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Research Prominence

Sexually transmitted infections and monogamy

A unique mathematical study out of Queen’s University has shown individuals are more likely to enter into a monogamous relationship when the result of infection from a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is death as opposed to sterility.

David McLeod

The mathematical study conducted by PhD candidate David McLeod (Mathematics and Statistics) represents the first time a mathematical analysis has been used to determine how STIs might influence monogamy’s evolution.

“Imagine an invisible STI that causes sterility,” explains Mr. McLeod. “You might pair up with a partner with this disease without knowing it, only to find out that the two of you can't produce offspring. You might not catch the STI yourself, but your genes are still out of the gene pool. In this situation, being monogamous disadvantages even healthy individuals.

For the other side of the coin, Mr. McLeod modeled STIs causing death.

“Now imagine an STI that causes death. You might hook up with a partner carrying this STI, but the disease will soon carry your mate away. The partnership may have produced few to no offspring, but you are now free. If you didn't catch the disease yourself, you can go find another partner and try again. A monogamous relationship might protect you if you happen to choose an uninfected partner, but even if you're unlucky, you're only out of the game for a short period.”

Mr. McLeod’s researched was recently published in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Sharing Indigenous knowledge

A group of students, faculty, staff and administrators are working to open up greater discussion about Indigenous issues on campus. The Kahswentha Indigenous Knowledge Initiative (KIKI) is a campus group who lead teach-ins, retreats and other events to improve knowledge of Aboriginal peoples. Started in 2013 after a recommendation from the Queen’s Aboriginal Council, KIKI exists to promote awareness about Aboriginal peoples, cultures, worldviews and histories. 

The Kahswentha Indigenous Knowledge Initiative hosts teach-ins, retreats and campus events to improve knowledge of Aboriginal peoples.

“We’re working towards greater inclusion of Indigenous knowledges on campus,” says Jennifer Hardwick (PhD ’14), who is active in KIKI. “We want to foster dialogue that may not happen in the classroom and create opportunities for community building.”

Taking its name and inspiration from the Two-Row Wampum (also called Kahswentha), a 17th-century agreement between Haudenosaunee and Dutch peoples based on peace, friendship and mutual respect, KIKI brings together individuals – both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – who are passionate about issues surrounding Indigenous knowledge.

Busy since its inception, the group has hosted a number of teach-ins on subjects such as language, education and history. Their next event – a retreat called “Belonging to the Land” – will focus on sustainable land utilization. Hosted at the Elbow Lake Conservation Centre Oct. 25-26, the retreat will have a number of workshops and panels by elders, knowledge keepers, academics and community members covering food sovereignty, the re-indigenization of agriculture, Indigenous-settler solidarity and other related subjects.

“This retreat is open to all people who are interested and want to learn more about issues regarding respectful land usage,” says Gillian MacDonald (Artsci'16), one of the retreat’s organizers. “We’re excited about the quality of the events we have planned and the calibre of those presenting.”

KIKI partners with Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre (FDASC) for much of their programming and share resources to plan events. For Janice Hill, Director, FDASC, the need for KIKI is clear.

“It’s hard for people to work together if they don’t understand one another and there are a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding Aboriginal peoples,” she says. “To see beyond, to our truth, we need to share our stories. Increasing education and awareness makes it possible for us to work together in a more equitable way.”

More information about KIKI and the Belonging to Land Retreat can be found on the group’s Facebook page.

Research income, intensity on the rise

Queen’s sponsored research income grew to nearly $190 million in the 2013 fiscal year, up from $168 million in the previous year. This growth saw Queen’s national rank for research income move up one spot to 11th, according to recently released figures from RE$EARCH Infosource, a research and development intelligence company.

Queen’s also moved up in terms of research intensity, which measures research income per full time faculty member. The university placed sixth in Canada, up from 10th in the previous year.

“Queen’s takes great pride in the exceptional work of its researchers and, for a mid-sized institution, we perform remarkably well relative to our Canadian peers,” says Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor. “Maintaining excellence as a research intensive university and delivering a transformational student learning experience is not easy, but it is the core of our vision as a balanced academy.”

RE$EARCH Infosource also released its “research universities of the year” ranking, which uses measures of research inputs, outputs and impact. While Queen’s overall score in the 2014 ranking increased slightly, the university moved to 12th position from 11th in 2013. The change is due to the addition of an institution not included in the previous year, the Institut national de la recherche scientifique.

"Queen’s continues to punch above its weight when it comes to research, and our faculty members are recognized both nationally and internationally for their important contributions."

- Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research)

“Queen’s continues to punch above its weight when it comes to research, and our faculty members are recognized both nationally and internationally for their important contributions,” says Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research). “The university is working to attract additional research funding in line with the Strategic Framework and the Strategic Research Plan, and we are seeing the results of those efforts.”

Queen’s currently has 45 Canada Research Chairs and recently announced astrophysicist Gilles Gerbier as its first Canada Excellence Research Chair. Nine Queen’s faculty members were elected as fellows of the Royal Society of Canada this year, a record number for the university, and three faculty members were named to the society’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

View the full 2014 data from RE$EARCH Infosource.

Four new Canada Research Chairs for Queen's

Canada Research Chairs. Top row from left to right: Mark Daymond, Christopher Booth, Dylan Robinson. Bottom row from left to right: Jeffrey Masuda, David Murakami Wood, Tucker Carrington.

Four outstanding Queen’s professors have been named Canada Research Chairs, and two current Queen’s chairholders have had their positions renewed.

The Canada Research Chairs program invests approximately $265 million per year to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development. Chairholders are leading researchers in their areas and improve Canada’s depth of knowledge in the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

“Queen’s success in earning four new Canada Research Chairs and two renewals is indicative of our leadership in the research behind some of the most pressing matters in the world today,” says Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research). “We’re very proud and fortunate to be able to support some of the world’s most accomplished and promising researchers.”

The university’s new chair recipients are Christopher Booth, Mark Daymond, Jeffrey Masuda and Dylan Robinson. Tucker Carrington and David Murakami Wood have had their appointments renewed.

Christopher Booth (Oncology) has been named the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Population Cancer Care. Dr. Booth is a medical oncologist with Kingston General Hospital, a clinician-scientist at the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario and an associate professor at Queen’s. The focus of Dr. Booth’s research program is to evaluate the effectiveness of new therapies in the general population and the quality of care delivered to patients in routine clinical practice.

“Being awarded the Canada Research Chair in Population Cancer Care is a tremendous honour and will make a major contribution to our research program,” says Dr. Booth. “I am fortunate at Queen’s to work within the Division of Cancer Care and Epidemiology, which is a world-class research unit dedicated to the study of cancer care and outcomes in the ‘real world.’”

Mark Daymond (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) has been named the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Mechanics of Materials. Dr. Daymond’s internationally recognized research focuses on the microscale interactions of collections of crystals or grains that compose many practical engineering materials and the processes that occur in these materials when they undergo changes in stress or temperature. His goal is to improve both component lifetime and performance.

Jeffrey Masuda (School of Kinesiology and Health Studies) has been named the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Environmental Health Equity. Dr. Masuda is a health geographer and specialist in participatory research in environmental health and in equity-focused knowledge translation.

“The Canada Research Chair program provides me with an amazing opportunity to increase the visibility of pressing environmental health inequities that Canadians face. As a Tier 2 Chair, my research program will be significantly accelerated,” says Dr. Masuda. “My aim in the next five years is to leverage the power of community-based research to uncover new pathways toward healthier environments for all Canadians, regardless of who they are or where they live.”

Dylan Robinson (Indigenous Studies) has been named the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts. Dr. Robinson’s current research on Indigenous art in public spaces focuses on three areas: sound art, social arts practices and artworks that use Indigenous languages. He is currently completing a book titled Songs Taken for Wonders: The Politics of Indigenous Art Music that examines the roles First Peoples play as performers, composers and artistic collaborators in the creation of art music in North America.

"I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to help develop Indigenous studies at Queen's in my new role as Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts. There is much exciting synergy between the kinds of interdisciplinary work happening across a number of programs at Queen's and my own work as a scholar and artist,” says Dr. Robinson. “I am greatly looking forward to working with the academic and Aboriginal communities to find ways to further expand the support for Indigenous arts research and artistic practice."

Tucker Carrington (Chemistry) has been named the returning Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Computational Quantum Dynamics. Dr. Carrington’s research focuses on understanding the motion of atoms. This includes the development and application of new methods of computing rate constants, vibrational and rotational-vibrational spectra, and photodissociation cross sections.

“I am pleased that the CRC was renewed and look forward to continuing to work with talented and hard-working students and postdocs at Queen's and contributing to the community of scholars at  the university,” says Dr. Carrington.

David Murakami Wood (Sociology) has been named the returning Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Surveillance Studies. Dr. Murakami Wood is spending the next five years working on a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant-funded critical study on surveillance and ”smart city” initiatives in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

For more information on Canada Research Chairs, follow this link.

The Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program has stood at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development since 2000. The CRC program invests approximately $265 million per year to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds. Canadian universities both nominate Canada Research Chairs and administer their funds. For each Tier 1 chair, the university receives $200,000 annually for seven years and for each Tier 2 chair, the university receives $100,000 annually for five years.

Queen’s distinguishes itself as one of the leading research-intensive institutions within Canada. The mission is to advance research excellence, leadership and innovation, as well as enhance Queen’s impact at a national and international level. Through undertaking leading-edge research, Queen’s is addressing many of the world’s greatest challenges, and developing innovative ideas and technological advances brought about by discoveries in science, engineering and health. 

Something in the way we move

Being depressed is depressing in itself and makes you feel even worse. That is one reason why it is so hard to break out of depressive conditions. 

New research out of Queen’s University offers a new approach to do just that. Nikolaus Troje (Psychology, Biology and School of Computing) along with clinical psychologists from the University of Hildesheim, Germany, have shown that walking in a happy or sad style actually affects our mood. Subjects who were prompted to walk in a more depressed style, with less arm movement and their shoulders rolled forward, experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style.

PhD student Sophie Kenny, who was not involved in the study, demonstrates the experiment with Fabian Helm.

“It is not surprising that our mood, the way we feel, affects how we walk, but we wanted to see whether the way we move also affects how we feel,” says Dr. Troje.

Dr. Troje presented the participants of the study with a list of positive and negative words, such as “pretty,” “afraid” and “anxious” and then asked them to walk on a treadmill while the researchers measured and analyzed gait and posture in real time. While walking, participants were looking at a gauge whose reading depended on the result of this analysis – namely if their gait appeared to be rather happy or rather sad as indicated by features such as slump-shouldered (sad) or vertical bouncing (happy). Participants didn’t know what the gauge was measuring. They were simply asked to make the gauge deflect from the neutral position. Some had to try to move the gauge left, while others were told to move it right.

Both participant groups quickly learned the task. Afterward, they had to write down as many words as they could remember from the earlier list of positive and negative words. Those who had been walking in a depressed style remembered many more negative words. The difference in recall suggests that the depressed walking style actually created a more depressed mood.

 “Clinically depressed patients are known to remember negative events,” says Dr. Troje, “particularly those about themselves, much more than positive life events. Remembering the bad can make them feel even worse. If we can break that self-perpetuating cycle, we might have a strong therapeutic tool to work with depressive patients.”

Dr. Troje’s research was published last week in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005791614000809>

Drones define new level of surveillance

Ciara Bracken-Roche co-authored one of the world's first reports on drones.

Much remains to be learned about drones, perhaps fitting for this small, unobtrusive technology.  Ciara Bracken-Roche hopes to change that during her PhD research within the Surveillance Studies Centre (SSC) at Queen’s.

Ms. Bracken-Roche’s interest in drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – took flight when she was completing her master’s degree at the University of Warwick (UK), where she focused on border surveillance and data collection. At that time, drones were still an emerging technology.

“UAVs encompass a whole new level of surveillance technology,” says Ms. Bracken-Roche. “Their usage is not widespread and they are much smaller and quieter than traditional aerial vehicles, so they can go unnoticed easily. Additionally, there’s no proactive policy for them at this time, meaning they are becoming more and more ubiquitous.”

In one of the first reports on drones in the world, titled “Privacy implications of the spread of UAVs in Canada,” Ms. Bracken-Roche and fellow members of the SSC detail the increasing prevalence of drones in society and note the many positive uses for drones.

“Drones can be used to help monitor situations in unreachable places and could help police manage large crowds, or send information from air to land about natural disasters in real time,” she says. “That said, when we conducted surveys for our report drones were typically perceived as aggressive and militaristic technologies.”

Currently, drone usage is governed by a set of recommendations from Transport Canada. This set of guidelines recommends keeping the drone within the line of sight when being operated by a commercial user. When it comes to hobbyist users, though, Ms. Bracken-Roche notes there are no standards to control usage.

“Hobbyists are using these drones for surveillance and this, once again, highlights privacy concerns about UAVs,” says Ms. Bracken-Roche. “Drones are also relatively affordable and people are beginning to take them up like they would photography. In our report we specifically looked at the privacy implications and how they would develop should interest in drones continue to grow. We wanted to have an overall state of affairs on record to provide a baseline for further drone research.”

The report included data from interviews the authors conducted with industry experts, as well as survey results from 3,000 people in Canada as well as several thousand people in the United States and the United Kingdom.

“Our report is an unique contribution to the current landscape of surveillance and drones across the world; we hope it will more accurately address the privacy considerations raised in relation to the current landscape of drone regulation in Canada,” says Ms. Bracken-Roche.

The full report can be found here.

International collaborations front and centre during visit

Principal Daniel Woolf and Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research), toured medical research facilities at Imperial College London during their recent trip to the United Kingdom. Jeremy Nicholson, a biochemist and head of Imperial College’s Department of Surgery and Cancer, hosted Principal Woolf and Dr. Liss.

[Principal Woolf and Steven Liss]
Principal Daniel Woolf and Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research), listen as Imperial College London's Jeremy Nicholson explains his research.

Dr. Nicholson forged links with several Queen’s researchers following his selection as the Faculty of Health Sciences Bruce Visiting Scholar in Surgical Innovation in 2013. As a result, Queen’s Faculty of Health Sciences is planning a partnership with Imperial College to use Queen’s-based technology to advance the development of an Imperial College-developed intelligent surgical knife that can analyze the smoke generated by a cautery scalpel to identify the margins of tumors and ultimately improve the removal of malignant tissue.

In addition to the visit to Imperial College, Principal Woolf and Dr. Liss joined in a delegation representing the U15 group of Canadian research universities, of which Principal Woolf is now vice-chair. The delegation met with members of the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading public research universities in the U.K. The principal also met with the staff and faculty from the Bader International Study Centre, the university’s castle campus in Herstmonceux, U.K., and Queen’s alumni in the London area. 

Exploring the local environment

It's Sustainability Week and Friday is local environment day. Today’s event is an eco-walk at the Queen’s University Biological Station. Throughout Sustainability Week (Oct. 6-10) the Gazette Online brings you a series of stories highlighting the week’s events and sustainability initiatives at Queen’s.

  • Dr. Stephen Lougheed poses with a bearded lizard
  • A view of Lake Opinicon
  • A Cecropia Moth (QUBS Outreach Flickr)
  • Two of the Biological Station's sleeping cabins
  • A Grey Tree Frog rests on a leaf (QUBS Outreach Flickr)
  • The Raleigh J. Robertson Biodiversity Centre, the station's headquarters
  • An Environmental Studies student looks out on Lake Opinicon
  • Snakes like to lay eggs in decaying vegetation and so QUBS have constructed a number of compost heaps to help local populations
  • A Five-Lined Skink, Ontario's only native lizard (QUBS Outreach Flickr)

Communications Officer Andrew Stokes sat down with biology professor and QUBS Director Stephen Lougheed to discuss his research and the flora and fauna that call QUBS home.

Andrew Stokes: What makes QUBS a good place for research?

Stephen Lougheed: What makes it remarkable is the high level of biodiversity it contains. It’s about 34 square km and contains myriad water bodies from small wetlands to substantial lakes, shorelines, ridges and swaths of intact forest. There are over 200 species of birds, many salamanders, frogs, turtles, snakes, flowering plants and fungi that exist on its land. What’s most interesting though is that it sits upon the Frontenac Arch, a southward extension of the Canadian Shield that stretches down through eastern Ontario and links the Adirondack Mountains to more northern parts of Ontario.

AS: How is that reflected in the local species?

SL: We have a mix of flora and fauna from both northern and southern regions, making it one of the most diverse regions in all of Canada. QUBS is home to both typically northern species like ravens, and tanagers and cuckoos, which are more characteristic of southern climes. Many of those southern species, such as the grey rat snake and the five-lined skink, Canada’s only lizard species, reach their range limit around QUBS and don’t live any farther north. It makes for excellent opportunities for research.

AS: What have you learnt about range limits?

SL: Along with many other researchers, we’ve shown that in recent years, range limits and phenology (the timing in the annual life cycle of fauna) are shifting. Things like beginning of breeding of certain frog species have shifted much earlier as a consequence of climatic change and rising mean annual temperatures. We’re unsure whether these animals have the plasticity to cope with such changes, whether we will see adaptation, or whether we might see local extinction.

AS: We can see the effects of climate change that close to home then?

SL: Certainly, it’s happening already in ways we may not realize. People in Canada like to make the glib joke that we could use some global warming when we’re in the depths of a severe winter, but it could also lead to increased frequency of severe ice storms and sustained droughts. At QUBS for example in some years we’ve seen some drier cliffs lose their vegetation because of insufficient water. We actually now have eight climate stations that are collecting data in real time, everything from solar radiation, through air and water temperatures to precipitation rates. It will allow us to test hypotheses about how individual species or even entire communities respond to changing environments by comparing directly to our climate data.

AS: Part of your work is also species and habitat recovery and land stewardship. Are there any success stories?

SL: Well it’s easy to be pessimistic but we have had some positive outcomes. For many reptile species of conservation concern, we have been combining genetics, ecology and population censuses to then make conservation recommendations based on these data. For example, the eastern foxsnake in southwestern Ontario was classified as “threatened” under the federal Species at Risk Act when we began studying it, but our research contributed to its elevation to “endangered.” This affords it greater protection. In biology it’s sometimes important to celebrate these small victories. 

The puzzle of the human brain

Queen’s professor Gordon Boyd, an intensive care specialist and clinician scientist in the Kingston General Hospital Research Institute (KGHRI), is researching a puzzle. Why does a critical illness, such as cardiac arrest, affect the brain long after the rest of the body has healed?

“Patients are released from ICU when they don’t need breathing support, medication support, when their body seems to be working,” says Dr. Boyd (School of Medicine). “But we don’t talk to them about how their brain is working. Right now there’s almost no data about patients’ recovery in ICU. We have no idea how well these people do after they leave the ICU or the hospital.”

Dr. Boyd is uniquely positioned to explore this new frontier. With a PhD in neuroscience and an MD from Queen’s School of Medicine, he is one of only two or three critical care physicians in Canada who is also a certified specialist in neurology. His appointment as a clinician scientist gives him the opportunity to integrate his front-line care of patients with his research, and ultimately translate that research into better care and better quality of life for his patients.  

“Critical care is a research priority for both Kingston General Hospital and the Queen's School of Medicine, and Dr. Boyd’s unique background in this area made him the perfect choice for our clinician scientist program,” says Roger Deeley, president of the KGHRI and vice-dean research, Faculty of Health Sciences. “His work is an excellent example of how collaboration between the hospital and the university can lead to new discoveries and potentially better treatments and outcomes for patients.” 

Dr. Boyd is studying how the loss of blood and oxygen delivery to the brain, common effects of critical illness, can lead to worse performance while in intensive care, potentially affecting long-term neurological recovery. His research focuses on two patient groups: those undergoing cardiac surgery, and those suffering a critical illness such as septic shock. 

He will monitor patients while in intensive care, and then do follow-up assessments three, six and 12 months later using the KINARM, a robotic tool invented at Queen’s University by a fellow neuroscientist, Stephen Scott. Data collected by the tool generates a valuable “fingerprint” of what the patient’s brain impairment looks like. 

“Parts of the brain that handle sensory, motor and cognitive tasks are more susceptible to low blood pressure and low oxygen,” says Dr. Boyd. “The KINARM is the perfect instrument for assessing these areas of the brain. I’m using it to identify the degree of dysfunction that these patients have, and correlating it to brain function.”

This story is the second in a series on the KGH Research Institute and the clinician-scientists recruited to work in the centre.

Examining terrorist propaganda

New research out of Queen’s University could give insight into what terrorists are thinking. Professor David Skillicorn (School of Computing) analyzed language used in two jihadist magazines to gain intelligence about terrorist strategy.

He examined the language used in Inspire, an online magazine reportedly published by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which aims to increase the availability of their message, and the Islamic State News published by ISIS. Inspire has attracted attention because of its goal of attracting lone-wolf attacks in Western countries.

Queen's professor David Skillicorn is examining terrorist propaganda.

“The payoff from understanding how this all works is that intelligence and law enforcement analysts can get insight into what the ‘bad guys’ are doing from the speeches and documents that they produce, often for other purposes,” says Dr. Skillicorn. “And because so much of it is impossible to manipulate because it's subconscious, it provides unfiltered insights.”

Dr. Skillicorn’s research focuses on reverse engineering language to get access to the mental state that generated it. This latest paper is one in a series exploring how mental state affects language (e.g. influence in elections, deception in legal proceedings, and fraud in financial statements), and how language reveals mental state (e.g. jihadist language in Islamist forums).

The research revealed several facts including:

  • Jihadist language intensity has been steadily increasing over the past few issues of Inspire, after being much more stable during the Anwar al-Awlaki years. al-Awlaki was a senior talent recruiter for al-Qaida.
  • Inspire is experimenting with using gamification (the real-life use of gaming ideas such as levels of achievement and competition) strategies to increase motivation for lone-wolf attacks and/or to decrease the reality of causing deaths and casualties. It’s hard to judge whether this is being done deliberately, or by osmosis — the levels of gamification language waver from issue to issue.
  • The intellectual level of these magazines is comparable to other mass market magazines — they aren’t particularly simplistic, and they assume a reasonably well-educated readership.

Dr. Skillicorn worked with Edna Reid (James Madison University) on the research. The paper was recently published in Security Informatics.

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