, genetically determined. For instance, large-scale, epidemiological studies show that likelihood of dying from an infection is at least five times more heritable than the likelihood of dying from cancer, even though we typically think of the latter, rather than the former, as a genetically determined condition.

The genes that control the immune system are some of the most diverse among humans, and lab studies have shown how different molecular characteristics influence the way in which people respond to infection. With respect to coronavirus in particular, early studies have identified some risk factors, such as age, hypertension, and diabetes, but these don’t appear to tell the whole story. Additional variability is seen in who gets a mild case, and who develops critical illness, with reason to suspect that some of that variability is determined by our genetics. 

Are there specific genes that make people more likely to be infected by coronavirus?

Early studies are beginning to shed some light on this, though the results remain preliminary. A European research group found associations between genes involved in determining blood type and the need for breathing support in COVID-19. Other groups have proposed that differences in the genetic regulation of ACE2 – a protein that the virus uses to gain entry into cells – may be associated with different outcomes for coronavirus patients. Others are looking to see if genetic differences in sex chromosomes (X and Y) may in part explain why early reports showed worse outcomes among males as compared to females. 

Drs. David Maslove and Michael Rauh
Drs. David Maslove and Michael Rauh have received funding from SEAMO to coordinate the Canadian arm of the GenOMICC study.

Are the reports that COVID-19 is more dangerous for men true?

Reports from some areas that have been hardest hit do suggest a higher mortality rate among men. Others are a little more equivocal. The reasons for these differences remain unclear. Genetics may play a role, since biological sex is genetically determined, though other factors may be important as well. 

If you can pinpoint the genes, will it lead to more treatment options?

This is our hope. Identifying specific genes means identifying the molecular pathways they influence. The hope is that these will yield important insights into how the coronavirus infects our cells, and how the body responds. This could lead to treatments that make susceptible people react more like those who are resistant to severe infection.

Can you tell me about the objectives of the GenOMICC study, the international initiative to fully decode the genomes of 100,000 COVID-19 patients? What is Canada’s contribution to this project?

Pinpointing the genetic determinants of COVID-19 will require sequencing the genomes of a great many patients – likely tens of thousands. There are large-scale coordinated efforts going on internationally to try to harmonize studies and get to these large sample sizes as quickly as possible. We at Queen’s are collaborating with researchers in the UK who have already sequenced genomes from about 2,500 patients there, through a research program called GenOMICC. Here at Queen’s, Dr. Michael Rauh and I have received funding from SEAMO to coordinate the Canadian arm of the GenOMICC study. We are also coordinating our efforts with a Canadian consortium that has benefited from federal funding to be used for this purpose. Canada has a key role to play because of our expertise in genomics, as well as a longstanding and internationally renowned track record of collaborative critical care research. 

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