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Arts and Science

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.

 

Cast your vote for the Art of Research

The public has until June 2 to vote for their favourite Queen's research photo in the People’s Choice category.

[Collage of photos with text: Art of Research photo contest]
A selection of Queen's research photos included in the People's Choice vote as part of the Art of Research photo contest.

Voting is now open for the People’s Choice prize in the annual Art of Research photo contest. The public is invited to cast their ballot and participate in promoting the diversity of research happening across Queen’s.

Hosted by the Office of the Vice-Principal (University Relations), the annual contest is an opportunity for Queen’s researchers to mobilize their research beyond the academy. The contest is aimed at providing a creative and accessible method of sharing the ground-breaking research being done by the Queen’s community and celebrating the global and social impact of this work.

Contest prizes

The 2022 contest has been reimagined through the lens of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to celebrate the impact of research in advancing these important global goals. Five new categories inspired by the SDGs were introduced for this year’s contest alongside the popular People’s Choice prize.

Images selected for voting in the People’s Choice are entries that generated discussion and were shortlisted by the adjudication committee.

All prizes come with a monetary prize of $250.

Cast your vote

The survey closes on June 2 at midnight. Winners of the 2022 Art of Research photo contest will be announced shortly following the vote.

To learn more about past contests, visit the Research@Queen’s website.

2022 Art of Research Adjudication Committee

  • Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research)
  • Kanonhsyonne - Janice Hill, Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation)
  • Nicholas Mosey, Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Arts and Science
  • Heidi Ploeg, QFEAS Chair for Women in Engineering, Mechanical and Materials Engineering
  • Ruth Dunley, Associate Director, Editorial Strategy, Office of Advancement
  • Jung-Ah Kim, PhD Student, Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies
  • Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, University Relations
  • Véronique St-Antoine, Communications Advisor, NSERC

Inspired by the human brain

Queen’s researchers advance the evolving field of neuromorphic photonic computing.

Male researcher looking at a microscope.
The field of photonics looks at how to send and process information using light instead of electricity.

The idea that the human brain, the most impressive machine ever known, could inspire the development of computers is not new. In fact, the concept of artificial networks inspired by neurons, the central units that make up the brain, first surfaced in the 1950s. But the last decade has seen a resurgence of research programs looking at building neuromorphic computing with the help of a new ally: photonics.

Computers are traditionally built as electronic devices, relying on transistors to communicate information – roughly, a transistor works like a switch that can be on or off, and a specific sequence of commands tells the computer what to do. This digital system is very efficient in performing several tasks, and over the years, we’ve developed better, faster, and smaller transistors to power our computers. Today, a standard computer has tens of billions of them.

While electronics are an excellent solution for many of our computing needs, they are not ideal for addressing challenges like advancing artificial intelligence or machine learning capacity. And that’s why the human brain has surfaced once again as an inspiration for computing.

“We have realized that our brains are very good computers, but they do not operate with transistor-like switches. The brain uses a very different computing model,” explains Bhavin Shastri, assistant professor of in the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy and a pioneer in the emerging field of neuromorphic photonics. “Our brain does not operate with ones and zeros, but with analog, continuous signals.”

Because electronics cannot provide a good model for analog systems, scientists started looking at photonics, a field that investigates how to use light – instead of electricity – to send and process information.

 “Light behaves very differently from electrons, and in some cases, those are advantageous behaviors for certain applications,” says Alex Tait, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “For instance, in communications, fibre optic cables replaced electronic wiring because light is just more effective: it can communicate more information per second.”

Bhavin Shastri and Alex Tait
Bhavin Shastri and Alex Tait have been collaborating for over a decade in research to advance neuromorphic photonic computing.

For over a decade, Shastri and Tait have been collaborating on research that looks at how photonics can benefit neuromorphic computing. After doing proofs of concept, fabricating, and demonstrating devices, they are now working on how to build this knowledge into an actual, usable computer.

The distributed, non-sequential, parallel communications between neurons are crucial for tasks like pattern matching, reasoning, and categorizing information – tasks a brain does well, but computers have limited ability to do.

“Our brains are also extremely efficient in performing those tasks using very little energy. Our brain can do a thousand times more operations than the fastest existing supercomputer, using a million times less energy,” suggests Shastri.

Tait explains that the goal in developing light-based neuromorphic computers is not to substitute what we use today but rather to explore specific needs that can’t be met by traditional computing or that photonic can address more efficiently.

“It has great potential in situations where you need to reduce energy consumption – like in data centers where you're doing tons of number crunching. And they can be applied in situations where you need faster processing, like in a self-driving car where you must make decisions very quickly,” he adds.

Photonic computing can also be key in advancing other science areas, like high-energy physics and experiments to detect new fundamental particles. Shastri explains: “When you are looking at particles that collide in a particle accelerator, you collect a lot of data, but not all of it is useful. Machine learning techniques can help sort the useful information faster – and photonics might be the bridge to link these two disciplines together.”

To learn more about how Queen’s is advancing the field of neuromorphic photonics, access the Shastri Lab website.

A new earthquake warning system will prepare Canada for dangerous shaking

About 10 million people live in Canada’s earthquake-prone zones. Yet few have practical knowledge of what to do with new early warning system alerts which aim to save lives and protect livelihoods.
 

Vancouver Island’s historic earthquake was a 7.3 magnitude event that occurred at 10:13 a.m. on June 23, 1946. It damaged buildings in nearby communities, including the Bank of Montreal in Port Alberni.
Vancouver Island’s historic earthquake was a 7.3 magnitude event that occurred at 10:13 a.m. on June 23, 1946. It damaged buildings in nearby communities, including the Bank of Montreal in Port Alberni. (Natural Resources Canada)

Large earthquakes can wreak enormous violence upon lives, livelihoods, infrastructure and the environment. High-density urban populations in the relatively small, seismically active areas of British Columbia and the Québec City-Montréal-Ottawa corridor leaves residents extremely vulnerable to earthquakes.

A 2013 report commissioned by the Insurance Bureau of Canada notes that “a major earthquake would have a significant economic impact regionally, and cause a domino effect on the economy of Canada, with major impacts on critical infrastructure, such as roads, electricity, communication and agriculture, public assets, residences and much more.”

It concluded that a 9.0-magnitude earthquake in British Columbia would rack up almost $75 billion in costs, and a 7.1-magnitude earthquake in the Québec City-Montréal-Ottawa corridor would cost almost $61 billion.

Canada does not have an earthquake early warning system to provide alerts to the 10 million people who live in these areas — or a national education initiative to develop an earthquake-aware culture. But that will soon change.

10 million at risk

Canada’s most active seismic zones fall into three main areas:

Seismologists forecast significant shaking for Québec (Montréal, Québec City, Rivière-du-Loup), Ontario (Ottawa, Toronto) and British Columbia (Vancouver and Victoria) in the future. But earthquake prediction timelines are an imprecise science.

For example, the recurrence interval for a large earthquake in the Pacific Northwest is about 500 years — there have been seven in the past 3,500 years. Seismologists say there’s a 30 per cent chance of a megathrust earthquake — a very powerful quake that occurs at a subduction zone — in this fault zone in the next 50 years. But earthquakes are quasi-random — they don’t occur at regular time intervals.

In my work with communities in New Zealand, Samoa and Nepal that have experienced lethal earthquakes, I’ve learned about individuals’ heightened risk awareness after an earthquake. Their stories taught me that time lost is lives lost, and that those who took protective action survived.

This life-risk awareness is the foundation of an earthquake early warning system. With only seconds of advance warning, people can take protective action such as drop, cover and hold on. But developing an earthquake-aware culture can take time.

Earthquake-prone communities often experience fatalities, anxiety and fear, and widespread damage to homes, infrastructure and economies. A community with an earthquake-aware culture has grasped lessons from seismology, social science and economics, painfully aware of what damages and losses it might experience.

Developing an earthquake-aware culture relies on the data collected by seismologists. Their interpretations help us understand how local fault lines will shake during an earthquake, how often the shaking has occurred in a location and how fast the shockwaves might travel.

The front page of Le Soleil newspaper on Feb. 28, 1925, comprising only stories about the earthquake
The 1925 Charlevoix-Kamouiraska earthquake was felt all the way in Virginia and along the Mississippi River. It damaged several towns and cities along the St. Lawrence River and the aftershocks lasted for weeks. (Natural Resources Canada)

2024: All systems go

In March, Natural Resources Canada set up an earthquake-monitoring station at the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal in West Vancouver, B.C., the first station in what will become a national early earthquake warning system by 2024.

The system uses the same software as the early-warning system located along the U.S. West Coast. It aims to reduce the number of injuries, the cost of damage and losses, and the impact to critical infrastructure operations.

Millions of people — and the Canadian economy — could benefit from the early earthquake alert system. Once it is fully operational, it should provide five to nine seconds advance warning to those in Haida Gwaii, Queen Charlotte and Masset, B.C., for ruptures in the Queen Charlotte Fault, and 43 to 91 seconds for the mainland towns of Bella Bella, Prince Rupert and Kitimat, B.C. In Québec, a repeat of the 1988 Saguenay earthquake would offer 84 seconds advance warning for Montréal and 29 seconds for Québec City.

How people will respond to the alerts remains unknown. But Natural Resources Canada has funded the University of Calgary to work with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology to learn from their experience of building an earthquake-aware culture, as well as with other nations, including Japan, China, Turkey, Greece and Italy.

Challenges and next steps

By 2024, the Canadian earthquake early-warning system will have more than 400 land-based sensors deployed throughout Ontario, Québec and British Columbia. It will send the alerts to radio, television, internet and cellular networks, allowing people to take action quickly.

The advance notice is meant to avert deaths. A mere 10 to 90 seconds warning could save lives, protect infrastructure and utilities. Researchers, however, still need a better understanding of how Canadians will respond to these alerts.

For example, Canada’s earthquake hazard maps suggest there are two widely separated seismically active areas: one in Ontario, Québec and New Brunswick, and the other in British Columbia. But each location will suffer different types of damage and losses after a large earthquake.

These maps give the erroneous impression that the earthquake risk applies to everyone equally. My preliminary research shows distinct geological, political, economic and emergency management contexts between Eastern Canada and Western Canada.

For example, those in Eastern Canada are very vulnerable to seismic hazards: The soft soils in the Charlevoix-Kamouraska seismic zone amplify ground motion and the heritage housing cannot withstand shaking. There’s also low participation in earthquake preparedness exercises.

According to a 2017 report by Swiss Re, 65 per cent of home owners in Vancouver and Victoria have purchased residential property earthquake insurance. In contrast, in the Charlevoix–Kamouraska seismic zone, only two per cent of home owners in Québec City and five per cent in metropolitan Montréal have residential property earthquake insurance.

The ultimate goal of the earthquake early warning system is to ensure that those most at risk — the disabled, elderly, very young, caregivers and those living in remote rural areas — have practical knowledge of what to do — and what not to do — during an earthquake.The Conversation

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Shona L.van Zijll de Jong, Adjunct Professor, Geological Sciences and Engineering, 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.

Research that reaches for the stars

Multidisciplinary Queen’s research projects explore impact of space travel on health, including bone loss and aging.

Experiencing space flight and being amongst the stars is a dream out of this world for many, but for astronauts, there can be serious health implications that accompany space travel.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has identified three human space flight risks as high priorities: bone fragility, mission risks associated with altered metabolism, and the effect of nutrient composition of diet on health during space missions. With support from the CSA, Queen’s research teams are exploring how to make space travel safer by better understanding how astronaut diets affects bone loss, and how space flight may impact astronauts’ DNA and the aging process.

Preventing bone loss in space

Rachel Holden
Rachel Holden (Medicine)

Research shows that astronauts lose substantial amounts of bone during space missions. It's a mystery that has inspired researchers at Queen's to take a closer look at a mineral that is commonly found in many foods — phosphate. Phosphate is important for bone health, but abnormalities in the way the body processes phosphate have been linked to bone loss on Earth. Since astronauts on the International Space Station consume high levels of phosphate, it led the multidisciplinary research team of Heidi Ploeg (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) and Rachel Holden (Medicine), experts in orthopaedic biomechanics and vascular calcification in chronic kidney disease, to question if there is an association.

Normally, the phosphate a person consumes would go into their blood and any extra would be removed by the kidneys. However, if a person’s kidneys don't work properly, they can develop high phosphate levels in their blood which can stimulate the loss of calcium from their bones. Researchers are now seeing this outcome of weaker bones in people without kidney issues as influenced by diets that are high in the amount of phosphate due to its addition by food manufacturers. Since food in space is enriched with inorganic phosphate for preservation, this could be contributing to bone loss in astronauts as well.

“In the last five years it has become evident that dietary phosphate intake may promote cardiovascular disease and bone loss in people with adequate kidney function. Dietary phosphate intake has risen substantially over the past 10 years as inorganic phosphate is increasingly added to food for preservation by the food manufacturing industry,” Dr. Holden says.

Heidi Ploeg
Heidi Ploeg (Mechanical and Materials Engineering)

For Dr. Ploeg, the Chair for Women in Engineering at Queen's, the project provides interesting insights into how bone can adapt to its environments.

“Bone is an amazing structure. It's beautifully complex and best of all it adapts in response to its environment. Engineers can learn about optimal and self-heal structures by studying biological structures like bone,” Dr. Ploeg says. “If we can better understand this process, we can better assess fragility fracture risk and reduce these fracture rates through treatments including diet, physical therapy, and pharmaceuticals.”

Understanding how dietary phosphate promotes bone loss could reduce the burden of chronic disease in our aging society on Earth through regulations, and could contribute to the overall health of astronauts and the success of long-duration space missions in the future.

How does DNA replicate under microgravity?

Another Queen’s research team looking at human health during space travel is Virginia Walker’s lab in biology. The team's research has shown that DNA replication under microgravity — a small amount of gravity such as what is found in space, causing astronauts to “float” — is less accurate than under Earth gravity. This could pose risks for astronaut health including cancer and age-related problems during extended periods in space — like on missions to a future Moon station or Mars. To do this work, graduate student Aaron Rosenstein flew two missions aboard the CSA and National Research Council’s Falcon 20 jet, better known as the “vomit comet,” which simulates space flight.

Dr. Walker’s interest in space began when she was a child and the first lunar mission, Apollo 11, launched in 1969. This interest was reinforced by the show Star Trek, while Rosenstein was fittingly inspired by Star Trek, Next Generation.

Aaron Rosenstein prepares for a flight on the 'vomit comet'.
Aaron Rosenstein, Queen's graduate student at the time, flew two missions aboard the CSA and National Research Council’s Falcon 20 jet, better known as the “vomit comet,” which simulates space flight. (Supplied Photo)

Dr. Walker’s research in the area of the molecular genetic responses to stress led her to research extreme habitats, including those that are models for Mars. Her lectures on astrobiology caught Rosenstein’s imagination, who at the time was an undergraduate life science student. He and others created a student club and invited Dr. Walker to be the faculty advisor. This club’s work led to a CSA research grant that has recently concluded.

Their study found that DNA polymerases — the enzymes essential for DNA replication — make more errors in microgravity. This means there could be a health risk for astronauts on extended missions in space — since decreased DNA replication accuracy could lead to premature aging and cancer. Dr. Walker says this demonstrates the importance of designing spaceships that alleviate such negative effects.

“Our research, showing that more mistakes can be made when replicating DNA in microgravity, will surely bolster efforts by the international community to create artificial gravity by rotating space stations, for example,” Dr. Walker says.

As humans continue to push the boundaries of space travel, there are important health implications that the CSA has identified. The work by Dr. Walker, Dr. Ploeg, and Dr. Holden will contribute to the research to make space flight safer for those who venture off Earth.

Queen’s student competing for Team Canada at World Para Swimming Championships

Jessica Tinney, a fourth-year kinesiology student, has excelled at balancing academics, work, and athletics.

Jessica Tinney swims in a competitive pool.
Jessica Tinney, a fourth-year kinesiology student at Queen’s, will be competing at the World Para Swimming Championships being hosted June 12-18 in Madeira, Portugal. (Supplied Photo) 

Jessica Tinney, a fourth-year kinesiology student at Queen’s and Athletics and Recreation employee, has qualified for the World Para Swimming Championships. After competing in trials and breaking the Canadian record in the individual medley, she flew from Victoria, BC, back to Kingston the next day to write her final exams.

Tinney has cerebral palsy and staying active has always been important to her and her health. She started swimming when she was eight, as part of her physiotherapy. She enjoyed it so much that swimming became her main form of being active, and she began competing when she was 13.

Her experiences with physiotherapy and cerebral palsy are part of the reason she came to Queen’s to study kinesiology, she explains.

“With my disability, I wanted to learn more about how the body works,” she says. “I’ve always been surrounded by a huge medical support team, so making sense of the language and concepts around me and being able to apply that to my education has been interesting.”

With training and competitions, being a full-time student, an ARC employee and a research assistant, Tinney’s schedule is packed. In order to succeed, she has learned that it is important to focus on one thing at a time.

“I’ve learned you really have to be in the moment. Nothing good ever comes from trying to outline a research paper while you’re at practice,” she says. “Instead, I put all my focus into the one thing that I’m doing for the whole time.”

Tinney says that her four years at Queen’s, and her experiences with professors and peers, has been integral to her success with athletics and academics.

“I’ve been very fortunate with the professors I’ve had that were so accommodating,” she says.

Through the relationships she has built with other students, she has found a great deal of confidence, which she says has undoubtedly translated into her success in the pool.

Looking at the larger sports picture Tinney points out the need for better representation of athletes with disabilities.

“People work just as hard to go to the Paralympics as they do for the Olympics, and I think showing that to the world is important,” she says. “No matter what your background or ability is, if you compete in a sport and you identify as an athlete, you are an athlete first before anything else. A sport really doesn’t change much. I’m swimming in a pool, doing the same events as someone else who is able-bodied.”

Tinney is facing another tight turn around as she balances her academics and athletics. She will be competing in the world championships which are being hosted June 12-18 in Madeira, Portugal. The day after she returns to Canada from the championships she will be back in Kingston to celebrate convocation.

Stress can make you more selfish if you’re good at understanding others’ points of view

While it might not be the first thing that comes to mind, new and effective ways to reduce stress in vulnerable members of our communities could be key to ensure supportive social environments.

Stressed out young man covers his face with his hands.
Targeted interventions that reduce stress levels may improve altruism among Canadians. (Christian Erfurt/Unsplash)

If you’re feeling stressed right now, you’re not alone. One-quarter of Canadians report experiencing high levels of stress on most days and almost half of Canadians say their stress levels have increased since the pandemic began.

The ConversationAnd unfortunately stress affects how we treat the people around us — sadly, its often not in a good way. Being stressed can actually make people more egotistical and greedy.

Stress affects us all on multiple levels. It affects our body, mind and behaviours. I was recently part of a team of researchers who examined how stress affects generosity and who is particularly vulnerable to changes in social behaviours when under pressure.

We wanted to understand how stress hormones, brain responses and our thoughts about others work together to explain how stress can make people selfish and why it doesn’t happen to everyone to the same degree.

Stress impacts altruism

In our study, we asked participants to donate to various charities before and after undergoing a social stress. To simulate the consequences of most altruistic acts in the real world, donations in this experiment had real consequences.

Participants were given 20 euros and could keep whatever money they decided not to donate. We found that while keeping the money and being selfish literally paid off, most participants were willing to support charitable causes.

However, after participants were exposed to a social stress, their biological stress responses — as captured in increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol — were negatively linked to their generosity.

In other words, higher bodily stress responses diminished altruism.

But not everyone was affected by stress in the same way. Participants’ susceptibility to the stress hormone cortisol was related to their ability to understand others’ inner mental states (like their needs, beliefs, goals or points of view). This ability is sometimes referred to as mentalizing or theory of mind and is positively related to altruistic behaviors.

Participants with high mentalizing skills were the ones who were particularly vulnerable to becoming more selfish under stress.

The brain after stress

We measured participants’ brain activity during charitable giving, both before and after stress, using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

We found that there is a region of the brain that mediates a cortisol-related shift of altruism: the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This area has long been known to play a key role in altruistic decision-making and cognitive control.

The stress hormone cortisol altered the activation patterns in this brain region and mediated the negative effects of stress on altruistic behaviour. It provided the missing link between bodily stress responses and observed changes in our social behaviour. Specifically, it explained how exactly the brain responds to stress and contributes to the changed willingness to help under pressure.

Our study’s findings are important because they reveal several things:

  1. They help understand the link between the body’s stress responses and the change in our willingness to help others. Societies depend on people’s willingness to share, cooperate and help. Altruism is a building block of functioning societies — high levels of stress reported by many Canadians represent a potential risk factor.

    Understanding how stress can impact our prosocial behaviours towards other people and organizations is vital. Understanding this can ultimately help develop new interventions that target the elements altered by stress experience.

  2. Not all people are the same: not everyone shows the same response under stress. Identifying the characteristics that explain susceptibility to stress effects is useful because they can help protect vulnerable people by informing us who they are.

  3. These findings point towards strategies to buffer against the potentially harmful ways we treat others due to stress responses. Specifically, the results suggest that targeted interventions that reduce stress levels may improve altruism among Canadians (especially in those who are high mentalizers).

More research is needed to prove this proposition, but it provides an exciting avenue for anyone interested in creating more prosocial communities and environments. While it might not be the first thing that comes to mind, new and effective ways to reduce stress in vulnerable members of our communities could be key to ensure supportive social environments.The Conversation

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Anita Tusche, Assistant Professor, Psychology, 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.

Migrant workers are flipping the script and using Photovoice to tell their own stories

Undocumented migrant workers use Photovoice to share their experience working and living in Greece.

Migrant men work in the strawberry fields. (This is Evidence), Author provided

What happens when undocumented Bangladeshi and Pakistani men in Greece pick up their cell phones to record their lives as migrant agricultural workers?

“This will let the people learn how we live our lives here,” said one of the men, referring to the photos and videos they were taking. For the workers, these serve as evidence of their migrant existence.

COVID-19 and worries about food security have resulted in increased media coverage about migrant agricultural workers, with stories usually told on their behalf. Four sets of South Asian migrant men in Greece wanted to flip the script and tell their own stories.

They used Photovoice, an arts-based social justice tool, to present themselves and their concerns directly to people. This eventually transformed into a travelling multi-media exhibition and a digital archive, This is Evidence.

Long hours, low wages

Each year, thousands of young South Asian men arrive in Greece, Europe’s frontier, often driven by poverty, climate change, political unrest, or ethnic or religious violence in their home countries. Undocumented and hence “illegal,” they end up in Greece’s agrarian and urban informal economy as flexible workers. Despite 90 per cent of Greek agriculture being dependent on migrant labour, they are paid low wages, face wage theft and are forced to work long hours without breaks.

A screenshot from a WhatsApp group
A screenshot of one of the WhatsApp groups, ‘Migrant Workers Welfare Collective’ (the names of participants are pseudonyms). (This is Evidence), Author provided

Since 2017, I have been conducting research with many of these men to study how their “illegality” and restrictive immigration policies shape labour outcomes and the men’s masculine aspirations.

The process behind the exhibition emerged organically as the men used WhatsApp to send me images of their lives. I suggested the use of Photovoice so they could share their lives with a wider audience.

Photovoice is a participant-oriented visual research strategy used to collaborate with socio-economically and politically marginalized populations.

Participants take images of what they consider important and not what researchers wish to highlight. The photos are accompanied by texts that emerge through conversations among Photovoice participants. These narratives are often used to advocate for policy changes.

The unique insider perspective provided by Photovoice makes it highly valuable for cultural mediation and self-representation.

Sharing their thoughts

Three groups of Bangladeshi men employed in the strawberry agribusiness, and one group of Pakistani men engaged in the informal economy in Athens, formed separate WhatsApp groups, including me in each. The groups were active from mid-2018 to late-2021.

They used their phones to take photos, to record video and voice messages about the precarity of life as migrant workers. They also spoke of workplace injuries, sub-standard housing and worker activism for free access to COVID-19 vaccines. The ubiquity of cell phones made it easy to do without drawing attention to themselves.

Through this project, the men were able to communicate with each other and myself using WhatsApp groups as forums for discussion. So their worries about being detained from gathering in one place, combined with unpredictable work hours, did not stop them from being able to document their experiences. This resulted in greater dialogue and collective decision-making.

The rules were simple: permission had to be granted from those photographed and all shared images implied fair use for exhibitions and other methods of awareness-generation

A man takes a photo of another man on his cellphone
Participants in the project shared photos and stories via WhatsApp. (This is Evidence), Author provided

This is Evidence

Their work resulted in a multi-media exhibition I helped curate. We worked together to select images, videos, soundscapes and plan a replica of migrant shacks from Manolada.

The exhibition, This is Evidence, was thematic, addressing border crossings, backbreaking labour, COVID-19 and activism. Quotes were selected from their voice messages and interviews.

The exhibition premiered in early April 2022 at Technopolis City of Athens. It will move on to Canada to venues such as Kingston, Ont., Toronto and Waterloo, Ont.

While this project engages with a small set of migrant South Asian men in Greece, the visual articulation of their migrant experience resonates with other migrant workers across the world — including those employed under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program in agrarian communities across Canada.

Men sit in a circle, cross-legged
Men come together to destress by singing Sufi songs. (This Is Evidence), Author provided

This project challenges the stereotypes of migrant men, often vilified because of their gender identity, race and religion. It also serves to empower by allowing the experiences of “disposable” migrant agricultural workers in Greece to reach a wider audience through multi-city exhibitions and the digital archive.

The men recognize that when it comes to being heard by ordinary people, policy and changemakers, many avenues are closed to them. This is Evidence serves as an accessible mode of communication. By disrupting their “othering,” the men seek to give voice and power back to racialized migrant workers. For them, this project is a political act of resistance.

“We participate to get our voice heard. We want change in the way people view us and our plight.”The Conversation

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Reena Kukreja, Assistant Professor, Global Development Studies, 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.

Provincial funding supports early career researchers

Four Queen’s researchers receive $100,000 each to build new research programs.

The Government of Ontario recently announced the results for the sixteenth round of its Early Researcher Awards (ERA), which provide early-career scholars across the province with funding to build research teams. Four Queen’s researchers received $100,000 each to structure programs that will investigate topics in machine learning, agriculture, astroparticle physics, and natural products.

“Support for researchers in the early stages of their careers is critical for building strong research teams," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "Thanks to programs such as the ERA, our researchers have the tools they need to further explore research questions important to Ontarians."

Tracking cancer metastasis

Amber Simpson
Amber Simpson

Amber Simpson, Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Computing and Informatics and associate professor in the School of Computing and Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, will apply state-of-the art artificial intelligence techniques to analyze 400,000 CT scans aiming to map cancer progression and facilitate metastatic spread predictions.

“Better understanding cancer progression is the first step toward developing targeted approaches to interrupt this devastating stage of the disease,” says Simpson, who is also the director of the Queen’s Centre for Health Innovation. As cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Ontario, this program is key to optimize treatment pathways and improve patient outcomes, reducing both the human death toll and the financial burden on the health care system.

Protecting agriculture

Jacqueline Monaghan
Jacqueline Monaghan

The health of Ontario crops is the focus for Jacqueline Monaghan, Canada Research Chair in Plant Immunology and assistant professor in the Department of Biology. “Microbial diseases and pests place major constraints on agriculture and have significant economic and social impacts,” she explains.

While farmers tend to battle crop diseases with pesticides, there might be environmental-friendlier solutions, like genetically engineering crops that are resistant to disease. Monaghan’s team will investigate plant immunology in species that are particularly relevant for Ontario’s agriculture, like soybeans.

 

 

Natural products to treat disease

Avena Ross
Avena Ross

Avena Ross, Queen’s National Scholar in Chemical Biology and Medicinal Chemistry and associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, is interested in the therapeutic potential of molecules produced by marine bacteria. “Natural products, that is, chemical compounds or substances produced by a living organism, have long been an excellent source of drug leads, however, their discovery has been hampered by their limited production under laboratory bacterial cultivation conditions,” says Ross.

Ross’ team will develop laboratory cultivation conditions to mimic the native habitat of Pseudoalteromonas, a family of marine bacteria. Their program could lead to the discovery of new molecules to treat bacterial infections, addressing the global challenge of antibiotic resistance, as well as establishing a platform to advance the broader field of bioactive natural product discovery for drug development.

Unveiling the mysteries of the universe

Aaron Vincent
Aaron Vincent

Understanding the nature and properties of dark matter – the mysterious matter that forms 85 per cent of the Universe – is the goal of Aaron Vincent, assistant professor in the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy and member of the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute.

“While significant experimental efforts are underway to detect dark matter in underground experiments, the first hints of its nature may come to us from astronomical observations of a billion stars by the Gaia satellite,” Vincent explains. His team will perform theoretical calculations of the small but measurable effects of dark matter on the Sun and other Sun-like stars, in the hope of discovering dark matter’s true nature.

For more information on the Early Researcher Awards, visit the website.

Diamond mines in the Northwest Territories are not a girl’s best friend

While marketing has made diamond rings a symbol of heteronormative happy endings, women from the Northwest Territories tell a different story about their experiences with the diamond mines.

 

Two cut diamonds displayed on grey sand.
Canada’s diamond industry lauds itself as an ethical alternative to diamonds from elsewhere, but these gems are mined on Dene land and, in restructuring the lands and livelihoods of northern communities, the diamond industry brings with it a new, and newly gendered, colonial violence. (Unsplash/Bas van den Eijkhof)

Almost three years ago, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) released its final report and among its findings, the report identified resource extraction as a site of gender violence.

The Conversation logoThe relationship between extraction and gender violence has been observed in extractive sites around the globe. And in Canada, this gender violence is shaped by extraction and settler colonial dispossession of Indigenous lands and livelihoods.

What is it about extractive projects that creates the conditions for gender violence?

In Refracted Economies: Diamond Mining and Social Reproduction in the North, I analyze the gender impact of Canadian diamond mines. As a settler researcher who grew up in southern Canada, I partnered with the Native Women’s Association of the Northwest Territories and spoke with Dene, Métis, Inuit and non-Indigenous northern women about their experiences with the mines.

In Canada, the first diamond mine opened in the Northwest Territories on Dene land in 1998. Since then, three other diamond mines have opened there, and Canada has become the third largest diamond producer in the world.

The Canadian diamond industry was established amid international concerns around conflict — or blood — diamonds. Canada’s diamond industry lauds itself as an ethical alternative to diamonds from elsewhere, but these gems are mined on Dene land and, in restructuring the lands and livelihoods of northern communities, the diamond industry brings with it a new, and newly gendered, colonial violence.

A pillar of settler development

Resource extraction has long been a pillar of settler development in northern Canada.

Regionally, diamond mines were established on the heels of the longstanding gold industry, and they have reproduced some dynamics of past settler extractive projects. But the diamond mines have also brought with them new characteristics with unique gender impacts.

Unlike mining towns that sprouted up throughout the north in the 20th century, diamond mines are organized through a fly-in/fly-out (FIFO) structure. This means that workers fly in for prolonged mining shifts, and fly out for their time off.

FIFO, or DIDO (drive-in/drive-out), has become the preferred extractive model in Canada and elsewhere. By making long-distance commutes part of everyday operations, the FIFO/DIDO model is an intensified expression of the home/work divide, where home is gendered as feminine space and work as masculine space.

For many women workers I spoke to, the separation of work from home meant that work in the diamond mines was not accessible. This was because workers live away from home for extended periods of time, and weren’t able to care for kin and community.

This “caring divide” exacerbates existing tendencies for hypermasculine mining cultures, or what the MMIWG report calls “man camps.”

Women who had worked at the diamond mines shared stories of intense visibility. These experiences ranged from a general feeling of greater scrutiny from other workers, to overt sexual harassment. While the women I interviewed held a variety of positions at the camps, it was women who worked in housekeeping and positions at a lower pay scale with higher degrees of precarity who described the most explicit and pervasive experiences with gendered discrimination and violence.

Heavy care burdens

The FIFO structure has led to intensified pressure on people, usually women, at home. While mine workers and their families spoke about the financial benefits of mine employment, many female spouses likened the experience of having a spouse at camp to single parenting.

One Dene woman I interviewed said:

“I feel like I live in a community where families are fragmented on purpose. We choose to remove half of the caregivers half of the time. How can this not have a significant impact on raising a family or being in a marriage?”

These heavy care burdens are coupled with new financial inequality within households, with mine workers often bringing in significantly higher wages than other family members.

The women I spoke with shared concerns that inequalities in both caring labours and finances were shaping conditions for interpersonal violence, and making it more difficult for women to leave violent situations.

When women shared their stories of the diamond mines, they did not express the impact as an isolated or unique phenomenon. Instead, I heard stories that wove the experiences of the diamond mines into ongoing processes of settler colonialism, including the intergenerational trauma of residential schools.

Diamonds carry with them heavy imagery of romance and commitment, symbolizing a love that is, as diamond company De Beers puts it, “forever.”

However, while a century of marketing has made diamond rings a symbol of heteronormative happy endings, when I spoke with northern women about their experience with the diamond mines, I heard a different story.

As one research participant said, “Diamonds are said to be a girl’s best friend. I’m not sure which girls they are because it’s certainly not anyone in here.”The Conversation

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Rebecca Hall, Assistant Professor, Global Development Studies, 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.

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