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William Leggett receives prestigious lifetime achievement award

Dr. William Leggett.

William Leggett, professor emeritus in the Department of Biology and Queen's 17th principal, has received the H. Ahlstrom Lifetime Achievement Award from the Early Life History Section of the American Fisheries Society for his contributions to the fields of larval fish ecology.

The American Fisheries Society is the biggest association of professional aquatic ecologists in the world, with over 9,000 members worldwide.

"œIt feels good to be singled out by such large group of people who I respect so highly," says Dr. Leggett. "œI didn'™t expect to receive this award so it'™s a big honour and thrill to get it."

Dr. Leggett'™s research focuses on the dynamics of fish populations and his work as a biologist and a leader in education has been recognized nationally and internationally. A membership in the Order of Canada, a fellowship from the Royal Society of Canada, and the Award of Excellence in Fisheries Education are just some of the awards he has received for outstanding contributions to graduate education and marine science.

The Early Life History Section of the American Fisheries Society recognized Dr. Leggett'™s "œexceptional contributions to the understanding of early life history of fishes that has inspired the careers of a number of fisheries scientists worldwide and has led to major progress in fish ecology and studies of recruitment dynamics."

The award was recently presented in Quebec City at the 38th annual Larval Fish Conference held in conjunction with the 144th annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society.

 

Funding to enable innovative research

Queen’s researchers will receive close to $700,000 in funding as part of a $64 million announcement to support research infrastructure.

The Government of Canada, through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), has announced $64 million in funding to support research infrastructure through the John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF). Five projects at Queen’s will receive close to $700,000 to advance innovative research projects that will have an impact on human health, communications technologies, and renewable materials.

"Canada is world-renowned for our state-of-the-art institutions and talented researchers pushing the boundaries of knowledge," says The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. "Through this Fund, our government is strengthening our leadership and competitive advantage by supporting Canadians to pursue discoveries, overcome challenges and innovate to make a more prosperous, equitable, and sustainable future for all."

The JELF helps universities more competitively recruit and retain outstanding researchers by providing funds needed to acquire the labs, equipment, and facilities.

"Cutting-edge research requires the right infrastructure and tools," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "Thanks to the CFI, researchers at Queen’s can acquire the resources they need to accelerate their programs and fuel discovery and innovation that will have an impact on Canadians."

Learn more about the Queen’s projects:

Fernanda De Felice (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences; Psychiatry)

[Photo of Dr. Fernanda de Felice]Dr. De Felice’s project "Testing the potential of extracellular vesicles to deliver therapeutics and to develop biomarkers in Alzheimer’s disease" will help address an urgent need to develop inexpensive, non-invasive diagnostics and efficient treatments to help Canada’s aging population, who are experiencing an increase in Alzheimer’s disease. Her team will investigate the role of irisin, a novel hormone boosted by physical exercise, in memory processes and if increasing it can reproduce or even boost the beneficial actions of exercise in memory. Dr. De Felice also aims to investigate vesicles, cells that originate in the brain and are carried into the body’s circulation, and to develop a simple approach for identifying if they are carrying disease biomarkers.

Vera Vine (Psychology)

[Photo of Dr. Vera Vine]Dr. Vine’s project "Interoception as a mechanism of adolescents’ emotional development" will help address the urgent need to discover the risk mechanisms that drive the co-occurrence of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts among adolescents. Adolescence is a period of rapid emotional change when individuals often have a hard time figuring out what they feel while they are still developing emotion awareness. Dr. Vine’s team will test a promising theory that adolescents develop emotion awareness by having a strong connection between body and mind, or interoception. Her project will examine how interoception helps adolescents develop emotion awareness and how this process is affected by social environments. It will also teach us more about where emotions come from and ultimately lead to better public programs to protect youth from adversity and promote mental health.

Kevin De France (Chemical Engineering)

[Photo of Dr. Kevin De France]Dr. De France’s project "Development of sustainable cellulose- and protein-based building blocks for the fabrication of functional materials" will explore alternatives that could replace traditional plastic-based products. Plastics are generally produced from non-renewable petroleum-based sources, which lead to increased levels of waste and environmental pollution in their production and decomposition. His team will investigate the structure-property-function relationships between the natural building blocks of cellulose and protein, both abundant raw materials, and the materials fabricated from them. The successful completion of Dr. De France’s project will result in the promotion of clean technology for various applications in fields spanning countless sectors that impact everyday life.

Alexander Tait (Electrical and Computer Engineering)

[Photo of Dr. Alexander Tait]Dr. Tait’s project "Quantum internet to the home with cryogenic silicon photonics" will develop key building blocks from entangled photo light sources and single-photon detectors needed to access the more secure quantum internets. Quantum communication technologies promise a high value but also a high price point. Global investments in quantum technologies tend to focus on its applications and cyber security features for corporate and government networks, yet the general population would also benefit as our personal and financial data increasingly moves to the internet. A significant barrier for regular consumers to access these networks is the cost of needed hardware. Dr. Tait’s team will develop single-photon technologies that can be manufactured in existing silicon foundries, as opposed to using specialized semiconductor platforms. This innovation will make quantum internet products more accessible and affordable while presenting commercialization and export opportunities for Canada.

Sunita Mathur (Rehabilitation Therapy)

[Photo of Dr. Sunita Mathur]Dr. Mathur’s project "Detecting and mitigating sarcopenia in chronic disease" will help combat a debilitating disease increasingly affecting Canada’s aging population that causes muscle wasting and muscle weakness. Her team will focus on developing new ways to detect sarcopenia and test novel exercise programs to mitigate the disease through utilizing lab-based measurements and clinical setting methods for both in-person and virtual care. Dr. Mathur intends to establish a Muscle Imaging and Performance Lab at Queen’s that will lead the study of sarcopenia globally and advance the evidence for virtual care to make a direct impact on the healthcare of Canadians.

 

To learn more about the Canada Foundation for Innovation and other funded projects, please visit their website.

Queen's marking Science Literacy Week

Each year, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) celebrates Science Literacy Week, an opportunity to showcase the Canadian research landscape through events and activities for families and children. The theme for Science Literacy Week 2022 is Mathematics. From Sept. 19 to 25, departments across the university will join the festivities through several activities aimed at engaging the public with the wonders of math – from pandemic modelling to geometry adventures.

Mathematics and infectious diseases

Queen’s Department of Mathematics will host David Earn (McMaster University) for a public lecture on "Learning from the pandemics of the last seven centuries" on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 6:30 p.m. The event will take place in the Biosciences Auditorium.

Dr. Earn has been Chair of the Modelling Consensus Table of the Ontario Science Advisory Table for COVID-19, and modelling from his group has helped guide the governmental response to COVID-19. He is also a recipient of the Canadian Applied and Industrial Mathematics Society Research Prize and an Elected Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

Dr. Earn will examine how historical records allow us to reconstruct patterns of disease spread, in some cases going back hundreds of years. His group at McMaster has been studying these patterns, analyzing data going back as far as 1348. In the lecture, he will discuss insights obtained from mathematical modelling inspired by these data, as well as the opportunities we have to improve our understanding of plague, influenza, COVID-19, and other diseases that cause pandemics.

The event is free and open to the public. Interested participants are asked to register.

Resources for the community

The Department of Mathematics is also partnering with Kingston Frontenac Public Library (KFPL) to curate a reading list of titles related to mathematics. The suggestions will include fiction books, as well as general interest and popular science titles. The list will be available from Sept. 18 on the KFPL website.

On Sept. 20, KFPL will host an online lunch and learn event, “Imagining the Future with Math.” Troy Day, head of the Department of Mathematics and part of the Provincial COVID-19 Modelling Consensus Table, is one of the panelists, accompanied by Dr. Earn. You can register for the event through the KFPL website.

The Faculty of Education will release a new episode of its Popular Podagogy podcast, which discusses how to combine innovative educational ideas with the everyday life of being a teacher. For the Science Literacy Week special episode, faculty member and host Christ Carlton will interview award-winning author Lindsey Carmichael, who has published several books for children and young adults. She will talk about what science literacy is, why it is important, and what role books play in science literacy.

Mathematics for kids

The Queen’s Vice-Principal Research Portfolio, through Science Rendezvous Kingston, will offer an online adventure for kids, available starting Sept. 19. The project, led by Professor Emerita Lynda Colgan and funded by NSERC, includes downloadable puzzles, released daily, that kids can print, colour, and fold into a booklet.

Award-winning children’s author and illustrator, Peggy Collins has created the characters for the booklet. The adventure features the Time Travelling Tangram Gang, a group of kids who unlock the portal to a time travel machine using tangrams. On their adventures, they meet children from ancient China, Mexico and Egypt who teach them about how mathematics was used during their time and the importance of math to their cultures.

To access information about this project and to download the puzzles, visit the website.

Science exposed

Four Queen’s graduate students are finalists in NSERC’s national research photo competition.

How does science look like? Researchers across Canada are showcasing their work in compelling images that provide the public with a new perspective on what goes on inside labs or in field research.

Featuring science across all fields, the Science Exposed contest is organized annually by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). In 2022, four Queen’s students are among the finalists, with their images selected for public voting.

“Researchers are being more frequently asked to share their work with the public, and images are an effective, relatable way to share scientific knowledge; they can convey emotion, beauty, and even surprise, while also fostering curiosity,” says the contest webpage.

Public voting is open until September 18 and the image voted as people’s choice will receive a $2,000 award. A jury will also select three winners for prizes of $2,000 each.

Learn more about the images shortlisted from Queen’s:

Blue-green algal blooms

Malignant brushstrokes (Haolun Tian, PhD student, Biology)

Human activity drives the intensity and frequency of blue-green algal blooms, which threaten aquatic biodiversity and the drinking water supply of millions. The transient and rapid emergence of these blooms into our lakes in late summer makes them difficult to monitor on short notice, particularly in smaller waterbodies. This drone image, taken from 100 m above the ground, shows my collaborators collecting water samples from an algal bloom in Dog Lake, a waterbody on the historic Rideau Canal system. The beautiful paint-like whorls seen from above hide a fetid and noxious “pea soup” that will eventually suffocate fish and other aquatic life when it decomposes in the fall. Using a combination of drone and environmental DNA monitoring, we are able to quickly assess the scale, movement and composition of a small bloom at the fraction of the price of satellite imaging or toxin assessment.

Metalens, an array of nanostructure optical elements

Fabricated nanostructures of a metalens (Masoud Pahlevaninezhad, PhD student, Electrical and Computer Engineering)

Metalens, an array of nanostructure optical elements, is a promising technology that could revolutionize optics by replacing conventional bulky lenses. By adjusting the shape, size and position of nanostructures, metalens can be used for complex imaging settings where conventional lenses fail to provide high-quality focusing. Our group, in collaboration with Harvard University, designed a metalens to incorporate into an endoscopic setting for live tissue imaging of internal organs. One-to-one comparisons of tissue images from both metalens and conventional lenses show metalens’ ability to capture images with noticeably higher resolution and more issue details. This research will ultimately enable a more sophisticated assessment of pathological changes, which could otherwise be easily overlooked by conventional lenses, at early stages of diseases like cancer.

Magnesium sulfate salt crystals

Microfluidically generated salt crystal (Phillip Hillen, MSc student, Chemistry)

Microfluidics is the study and manipulation of fluids at a microliter scale. Droplets can be manipulated using a surface with different wetting characteristics. We generated magnesium sulfate salt crystals by evaporating a droplet of salt water on a microfluidically modified surface, and this image shows a perfectly circular salt crystal, five hundred microns in diameter. While the image is coloured as a result of quality enhancements, salt crystals aren’t colourful.

Aletsch Glacier

Deep blue ICE (Wai Yin Cheung, PhD student, Geography)

Since 2016, Queen’s annually organizes The Art of Research, a photo contest to showcase the work done by faculty, students, staff, and alumni. The competition is aimed at providing a creative and accessible method of sharing the ground-breaking research being done by current and past Queen’s community members and celebrating the global and social impact of this work. Click to learn more.

While working as a glaciological student on Aletsch Glacier, the longest glacier in Europe, I simply enjoyed the freedom of being by myself without the limitations of physical time. I’m amazed by the power of the vast ice field, as it grinds rock off of mountains, erasing the surface of the earth. This experience has taught me to be as firm and as brave as crystal blue ice for any future challenges I may face.

To see other finalist images and cast your vote, visit the Science Exposed webpage.

Creating connections through the ASUS Sidewalk Sale

Annual orientation event returns to University Avenue, bringing the Queen's and Kingston communities together. 

The Sidewalk Sale, hosted by the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS), returned to University Avenue on Saturday, Sept. 10.

The annual event was held in-person for the first time since the start of the pandemic and attracted thousands of first-year students as well as Queen’s and Kingston community members. The event, featuring more than 300 booths, including Queen’s clubs and departments, as well as local, national, and international organizations and businesses, is an opportunity for students to make connections within the Queen’s and Kingston communities.

The fees collected from the vendors are being donated in support of the Kingston chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society, which supports cancer patients in Kingston and funds innovative, local cancer research out of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group. ASUS orientation annually raises close to $100,000 in support of Kingston charities. 

Queen’s remembers Margaret Light

The Queen’s community is remembering alumna Margaret Light (Arts'47) as a passionate arts supporter who helped the next generation of Queen’s-trained art conservationists better preserve and restore textiles, paintings, and sculptures.   

Light passed away peacefully at home at the age of 95 on Aug. 12.

“Margaret Light was a proud Queen’s supporter who, through her boundless energy and dedication, inspired our faculty and students,” says Norman Vorano, head of the Department of Art History and Art Conservation at Queen’s. “She felt very passionately about the need to preserve important cultural and artistic objects so that future generations may continue to have transformative experiences with art. Her generosity has touched so many of our students.”  

Light – the widow of Walter Light, former Queen’s Board of Trustees chair and namesake of Walter Light Hall – had an abiding passion for textiles and textile art. 

She was very involved in the Museum of Textiles in Toronto, collected an array of carpets and rugs, and owned her own weaving looms. She was a dedicated supporter of an art form that has finally gained wider acceptance in the world of high art, which has traditionally been the domain of paintings and sculpture and less accepting of the complex artistic merits of textiles. 

Light’s own interest focused on the art conservation program at Queen’s. 

Light donated nearly $1.8 million to Queen’s, $1 million of which went to establish the Margaret A. Light Fellowship in Art Conservation, which brings in leading conservators from around the world to offer their insights to the school. The fellowship also supports teaching and research activities in the art conservation program, including, in addition to teaching fellows, visiting scholars, guest lecturers, workshops, equipment for teaching and research, faculty research, and sabbatical replacements. 

Light also supported the purchase of a digital X-ray scanner which is making an enormous contribution to the art conservation program and expanding knowledge about the preservation of the art works and the means by which such pieces are made. The new scanner has enabled research that would otherwise not be possible.

The X-ray scanner is a fundamental piece of equipment that students in the program use to examine underlying structures in objects. Being able to see ‘inside’ the work’ actually allows students the chance to perform research that is necessary to keep up an evolving discipline.  

Seven Queen’s researchers elected to the Royal Society of Canada

New fellows are recognized for their outstanding research and scholarly contributions.

Each year, the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) awards field-leading Canadian researchers across the arts and humanities, social sciences, and sciences with one of the most prestigious academic honours in the country: the RSC fellowship. Seven Queen’s researchers have been elected fellows of the RSC’s distinguished 2022 cohort. Their research spans multiple disciplines – from political philosophy and computer-assisted medicine to the influence of policy making on social inequalities.

As Canada’s national academy, the role of the RSC is to promote research and learning, recognize academic and artistic excellence, and to advise government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on matters of importance to Canadians. Fellows are selected through a rigorous application and peer-review evaluation process. The honour recognizes the impact and influence of the recipients’ research on their fields and on global citizens.

“To have seven RSC fellows inducted in one year is an exceptional achievement for Queen’s and its research community,” says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). “It’s also impressive to see the range of fields and cross-disciplinary research represented in our new fellows, who are well-deserving of this prestigious honour.”

Learn more about Queen’s 2022 RSC fellows:

 Virginia Walker (Biology and School of Environmental Studies) investigates stress genes and the molecular basis of resistance. She uses the principles of genetics, molecular biology, chemistry, and engineering to answer questions central to understanding how humans adapt to environmental stress, creating foundational research for the next generation.

 

 

 

Gabor Fichtinger Gabor Fichtinger (Computing) has been working in the field of computer-assisted medical interventions and surgery for nearly three decades, and is the Canada Research Chair in Computer-Integrated Surgery at Queen’s. His novel research about image-guided robotics and real-time surgical navigation has paved the way for several modern diagnostic and therapeutic techniques. Dr. Fichtinger is recognized as a pioneer of his field, and a provider of free open-source research software resources that are used globally.

 

 

Guojun Liu Guojun Liu (Chemistry), the Canada Research Chair in Materials Science at Queen’s, is widely acknowledged as a world leader in his field. He has led the development of nano- and micro- structured materials. Through this research, he has made critical fundamental and applied scientific contributions, including the development of nanoscale coatings that can be used to improve handheld electronic devices and functional textiles.

 

 

Susanne Soederberg Susanne Soederberg (Global Development Studies) is internationally recognized for her trailblazing research on how policymaking influences social inequalities at overlapping scales from local to global. With a focus on producing societal knowledge based on principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion, she has become one of the most influential political economists studying contemporary capitalism across the global North/South divide.

 

 

​Ian Moore Ian Moore (Civil Engineering) uses a combination of numerical and physical modelling to advance fundamental understandings of strength and other performance limits of the buried pipes used for municipal water supply, sewers, and highway construction. His research is transforming soil-pipe interaction theory and practice, and is used in many North American and international design codes and guidelines.

 

 

 

Christine Sypnowich Christine Sypnowich (Philosophy) draws on law, politics, urban planning, and local history to consider the centrality of human flourishing in our conception of equality, and the role of place and heritage in the remedy of disadvantage. A significant theme of her path-breaking research is that political philosophy should not just illuminate questions of justice, but also enhance self-understanding and further human wellbeing.

 

 

 

Stephen Scott Stephen Scott (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) is a world leader in the computational, neural, mechanical and behavioural aspects of voluntary motor control. Dr. Scott is most recognized for his invention of Kinarm, an interactive robotic technology that provides unprecedented experimental control over arm motor function. Furthering our understanding of the link between cortical circuits and limb biomechanics, Kinarm robots are used widely to quantify brain function

 

 

New faculty inducted to RSC College

The RSC is also welcoming today 54 new members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, including Julia Christensen. Moving from Memorial University, she joined Queen's Department of Geography and Planning in the summer.

Julia Christensen Dr. Christensen is an expert in housing, home and health in the circumpolar North. Her scholarship aims to understand the northern housing crisis and dismantle it through community-led solutions. Her collaborations with Indigenous and regional governments have informed a series of policy initiatives that respond to the unique cultures and contexts of northern communities.

The College is formed by mid-career leaders who provide the RSC with a multigenerational capacity to help Canada and the world address major challenges and seize new opportunities.

Since 1964, Queen’s has seen 118 of its faculty members elected as fellows of the RSC and 16 as members of the College of New Artists, Scholars, and Scientists. For more information, visit the Royal Society of Canada website.

Advancing Canada’s research infrastructure

Two national research facilities affiliated with Queen’s University have been awarded $120 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

On Friday, at SNOLAB, the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, recognized the key role of research infrastructure by announcing more than $628 million to support 19 research infrastructure projects at institutions across the country, including two research facilities affiliated with Queen’s University. From the Government of Canada and through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) Major Science Initiatives (MSI) Fund, this investment will support the ongoing operation and infrastructure needs of research facilities of national importance.

Receiving $102 million in infrastructure funding is SNOLAB, an internationally renowned ultra-clean facility primarily focused on the study of neutrino properties and sources and the search for galactic dark matter. A research consortium bringing together Queen’s University, Carleton University, Laurentian University, University of Alberta, and the Université de Montréal, SNOLAB is at the forefront of unravelling the mysteries of the universe as one of only two laboratories in the world with low radiation backgrounds to support cutting edge measurements.

Canadian Cancer Trials Group Operations and Statistics Centre at Queen’s University also received close to $20 million. With about 20,000 members across the world, this is the only Canadian research facility with expertise and infrastructure capable of supporting the entire range of cancer trial proposals. Its patient engagement model has been extensively shared nationally and internationally. The research supported by this facility develops innovative therapies, advances understanding of cancer resistance and reduces the burden of cancer treatment.

"Through this investment, we're supporting our world-class research facilities that drive innovation and the researchers who are making important discoveries across the country," says the Hon. François-Philippe Champagne. "We're making sure that Canada is equipped to support the next generation of researchers who will tackle the world's most pressing issues and who will advance our society for all to thrive."

Going underground to discover who we are and where we came from

[Queen's Art of Research photo: Window on a Window to the Universe]
Queen's Art of Research photo: Window on a Window to the Universe by Mark Chen (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy), SNOLAB

In 2015, Queen’s researcher  Arthur McDonald was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for changing our fundamental understanding of neutrinos with the decade-spanning Sudbury Neutrino Observatory experiment at SNOLAB. The research facility continues to support ground-breaking astroparticle research with experiments to further knowledge on neutrinos, our galactic building blocks, and dark matter, the obscure particles making up 85 per cent of matter in the universe. The renewed federal funding will ensure SNOLAB is able to attract and host world-leading research and position Canada at the forefront of technological advancements.

Enabling practice-changing research and improving survival

[Art of Research photo: Immunofluorescence Stain]
Queen's Art of Research photo: Immunofluorescence Stain by Shakeel Virk and Lee Boudreau, CCTG Tissue Bank

The Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) based at Queen’s will receive close to $20 million to support its research network testing innovations in cancer treatments. CCTG operations and statistic centre is the largest research group at Queen’s, with over 140 Queen’s faculty and staff, 85 member hospitals and cancer centres across Canada working with a global network of 20,000 investigators and clinical trial staff. Since 1980, CCTG has supported more than 600 cancer trials to test anti-cancer and supportive therapies worldwide, enrolling 100,000 patients from 40 countries. The renewed funding will be critical to support CCTG’s advancements in precision medicine, immunotherapy, and symptom control trials, and correlative analyses – ensuring that world class research continues to test innovative cancer treatments with the potential for global impact. The group’s continued efforts will lead to innovative therapies, improved understanding of cancer resistance, and will reduce the burden of cancer treatments for Canadians.

"Thanks to ongoing MSI investments, the Canadian Cancer Trials Group and SNOLAB provide Canadian and international researchers with access to leading-edge infrastructure, helping to advance cancer treatment and care and elucidating the mysteries of the universe," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "As host and administrative hub, Queen’s plays an important role in ensuring the ongoing success of these major research facilities."

Participating in the event was also Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research) and Arthur McDonald, Emeritus Professor (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy) and co-recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics. Dr. Ross served as emcee for the announcement and she and Dr. McDonald accompanied the Minister, local Members of Parliament, and the SNOLAB administration on a tour of the facility.  

To learn more about the Major Science Initiatives Fund and other funded projects, visit the CFI’s website.

Gordon E. Smith appointed interim director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts

Queen’s University is pleased to announce the appointment of Gordon E. Smith as interim director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts effective Sept. 1, 2022. Dr. Smith will also serve as chair of the Search Committee for the next director of the Isabel.

Dr. Smith, an ethnomusicologist in the Dan School of Drama and Music, has served in a number of administrative roles in the Faculty of Arts and Science, many of which intersect with the creative and performing arts. These include vice-dean in the Faculty of Arts and Science (2013-2021), interim dean (2016-2017), associate dean (2006-2012), and director of the School of Music (2003-2006). His current research examines music and intersectional cultural and social practices in Mi’kmaw communities in Cape Breton, specifically Eskasoni.

Dr. Smith received his Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts and PhD in musicology from the University of Toronto. He also received the ARCT diploma in piano performance.

Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Teri Shearer offers her most sincere thanks to Tricia Baldwin for her nearly eight-year service as director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Further information on the search for the next director of the Isabel will be shared once available.

Understanding competition and market power

Queen’s economics professor Robert Clark receives Bank of Canada fellowship to study competition in a variety of markets.

Robert Clark
Robert Clark's research topics include the impact of Artificial-Intelligence in pricing, the stability of the US banking system, and the alleged bread cartel in the Canadian grocery sector.

Market power is the ability of a firm to set a product’s price higher than it cost to produce it. Over the last forty years, research shows market power has been increasing and competition, decreasing. Understanding and shedding light on the sources and consequences of market power is the goal of economics professor Robert Clark, who has received a fellowship with the Bank of Canada to advance this research. The fellowship includes a grant worth approximately $500,000 spanning five years.

In this interview, Dr. Clark, who is also the Smith Chair in economic policy and a faculty advisor for the John Deutsch Institute (JDI), a research institute for economic policy at Queen’s, details the projects that aided him in receiving the fellowship.

What is currently the focus of your research?

Most recently I have been studying the impact of Artificial-Intelligence driven algorithmic pricing and its impact on competition. AI is becoming more relevant in our daily lives, evidenced through its use in areas like medicine, security, and more. I investigate how these advances may impact the functioning of firms and markets around the world, particularly in relation to collusion.

Why did you decide to look at AI driven pricing?

With technological advancements, pricing that was historically done mechanically is shifting towards AI-powered algorithms for its capabilities in handling large quantities of data efficiently.

There has been a lot of work done from a theoretical perspective to try to understand the extent to which algorithmic pricing can increase market power by facilitating collusion, and the results are ambiguous. My project is the first empirical work on the subject, examining the German retail gasoline market. It’s a great case study because of its incredibly detailed and high frequency data, combined with the fact that AI pricing software was allegedly introduced in the market sometime in 2017. We use a data-driven approach to identify stations that we believe adopted algorithmic pricing, and then study the impact of adoption on margins. Our findings suggest that adoption increased margins, but only in competitive markets, suggesting that adoption facilitated coordination among stations.

Does your research also focus on other aspects of crisis and collusion in the economy?

I am working on a project that examines the stability of the US banking system. In recent periods of crisis, many US banks have failed. This is problematic for the financial industry, and the consequences of a bank’s failure spill over into the rest of the system. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is responsible for resolving failed banks, and does so by auctioning off failed banks to healthy institutions by using a least-cost scoring rule to evaluate bids along multiple dimensions. However, the way the FDIC evaluates bids is unknown to banks, and some are observed to submit multiple bids (simultaneously) in a given auction. My research establishes that this approach is costly for the FDIC and we develop a method for illustrating the significant savings that could be achieved if the method for auctioning off the failed banks were improved.

Another project examines the alleged bread cartel that was recently uncovered in the Canadian grocery sector. Typically, cartels are just amongst retailers or just amongst manufacturers, but this links firms at both ends of the supply chain. I attempt to provide evidence for collusion occurring by examining court documents and pricing data, and provide a case for how and why inflation occurred as a result.

Could you speak to some key mechanisms that might be impacting the current position of the Canadian economy, particularly in relation to inflation?

Historically low interest rates have led to significant debt accumulation, particularly throughout the pandemic. We are now faced with an important rise in inflation resulting from supply chain issues, the war in Ukraine, and Covid relief provided by the government. The main tool the government has at its disposal to combat inflation is interest rates, and it may need to ratchet these up even further in the coming months. Given the high debt levels, this will put considerable strain on our economy.

While you research Canadian economy, you are also investigating economics in Europe. How does working with international researchers impact your work?

Economics is definitely a very international field. Even within the department at Queen’s, there is a diverse group with different backgrounds. I have worked with researchers from Italy, Germany and elsewhere, and sometimes there is a link between the market I’m studying and the person I’m working with, but it is not always the case. It’s always interesting to get a new perspective.

View Dr. Clark’s faculty page to see his selected publications and working papers.

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