Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Learn how Queen's is planning for our safe return to campus.

Arts and Science

Funding provides leading-edge technological resources to researchers

Ten researchers at Queen’s University receive funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation John R. Evans Leaders Fund.

Queen’s University has been awarded over $1.1 million in funding in the latest round of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF). The money will help fund nine projects at the university.

The John R. Evans Leaders Fund helps exceptional researchers at universities across the country conduct leading-edge research by giving them the tools and equipment they need to become leaders in their fields. The Government of Canada recently announced $77 million in funding for 332 research infrastructure projects at 50 universities across Canada.

The funding for Queen’s will help support research in a range of areas, including robotics, architecture and technology, energy conversion and storage, and ocular health.

"For almost 25 years, the CFI has helped create the conditions that allow researchers to accelerate discovery and innovation," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "I thank the CFI for their support, I congratulate the researchers on their success, and I look forward to watching their projects unfold."

The projects receiving funding are:

  • Cao Thang Dinh (Chemical Engineering) - Electrochemical CO2 Conversion to Fuels and Chemicals, $125,000
  • Matthew Reeve and Norman Vorano (Art History) – Mobarch: Mobile Laboratory for the Study of the Built Environment, $100,000
  • Dixia Fan (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) - Intelligent Water Flume, an AI/ML-Enhanced Fluid Experiment Platform for Exploration and Exploitation on Flow Physics, $125,000
  • Majid Pahlevani (Electrical and Computer Engineering) - Supercapacitors: The Future of Energy Storage, $125,000
  • Nahee Park (Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy) - Cosmic-Ray and Neutrino Detector Development for the Future, $165,000
  • Matthew Robertson (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) - Multi-Material Robotics Research (M2R2) Lab, $125,000
  • Nir Rotenberg (Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy) - Active Quantum Photonic Technology, $150,000
  • Sara Nabil (School of Computing) - Interactive Architecture and Smart Environments, $150,000
  • Jacob Rullo (Ophthalmology; Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) - 1,25 Hydroxyvitamin D3 Metabolism in the Eye: A Regulator of Normal Ocular Physiology and Pathological Disease, $100,000

For more information on the program and for a full list of funded projects, visit the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

Cities after COVID: Resiliency is about embracing the crisis as part of a new brand story

A picturesque image of the Kingston, Ont. waterfront at sunset. (Evi T/Unsplash)

Cities as we know them are under attack thanks to COVID-19. Their growth, sustainability and ability to attract investment, tourism and talent are extremely vulnerable during times of crisis. In the last 100 years, cities have seen an increase in crises, pandemics and economic pressures — but not all are hit equally.

The Conversation logoLarge global cities are much more insulated from economic change than small cities. Places relying on only one main industry are more vulnerable than diversified economies, and those with once-robust tourism and travel economies are often hit the hardest.

Place branding (how we picture places in our imagination and what makes places notable) is complex, much more complex than singer Jason Collett’s flippant lyrics “if you can tweet something brilliant, you’ve got a marketing plan.”

A place’s brand is its overall image that’s constantly in the making. Its brand is being established through every photo, comment, and tweet.

Place brand transformations can be documented in real-time, as seen through social media. Throughout the pandemic we can see that place brands have evolved and those likely to survive are the ones that were already well established to begin with or that continue to show differentiation in what they offer.

Branding evolves in times of crisis

During times of crisis, the predominate voice is often tipped too far one way or the other, and the sentiment the place brand message is hoping to convey can take a dramatic turn.

A snapshot in time (pre-COVID) of the Twitter feed for #ygk — a city hashtag for Kingston, Ont. — on May 29, 2019, highlights a balance of waterfront, parks and artistic events shared by both residents and visitors.

On the same day in 2020 and 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, the images shared primarily by residents contributed to a new place brand for the city that focuses on gardens, home offices, and take out. This place brand is not unique to #ygk.

The value of these new symbols and mental souvenirs may prove to have limited long-term value to the post-crisis Kingston brand due to the lack of differentiation.

3 screenshots from Twitter advanced search illustrating what people were sharing pre-pandemic, during and now
Twitter, #ygk search results, May 29, 2019, May 29, 2020 and May 29, 2021. (Screenshot/Twitter)

Off-limits in branding discourse

Economic crises and other categories such as crime, terror, political or natural disasters are considered off-limits in branding discourse. However, the motivation for place branding often depends on or is a built-in response to a crisis.

The Williamsville Neighbourhood Association in Kingston was born out of an anti-growth agenda, but the real neighbourhood place brand was most notably established during the 1998 city-wide ice storm that left many residents without power for several weeks.

In an interview, one local resident noted:

“We’ve seen key events that have brought people together that created more feelings of connection. One example is the 1998 ice storm. In our immediate neighborhood, and I would say a little bit further afield as well, people made connections as we all wandered the streets making sure neighbours had enough food and fuel to burn in the fireplace, seeing neighbours and helping out clearing the downed trees … there was a real sense of everybody helping each other to the point where, for the first few years after the ice storm we’d have a block party every summer to celebrate the coming of spring.”

Several other residents noted the “new, neighbourly feel” that attracted them to move to Williamsville post-ice storm. Without the ice storm, the neighbourhood may have continued to suffer as a run-down industrial place to get your car fixed instead of a vibrant, family-oriented place where potlucks became the norm.

Perceptions impact place brands

Place brands such as the romanticism of Paris or the innovation aura of Silicon Valley are slow to develop, but they show remarkable stability and elasticity with an ability to revert to pre-crisis perceptions.

But following a crisis, place brands are much more vulnerable to place brand substitutions — like going to Kelowna for wine tasting versus a trip to Spain — and fragile to stereotypes, made more prevalent through social media platforms.

Place brands, more so than the realities of places themselves, have often faltered due to negative stereotyping or brand imaging.

The Spanish Flu didn’t start in Spain, but became a place brand for Spain through media, leaving Spain’s brand image woven into a history of poor public health.

Negative perceptions are major economic obstacles for cities hoping to attract investment and promote tourism. This will perhaps be the same fate for the U.K. or India, both having COVID-19 variants attributed to them.

The recovery and resilience of cities, and in particular their brands, during major economic events are highly stratified and individualistic.

Jon Coaffee, urban geographer, helps us understand brand resiliency as “the ability to detect, prevent and, if necessary, handle disruptive challenges.” With that definition of resiliency in mind, local economies have proven that it is possible to be both vulnerable and resilient at the same time.

These complex situations present uncertainty where both unknowns and unpredictability are highly prevalent. Resiliency planning to ensure survival post-crisis relies on lived experience. The only way to overcome this uncertainty is to consider resiliency as performative, that is, city brands are always in the making and striving for sustainability rather than resilience.

The road to recovery is likely through relying on industries with better demand and lower operating costs or through increasing social cohesion such as what has been seen through the #BuyLocal movement over the last year.

Either way, the answer to place brands post-crisis will not be found through advertising. Resiliency will only be built through policy and embracing a place brand that is always in the making — embracing the crisis as part of a new brand story.


Lindsey Fair, Ph.D. Candidate, Urban Geography, 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, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

For the Record – Aug. 5, 2021

For the Record provides postings of appointment, committee, grant, award, and other notices set out by collective agreements and university policies and processes. It is the university’s primary vehicle for sharing this information with our community.

Submit For the Record information for posting to Gazette editor Andrew Carroll.

Selection Committee appointed for Head, Department of Gender Studies

Dr. Elaine Power’s term as Head of the Department of Gender Studies is scheduled to end on Dec. 30, 2021. Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) has appointed a Selection Committee to advise him on the appointment of the next department head. The Selection Committee has the following membership: 

Committee Members

  • Grace Adeniyi-Ogunyankin, Assistant Professor, Gender Studies
  • Melissa Houghtaling, Assistant Professor, Gender Studies
  • Margaret Little, Professor, Gender Studies
  • Katherine McKittrick, Professor, Gender Studies
  • Trish Salah, Associate Professor, Gender Studies
  • Marcus Taylor, Cognate Faculty, Associate Professor, Global Development Studies
  • Denita Arthurs, Department Manager and Graduate Program Administrator, Gender Studies
  • Sarah Smith, Graduate Student, Gender Studies
  • Charlie Atkinson, Undergraduate Student, Gender Studies
  • Chris DeLuca, Associate Dean (School of Graduate Studies)
  • Barbara Crow (Chair), Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science
  • Danielle Gugler (Secretary), Faculty of Arts and Science

Pursuant to Articles 41.3 and 41.3.6 of the Collective Agreement between Queen’s University Faculty Association and Queen’s University at Kingston, comments on the present state and future prospects of the Department of Gender Studies can be submitted by Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. Names of possible candidates for the headship may also be submitted. Please send all comments, in confidence, to the attention of Danielle Gugler [danielle.gugler@queensu.ca]. All letters will be reviewed by the Selection Committee and will become part of the record of decision-making.

At the request of either the department members or the committee, a meeting can be arranged between the department and the committee to ascertain the department’s views on the qualities of a head. Once a short list has been established, it will be distributed to members of the department for further input on the merits of the respective candidate(s).

New Hires – Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science

The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science welcomes the following new faculty members to Queen’s University:

  • Matthew Pan – Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Sept. 1, 2021
  • Ryan Grant – Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Oct. 1, 2021
  • Alexander Tait – Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Jan. 1, 2022

Don’t try to replace pets with robots – design them to be more like service animals

Robot pets can be useful, but won’t replace the love and companionship of a living animal. (Shutterstock)
Robot pets can be useful, but won’t replace the love and companionship of a living animal. (Shutterstock)

Robopets are artificially intelligent machines created to look like an animal (usually a cat or dog, but they can be any animal). There are numerous robopets on the market right now, being sold to consumers as “pets” or companions. There is an especially fervent effort being made to set caregivers’ minds at ease by buying these robopets for older adults to replace their deceased or surrendered companion animals.

Animal lovers will tell you they would rather have nothing than have a robot for a pet. While a robopet can be programmed to simulate the actions of a real animal, people know it is fake.

There should be a pivot from the companion-based marketing strategy for robopets — which has deep ethical issues associated with replacing emotional bonding between living beings — to address the needs currently being met by service animals.

In my research on the effects of the human-animal bond on human health, participants point out the reciprocal nature of their relationship with pets. The human showers the animal with love, yummy food, cuddles, scratches and pats, and the animal, in turn, responds with unconditional love. The vast majority also say that the non-human animals in their lives are family members, integral to their happiness and well-being.

It is condescending to present an adult with a robot and suggest that it will take the place of a loved one — whether that loved one is human or non-human.

New markets

However, there is a huge and, as of yet, untapped market for robopets and other social robots to perform the role of service robots. Let’s call them Serv-U-Bots. These personal service robots are different from those developed to replace humans in some manufacturing and service sectors.

Serv-U-Bots would be much like a robotpet — small, portable and intended for personal use — and would employ many of the technologies already built into social robots. These onboard sensors could include cameras for observation, microphones for audio recording, temperature sensors, communication technologies and even autonomous motion, moving around based on programming rather than human input.

Serv-U-Bots would be programmed to replace service animals, which are currently raised and trained to support human mobility and independence. However, this is an expensive endeavour.

Many organizations that provide service animals have breeding programs, training facilities and huge budgets that are subsidized by donors or get charged back to governments, insurers or families. The Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind graduates approximately 23 dogs per year from its training program, at an average operating cost of more than $74,300 per dog.

These dogs are not considered pets by the organizations that breed and train them. They are service dogs, trained to provide assistance. If their current placement ends due to death of the person they were helping or for other reasons, they are generally returned to the organization for another placement.

Robots as service animals

But what about replacing service dogs with Serv-U-Bots: social robots that are programmed to perform service related functions? We have the technological know-how to create Serv-U-Bots that can increase independence through programming that can provide an alert if the toast is burning, the kettle boiling, the doorbell ringing and so on. They could even take on the functions of medical alert dogs which can detect medical issues such as a seizure or low blood sugar, or alert the user to the presence of allergens.

Serv-U-Bots could even support older adults to continue to enjoy the companionship of animals by feeding them, checking that they have water and even cleaning the litter box.

If an automobile can be programmed to drive itself, avoiding obstacles and life forms, why not program a Serv-U-Bot to guide people around the city? They could also be programmed to facilitate actual interactions with living beings. This technology can save and enrich lives and help people to be mobile.

Serv-U-Bots would be able to support the independence and mobility needs of humans without exploiting non-human animals.The Conversation


L.F. Carver, Assistant Professor, 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, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Ontario invests in research and innovation

The Government of Ontario is providing $4.3 million in funding for four Queen’s research projects.

The Ontario government is funding Queen’s research to help support the development of homegrown ideas, products, and technologies. Four multidisciplinary Queen’s projects have received a total of $4.3 million in funding through two grant initiatives: the Ontario Research Fund and the Early Researcher Awards program. The funding will be used to cover research operations and infrastructure, ensuring Ontario’s researchers have access to the latest technologies, equipment, and talent.

"Ontario’s universities, including Queen’s, play a key role in advancing research that matters to Ontarians," says Betsy Donald, Associate Vice-Principal (Research). "Thanks to our Government partners, our researchers have the tools they need to further develop these important research questions."

Ontario Research Fund

Pascale Champagne (Civil and Chemical Engineering; Chemistry) and her colleagues have received $3.9 million in funding through Ontario Research Fund-Research Excellence (ORF-RE) for their project titled, "Integrated approaches to characterize, detect, and treat Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) in the aquatic environments of Ontario."

CECs are chemicals and other contaminants that are found in consumer products and waste streams and may pose hazards to human health and aquatic ecosystems. Nevertheless, these health and environmental impacts are poorly understood, and CECs remain largely unregulated in Ontario.

Through their project, Dr. Champagne and her team will investigate the origins, transport, and effect of three broad classes of CECs, namely microbial, nanoparticles, and industrial and agricultural products in key sub-systems of the water cycle, such as watershed recharge and runoff zones, recycling systems for agriculture and aquaculture, wastewater and drinking water systems, septic systems, and surface water ecosystems. The team will also work to develop new technologies for the detection and treatment of CECs in these key sub-systems.

This research will lead to the development and commercialization of sensor prototypes for rapid detection of pathogens, bacteria, and toxic biological products as well as treatment technologies for the removal of CECs. Tools created through the study will also innovate engineering consulting services to support investigation and remediation of CEC-contaminated sites in Ontario jurisdictions.

The project is supported by a large consortium of industry, policy researchers, and municipal government partners who are contributing a further $951,000 as well as substantial in-kind contributions that will increase project funding to $11.9 million. As end users, the consortium of key stakeholders will facilitate uptake of research outcomes into industrial and municipal processes to affect real-time change.

The project is an initiative of the Contaminants of Emerging Concern Research Excellence Network (CEC-REN) at Queen’s, an interdisciplinary initiative focused on the detection and treatment of emerging contaminants in the natural and built environment that pose environmental and human health risks.

Early Researcher Awards

Three Queen’s research projects have received Early Researcher Awards valued at $140,000 each:

Joseph Bramante (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy)

Project title: Neutron stars as thermal dark matter detectors

Description: Dark matter has a significant impact on stars and galaxies yet remains a mysterious entity. One of the primary goals of modern physics is to understand dark matter's interactions with visible particles like the proton and electron. Dr. Bramante and his team recently discovered that when dark matter falls into neutron stars, it heats them to infrared temperatures. Now, they are investigating how dark matter interacts with the superdense nuclear fluid in neutron stars. These findings will help transform neutron stars into world class dark matter detectors.

Robert Colautti (Biology)

Project title: Genetics of range expansion in ticks and tick-borne pathogens

Description: Global trade and anthropogenic changes to the environment can facilitate the spread of problematic species (e.g. weeds, pests, diseases). In Ontario, the deer tick (a.k.a. blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis) has rapidly risen in abundance, increasing risk of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Dr. Colautti and his team are developing a new database and field protocols to reconstruct the geographic spread of deer ticks in eastern Ontario and to identify ecological factors that impact pathogen prevalence. Study results will inform strategies to mitigate exposure to tick-borne pathogens, helping reduce future cases of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses in Ontario.

Jason Gallivan (Psychology)

Project title: Functional mapping and enhancement of brain network function through multi-site neurostimulation

Description: Deep brain stimulation (DBS) was introduced two decades ago as a revolutionary treatment for Parkinson’s disease (PD). Since then, it has been trialed for numerous other neurological illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease and depression. Despite its initial promise, DBS has failed, in all but a few cases, to improve patient outcomes, reflecting our poor understanding of how it operates and impacts the function of whole-brain networks. Dr. Gallivan and his team will use a multi-disciplinary approach to map how DBS changes the activity of whole-brain networks in vivo. Subsequently, these findings will be used to help improve DBS efficacy.

For more information on the Ontario Research Fund and Early Research Award, visit the website.

Donation from alumnus provides elite access to research regarding the future of democracy

Professor Jonathan Rose receives a donation of documents from Queen's alumnus Peter MacLeod
Queen’s alumnus Peter MacLeod (MA’02), founder and principal of MASS LBP, a company that conducts citizens’ assemblies, delivers materials that will make up the MASS LBP fonds d'archives on Democratic Innovation and Deliberation at Queen’s University to Jonathan Rose, Head of the Department of Political Studies. (Supplied Photo)

Thanks to a generous alumni donation, Queen’s University Archives is now the proud owner of the world’s largest collection of policy-making chronicles, opening the door for critical research by students on deliberation and the future of democracy.

The donation comes from Peter MacLeod (MA’02), founder and principal of MASS LBP, a company that conducts citizens’ assemblies. MASS LBP helps build bridges between government and citizens by creating ‘civic lotteries’ where citizens participate in providing direction to policy makers through deliberative exercises.

The donation will be known as MASS LBP fonds d'archives on Democratic Innovation and Deliberation at Queen’s University. Spanning almost 20 linear feet and data from more than 40 projects from citizen deliberations, the collection chronicles approximately 55,000 volunteer hours to policymaking in Canada. This collection is the largest of its type globally.

“Fifteen years ago, the governments of British Columbia and then Ontario launched the first citizens’ assemblies,” says MacLeod. “These have served as examples to the world of how citizens can be engaged more deeply in the work of government. Inspired by their example, more than 300 similar projects have occurred throughout the world since. The MASS LBP fonds d'archives on Democratic Innovation and Deliberation is the single largest repository of its kind, containing more than 40 civic lotteries and materials related to citizens’ assemblies and reference panels and we hope it will grow with time. It helps to put Queen’s amongst a small group of universities where critical research on deliberation and the future of democracy will occur.”

MacLeod delivered the donation of 13 years’ worth of data to Head of the Department of Political Studies Jonathan Rose (MA’89, PhD’93), and the Faculty of Arts and Science last week. Included in the donation are demographic data about participants, learning materials, invitation letters, and final reports. It represents the largest single source of these sorts of citizen engagement exercises in the world.

“It has been almost 20 years since I started my MA at Queen’s,” says MacLeod. “It is a delight to return to campus to make what I hope will be a helpful contribution to important research on deliberative democracy.”

Dr. Rose, who both instructed and supervised MacLeod, says the archives will be a boon to researchers who work in the area of citizen engagement.

“This donation is going to be a huge benefit to researchers, and I’m excited it’s being housed here at Queen’s,” he says.

Heather Home, Public Services/Private Records Archivist, will be working on processing the first accrual of materials and then Jeremy Heil, Digital and Private Records Archivist, will work on subsequent accruals, including digital records.

“Peter’s donation comprises approximately 7.5 linear metres of records,” says Ken Hernden, University Archivist and Associate University Librarian. “These unique records will not only be of great benefit to current students and researchers at Queen’s Faculty of Arts and Science and the Department of Political Studies, but also to diverse students and researchers from many disciplines over time due to the records’ enduring archival values. Several of our Queen’s graduate students will be engaging with this material immediately and we are grateful to have worked with Dr. Rose to bring this collection to Queen’s.”

The archives will be made accessible on the Queen’s University Archives database of finding aids, where students and researchers can find more than 3,000 unique research collections representing over 10 kilometres of textual records, 2 million photographs, tens of thousands of architectural plans and drawings, and thousands of sound recordings and moving images.

For more information visit the MASS LBP website and the Queen's University Archives website.

Rethinking our approach to tackling plastic waste

Researchers, manufacturers, and governments are working toward a new paradigm, where plastics will be made from recycled or biodegradable components. (Unsplash / Erik McLean)

What can genomics teach us about the breakdown of plastic? To answer this question, a multidisciplinary team of Queen’s researchers made up of Laurence Yang (Chemical Engineering), David Zechel (Chemistry), George diCenzo (Biology), and James McLellan (Chemical Engineering) have received a $7.9 million grant from Genome Canada for a new project exploring a microbial platform for breaking down and valorizing waste plastic, which can then be repurposed to produce recycled products.

Plastic is a widely used cheap and effective way to store and transport goods. However, its popularity, especially for single-use products, has made it a pervasive environmental contaminant. In Canada, 2.8 million tons of plastic wind up in landfills every year and an additional 29,000 tons leak into our environment and oceans. Waste plastic has devastating environmental impacts, one of which includes the death of 100,000 marine mammals annually, through ingestion or entanglement. Despite this, demand continues to grow and Canadian plastic production is increasing, with an additional 4.8 million tons being produced every year.

Traditional methods of curbing plastic pollution are underutilized and only nine per cent of plastic is currently recycled worldwide. Consequently, academics, manufacturers, and governments are working toward a new paradigm, where plastics will be made from recycled or biodegradable components, facilitating transition from a linear use to a circular use model and better enabling a zero-plastic waste future.

To help drive this paradigm shift, Dr. Yang, his colleagues, and their team consisting of multiple universities, industry and municipal partners are working on an economically-viable innovation that harnesses genomics technologies to recover value from waste plastic. Affiliated with the Contaminants of Emerging Concern - Research Excellence Network (CEC-REN) at Queen’s, this project will use metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, whole-genome sequencing, and functional genomics to identify and engineer bacteria and enzymes that can break down plastics into recyclable components or into valuable fine chemicals that can be used for other purposes. A secondary aim of this project involves investigating the impact of these newly-developed plastic biotechnologies on the environment, economy, and society as a whole.

“Our team of 21 investigators from six universities are developing a systems approach to tackling plastic waste: from genomes to new enzymatic processes, fully integrated with environmental, social, economic, and policy research to facilitate uptake,” says Dr. Yang, Principal Investigator on the project. “Our open science framework will allow us to rapidly share knowledge with diverse private and public sector partners, as we collectively innovate toward a zero-waste future where plastics benefit society without causing a negative impact on the environment.”

Plastic biotechnologies could help revolutionize Canadian plastic production and use. It has been estimated that diverting 90 per cent of our national waste plastic from landfills to recycling can reduce 1.8 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year in greenhouse gas emissions, save $500 million per year in costs, and create 42,000 jobs in new industries. Globally, a circular economy for plastics is projected to lead to billions of dollars in savings. An environmentally sustainable future may not be one that eliminates the use of plastics altogether, but rather one where plastics are deliberately chosen and circulated as resources, not discarded as waste.

The project funding was announced today as part of an investment of over $60 million from Genome Canada, provincial and federal partners, universities, and industry collaborators for eight large-scale applied research projects across Canada. The projects will harness genomics research and technologies for natural resources conservation, environmental protection, and sustainability. For more on the announcement, visit the website.

The project, titled Open Plastics, is affiliated with the Contaminants of Emerging Concern - Research Excellence Network at Queen's
The project, titled Open Plastics, is affiliated with the Contaminants of Emerging Concern - Research Excellence Network at Queen's.

Belief in touch as salvation was stronger than fear of contagion in the Italian Renaissance

A sculpture of two saints meeting and embracing embodies the importance of touch in Renaissance culture as a form of devotion and ultimately a way to access the divine. (Renaissance Polychrome Sculpture in Tuscany database), Author provided


In 1399, a crowd gathered in the Tuscan city of Pisa, even though people understood that a plague ravaging the area was contagious. Devotees travelled from town to town and carried a crucifix — a sculpture of Jesus on the cross — which the crowd longed to touch.

Authorities tried to ban the group but had to bow to public pressure. A witness exclaimed, “Blessed is he who can touch it!” Those who could not reach the sculpture pelted it with offerings, including candles, so that these objects could touch it by proxy.

That year, in the midst of a plague, often hundreds of people gathered and fought to touch and kiss crucifixes. The belief in touch as salvation was stronger than the fear of contagion.

As we are all too aware now, after over a year of social distancing due to COVID-19, touch was and is a much-desired privilege. In the Italian Renaissance, people longed to touch not only each other, but also religious sculptures — touch was a form of devotion.

Accessing the sacred

Statue bust of a woman's head and shoulders.
Sculpture of St. Anastasia with receptacle embedded in the chest that contains a relic of the saint. Made by the workshop of Matteo Civitale in the 1490s, housed in the Museo di Santa Maria Novella. (Renaissance Polychrome Sculpture in Tuscany database)

Renaissance Italy was home to Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians.

For Christians in the Renaissance, objects could be holy, and so touching them was a way to access the sacred. The cult of relics illustrates this. Relics are physical remains of a saint, either of the saint’s body (such as bones) or of something the saint touched.

These holy physical things are housed in reliquaries, containers to protect and display relics. In the Italian Renaissance, reliquaries took the form of naturalistic sculptures that seemed to bring the saint back to life.

Pilgrims travelled sometimes hundreds of miles on foot to reach these relics — and, for those who could afford it, buy a “contact relic,” which was made by submerging the relic in oil and then dipping a cloth into that oil. By touching that cloth, perhaps wearing it as a talisman, the believer was a part of a chain of physical contact that led to the divine.

Others touched reliquaries. A relic of St. Anastasia is embedded in a glass covered receptacle buried in the chest of a lively, blushing sculpture, so that the faithful could see it. The lucky few could reach forward and touch the jewel-like container, as the martyr would seem to look with heavily lidded eyes, almost bemused at this rather intimate gesture.

Sculptures with joints

Sculpture of Christ on the cross showing arm hinges.
Movable joints can be seen in this crucifix, which allowed devotees to take the figure of Christ down and embrace and kiss it. Sculpted by Donatello, c. 1408, housed in Santa Croce, Florence. (Renaissance Polychrome Sculpture in Tuscany database)

People also longed to touch sculptures that did not have relics, including life-sized crucifixes, which in the Renaissance were sculptures of a muscular Jesus, whose body is covered only by a small loincloth. Before Michelangelo, crucifixes were the public nudes in Renaissance cities. Many crucifixes hung high in churches, and Renaissance writers describe saints miraculously elevated, so that they could embrace and kiss the sculpted body of Christ.

Some sculptures have joints in the shoulders, so that at the annual commemoration of Christ’s death (on Good Friday) devotees could take part in a sacred drama, in which the figure of Christ was taken down from the cross and mourned, wrapped in a shroud and placed in a tomb.

During this re-enactment, a lucky few believers could embrace and kiss the sculpture and feel as if they had the ultimate privilege of touching Jesus’ body, reciting the prayer: “I, a sinner, am not worthy to touch you.”

In the home

A woman in a headcovering embraces a baby.
Sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus, originally kept in a home for private devotion. Made in c. 1400-1450 by Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi or Nanni di Banco, and currently housed in the Museo Bandini in Fiesole. (Renaissance Polychrome Sculpture database)

Wealthy families had sculptures that they could touch at home, such as small crucifixes, which often have feet worn down by repeated touch so that the toes are barely visible.

Young women getting married or becoming nuns were given painted wooden life-sized sculptures of baby Jesus or another infant saint, which they would tend as if they were real infants, dressing them in luxurious clothing.

Meditational handbooks told women to imagine that they were fondling baby Jesus.

Anyone who could afford it would have an image of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus in the bedroom. These sculptures place emphasis on touch, as Mary and Jesus’ limbs are gently intertwined.

But wealthy parents rarely touched their children – infants were sent away to live with a wetnurse until about the age of three, and handbooks on child rearing warned parents not to embrace their children when they returned home. So, in some cases, mothers may have touched sculptures of babies more than they touched their own children.

Interacting with sculptures

Though devotional touch was a privilege for the wealthy, practices of interacting with sculptures as if they were bodies of flesh and blood cut across social classes.

A pair of life-sized painted terracotta sculptures of the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph watched over a stone crib at Florence’s orphanage, the Ospedale degli Innocenti. Abandoned infants were placed temporarily in the care of these sculpted parents.

A woman in a simple red dress with hands folded in prayer next to a kneeling man.
Babies abandoned at Florence’s orphanage were placed in a stone crib between these statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. Made by Marco della Robbia in c. 1500, and now housed in the Museo degli Innocenti in Florence. (Renaissance Polychrome Sculpture in Tuscany database), Author provided

The figure of Mary was sculpted only with a simple red under dress, with no cloak or veil, and so was likely dressed in fabric clothing, probably donated by a local woman. Women would have also dressed and undressed this sculpture and others like it as an act of devotion, as it would be scandalous to have a man be so intimate with a sculpture of the Virgin Mary.

Sculpted bodies inhabited cities

Sculpted bodies inhabited Renaissance cities along with living people, filling Renaissance churches, watching over the streets and gracing the bedrooms of even moderately wealthy patricians.

In a society that was ambivalent about the proprieties of touching living flesh, touching sculpted bodies could offer comfort or even salvation.

Renaissance philosophers and clergymen argued that touch was sensual and earthy and that supposedly weak-minded women and children were more in need of such physical aids in their devotions than educated men.

But ultimately, touching art was a privilege, a way of touching the divine.The Conversation


Una Roman D'Elia, Professor, Art History and Art Conservation, 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, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Extreme heat waves are putting lakes and rivers in hot water this summer


Trout swim in water
River fish like trout swim close to the river surface as water temperatures rise. (Unsplash / John Werner)

Extreme heat waves have blanketed the Pacific Northwest, Siberia, Greece, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and other regions this summer, with temperatures approaching and exceeding 50 C.

As temperatures near outdoor survival thresholds, individuals who do not have easy access to air conditioning or cooling stations, or are unable to flee, may succumb to heat waves.

These climate extremes are becoming more frequent. But as tragic as they are to human health, they are only part of a larger climate catastrophe story — the wide-scale damage to the ecosystems that people depend upon, including agriculture, fisheries and freshwater.

Most wildlife cannot seek refuge from extreme heat. An estimated 1 billion marine animals may have perished during the heatwave this past June in the Pacific Northwest alone.

Fisheries in hot water

Many people may perceive lakes and rivers to be refuges from unprecedented heat, but freshwater systems are no less sensitive. Heat waves have killed thousands of fish in Alaska as temperatures exceeded the lethal limit for coldwater fishes.

This year’s hot and dry summer could collapse the salmon fishery in the Sacramento River in California. In British Columbia and Yukon, salmon numbers have declined by as much as 90 per cent and have led the federal government to shut down 60 per cent of the commercial and First Nations communal salmon fishery.

Coldwater fish, such as trout and salmon, are being squeezed out of their cool, well-oxygenated, deep-water habitat. As water contains less oxygen at higher water temperatures, this forces the fish to move into nearshore regions. While these shallower waters may be better oxygenated, they are even warmer and may exceed thermal tolerances of coldwater species.

By the same token, invasive fishes such as smallmouth bass are thriving in warmer temperatures and displacing native Canadian fishes like walleye and lake trout.

The dry bed of an evaporated pond in Arctic Canada.
Beach Ridge Pond, from Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, now completely evaporates in the summer because of accelerated climate warming. (MSV Douglas), Author provided

Water is on the move — too little and too much

The combination of a warming climate, drought and human activities, including irrigation for agriculture, can have drastic consequences for both the quality and quantity of our freshwater supply — ultimately leading to shortages of potable water.

By the end of the century, evaporation is projected to increase by 16 per cent globally. Lakes closer to the equator, which are already experiencing the highest evaporation rates, are expected to experience the greatest increase.

In regions with seasonal ice cover, evaporation rates can increase with warmer air temperatures and when ice cover is shorter or lost completely. This essentially “lifts the lid” on a lake during winter and could potentially lead to year-round evaporation, accelerating the rate at which water is lost. Salts and nutrients are concentrated in the remaining water, leading to further decline in water quality.

Potable water in countries with limited freshwater are seeing their supply dwindle even further, including the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Lake Chad in central Africa. Lake Poopó was once the second-largest lake in Bolivia with an area of 3,000 square kilometres, but dried up completely in 2015. Even in water-rich areas like the Arctic, shallow ponds, including some ponds formed when ice-rich permafrost thaws, are already drying out.

On the other hand, ice-dammed glacial lakes in both polar and alpine regions are sensitive to outburst floods as dams melt, potentially flooding downstream ecosystems and the communities that depend on them, including population-rich areas such as in the Himalayas and Andes. Climate change is a crisis multiplier and threatens to make water scarcity or flooding an impending reality for increasingly more people.

A lake near Parry Sound, Ont., covered in algal bloom.
An algal bloom in a lake near Parry Sound, Ont., located on the Canadian Shield. (Andrew Paterson/Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks), Author provided

Algal blooms on the rise

Warmer summers, coupled with intense storms that deliver large quantities of nutrients and pollutants in bursts, are creating the perfect conditions for earlier, more frequent and intense algal blooms. Harmful toxin-producing cyanobacteria (blue-green algae that frequently form floating surface blooms) can lead to mass mortality of fish and birds, as well as pose a serious health threat for cattle, pets, wildlife and humans.

In 2014, over half a million people could not use their water supply in Toledo, Ohio, because of a toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie. Lake Taihu, China, which supplies water to 40 million people often has blooms so large that they can be detected from space and leave millions of people in a drinking water supply crisis.

In Ontario, there are now reports of algal blooms in formerly pristine northern lakes occurring as late as November. Study after study now links warmer conditions and the associated lake changes as important contributing factors to toxic blooms.

Rapid change requires rapid responses

Climatic extremes are now occurring more frequently and with greater intensity than were predicted by even the most pessimistic climate models. We are already crossing ecosystem thresholds and tipping points that were not even projected to occur until the end of this century.

Climatic extremes will not appear gradually, but impacts will be felt quickly and often without warning, leaving little time for adaptation. We need to immediately develop and implement evidence-based climate adaptation plans, so that we are prepared for the inevitable emergencies already underway, including massive wildfires, coastal and local flooding, disruption of food supplies and freshwater shortages.

The apocalyptic future, once portrayed only in books and movies, is becoming our reality and the time for assessing our options is running out. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Human innovation and originality, coupled with a sense of urgency, are required to lessen future impacts.

Without mitigation efforts, we must prepare for the fallout of the developing climate catastrophe and protect our citizens and ecosystems.The Conversation


Sapna Sharma, Associate Professor and York University Research Chair in Global Change Biology, York University, Canada; Iestyn Woolway, Research Fellow, Climate Office, European Space Agency, and John P. Smol, Distinguished University Professor and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, Queen's University, Ontario

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, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Queen’s students awarded national scholarships

Eight doctoral students earn prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships for exceptional scholarly achievement and leadership skills.

Collage of Vanier scholars
Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship recipients (clockwise from top left): Ryan Kirkpatrick, Emmanuelle LeBlanc, Isabelle Grenier-Pleau, Shannon Clarke, Stephanie Woolridge, Saskia de Wildt, Maram Assi, and Hannah Hunter.

Eight Queen’s students have earned Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships, one of Canada’s most prestigious awards for doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. Jointly funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), these scholarships recognize individuals who have demonstrated exceptional scholarly achievement and leadership skills in a variety of fields. Scholars receive $50,000 per year for three years of study and research.

“We are honoured and excited to host this year’s Vanier recipients, scholars who have left their mark on their respective fields by ascending to new heights of academic excellence and leadership achievement,” says Fahim Quadir, Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “Queen’s is delighted to play its part in supporting our Vanier scholars by providing them with new opportunities to refine their research skills, advance their academic and professional goals, and engage with our vast network of researchers spanning the globe. I look forward to getting to know our scholars and learning of their plans to continue working towards the betterment of society during their time with us and beyond.”

This year’s recipients span numerous specialties and departments. They include:

CIHR-Funded Projects:

Emmanuelle LeBlanc (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) - Developing glycan-based antiviral prophylactics to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections

Ryan Kirkpatrick (Neuroscience) - Detecting eating disorder biomarkers in youth via video-based eye tracking

Stephanie Woolridge (Psychology) - Improving diagnostic accuracy in early psychosis: Differentiating the neuropsychological profiles of cannabis-induced and primary psychotic disorders in a 12-month follow-up study

NSERC-Funded Projects:

Isabelle Grenier-Pleau (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) - Investigating the role of extracellular vesicles in hematopoietic stem cell maintenance

Maram Assi (Computing) - Developing an intelligent bug fix recommender system

SSHRC-Funded Projects:

Saskia de Wildt (Environmental Studies) - Exploring polar bear research as ethical space, practice, and process of engagement

Shannon Clarke (Geography and Planning) - New spaces, new subjectivities: Caribbean women in Canada and Black diasporic productions of space

Hannah Hunter (Geography and Planning) - Listening to birds at the end of the world: A historical geography of bird sound recording and a sound art project for human-avian futures

For more information about the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship Program, visit the website.


Subscribe to RSS - Arts and Science