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Math Quest: A winning formula

[Math Quest]
Camp organizers Siobhain Broekhoven, Carly Rozins and Natalie Corneau are eager for this year's program to begin. (University Communications)












Those who don’t typically associate mathematics with fun and games have likely never attended Math Quest, an all-girls math camp sponsored by the Canadian Mathematical Society and the Queen’s University Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

Starting Monday, Math Quest, a four-day residential program, is where high-school aged young women interested in mathematics come together to learn new and exciting ways of applying mathematical skills.

“I think it’s important to try and reach those kids who enjoy math, or who could enjoy math and really want to be challenged, because I don’t think there’s really anything else like this out there,” says Carly Rozins, a PhD candidate studying evolutionary game theory and one of the camp’s organizers. “It’s an opportunity to meet like-minded girls as well.”

Based on the diversity of programming, Math Quest truly stands alone.

Participants will experience an Amazing Race across campus solving math clues and riddles at each location, program their own Lego robots, and even look at the mathematics of salsa dancing.

The activities are exciting and innovative, as the camp’s staff look for new ways to apply theoretical mathematics across the different branches of the discipline.

“It’s also activity-based, so they’ll have lots of hands-on activities and experiences – it’s all applications of math, so you can see how your classroom knowledge applies,” says Natalie Corneau, one of the camp’s instructors.

Participants have the chance to learn from graduate students, doctors, and “mathemagicians” from all different walks of mathematics – from game theorists, to algebraic experts.

While fostering a deeper love and appreciation for math, the program also serves as an introduction for many to the Queen’s and Kingston communities. This year, participants will take up a block of Leggett Hall, getting a taste of the Queen’s residence experience.

According to camp director Siobhain Broekhoven, it’s the connections and bonds created at camp that make it such a special place to be, and it all starts with a love of mathematics.

“We ask the applicants why they want to come to Math Quest and the top reason is ‘I really love math and I want to know more’. We have girls coming from BC, one from the Sunshine Coast – you can’t come from much farther than that in the country,” she says. “I remember last year, when we were finishing up the camp, we asked if there was anybody who wanted to share their e-mail who wanted to stay in touch with each other – and every single girl did.”

The love of math that each and every instructor and organizer at the camp has is infectious, and the relationships fostered are seamlessly facilitated through engaging mathematical quests.

Math Quest promises to be an exciting opportunity for those who love working with numbers, equations and formulas.

It all adds up.

Stepping up the sexy

Research reveals our visual system is a “sensitive lie detector”.

What makes humans attractive to other humans?

Queen’s University Professor Nikolaus Troje (Psychology, Biology, School of Computing) believes that it is the consistency of the whole appearance rather than the attractiveness of the parts.

Nikolaus Troje uses point-light displays like this one to conduct his research.

“Most previous work on attractiveness focused on the effect of isolated features.” says Dr. Troje. “The current study demonstrates how important it is that these features fit together well.”

Participants were shown schematic point-light displays that depict a person using 15 moving dots. The representation conveyed both the individual characteristics of a person’s movements and their individual body shape.

Dr. Troje’s team isolated these two areas and separately measured the attractiveness of individual movement styles as well as individual body shapes based on ratings obtained from his research participants. The researchers then combined the movement style of one person with the body shapes of another person and collected attractiveness ratings from these “hybrid walkers.”

Based on this data, the researchers asked the question: Is the attractiveness of the isolated movement and the attractiveness of the isolated body shape sufficient to predict the attractiveness of the hybrid walker?

It is not; the hybrid walkers are deemed less attractive than predicted by the movement and the shape used to make them.

“We found that attractiveness depends on internal consistency – whether the movement and the shape match each other or not,” says Dr. Troje. “Our visual system is a sensitive lie detector that perceives even the slightest inconsistencies and responds negatively to them.”

The results call for re-examination of earlier research that looked at attractiveness in a piecemeal way.

“They can also be used to formulate advice to people who are working on improving their own appearance,” says Dr. Troje. “What works for one person may not work for another one. If in doubt, just be yourself.”

The research was published in Evolution and Human Behavior.

Sharing the beauty of math

[Kevser Aktas]
Kevser Aktas, a post-doctoral fellow in mathematics, believes that mathematical methods, games and applications can be used to develop creativity and artistic skills, as well as promote an active lifestyle of outdoor activity and sport. (University Communications)

Although her domain of number theory is among the more abstract reaches of maths, Kevser Aktas, a post-doctoral fellow at Queen’s University, has innovated ways of reaching out to show people “the beauty of mathematics” at the same time as mobilizing the problem-solving skills at the heart of that beauty for an astonishing variety of aims.

Dr. Aktas’ belief is that mathematical methods, games and applications can be used to develop creativity and artistic skills, as well as promote an active lifestyle of outdoor activity and sport. In March 2014 she set out to realize this ideal by working with the EU initiative Erasmus+ to host the first offering of “Mathematics for All!!!” This weeklong program in her native Turkey united people between the ages of 18 and 25 from Italy, Hungary, Latvia, Netherlands, Spain and UK.

It was a natural step for Dr. Aktas to work with the Erasmus+ Programme, which aims to boost skills and employability for EU youth, as well as modernising education, training, and youth work. During her master’s studies at Turkey’s Selcuk University, she worked as a mathematics teacher in an elementary school. In her PhD at Gazi University in the Turkish capital Ankara, her teaching expanded to undergraduate courses and she also began volunteering with a program for teachers in training who were blind or had visual impairment.

Dr. Aktas’ internationalizing ambitions brought her next to Queen’s University to work with the world-renowned number theorist Ram Murty. Since there’s no learning quite like teaching – in a second language, no less – Dr. Aktas quickly became the first post-doctoral researcher to present at the 3MT competition in March of this year.  Her talk, entitled “The Impact of Powerful Numbers,” was also the first number theoretical research subject to be presented at a 3MT event. The branch of number theory is sometimes called “The Queen of Mathematics” because of its foundational place in the discipline.

“An integer is called a powerful number if a prime number divides it, and then the square of that prime number also divides it,” explains Dr. Aktas. She and Dr. Murty actually made the discovery that pairs of consecutive powerful numbers were predicted by a kind of equation they dubbed the Brahmagupta-Pell Equation. “It is not easy to find all consecutive powerful number pairs, which makes them very special.”

Nor is it known whether there are an infinite or finite number of pairs. But it is worth searching for the answer because of their relationship with prime numbers, which are key to encryption, she says. “The prime factorization of very large integers is used in cryptography,” a practice only becoming more important as digital tech becomes ubiquitous.

“The idea of presenting at 3MT was attractive for me because sometimes when you go deep into your research, it is not easy to see the big picture,” says Dr. Aktas. “3MT gave me the opportunity to look at my research from that perspective.”

On the heels of 3MT, Dr. Aktas traveled to present her research at the Canadian Mathematical Society’s Summer Meeting at the University of Prince Edward Island, where she also showed the video of her 3MT presentation.

“Because most of the conference-goers were also coming from universities in Canada they were a little familiar with the competition, but none had participated,” she says. “They liked the concept so much. I believe that these activities are motivating for people who work on pure mathematics.”

Dr. Aktas has also taken advantage of other training activities arranged by School of Graduate Studies and the Office of Postdoctoral Training to improve her professional skills.

“I attended Career Week just three weeks after I arrived to Queen’s,” she recalls, “and I still use the tips from that training, including effective writing for CVs, resumes, and cover letters.”

She also enrolled in SGS 901: Teaching and Learning in Higher Education through the Centre for Teaching and Learning.

These activities have been opportunities for building a social community in Kingston, too.

“Kingston is a very nice place to live, with its history and natural beauty,” Dr. Aktas says. “I will never forget these experiences I’ve had here because of Queen’s.”

This article was first published on the website of the School of Graduate Studies.

Queen’s ‘station in the woods’ welcomes Chinese students

[BNU Delegation]
A delegation of faculty members from Beijing Normal University visited Queen’s and QUBS to discuss the developing partnership between the two institutions. (University Communications)

The Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS) welcomed almost a dozen Chinese students to its grounds north of Kingston last week for the 10th anniversary instalment of an innovative biology field course.

The 20 students – from Fudan, Tongji, Southwest and Beijing Normal Universities – join 11 undergraduates from Queen’s and other Ontario institutions to examine the impact of human development on aquatic environments and biodiversity. The field course, created in 2005 by Dr. Yuxiang Wang (Biology) and co-taught by Dr. Stephen Lougheed (Biology), is offered annually, alternating between QUBS and China.

“The field course brings together students from China and Canada to give them a unique experiential learning opportunity. They work hands-on as they learn about aquatic ecosystems and develop their research skills,” says Dr. Wang, a BNU alumnus. “It also exposes them to issues and challenges within a global ecological context and it is exciting to see students from Canada and China working together and learning from each other.”

A delegation of faculty members from BNU visited Queen’s and QUBS just prior to the beginning of the field course to discuss the developing partnership between the two institutions.

“I’m looking forward to our students learning here in Kingston and transferring that knowledge back to our students in China. There are opportunities to learn about things here that don’t exist in China, and vice-versa,” says Yanyun Zhang, director of BNU’s biological stations. “Queen’s has a station in the woods and we have a station on the coast, so this is a natural and complementary link.”

Hugh Horton, Associate Dean (International) in the Faculty of Arts and Science, says the faculty is committed to developing its international partnerships to provide international learning and research opportunities.

“Arts and Science, through this field course, is focused on getting more senior international students on our campus while also providing opportunities for our senior students to travel to China,” says Dr. Horton. “The program will also broaden our research impact as we continue to expand our international footprint.”

Students from BNU will stay at QUBS for the duration of their visit. In the summer of 2016, the “sister” field course will be offered in China for Canadian and Chinese students.

More information on the field course can be found here.

Parkway perilous for at-risk species

Queen’s research finds more than 16,000 wildlife deaths in a seven-month period on the 1000 Islands Parkway.

Researcher Ryan Danby and his former graduate student Lyn Garrah have found that a higher number of vertebrates are killed on the 1000 Islands Parkway compared to other roadways.

According to their research, more than 16,000 vertebrates are killed from April to October each year along a 37-kilometre stretch of the parkway, which extends from Gananoque east toward Brockville in Eastern Ontario and is home to three species of at-risk snakes and four species of endangered turtles. The wildlife killed include a wide variety of frogs, snakes, birds, mammals and turtles – some of which are classified as species at risk.

Lyn Garrah rode 37 kilometres three times a week to record roadkill on the 1000 Islands Parkway. She and Professor Ryan Danby are hoping their research can help save wildlife.

“I was surprised by the numbers,” Dr. Danby says. “We did a comparison with similar studies and found our numbers were higher than the average road. What we learned is roads are having a huge impact on wildlife, particularly endangered species in the Frontenac Arch. That is very concerning.”

One of the main reasons behind the large numbers of road kill is the 1000 Islands Parkway area is one of the main corridors for wildlife moving from Algonquin Park to the Adirondacks. The land surrounding the road is largely undeveloped and the nearby islands function like stepping stones for wildlife migration. All of that leads to an abundance of wildlife, and consequently, roadway fatalities.

“The analysis sheds light on several important things to consider when implementing strategies for reducing wildlife road mortality including under passages, fencing, signage and traffic calming measures,” Dr. Danby says. “We want to create eco passages to create safe places for wildlife, and documenting hot spots along the roadway and peak times for travel is important.”

The results from this study are now being used to guide a large study of road mortality along Highway 401. Dr. Danby is also involved in this study, which is happening in partnership with the Algonquin to Adirondacks Collaborative.

“There has to be a higher level of interest in this problem,” Ms. Garrah says. “We need local groups to speak to government officials and the government to take an interest in this. The missing piece of the puzzle is funding.”Ms. Garrah played a key role in compiling the four years of research data. In 2008 and 2009, Parks Canada provided staff to collect the data, but in 2010 and 2011, Ms. Garrah rode the entire 37 kilometres on her bike three times a week, recording the amount of road kill.  The result is the most comprehensive wildlife study of its kind.

Ms. Garrah said biking the course three times a week allowed her to get a better feel for the area and also a different perspective on the traffic in the area. “Biking also allowed me to see more of the small-bodied wildlife that died, easily identify hot spots, and also better understand the traffic patterns.”

The research was published in Environmental Management.

Cutting-edge research earns critical funding

Federal support for new infrastructure key to moving innovative projects forward.

Three Queen’s University researchers have earned funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation John R. Evans Leaders fund. The fund allows researchers to acquire infrastructure for their research teams to undertake cutting-edge research.

Alexander Braun (Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering) and Robert Colautti (Biology) each received $150,000) while Lindsay Fitzpatrick (Biomedical Engineering) accepted $125,000.

“Funding from the John R. Evans Leaders Fund is critical for advancing Queen’s research projects,” says Cynthia Fekken, Associate Vice-Principal (Research). “Infrastructure support will allow our researchers to continue to make an impact at both international and national levels.”

Dr. Braun is using the funding to acquire a superconducting gravimeter, a technology that will be used for monitoring fluid migration processes in oil, gas and water reservoirs. There are only 12 of these instruments deployed worldwide and by adding a second one in Canada, it increases the potential to monitor mass change in reservoirs to improve production efficiency as well as mitigating environmental hazards.

Dr. Colautti is examining ecological dominance of two of Canada’s most invasive weeds: purple loosestrife and garlic mustard. He is using new genome sequencing methods and globally distributed field research to determine how these species rapidly evolve to invade and proliferate in new environments. Understanding this will help manage the world’s biodiversity in the face of global change.

Dr. Fitzpatrick’s research combines biomedical engineering and innate immunology to understand how our immune cells recognize and respond to medical materials. Upon implantation, biomaterials elicit an inflammatory response that can interfere with the long-term performance of biomaterials and biomedical devices. Identifying the key signaling pathways immune cells use to interact with materials will enable the development of therapies for controlling this inflammatory response and improve the biocompatibility of engineered materials.

For more information on the funding, visit the website.

Queen’s distinguishes itself as one of the leading research-intensive institutions in Canada. The mission is to advance research excellence, leadership and innovation, as well as enhance Queen’s impact at a national and international level. Through undertaking leading-edge research, Queen’s is addressing many of the world’s greatest challenges, and developing innovative ideas and technological advances brought about by discoveries in a variety of disciplines.

Flags lowered for School of Computing professor

[Roger Browse]
Roger Browse

Flags on campus currently lowered in memory of Flora MacDonald will remain lowered for Roger Browse, a faculty member in the Queen’s School of Computing. Dr. Browse died on July 18 after a long illness.

Dr. Browse joined the Queen’s School of Computing (then the Department of Computing and Information Science) shortly after receiving his PhD from the University of British Columbia in 1982. He quickly established himself as a recognized expert in artificial intelligence, computer vision, and robotics.

In 1984, he founded the school’s cognitive science undergraduate program, believed to be the first such program in the world, combining computer science, psychology, philosophy, linguistics and neuroscience. Over the years, Dr. Browse remained the program’s main architect, passionate advocate and indefatigable promoter. He served as its co-ordinator, principal instructor and dedicated student advisor.

Service details are unavailable at this time.

Room dedicated to former Queen's English professor, war hero

  • [Whalley Room Dedication]
    Shelley King, head of the Department of English at Queen's, speaks during the dedication of the George Whalley Lounge as benefactors Harley Smyth and Carolyn McIntyre Smyth look on.
  • [Whalley Room Dedication]
    Benefactors Harley Smyth and Carolyn McIntyre Smyth unveil a plaque during the dedication of the George Whalley Lounge in Watson Hall.
  • [Whalley Room Dedication]
    Gordon Smith, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, left, and benefactors Carolyn McIntyre Smyth and Harley Smyth pose for a photo with members of George Whalley's family.
  • [Whalley Room Dedication]
    Adorning the walls of the George Whalley Lounge are a number of images, including maps of the battle of the German battleship Bismarck in which Dr. Whalley took part.
  • [Whalley Room Dedication]
    The George Whalley Lounge, Room 440 of Watson Hall, was dedicated on Friday, July 24, the opening day of conference highlighting the life and work of the former Queen's University professor.

A three-day conference recognizing the life and work of former Queen’s University professor George Whalley opened Friday, and included the dedication of the George Whalley Lounge in Watson Hall.

Attending the event was a number of faculty, staff and students as well as family members who traveled from as far away as England. Helping dedicate the new room were benefactors Harley Smyth and Carolyn McIntyre Smyth.

The Centenary Conference in Honour of the Birth of George Whalley is more than an academic conference and will address various facets of his life.

During his time at Queen's Dr. Whalley served two terms as head of the English Department and wrote multiple books of poetry and literary criticism but he also was a war hero who took part in the sinking of the Bismarck during the Second World War, an inventor of a naval navigation beacon and helped found the Kingston Symphony.


Queen's grad earns Gates Cambridge Scholarship

[Rebecca Love]
Rebecca Love (Artsci’12) will pursue a PhD in Medical Science at the University of Cambridge after receiving a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. (Supplied photo)

During her time at Queen’s University, Rebecca Love (Artsci’12) studied Kinesiology and Health Studies. She then spent two years working in health and education development in the Caribbean as a Pathy Family Foundation Fellow before continuing her Master’s studies at the University of Oxford.

Earlier this year, Ms. Love was awarded a prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship that will see her pursue a PhD in Medical Science at the University of Cambridge.

Created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the scholarships are awarded to outstanding applicants from countries outside the UK to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject available at the University of Cambridge.

Andrew Carroll: At Cambridge you will be researching “descriptive epidemiology of physical activity behaviour in children” as you pursue your PhD. Can you explain what drew you to this and why you feel this is an important area of study?

Rebecca Love: Interest in my PhD project grew out of experiences I had during my undergraduate degree at Queen’s and as a Pathy Family Fellow in the year following my graduation. Studying in the Kinesiology program at Queen’s stimulated my interest in public health and chronic disease prevention. Following my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate to receive a Pathy Family Community Leadership Fellowship to spend a year developing and implementing a health and education project focused on children in Trinidad & Tobago. This work later expanded to include other islands in the lower Caribbean. Working in partnership with a number of local organizations and governmental ministries greatly stimulated my interest in intervention and program development.

Growing evidence links physical inactivity with a wide range of chronic and life-threatening diseases. In many countries a decline in the physical activity levels of children has resulted in increased obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which is leading to increased disease and disability in adult populations and huge burdens on health care systems. Evidence indicates socioeconomic differences in morbidity and mortality from chronic disease are widening across populations.

I am fascinated by research that suggests behaviours formed in childhood and adolescence directly influence adult behaviour and health and by the opportunity to develop preventative programs that have the potential to change future health outcomes. My research at Cambridge will investigate how determinants of physical activity in children differ by social class and ethnicity with the aim of informing the future development of interventions that reduce inequalities in health and physical activity. With rapidly rising rates of chronic disease in populations globally and governments realising the long term advantages in investing more time and resources in preventative programs, it’s a really exciting time to be entering the field. 

AC: At Queen’s you studied Kinesiology and Health Studies. What did you gain from your time at the university? Any special memories of your time at Queen’s that has led you on your current path of study?

RL: Studying in the Kinesiology program at Queen’s was an unparalleled undergraduate learning experience. For me, being immersed in a program with small class sizes, supportive professors and regular opportunities to gain practical experience in the local Kingston community was extremely influential in shaping my academic and professional interests. Studying at Queen’s, surrounded by the Kingston community, provided opportunities to become engaged locally which added significantly to my university experience from both an academic and a social perspective. I have fond memories of working with fellow students to run Camp Outlook, a student-run charity providing youth from the Kingston area the opportunity to experience wilderness camping.

A big part of my undergraduate experience was also the opportunity to play varsity water polo. Queen’s provides a unique and supportive environment to be a student-athlete. 

AC: In attaining this scholarship you are one of only 55 out of thousands of applicants. How do you feel about that? Is there a pressure that comes along with that?

RL: I feel extremely privileged and honored to have been presented with the opportunity to study at Cambridge as a Gates Scholar. I think the scholarship offers a tremendous opportunity to work at the Centre for Diet and Physical Activity Research (CEDAR), a leading research group in shaping public health practice and policy. At the same time, I think it does come with a responsibility to work toward making a contribution to one’s field of study, and I’m happy to accept that challenge. I look forward to taking advantage of the wide range opportunities the University of Cambridge offers.

Aboriginal student guided by promise to great-grandmother

Many years ago, Darian Doblej (Artsci’18) made a life-changing promise to his great-grandmother, an elder in Whitesand First Nation in northern Ontario. He assured her that he would protect his younger sisters, who are now 13 and 15.

Darian Doblej (Artsci’18) comes to Queen's University from Whitesand First Nation in northern Ontario. (Supplied Photo)

Mr. Doblej, a political studies major at Queen’s, has taken that promise very seriously. He not only wants to protect them – he wants them to have a great future. He wants to make the world a better place.

“Among my peers on the reserve, I was the only one who graduated high school,” says Mr. Doblej, who identifies himself as northern Ojibwe turned urban Aboriginal. “While I managed to find support, opportunities were scarce. I want my sisters, and all the children at Whitesand, to have greater access to the support – in education and health care, particularly – that will help them achieve their full potential.”

Mr. Doblej works on keeping his word to his great-grandmother in many ways. He first came to Queen’s through the Aboriginal Access to Engineering Program, but soon realized he could be of more help to his community by studying policy. In addition to his political studies honours degree, he’s pursuing a Certificate in Business through Queens’ School of Business, and he volunteers at Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre.

But perhaps, most important for improving opportunities for Aboriginal youth at this time, is Mr. Doblej’s work on the Premier’s Council for Youth Opportunities. The group, recently on campus to help announce new provincial funding for youth mentorship, is made up of 25 members, including youth (ages 16-25), young professionals and leaders, appointed to advise Premier Kathleen Wynne and her cabinet on issues affecting youth and how to improve programs and services for youth.

“Ontario’s Youth Action Plan is especially great at addressing the needs of at-risk youth, and I’m really happy to be engaged in the broader process, of working with key actors and decision-makers in the province,” says Mr. Doblej, who is spending the summer working on Whitesand as a community liaison officer. “It’s shown me, too, that problems exist across many different backgrounds. Racialized youth and newcomer youth, to name a few, face similar challenges as Aboriginal youth, in terms of access to opportunities.”

Looking ahead, Mr. Doblej has many plans. He is thinking about running for chair of the Premier’s Council, or focusing his leadership activities on campus, running for the position of University Rector. Down the road, he wants to complete a Master of Public Administration. His ambitions don’t stop there – he’s also eyeing a Juris Doctor degree, and potentially, later, a PhD in legal studies or policy studies.

“The people on my reserve are my motivation and inspiration. Looking at them, and understanding what they’re capable of if they had the right tools is all I need to continue working hard,” says Mr. Doblej, who considers Premier Wynne a great mentor and role model.

“I want to help them, and part of helping them is creating the best possible opportunities, like access to education, health care, and other basic needs afforded to those who are not defined as ‘at-risk.’ I also want to make sure the cultural life, language and heritage of my community is protected, so they can be proud of who they are, and won’t have to fear how their identity affects them.”


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