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    Building our research communities

    Queen’s enhances undergraduate student funding to bolster inquiry-based learning across disciplines

    Students gather for the USSRF and USRA recipient BBQ.
    Queen's hosted the USSRF and USRA recipient BBQ at the Biosciences complex, on August 31.

    In an effort to increase research opportunities for students at all levels, Queen’s is nurturing a new generation of scholars through the Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowships (USSRF) and Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA). The two programs have recently expanded to showcase all disciplines, providing rich learning experiences that shape future research leaders and innovators.

    Placing a greater emphasis on research as part of the undergraduate experience through “research and teaching integration”, is one of the pillars of the Queen’s Strategy. The USSRF and USRA programs cultivate an environment where undergraduate students learn with purpose, intertwining education, research, and guidance from supervisors and graduate students.

    “We believe that the research experience is an integral part of the learning experience,” says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). “By embedding research into the fabric of our institution at all levels, we equip students to confront society’s pressing challenges with passion, curiosity, and ingenuity.”

    Investing in early-career researchers

    Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowships (USSRF)

    The USSRF program connects students with faculty, fostering collaborative engagement and supervisor mentorship in research-based projects during the summer period. This year, the initiative was expanded to encompass a diverse range of research disciplines, resulting in an increased number of Queen’s undergraduate recipients – from 21 individuals in 2022 to a cohort of 101 in 2023, with 97 on campus and four students at Bader College. This expansion signifies a substantial advancement in both program participation and support across faculties.

    The USSRF program also underwent another significant transformation by elevating the value of the fellowships. The students selected for the program on the Kingston campus benefited from funding of $9,800 throughout the 16-week fellowship period. The Bader College fellowships were valued at $5,300 each, and covered return travel, along with room and board provisions during their eight-week engagement. The increased funding meant students could take a deeper dive into research, including conducting field work and hiring research assistants.

    The Queen's Inquiry Journal has published a special issue highlighting the collection of projects worked on by 2023 recipients. Read more about some of the research at Undergraduate Research Abstracts: USSRF and USRA Programs.

    Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA)

    Canada’s research granting agencies, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), have collaborated to administer the USRA program, in a bid to collectively champion high-quality research in diverse fields, encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration, and the cultivation of multifaceted skill sets. In 2023, 77 Queen’s students received USRAs.

    Similar to the USSRF, the USRA program values diversity and inclusivity as crucial components of a thriving research environment. Presently, USRAs are designed to create a funding platform that promotes equitable research opportunities for Black-identifying students across Canada’s research landscape.

    Celebrating Undergraduate Research

    Principal Patrick Deane congratulated the group of recipients and their supervisors at the August 31 BBQ.
    Principal Patrick Deane addresses the group, congratulating students on their research achievements.

    Recently, the recipients of both programs and their faculty supervisors were celebrated at a BBQ hosted by Principal Patrick Deane, Nancy Ross (Vice-Principal, Research), and Stephanie Simpson (Vice-Principal, Culture, Equity, and Inclusion) held at the Biosciences complex. The Queen’s Gazette spoke to a few students about their research projects:

    An Ethical Analysis of the Use of AI Text Generators in Universities
    Nicholas Abernethy, Philosophy, USSRF recipient

    In an era marked by unprecedented advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), academia finds itself grappling with new ethical dilemmas around large language models (LLMs), such as ChatGPT. Nicholas Abernethy, a 4th-year undergraduate student, was interested in dissecting the moral, practical, and philosophical dimensions of this contentious debate.

    His project focuses on the intersection of technology and academic writing. Under the supervision of Dr. Udo Schüklenk (Philosophy), Abernethy’s research delves into the ethical labyrinth of AI coauthorship, navigating through the intricacies of plagiarism, accountability, and the very nature of authorship. At the heart of the research lies an analysis of whether academic journals should embrace the involvement of LLMs as coauthors in articles.

    “I’m interested in learning how the power of LLMs can be responsibly harnessed for the benefit of both research and researchers,” says Abernethy. “In many ways, the debate over LLM coauthorship centers on how we understand ourselves: What is it about humans that makes us deserve authorship? In what ways are we special? These questions have important implications far beyond LLM coauthorship.”

    He believes that in order to leverage LLMs, journals must adhere to specific guidelines, guidelines for which he has a proposed framework. As academia continues to evolve in the face of technological advancement, Abernethy’s work offers a critical vantage point for introspection and dialogue, reminding us that the fusion of human intellect and AI carries profound implications for the future of scholarship.

    Natural Language Processing of Radiology Reports:
    Predicting Metastatic Progression from Text Data

    Lola Assad, School of Computing, USRA recipient

    Fusing technology and medical science, Lola Assad has been working in the Simpson Lab on a project that marries cutting-edge AI techniques with oncology research.

    Using AI and natural language processing (NLP), the project investigates the power of NLPs to comprehend and extract valuable insights from textual data. At its core, the model is used to unravel intricate information about tumors embedded within radiology reports, ultimately predicting the progression of metastatic cancer.

    “The study of biomedical computing has provided me with the means of exercising my skills in problem-solving, and efficiently designing solutions,” says Assad. “I’ve been able to learn so much from my supervisor Dr. Amber Simpson, and my colleagues in the lab. I’ve gained knowledge on subjects I didn't know existed, developed my AI-building skills, and have opened my eyes to the wide range of subjects in the field.”

    Assad’s work highlights the potential for technology to reshape the future of healthcare, a future where AI augments medical expertise to revolutionize cancer care and diagnostics.

    Modulation of Mitochondrial Fission During Herpesvirus Infection
    Kyla Gibson, Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, USRA recipient

    Kyla Gibson’s research lies at the crossroads of virology, immunology, and public health. Under the guidance of Dr. Bruce Banfield (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), Gibson is working to shed light on the complex interplay between viruses and host cells, specifically the role of a virus protein, pUL16, in regulating mitochondrial ATP production during herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection. A focal point of her research has been the enigmatic dynamin-related protein 1 (DRP1), a key player in mitochondrial fission and a potential linchpin in the virus-host interaction, as it drives enzymatic reactions essential for virus replication.

    Gibson’s interest in this research area was ignited in the fall term of her second year at Queen’s, when during a course on Foundations of Entrepreneurship, she researched preventative healthcare strategies for the HIV crisis in Indigenous communities. This inspired her to pursue research addressing and dismantling healthcare inequalities, particularly concerning sexually transmitted infections.

    “I am interested in pursuing research to help diminish cultural and ethnic disparities in science,” says Gibson. “Being a Black woman in science and a Queen’s Commitment Scholar, has encouraged me to oppose the longstanding systemic injustices in research, healthcare and medicine.”

    The USRA provided Gibson with the ability to meet and collaborate with Masters and PhD students, in addition to her supervisor. Being able to problem solve with other early career researchers created a “different teams – one goal” atmosphere, one which she feels has greatly benefited her. Knowledge sharing has also been critical in helping Gibson navigate potential post-undergraduate educational pathways. 

    To learn more about these undergraduate research programs, visit the Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowships and Undergraduate Student Research Awards websites.

    Exceptional scholarly achievement

    Five Queen’s students have been nationally recognized for their research and leadership skills with Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships.

    [Clockwise] Julia Moreau, Dilakshan Srikanthan, Ahmed Ismaiel, Daniel Reddy, and Mahzabeen Emu.
    [Clockwise from top left] Julia Moreau, Dilakshan Srikanthan, Ahmed Ismaiel, Daniel Reddy, and Mahzabeen Emu.

    Canada’s top funding agencies have announced the recipients of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships, one of the most prestigious national awards for doctoral students. Five Queen’s students are among this year’s recipients recognized for their exceptional research achievements and leadership skills.

    Announced as part of a $960M funding suite, the Vanier program helps Canadian institutions attract highly qualified doctoral students by investing $50,000 per year for three years during their doctoral studies.

    "My best wishes to all of the recipients of these grants, awards, and scholarships," says the Honourable Mark Holland, Minister of Health. "The government is pleased to invest in your diverse array of health, natural sciences and engineering, and humanities and social sciences research projects because we know that your ideas, passion, and hard work, as well as the evidence you uncover, are instrumental in improving the health and quality of life of people in Canada, and your findings contribute to the international research effort around the world."

    Jointly funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), these awards recognize students who have demonstrated exceptional scholarly achievement and leadership in their research fields. This year, 166 students across Canada will be receiving an investment of $24.9M in funding over three years to support their top-tier research.

    "Queen's University is proud to welcome exceptional individuals who were awarded prestigious Vanier scholarships," says Fahim Quadir, Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs. "These remarkable students have earned national acclaim as beacons of excellence, charting a path to a brighter future. These scholars represent the tangible results of cutting-edge research, the impactful expansion of knowledge, and visionary leadership. We are profoundly honoured to be part of their academic journey."

    Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships


    Dilakshan Srikanthan (Translational Medicine) – Distinguishing Radiation Necrosis from Recurrent Glioblastoma Using Rapid Evaporative Ionization Mass Spectrometry


    Mahzabeen Emu (Computing) – Optimizing Beyond 5G Communication with Quantum Computing and Artificial Intelligence

    Daniel Reddy (Chemistry) – Design, Fabrication, and Testing of a Volumetrically-Accurate Nanoliter Metering Device for Liquid Handling and Microfluidic Applications Coupled with Liquid Microjunction Surface Sampling Probe – Mass Spectrometry


    Ahmed Ismaiel (Film and Media) – Saving Goddess Isis: The Crisis of Egyptian Rural Women Breadwinners in the Post-Arab Spring, and Collective Myth-Telling as Resistance Tool

    Julia Moreau (Psychology) – Promoting Socioemotional Wellbeing with Indigenous Post-Secondary Students: A Mixed Methods Approach to Evaluate a Mentorship Intervention

    For more information on this year’s recipients, visit the Vanier program website. You can also read about Queen’s success in recent SSHRC Insight and PartnershipNSERC Discovery, and CFI JELF grant competitions, in the Queen's Gazette.

    Educational Technology Toolkit now available

    The Educational Technology Toolkit is designed to support educators and educational support staff in choosing, comparing, and finding information related to various educational technologies at Queen’s. The toolkit is available on the Centre for Teaching and Learning website under the Resources tab (https://www.queensu.ca/ctl/ed-tech-toolkit/).

    Features of the Ed Tech Toolkit include:

    • A list of over 30 educational tools reviewed by educational support staff across different faculties, disciplines, and skillsets to provide sound pedagogical guidance, practical implementation and support advice, as well as the most up-to-date information on licensing, privacy, security and accessibility considerations.
    • Instructors and educational support staff can request to have a new educational tool reviewed by the Ed Tech Toolkit Working Group.

    The Ed Tech Toolkit Working Group brings together educational support staff from multiple faculties, as well as staff from the Centre for Teaching and Learning, Queen’s University Library, and IT Services, who apply their diverse skillsets to examine each tool, prioritize and organize reviewers for educational technology review requests, and maintain the list of tools.

    Educational technology tools are reviewed using a rubric built upon the Rubric for eLearning Tool Evaluation developed by Educational Developer Lauren Anstey and Gavan Watson, Vice-Provost of Teaching and Learning at Queen’s. This rubric also includes Queen’s-specific criteria such as LMS integration and security assessment status. In the coming months, the Ed Tech Toolkit Working Group will continue to develop this rubric to include additional criteria around considerations for sustainability, equity and more.

    If you would like to learn more or volunteer to become a reviewer, please contact The Ed Tech Working Group.

    Pitch competition celebrates innovation and entrepreneurship

    For more than a decade, the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre (DDQIC) has been bringing together emerging entrepreneurs to develop their skills, innovate, and share solutions to modern-day challenges.

    This year’s Summer Pitch Competition is fully in-person with a livestream available. Twelve for-profit teams from Kingston and the Queen’s communities will compete for a prize pool of up to $80,000.

    Entrepreneurial teams spent the summer tackling a problem, creating and validating solutions, and building a business venture. Participants will have seven minutes to pitch their business to judges, followed by a six minute question-and-answer session.

    Judges with entrepreneurship experience will assess presentations and business ideas to determine which teams will earn a share of the seed funding and prizes.

    “We are immensely proud of this year’s talented innovators and their unwavering dedication throughout this year’s entrepreneurship journey. As we embark on this summer's pitch competition, we celebrate the spirit of innovation and the power of collective collaboration. Together, let us embrace the impact of working hand in hand, fueling the growth of a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, not only in Kingston, but across Canada,” says Greg Bavington, Executive Director of the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre.

    This year’s teams include startups participating in the Queen’s Innovation Centre Summer Initiative (QICSI), Build2Scale Health (B2S), and regional ventures. In the morning, teams will present a pitch to the judges privately, followed by two-minute pitches to the larger audience in the afternoon. The event will wrap up with an awards announcement where the top ventures will find out who will be awarded prizes from the prize pool.

    The competition will be held in The Beamish Family Atrium in Mitchell Hall at Queen’s University beginning at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 17. Complimentary tickets can be reserved via EventBrite. There will also be a livestream option, with information about accessing the livestream posted on the EventBrite page.

    Build2Scale Health
    Build2Scale Health is an accelerator program for entrepreneurs who are responding to unmet needs by developing and delivering new health policies, systems, products and technologies, and services in the health sector. In previous years, the program has led to creative solutions that improve accessibility and quality of care.

    Queen's Innovation Centre Summer Initiative
    Each year, the Queen's Innovation Centre Summer Initiative selects ambitious individuals with a demonstrated interest in entrepreneurship, innovation, or social impact. Participants gain access to resources and mentorship which provide an environment where ideas can grow into successful startups.


    GLASQ is a chemical technology company introducing an innovative hard coating polymer for flexible consumer displays. This material seamlessly integrates anti-smudge and omni phobic characteristics with exceptional hardness (wear resistance) and remarkable flexibility. 

    It’s comma 
    It’s comma focuses on philanthropic marketing – partnering with brands to advertise on the packaging of menstrual pads. This covers the cost of the product, making it free for menstruators everywhere. 

    MapKey provides a 3D mapping device for cavity surveying in mines. This technology makes mining safer and more efficient. 

    PONDER builds and strengthens communities through meaningful conversations with a daily question. The team provides a solution to the increasing disconnection and mental and physical health challenges caused by the lack of genuine connections and human interaction. 

    Neuma builds online and experiential learning solutions to safely and accessibly integrate psychedelics into the global mental healthcare system. 

    Minerva is a next generation clinical decision support system that allows physicians to intuitively manage and query medical information. It helps improve patient outcomes by decreasing the time to diagnosis and quality of care received.

    Symptom360 is a virtual care platform with ZOOM integration, offering a highly-tailored and streamlined healthcare experience for First Nations Peoples and healthcare providers. By equipping providers with diagnostic decision-making and report-generating pre-screening tools, in addition to enhanced content sharing capabilities, S360 extends what is possible during virtual consultations. 

    Expresume is an AI résumé writing platform that leverages a user’s personal, professional database to build relevant, tailored résumés to every job application. We equip the next generation of the workforce with the tools they need to articulate their true potential and worth. 

    Emske Design Studio 
    Emske is a design studio offering products and services all stemming from an eco-conscious, inclusive, and accessible mindset. 

    Strive Storage 
    Strive Storage is a cloud-based storage system for vulnerable individuals to store their essential documentation safely and securely. This includes identification, bank cards, and other data that can be easily lost, stolen, or missing.    

    Hippo AI
    Hippo AI is developing an entire suite of AI-powered tools to increase physician productivity and support comprehensive patient care. The flagship product is an AI clinical assistant that harnesses the power of advanced language models to provide accurate answers to any clinical question within seconds. 

    Demagel is a hydrocarbon polymer electrolyte membrane, which finds application in electrolysers and fuel cells, in a manner that ensures safety, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness, surpassing the capabilities of existing polymer electrolyte membranes.

    Secondary publishing rights can improve public access to academic research

    A woman works on a laptop
    Making publicly-funded research immediately available for free would mean we all have access to information that could help us understand the world around us. (Unsplash/Christin Hume)

    Canada’s federal research granting agencies recently announced a review of the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications, with the goal of requiring immediate open and free access to all academic publications generated through Tri-Agency supported research by 2025.

    To meet this requirement, the Canadian government should empower academic authors through the adoption of secondary publishing rights. These rights would ensure that authors can immediately “republish publicly funded research after its first publication in an open access repository or elsewhere,” even in cases where this is forbidden by publishers.

    Tweaking the Copyright Act to include such rights would give academic authors the ability to make taxpayer-funded journal articles available to the public through open access upon publication.

    Enabling Canada’s research to be openly accessible without barriers will contribute to the public good, helping to foster innovation and discovery.

    Open access policy review

    Research locked behind paywalls is an impediment to science, innovation and cultural progress. In the past, most research papers would only be accessible to individuals who pay to access research papers or who work or study at universities willing to pay for access. This model is changing, and many publications are now openly available to the public. However, authors are increasingly required to pay publishers in order to be published open access.

    The current Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications does require that authors make copies of funded journal articles freely available online, but allows for a 12-month embargo period where publishers get exclusive rights to the content and can keep it locked behind a paywall. That can mean significant delays in free access to vital research.

    The policy review is overdue in Canada. In the European Union and the United States, governments have committed to immediate open access for publicly funded research.

    Canada can learn from the experiences of these other jurisdictions, and create a framework that ensures equitable open access to publicly funded Canadian research.

    Locking research behind paywalls impedes scientific innovation and cultural progress.
    Locking research behind paywalls impedes scientific innovation and cultural progress. (Unsplash/Rupixen)

    Article processing charges

    In addition to allowing embargo periods, Canada’s current open access policy has fallen short of delivering in key areas and needs to adapt to changes in academic publishing.

    For example, the Tri-Agency suffers from low rates of compliance with their open access policy when compared to other jurisdictions. OpenReports data shows publications funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada as having only 52 per cent compliance with the policy in 2023 so far.

    It is unclear why authors do not comply with the policy. It might be that they misunderstand their obligations or that they simply cannot afford the high article processing charges (APCs) that they might need to pay to publish in their journal of choice. The result is that much publicly funded research remains unavailable to the public.

    APCs are fees academic authors pay to be published in open access journals. Authors can be charged fees of $1,000 up to $13,000. Journals increasingly rely on APCs, making the cost of open access publishing prohibitively expensive for many authors.

    Estimates indicate Canadian academic authors spent at least US$27.6 million on processing charges from 2015 to 2018, despite the preponderance of free-to-publish open access journals.

    Authors don’t always have funds to cover these fees, and offloading them to university libraries through open access funds or transformative agreements is not sustainable and leads to inequitable publishing opportunities between large and small institutions.

    In addition, scholars from the Global South have drawn attention to the inequitable nature of APC-based-publishing, while other models of funding open access journals are being extinguished.

    Secondary publishing rights

    There are clear paths forward that enable more open access. While academic journal publishing is extremely profitable for publishing companies, the authors, editors and reviewers that form the backbone of the system are rarely compensated for their labour and face challenges negotiating fair publication agreements.

    The Canadian Federation of Library Associations has recently proposed one partial solution: to provide secondary publishing rights to academic authors in Canada. The proposal is also endorsed by the Canadian Association of Research Libraries.

    Secondary publishing rights have already been implemented in multiple European countries, with perhaps the most notable example being the Taverne Amendment in the Netherlands, which has seen the rate of open access top 80 per cent.

    European countries’ implementations of these rights currently include embargo periods. However, the Association of European Research Libraries has released draft language for secondary rights without an embargo period that would allow for “lawful self-archiving on open, public, non-for-profit repositories.”

    If Canada were to adopt a similar law in conjunction with revising the Tri-Agency policy, we could become a worldwide leader in open access scholarly publications.

    Ultimately, more immediate open access at lower costs would mean we all have better access to information that could help us better understand the world around us, whether it is medical information, engineering innovations or new explorations of culture and history.The Conversation


    Brianne Selman, Scholarly Communications & Copyright Librarian, University of Winnipeg and Mark Swartz, Scholarly Publishing Librarian, Queen's University.

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

    The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

    Building talent pathways for Canada’s net-zero future

    A new partnership project will prepare Queen’s students to become tomorrow’s climate leaders.

    Queen's has launched an innovative project designed to help undergraduate students gain the necessary skills, knowledge, and networks to become future leaders in Canada's shift towards a net-zero economy.

    In partnership with the Business + Higher Education Roundtable (BHER), and with support from the Government of Canada, the university has created the Queen’s Venture Creation, Experiential Learning, and Net-Zero Training (QVENT) project. Led by the Experiential Learning Team within the Smith School of Business, this cross-institutional initiative will support the development of a ‘green talent’ pipeline, providing hands-on educational opportunities to students who aspire to contribute to the country’s sustainable transition.

    “Queen’s remains committed to achieving a positive impact both on a local level and on the global stage,” says Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Teri Shearer. “This important project will equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to become champions of the climate transition and enhance ongoing efforts at Queen’s to address the world’s most pressing challenges.”

    Through the term of the project, Queen's anticipates providing close to 2,000 students with experiential learning opportunities focused on net-zero and sustainability issues.

    “The QVENT project is an extremely exciting initiative for Queen's students,” says Siena Margorian, Co-President of student group Queen’s Backing Action on the Climate Crisis. “In order to tackle the climate crisis, we need our future leaders to be knowledgeable about environmental sustainability and the solutions we need to implement to reach an equitable and green future. These kinds of programs prepare students to enter the workforce with the skills and experience to incorporate sustainability in their future careers.”

    Four program streams for sustainable leadership development

    The QVENT project includes four distinct program streams that involve several faculties and units — including Engineering, Smith School of Business, Arts and Science, Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre, and more — offering work-integrated learning experiences.

    Additionally, the City of Kingston and Kingston Economic Development Corporation will support various streams of the project and help connect students with their networks.

    “We are excited to support Queen's University in their initiative to develop a green talent pipeline,” says Donna Gillespie, Chief Executive Officer, Kingston Economic Development Corporation. “This innovative project aligns perfectly with our city’s commitment to sustainability and positions Kingston as a leader in the transition to a net-zero economy by connecting students with opportunities and providing them with the skills and experiences needed to tackle environmental challenges.”

    The first stream, Course-embedded green industry projects, incorporates net-zero and sustainability focused projects, case studies, and learning challenges into class curriculums.

    Stream two establishes a new Certificate in Leading Sustainable Change Towards a Net-Zero Economy, designed by Queen’s faculty and industry practitioners to equip students with the awareness, capabilities, and confidence to tackle issues related to Canada’s climate transition. The certificate program is to be delivered through the Smith Centre for Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Social Impact, and will include immersive workshops.

    A third stream focuses on net-zero venture creation, affording students opportunities to build businesses focused on environmental sustainability and a green economy. Participants in this net-zero focused incubator program will have the chance to pitch their businesses at the end of the program for seed funding.

    The final stream seeks to provide at least 100 internships in the net-zero space for Queen’s students to gain on-the-job experience.

    “BHER is committed to creating accessible and inclusive pathways to green jobs through work-integrated learning,” says Andrew Bieler, Director of Partnerships & Experiential Learning, BHER. “We’re impressed by the level of cross institutional collaboration and interdisciplinarity in the QVENT project and can’t wait to see how students and employers make use of the opportunities.”

    Community involvement

    Community and corporate partners are invited to get involved in several of the project streams. Organizations can contact the QVENT project team if interested in offering a course-embedded green industry project, hiring a net-zero student intern, or supporting the delivery of a workshop.

    “We're appreciative of this partnership that will help propel Kingston forward as a city leading the way on climate action,” says Mayor Bryan Paterson. “We're making big strides with sustainable projects, policies and programs, and tapping into local talent through QVENT will provide immense benefits to our city and beyond as we transition to a more sustainable future.”

    Read the BHER partnership announcement and learn more about the QVENT project.

    Crawford Lake tells a story

    As scientists around the world try to determine the start of a new epoch, this small lake in Ontario has been selected to be a geological landmark.

    Crawford Lake in Milton, Ontario, is the recommended site to geologically define the start of the Anthropocene. (Credit: Cale Gushulak)
    Crawford Lake in Milton, Ontario, is the recommended site to geologically define the start of the Anthropocene. (Credit: Cale Gushulak)

    Evidence that humans impact the environment is widely available, from deforested areas to extinct species and increased climate catastrophes. But is human pressure so dramatic that it merits a new chapter in Earth’s history? Many scientists believe so, and they are closing in on a place on the planet where they say the start of the Anthropocene epoch can clearly be seen and studied.

    The Anthropocene epoch is believed to have begun in the middle of the 20th century, when human activities became the dominant force governing the planet’s climate, continents, and oceans. Its start marks the end of the Holocene geological epoch, which began as the last ice age retreated, about 11,700 years ago.

    Dr. Brian Cumming’s team contributed to the precision and accuracy of dating processes for the samples extracted from Crawford Lake and understanding changes in important biological indicators of environmental change. (Credit: © Stephany Hildebrand 2020)
    Dr. Brian Cumming’s team contributed to the precision and accuracy of dating processes for the samples extracted from Crawford Lake and understanding changes in important biological indicators of environmental change. (Credit: © Stephany Hildebrand 2020)

    In 2009, the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) established the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) to evaluate locations around the globe that could provide a physical reference of the new geological unit of time, clearly showing changes based on human impact and interaction. From Antarctica to Canada, Europe, China, and Australia, 12 different candidate locations were proposed and evaluated, including ice sheets, ocean beds, lake sediments, and coral reefs.

    Today, the group officially announced their recommendation: Crawford Lake, in Milton, Ontario, just west of Toronto.

    An interdisciplinary crew of dozens of scientists led by Francine McCarthy (Brock University) came together to champion Crawford Lake’s candidature. Brian Cumming, a Professor of Paleolimnology and Aquatic Ecology at Queen’s, was part of that effort.

    "Having the Anthropocene move from an undefined period used in popular culture, and by many scientists, to a formal geological epoch is important because it recognizes a fundamental reality: humans have changed Earth to such an extent that it is now officially recognized in the geological record," he says.

    The idea of the Anthropocene is not new – a century ago, Russian geologist Aleksei Pavlov proposed we were living an anthropogenic period. But it wasn’t until the early 2000's that the term Anthropocene became more popular, after the release of a book of the same title by the late atmospheric science expert Paul Crutzen and biologist Eugene Stoermer.

    While many geologists agree that this new geological epoch has begun, they are yet to find consensus on how to accurately define the start of the Anthropocene. This is where Crawford Lake comes in, with the hope that scientists will be able to see where to set a "golden spike" to mark its start.

    Muddy soil for a clear record

    This is not the first time that Queen's researchers have participated in defining geological landmarks. Guy Narbonne (Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering) played a key role in defining the international standard for the Cambrian Period (approximately 538.8 to 485.4 million years ago) and in the designation of the Ediacaran Period (approximately 635-538.8 million years ago).

    Crawford Lake is small and relatively deep for its size. Its storytelling power comes from its depths, where the layered sediments record changes on the physical, chemical, and biological remains that have accumulated over time. The impressively well-defined mud layers contain a record of everything that has encountered the water and settled at the bottom. These layers can be read like tree rings, revealing a detailed environmental record for over a thousand years.

    To access these records, scientists need to extract samples from the lake’s bottom. They do this with the help of many different coring devices, including a frozen aluminum tool that is lowered to the murky depths. This tool dips into the mud and freezes a sample, revealing the striped print of the sediment layers dating back hundreds of years.

    Analysis of these cores have shown, for example, evidence from crops cultivated by Indigenous communities, ashes produced by burning coal and oil, and radioactive plutonium generated by nuclear weapons’ tests. Combined, these proxies suggest a tipping point when the anthropogenic pressure on the environment became overwhelming – somewhere around 1950, when the world saw a remarkable acceleration of resource use and population growth.

    Algae and environmental change

    The frozen core extracted from the bottom of the lake reveals layers of accumulated sediment. The layers can be read like tree rings and represent a record of hundreds of years. (Credit: Patterson Lab, Carleton University)
    The frozen core extracted from the bottom of the lake reveals layers of accumulated sediment. The layers can be read like tree rings and represent a record of hundreds of years. (Credit: Patterson Lab, Carleton University)

    For decades, Queen’s biology experts, members of the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory (PEARL), have been investigating how ecological and environmental changes leave their mark on lakes like Crawford. One of their main contributions for helping to define the Anthropocene "golden spike" was assessing the presence of certain types of algae in the muddy layers that have rested on the bottom of Crawford Lake for the past 200 years.

    Dr. Cumming and his students found that the algae preserved in dated sediments from Crawford Lake changed dramatically over time. These changes can be tied to environmental factors like agriculture, local forest harvesting, industrial pollution, and other human activities.  

    "The history of Crawford Lake shows a progression from local changes impacting the lake, such as impact on the watershed, including the clearance of forests, to regional changes associated with industrialization such as acid deposition, and climate change," explains Dr. Cumming. "Changes were most rapid post-Second World War, supporting this site as a strong candidate site for marking the start of the Anthropocene."

    The area surrounding Crawford Lake has been occupied for a long time: for a few decades now, scientists have been investigating traces of human presence in the area, and evidence points to ongoing horticultural activities from the 13th to the 15th centuries.

    Today, the people thought to be the descendants of the Indigenous group who inhabited the region in the past are the Wendat. Representatives of this community accompanied the fieldwork carried out in 2023 and conducted protocols including discussion, smudging and a ceremony before the coring activities.

    "It is very valuable to have Elders with us during field work to help ensure that everyone is keeping a good mind," says Monica Garvie, an Anishinaabe woman and PEARL PhD candidate that helped the research team liaise with the Wendat community. "They also provided support for the team during coring, for example, if anyone got tired or too exhausted, they could speak with the elders to receive some encouragement."

    Next steps

    Fieldwork expedition to Crawford Lake in Winter 2022. (Credit: Monica Garvie)
    Fieldwork expedition to Crawford Lake in Winter 2022. (Credit: Monica Garvie)

    While the effects of human pressure on the environment are no surprise, formal geological recognition might support the research community in advocating for conservation of Crawford and other lakes.

    "An increasing number of scientists have been speaking out about threats to our ecosystems, biodiversity and the ongoing climate crisis and other environmental issues. We hope the formal recognition of the Anthropocene promotes humanity to recognize the magnitude of human activities on our planet, and results in a new urgency for positive change in the way we treat our planet," says Dr. Cumming.

    Now it’s over to the International Commission on Stratigraphy, who will evaluate the final recommendation to ratify the end of the Holocene, marking the start of the Anthropocene epoch.

    If the geological time scale can be compared to a series of books that tell the story of our planet, the Anthropocene is the latest new release. Its first chapter – the Crawfordian Age – describes a critical moment in our shared environmental history, one that Earth and humanity will write side by side.

    Two faculty members honoured for outstanding graduate student supervision

    Excellence in academic supervision is a hallmark of the Queen’s graduate student experience. Productive supervisory relationships promote a thriving university research culture where students are supported to make meaningful contributions to their field of specialization and address pressing challenges facing our communities and society.

    The School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs annually recognizes two leading graduate supervisors with the Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Supervision. The 2023 recipients are Jeffrey Brison (Co-Director of the Cultural Studies Program and Professor of History) and Mohammad Zulkernine (Professor and Graduate Chair, School of Computing).  

    “We are impressed by the calibre of nominations we receive that recognize faculty members who exemplify the highest standards of graduate supervision at Queen’s,” says Fahim Quadir, Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs. “The School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs congratulates all nominees for their outstanding commitment to leadership and mentorship and for their ongoing contributions to enriching the academic experience of our graduate community.”

    Learn more about this year’s recipients:

    Jeffrey Brison

    Dr. Brison is the author of Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Canada: American Philanthropy and the Arts and Letters in Canada, a study that explores the influence of private American philanthropy on the making of a national culture in Canada. A founding member of the North American Cultural Diplomacy Initiative (NACDI), he is currently co-authoring a series of articles exploring the history of Canada’s use of “culture” in advancing its foreign policy initiatives and global orientations.

    Over two decades, Dr. Brison has supervised more than 40 graduate students and two postdoctoral fellows and served on dozens of supervisory committees in the Departments of History, Art History, the Faculty of Education, and the Cultural Studies Program. Additionally, Brison has been a host supervisor to visiting graduate students from Mexico and Scotland. He is the 2014 recipient of the Department of History’s Faculty Teaching Award. In 2021, the Faculty of Arts Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching recognised his teaching, supervision and mentoring work.

    Students under his supervision have garnered provincial and federal awards as well as support and recognition from the International Council for Canadian Studies, MITACS Accelerate and Globalinks Research Fellowship programs, the Fonds de recherche du Québec, the Canadian-US Fulbright program, the Embassy of Canada (U.S.) Internship Program, and the Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Fund for Advanced Studies. At the end of the day, Brison measures “success” in the terms his students set. His happiest moments at Queen’s are connected to his collaborations with the outstanding group of graduate students with whom he has been fortunate to work.

    Mohammad Zulkernine

    Dr. Zulkernine was the Canada Research Chair in Software Dependability from 2011 to 2021. He leads the Queen’s Reliable Software Technology (QRST) research group and is currently focused on building secure software for cyber-physical systems such as connected and autonomous vehicles and other IoT applications. With the support of Canadian provincial and federal agencies and industry, Dr. Zulkernine has led more than 30 research projects on software security and reliability. Additionally, he collaborated in several multi-university and international research initiatives.

    Since joining Queen’s in 2003, Dr. Zulkernine has mentored 13 postdoctoral fellows, 22 doctoral and 44 master’s students, with whom he has co-authored over 200 refereed publications. In 2016, he was recognized with the Distinguished Graduate Supervision award from the School of Computing. His supervised students won conference best paper awards, the Governor General Gold Medal, PhD Research Achievement, and Distinguished Master’s Thesis awards.

    Drs. Brison and Zulkernine receive their award at Spring Convocation 2023.

    About The Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Supervision

    The Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Supervision recognizes supervisors who demonstrate outstanding excellence in advising, monitoring, and mentoring graduate students. Excellence is judged on the quality of supervision and mentorship in facilitating the acquisition of skills and resources needed for students to succeed as scholars and professionals. The criteria for the award reflect supervisors who inspire students to push scholarly boundaries, pursue their career and academic goals, offer quality feedback and guidance, and broadly support a culture of supervisory excellence within their school/faculty and/or university. Preference is given to faculty members who have displayed sustained mentorship activity over many years.

    New academic accommodation system removes barriers for students, instructors

    Queen’s new accommodation management system, Ventus, has received a positive response from both students and instructors who have navigated the more streamlined process over the past year.

    Launched in May 2022, the Ventus accommodation management system is designed to help empower students to gain further control of their academic access. The system is a collaborative effort between the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL), Queen’s Student Accessibility Services (QSAS), the Exams Office, and Queen’s Information Technology Services.

    A survey conducted in March 2023 by the CTL, the Exams Office, QSAS, and the Office of the Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) polled a limited number of students and instructors at Queen’s about their Ventus experience. According to overall survey results, Ventus is easy to navigate, user friendly, and is an improvement over the previous Letter of Accommodation process.

    “The introduction of Ventus has successfully transformed the accommodations process at Queen’s into an easier undertaking for both students and instructors,” says Gavan Watson, Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning). “Ensuring barriers are removed and every Queen’s student has a fair opportunity to learn is critical in the development of Ventus. As feedback is received, our team will integrate additional features that will increase the value of Ventus to the Queen’s community.”

    Ventus was customized specifically for Queen’s and streamlines the academic accommodation process for students with disabilities. Mandatory for managing academic accommodations across all programs at Queen’s, the portal securely connects students, QSAS, the Exams Office, instructors, and other support services to manage and implement accommodations for students.

    Overall, survey participants provided positive feedback. Of student respondents, 81 per cent agreed Ventus is valuable in managing accommodations, while 91 per cent knew where to find the list of their accommodations. Additionally, 82 per cent of those students understood how to use Ventus to get in touch with their accessibility advisor in QSAS. Overall, 83 per cent of students who submitted answers were satisfied with the ease of use.

    Among instructors, 74 per cent agreed Ventus was valuable in managing accommodations.

    The survey results reflect the process used to implement the new system. The year-long development process included consultations with instructors, support staff, and students. The help and feedback section of the Ventus support website is also a crucial point of contact for those using the system.

    For fall 2023, improvements will be made to Ventus, including classroom accommodations being applied by default rather than students needing to manually opt-in, as well as an integration into onQ, the learning management system for Queen's.

    Ventus helps reduce instructor workload related to academic accommodations by streamlining communication needs for instructors and students, and supplementing instructors with the essential information required for providing students with the appropriate accommodation. Ventus replaces the exchange of emails containing Letter of Accommodations (LoA) as well as the Exam Accommodation System (EAS). The interface also enables students to view details of their accommodation arrangements for in-class work, quizzes, exams, and more. 

    Instructors, support staff, and students can visit ventus.queensu.ca to manage academic accommodations. Students who need to register for accommodations, or who have questions about accommodations at Queen’s, should refer to Queen’s Student Accessibility Services.

    Mechanical and materials engineering, put into practice

    Queen's engineering students work with a wildlife centre to design solutions for animal rehabilitation.

    [Photo of a squirrel]
    Credit: Unsplash / Andy Willis

    When Sydney Garrah started her undergrad studies in mechanical engineering, she had no idea she would end up designing splints for injured wildlife. Yet, it was an experience that taught her a lot about the role an engineer can play off-campus and in the community. As part of a Capstone Design Course offered to fourth- and fifth-year students, Garrah and her colleagues worked with Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre (SPWC), a wildlife refuge in Greater Napanee, to support their daily work treating injured small animals.

    "I feel fortunate to be a part of a project that could make a significant impact on the local wildlife rescue community," says Garrah. "My team was able to take technical skills from our courses and learn how to effectively apply those to a project involving clients helping vulnerable wildlife."

    SPWC is a small non-profit organization that has been caring for injured and orphaned wildlife for 25 years. The team cares for approximately 5,000 animals a year, including foxes, deer, beavers, rabbits, turtles, owls and many species of birds and rodents, including squirrels. Since the partnership with Queen’s Engineering started in 2022, they have benefited from three newly designed solutions.

    [Model rendering of the splint]
    Example of the 3D printing solution software developed to construct customized splints.

    "Working with Queen's Engineering students has allowed us to improve patient care at the centre in ways that we could not do on our own," says Jess Pelow, education coordinator at SPWC. "The creativity and skillset of the students has been incredibly impressive and we are excited to continue this partnership."

    Professor Roshni Rainbow (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) is one of the faculty advisors involved. Her students worked with SPWC to understand some of its problems, brainstorm solutions, create mock-ups or prototypes, and discuss testing and budgeting.

    The first project Dr. Rainbow’s students investigated came from the vet operating room. When treating injured small animals, SPWC was using veterinary splints designed for cats and dogs. These devices, while helpful, were time consuming to apply and didn’t really fit the wild species they were working with. Instead, the staff was searching for a solution that would be simpler to use and apply.

    "This project taught us the importance of user-centered design," says Garrah. "It was crucial for us to imagine ourselves in the role and day-to-day routine of the SPWC staff to be able to find a solution that could integrate into their workflow. This is important in any design project and is a skill I will carry with me through my career as an engineer."

    The team created a 3D printing solution and an easy workflow to work with. Now, the veterinarians take a few measurements from the injured animal’s limbs and put them into a spreadsheet that calculates the details of the design to be printed.

    The interdisciplinary work with veterinarians at the wildlife centre also brought up some additional challenges for the students to research. One of the big ones was considering that wild animals could chew on the splints – they had to be resistant and non-toxic, and preferably easy to clean so they could be reused.

    [Photo of a bird]
    A raven tests the perch created by Queen's Engineering students. The different materials used to build the perch simulate a natural environment and prevent foot infection. (Photo courtesy of SPWC)

    From birds to raccoons

    In addition to the 3D printed splints, Queen’s engineering students worked on two other designs that are already in use by SPWC: a playground for baby raccoons and a perch for prey birds.

    "When raptors and different kinds of birds come in, they tend to get an infection on their feet because they don't move from different materials like they do in the wild," explains Dr. Rainbow. The students addressed this challenge by creating a perch with different textures.

    Another group of students worked on an enrichment centre for baby raccoons, allowing them to develop certain skills to survive in the wild, such as foraging and climbing. The group looked at natural materials available at SPWC grounds and created a rope ladder fashioned from different kinds of sticks and branches to build a climbing structure. They also used milk crates and other materials that would be easy to replace if needed and provided instructions on how to repair the design in case of damage.

    Dr. Rainbow highlights that all the projects took technical analysis and engineering skills into consideration. "For example, in engineering we spend a lot of time learning about stress and strain and material properties. The students implemented this knowledge to solve real problems, testing and finding the actual values of different properties of their design," she says. "We want our students to know that engineering can happen everywhere and they can go out there and change the world."

    SPWC is looking forward to continuing this collaboration. The Centre is always looking for innovative solutions to reduce animal stress and improve their medical care. Ideas for future projects include designing safer enclosures for a songbird and making a custom medical device for a turtle.

    [Photo of a racoon from a security camera feed]
    Night camera at SPWC captures the image of an orphan raccoon using the playground structures built by Engineering students. (Photo courtesy of SPWC)



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