Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Arts and Science

Personalizing cancer treatment with 'big data'

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

David Skillicorn (School of Computing) has been awarded a Big Data, Big Impact Grant from the Cancer Institute of New South Wales and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Australia to help personalize cancer treatment for children.

The grant, in its second year, will support Dr. Skillicorn and 10 other researchers for work on their project entitled Generating Actionable Knowledge from Complex Genomic Data for Personalized Clinical Decisions. The project will involve a large scale analysis of detailed data about childhood cancer patients suffering mainly from leukemia.

The project will challenge the previously defined categories that are currently used to determine cancer treatment for the patient.

“After a cancer diagnosis and some tests, patients would typically be categorized based on the risk and variance of their disease,” says Dr. Skillicorn. “The category would then determine the treatment program. There were always a few patients who didn’t seem to fit their category; they would do well against the odds, or poorly when they shouldn’t have.”

Current technology, called “high-throughput devices,” collects tens of thousands of marker values for each patient. Patients are then clustered and their eventual treatment is based on their cluster. Dr. Skillicorn’s research could result in a redefinition of these clusters.

“Patients don’t form clusters,” says Dr. Skillicorn. “The disease almost always looks different from one patient to another. We believe there must be some bottleneck that causes the wide variety of patient configurations to appear as a much smaller set of disease categories.”

Student's online game soars to success

Flappy48 combines the popular games Flappy Bird and 2048.

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

The idea was “nothing special,” Queen’s computing student Dan Moran says of a video game he created that drew over 100,000 visitors to the website in the first few hours.

Flappy48 combines two popular games that can be played on mobile devices: 2048 and Flappy Bird. Flappy Bird was discontinued in February, but 2048 is still available for download.

“I often do these competitions called ‘game jams’ where people challenge themselves and others to create a game in short periods of time, say 24 or 48 hours. I figured I’d just quickly whip up this idea for Flappy Bird and 2048 blended together,” says Mr. Moran, Artsci’14. “One time I did a game jam and I was through the roof when my game got 1,000 views. When Flappy48 quickly broke 100,000views my head was spinning.”

Since the game went online Monday, Flappy48 has had more than 900,000 views. He has also produced a mobile version of the game that users can download for free through Google Play and the Amazon App store. Mr. Moran says the iOS version of the game should hit the Apple App Store in the next few days.

“When you see such a huge positive reaction to something you’ve made and something you’re passionate about doing, it’s just a great feeling,” says Mr. Moran. “I hope I can try and channel some of this buzz into my other projects so I can really get involved in the mobile game scene.”

Mr. Moran is graduating from the game development option of the School of Computing’s Software Design Program.

“The success of this game is a testament to Dan’s ingenuity and skill,” says Selim Akl, Director of the School of Computing. “It also illustrates the importance of logical and algorithmic thinking, creativity, and problem solving ability, all fundamental features of the excellent education Queen’s computing students receive."

Flappy48 is now available in the Google Play store.

For the love of science

By Hollie Knapp-Fisher, Communications Intern

In response to a sharp decline in the number of students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) five years ago, Associate Professor and Director of Queen’s Community Outreach Centre, Lynda Colgan brought Science Rendezvous to the Kingston community. This concept of a day-long celebration of STEM subjects, scientists and careers was the inspired by research chemist Dwayne Miller from the University of Toronto, and quickly became a national event.

Lynda Colgan is organizing the fourth annual Science Rendezvous.

“Through research we know that children engage with topics early on,” says Dr. Colgan. “The development of negative attitudes towards the sciences is well established by the eighth grade. These students have no idea what the sciences can do for them.”

With over 60 stations, 250 volunteers and an anticipated audience of more than 2,500 visitors, Science Rendezvous, Kingston is expected to continue to be one of the largest events of this type in Canada. 

“Informal education opportunities like these are crucial in exposing and stimulating children’s curiosity around the sciences.  Avenues such as museums, conservation areas and even the science channel are important ways for them to learn and discover,” Dr. Colgan adds.

This free event is open to children and their families in hopes of changing the public’s attitude towards STEM subjects. Students will have the opportunity to interact with scientists while they perform experiments or experiment with new technology. Stations will include a Chemistry Magic, surgical simulations, demos by KPF Canine unit, off-road Baja vehicle races, endangered species, green roofs, laser light shows and much more.

The Science Rendezvous is also beneficial to the STEM community. It allows researchers to engage with the public and share their work.

This event takes place on May 3 at the Rogers K-Rock Centre from 10am to 3pm. For more information check out their website http://educ.queensu.ca/coc/science-rendezvous.

Queen's professor unveils revolutionary foldable smartphone

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

Queen’s professor Roel Vertegaal and student Antonio Gomes have unveiled PaperFold, a ground-breaking smartphone technology.

The shape-changing, touch sensitive smartphone allows the user to open up to three thin-film electrophoretic displays to provide extra screen real estate when needed.

Displays are detachable so users can fold the device into a number of shapes that can range from an ultra-notebook, to a map and back to a smartphone shape.

“In PaperFold, each display tile can act independently or as part of a single system,” says Dr. Vertegaal, a professor in the School of Computing and Director of the Human Media Lab at Queen’s. “Advantages to this technology include better support for performing tasks that would usually have required multiple devices, like a phone and a tablet PC or ultra-notebook in one.”

The technology was released at the ACM CHI 2014 conference in Toronto – widely regarded as the most important conference on interaction techniques for new technologies.

PaperFold demonstrates how form could equal function in malleable mobile devices. 
                                                                                                            - Roel Vertegaal

PaperFold automatically recognizes its shape and changes its graphics to provide different functionality for each shape.

  • For example, a user could search for a building in New York City on Google Maps in three ways.
  • By flattening the three displays, the user changes can view a Google map across all displays.
  • Manipulating the device into a globe-like shape opens a 3D Google Earth view.
  • Folding the device into the shape of a 3D building on the map will pick up available 3D SketchUp models of buildings on that location and turn the device into an architectural model that can be printed in 3D.

Inspiration for PaperFold came from its namesake: paper. Typically, mobile devices require scrolling or zooming in order to see different parts of a document whereas paper can be folded, detached or combined allowing it to be accessed in multiple documents.

“The development of electronic paper computers that can adopt similar qualities to paper has been a research goal for our team,” says Dr. Vertegaal. “The PaperFold smartphone adopts the folding techniques that make paper so versatile, and employs them to change electronic views and display real estate on the fly. PaperFold demonstrates how form could equal function in malleable mobile devices.”

A video of PaperFold is available at the Human Media Lab's Youtube channel and high resolution photos of the new technology can be found on the Human Media Lab's website.

Graduating students fly the coop for international project

By Hollie Knapp-Fisher, Communications Intern

Hasina Daya and Gabrielle Armstrong anxiously await to hear if their proposal was accepted by the Pathy Family Foundation. 

With the end of their undergraduate careers in sight, Gabrielle Armstrong (Artsci’14) and Hasina Daya (Artsci’14) chose to follow their passion and commitment to international development. They came together to form Team Impact with the goal of creating a co-operative chicken farm in Piave, a small rural village in Kenya. Their proposal recently earned them the support of the Pathy Family Foundation (PFF) Community Leadership Fellowship to implement their project.

“We are going into this endeavor with an idea but not a plan,” says Ms. Armstrong. “Plans can be very rigid and often affect our ability to see what the real problem is. We want to listen to the needs of the people and adjust our plan to fit those needs.”

They will live in Kenya for 10 months and work on the “Co-operative coop,” that is being built with the intention of generating income and financial support for the local residents.

Queen's in the World

“We are both very excited to see the money being generated from this coop and our project put to community growth and development,” says Ms. Daya. “The money will be allocated in three ways. First, the money will be reinvested in to the farm, to support its growth and sustainability. Second, the local laborers will receive a stipend which will enable them with purchasing power. Lastly, the money will be used to support people living with HIV/AIDS and orphans and vulnerable children in Piave. We’re looking to break the cycle of poverty in a sustainable manner”

“No idea is too small to start change,” Ms. Armstrong adds. “In a rural village like Piave developing a chicken farm will significantly change their way of living. The community will have the opportunity to develop new skills and make money which gives them stability.”

Ms. Armstrong and Ms. Daya, graduates of the global development studies program, have a previous connection to Kenya. Ms. Armstrong travelled to the country last summer with the Reach Out to Humanity (ROTH), a non-governmental organization that works to improve the capacity of existing community groups in several different developing countries. Ms. Daya’s mother and brother were both born Kenya and witnessed the impact of international aid. Their professors have been a driving force in the development of this project, and they are grateful for the support they have received.

During their stay in Kenya, they will write a blog to keep friends, family and the university informed about developments with the project.

The program is funded by the Pathy Family Foundation, a private foundation that invests in leadership and education initiative, and administered by the Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC). Established in 2010, the program supports undergraduate and graduate students as they carry out an international project over an eight to 12-month period. More information about the PFF Community Leadership Program is available on the QUIC website.

Taking the thesis to the theatre

By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer

When I Get There written by Tracey Guptill and directed by Liam Karry

April 24-26, 7:30 pm, April 27, 2 pm (followed by a talk back event)

Modern Fuel (21 Queen St.) More info

For many, research is a solitary pursuit. That’s not the case for Tracey Guptill, a master’s student in the School of Environmental Studies.

Ms. Guptill (MES’14) is collaborating with more than 40 people -- many from the Queen’s community -- on a multidisciplinary theatre project that will serve as a chapter in her thesis. The result of more than a year’s worth of work is When I Get There, a one-act play that runs April 24-27 at Modern Fuel.

The play incorporates multimedia elements, dance and live music to tell the story of Cara, played by Ms. Guptill, a young woman struggling with the ineffectiveness of her activism as well as her own identity. A search to find her birth father evolves into a much deeper quest to discover and understand what she can and should do to address sustainability issues.

[Tracey Guptiss]Tracey Guptill (MES"14) is working on a multidisciplinary theatre project that will serve as a chapter in her thesis.


The Queen’s participants on the project came from a variety of backgrounds including English, education, sociology, drama and environmental studies.

“The project is so much richer because of their input. I was really impressed by the generosity of others,” says Ms. Guptill. “I also found that academics really enjoyed having a space to express themselves. One person who studies climate change said he felt more positive and hopeful about the environment after participating.”

Involved in theatre much of her life, Ms. Guptill knew she wanted to draw on that passion for her graduate project that examines public engagement related to sustainability.

“There is a lot of research around environmental and sustainability issues, but it needs to be disseminated to the broader public. I believe culture is important for moving this knowledge into the practical realm outside of academia,” she says.

Ms. Guptill began writing a draft of the play before coming to Queen’s in 2012 but set it aside in her first year to concentrate on her course work. In the fall term of her second year, she formed a “coLABoratoy” where Queen’s academics as well poets, dancers and actors came together twice weekly to discuss the themes, read over the script, perform theatre games, and create their own scenes. Ms. Guptill rewrote the script based on that “lab” work.

For the second phase of the project, the actors trained in physical theatre, devising ways of telling the story through movement and music in addition to dialogue. Jane Kirby, a Cultural Studies PhD student, serves as the choreographer for the production.

Ms. Guptill says she was careful to avoid a prescriptive approach when writing and staging the play.

“Through the various characters, I discuss the opportunities that are available to us now that allow us to make a difference. However, as a community of performers and theatre-goers, I hope we can come up with new ways. I truly believe art helps us imagine the possible.”

More details about When I Get There are available on the co-Lab-oratory website and Facebook page.

Planning school to join with Geography department

By Communications Staff

Principal Daniel Woolf and Provost Alan Harrison announced today that the School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP) will join with the Department of Geography in the Faculty of Arts and Science, allowing both academic units to benefit from synergies within their programs. The move, effective July 1, follows a recommendation from Senate in 2009 that SURP should be located within an academic faculty rather than the School of Graduate Studies, which is an administrative unit.

“For more than four decades SURP has prepared students for success in the diverse and interdisciplinary field of urban and regional planning,” says Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor. “The greater resources and enhanced linkages within the larger combined academic unit will create new opportunities to expand programs and encourage further collaboration.”

During a one-year transitional period, until June 2015, it will be business as usual and the school will maintain its hold harmless budgetary position within the faculty, ensuring it receives the same budget allocation as in previous years. David Gordon, Director of SURP, will report to Susan Mumm, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science.

The greater resources and enhanced linkages within the larger combined academic unit will create new opportunities to expand programs and encourage further collaboration.

- Principal Daniel Woolf

A task force, to be chaired by Bob Lemieux, Associate Dean in the Faculty of Arts and Science, will recommend a structure for the new academic unit.

“The task force will have representation from both units and will recommend an academic and governance structure to ensure the vibrant academic culture of these two units continues following the merger,” says Alan Harrison, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic). “The new unit will also receive a new name that reflects the identities of the two former units.”

A search committee for the head of the new unit will be struck in the fall, with a goal of having the head in place by July 1, 2015 when Paul Treitz’s term as head of the Department of Geography ends. Dr. Gordon’s term as director of SURP ends on Dec. 31, 2014, and an interim director will be named for the period from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2015.

“SURP already has many associations with the Department of Geography, including a number of cross-appointed faculty and an accelerated degree program,” says Dr. Gordon. “In many ways combining these two units is a natural fit, and will lead to further collaboration in academic programs as well as research.”

The School of Urban and Regional Planning’s rigorous, two-year Master of Urban and Regional Planning program helps students develop the knowledge and skills they require to become leaders in the planning profession and meet the challenges of a rapidly evolving urban environment. The program has been accredited by the Canadian Institute of Planners since it was founded in 1970. The Department of Geography offers outstanding undergraduate and graduate programs and in 2013 was ranked 41st globally in the QS World University Rankings by Subject.

Flags lowered for professor emeritus, former staff member

By Communications Staff

Flags on campus remain lowered for Professor Emeritus Norman Brown and former staff member Carmel Violette.

Professor Emeritus Norman Brown

Professor Brown joined Queen’s Department of Philosophy in 1965. He taught logic and classical and medieval philosophy until his retirement in 1987. Professor Brown was chair of Queen’s faculty board in the 1970s.

Professor Brown’s family will receive friends at the Robert J. Reid and Sons Funeral Home (309 Johnson St.) on Thursday, April 24, 5-8 pm. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at St. Mary’s Cathedral, (279 Johnson Street) on Friday, April 25, at 10 am. Reception will follow at Robert J. Reid and Sons. Rite of Committal with prayers will take place at 1 pm at St. Mary’s Cemetery (718 Division St.). The giving of flowers is not discouraged, but those who prefer to make a donation may do so to the Royal Canadian College of Organists.

Former staff member Carmel Violette

Mr. Violette retired from Queen’s in 2000. Mr. Violette’s family will receive friends at the Gordon F. Tompkins Funeral Home Centre Chapel (49 Colborne St.) on Wednesday, April 23, from 2-4 pm and 7- 9 pm. Mass of Christian Burial will take place in Our Mother of Sorrows Chapel at Providence Manor (275 Sydenham St.) on Thursday, April 24 at 11 am. Rite of Committal Prayers will occur at Glenhaven Memorial Gardens in Glenburnie. Those who wish can make an expression of sympathy memorial donation to the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation--Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario.

Fine Arts students share work at exhibition

By Hollie Knapp-Fisher, Communications Intern

The largest ever graduating class from the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program is hosting its 30th annual year-end exhibition. Where the Line is Drawn will feature 31 students in a number of different areas of the visual arts that the organizers hope will both impress and inspire.

“In their fourth year the students are in a supervised study where they are supported and guided by staff,” says BFA Program Director Kathleen Sellars. “This artistic freedom allows our students to demonstrate their diversity and broad range of interests. Paintings, sculptures and interactive installations will all be present at the exhibition.”

The exhibition allows Queen’s professors to offer their feedback to the students. And for the first time, professional artists from outside of the department -- Dan Hughes, Don Maynard and Milly Ristvedt --will critique the works. This opportunity allows students to get a different perspective on their work and adds to the experiential learning aspect of the entire event.

Otis Tamasauskas, a professor in the BFA program, says the works in the exhibition has the potential to appeal to people who dismiss art as something they don’t understand.

“This year, in particular, we have a wide variety of different pieces to experience, explore and discover,” says Professor Tamasauskas. “The BFA program at Queen’s is flourishing and the creative spirit of our students will allow for everyone to experience some of what the visual arts can offer.”

Hosting an exhibition of this magnitude required a lot of time and effort on behalf of the students. This year through fundraising efforts the class raised more than $10,000. This money goes towards hosting the event, printing and producing a catalog of the artists and their work as well as the beautiful closing reception.

“Fundraising and preparing for this has been a year-long process,” says Rachael Dodgson (Artsci’14), co-chair of the planning committee. “It has been a lot of work but I’m very excited to present my work alongside all the amazing people I have spent the last four years with.”

The exhibition in Ontario Hall will open April 21 and close on April 26. It will be open from 9 am until 4 pm daily, with tours provided. The closing reception on Saturday will be held between 7-10 pm. The free exhibition is open to the public.

National Scholars will enrich teaching and research

By Craig Leroux, Senior Communications Officer

An expert in chemical biology, an accomplished poet and scholar, and a promising historian will join Queen’s faculty as the first winners of the reinstated Queen’s National Scholar (QNS) program. Professors Avena Ross, Armand Ruffo, and Awet Weldemichael will take up their positions at Queen’s this summer.

“The exceptional faculty who teach, mentor and inspire our students are the foundation of the learning experience at Queen’s. The QNS program aims to bring emerging leaders to Queen’s in order to strengthen and renew that foundation,” says Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor. “Each of these remarkable individuals has demonstrated the capacity for innovative research and the potential to be transformative teachers, and I am delighted they have chosen to continue their careers at Queen’s.”

The appointments come after a competitive review process for QNS positions and a broad search for exceptional candidates. While only two QNS positions would normally be awarded in each annual competition cycle, the QNS advisory committee was impressed by the high quality of these submissions and felt that all three should be selected.

Avena Ross, Queen’s National Scholar in chemical biology and medicinal chemistry, is a promising researcher in the area of peptide biosynthesis. She received her PhD at the University of Alberta and comes to Queen’s from the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine at the University of California, San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Armand Garnet Ruffo, Queen’s National Scholar in Indigenous literatures and languages, is a poet, playwright, writer and scholar of international stature. Professor Ruffo is the author of an award winning poetry collection, a play and a feature film, as well as other works of creative non-fiction and scholarly publications in the area of Aboriginal cultures and literatures. He comes to Queen’s from Carleton University.

Awet Weldemichael, Queen’s National Scholar in African history, was born in the east African country of Eritrea and grew up in a Sudanese refugee camp. He received his PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles and is the author of the acclaimed book Third World Colonialism and Strategies of Liberation: Eritrea and East Timor Compared. He comes to Queen’s from the University of Kentucky.

The QNS program was first established in 1985, with the objective to “enrich teaching and research in newly developing fields of knowledge as well as traditional disciplines.” Since then, over 100 QNS appointments have been made in a wide variety of disciplines, and the appellation of Queen’s National Scholar has become synonymous with academic excellence. Recently reinstated, the program will fund 10 new QNS positions when fully implemented, providing each with $100,000 annually for five years.

In addition to these three winners from the first year of the program, four QNS proposals from the program’s second year have advanced to the second stage.

More about the Queen’s National Scholar program


Subscribe to RSS - Arts and Science