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Oil spills affecting fish population

New research reveals potential risks to Canada’s aquatic populations.

A mixture of bitumen and gasoline-like solvents known as dilbit that flows through Prairie pipelines can seriously harm fish populations, according to research out of Queen’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada.

Post-doctoral fellow Barry Madison works with the fish in Valerie Langlois' lab.

At toxic concentrations, effects of dilbit on exposed fish included deformities and clear signs of genetic and physiological stress at hatch, plus abnormal or uninflated swim bladders, an internal gas-filled organ that allows fish to control their buoyancy. Exposure to dilbit reduces their rate of survival by impairing their ability to feed and to avoid predators.

“This new study provides a clearer perspective on the potential risks to Canada’s aquatic resources of dilbit spills, and a technical basis for decisions on dilbit transportation within Canada,” says Peter Hodson (Environment Studies, Biology). “It reduces some of the uncertainty and unknowns about the hazards of dilbit.”

The research was funded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada's National Contaminants Advisory Group and the next stage will determine whether fish species native to Canada will be affected by dilbit exposure. The work also includes the development of genetic markers of exposure to dilbit and toxicity that could be used to assess whether wild fish that survive a spill are still affected.

The research team includes Dr. Valérie Langlois (Environmental Studies, Royal Military College of Canada) and Dr. Barry Madison (Royal Military College of Canada).

Dr. Hodson is also a member of a Queen’s research team tasked to determine whether dilbit spilled into rivers would contaminate bed sediments, specifically areas where fish such as salmon, trout, chars, whitefish and graylings spawn, to the extent that the survival of their embryos would be affected.

The research was published in ScienceDirect.

National recognition for computer science researcher

A Queen’s University researcher has received a top national award in the field of computer science.

[Ahmed Hassan]
Ahmed Hassan (Computing) recently received the Outstanding Young Computer Science Researcher Prize for 2014  from the Canadian Association of Computer Science. (University Communications)

Ahmed Hassan (Computing) is one of three recipients of the Outstanding Young Computer Science Researcher Prize for 2014 from the Canadian Association of Computer Science.

Dr. Hassan, the Canada Research Chair in Software Analytics and the NSERC/BlackBerry Industrial Research Chair in Software Engineering for Ultra Large Scale systems, leads the Software Analysis and Intelligence Lab (SAIL) at Queen’s.

The award recognizes that Dr. Hassan is a world leader in the area of Mining Software Repositories (MSR), an area of research that he helped found more than 10 years ago, as well as a leader in the area of Ultra Large Scale Software (ULSS) systems which refer to systems that are utilized by the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and wire­less networks.

“It’s nice to be recognized and it gives us confidence in what we’re doing, “he says. “That we’re on the right track and it gives us a push on what to follow up next.”

One of the highest cited software engineering researchers in Canada, Dr. Hassan has claimed a number of best paper awards and has secured a significant amount of funding at SAIL. However, he says, this is the first award recognizing the body of work at the lab.

Software analytics looks into the data being created by software developers with the aim of predicting and improving development, maintenance, and management of complex software systems.

“Whenever you buy something from Amazon, Amazon proposes other products to buy based on prior purchases. Well, imagine taking this basic idea and applying it throughout software development and operations,” Dr. Hassan explains. “Whenever developers change a piece of code, we can propose what other changes they need to do. Whenever an app crashes, we can automatically propose a fix by mining crashes and fixes of other apps. Whenever we are about to release, we can prioritize our testing by mining prior bugs.”

And while the award is definitely a big moment in his career, Dr. Hassan says that he is most proud of the number of SAIL researchers who have gone on to become faculty at universities internationally and across Canada.

“For me the thing I’m the most proud of is that over this time (SAIL has) produced nine people who are now faculty members around the world who are working in this area,” he says. “So I think the impact of the work is not just what’s happening at Queen’s but the impact of Queen’s across the world where there are currently nine faculty members – six of those in Canada – and that’s all in an area of research that didn’t even exist 10 years ago.”

Making waves with groundbreaking brain research

New research defies traditional theories about how the brain processes actions.

New research by Jason Gallivan and Randy Flanagan suggests that when deciding which of several possible actions to perform, the human brain plans multiple actions simultaneously prior to selecting one of them to execute.

The findings by the Department of Psychology and Centre for Neuroscience Studies researchers challenge traditional theories that say people first decide what to do before planning an action to execute that choice.

Jason Gallivan (l) and Randy Flanagan are exploring how the human brain works.

“Understanding how the brain initially represents and decides between competing targets for action under natural conditions is a fundamental question in the neuroscience of decision-making and action planning and control,” says Dr. Gallivan. “These findings could be critical for designing effective brain-machine interfaces that, for example, and might guide a robotic hand based on recorded neural activity.”

During the research, participants were presented with two rectangles on a vertical screen in front of them. After a brief viewing period, one of the rectangles was filled in and the participant had to reach out and contact it with a rectangular stamp held in their hand. The orientation of one of the potential targets was “ambiguous” in that it could be contacted by turning the palms of the hands up or down (supination or pronation, both would be successful), while the orientation of the other “unambiguous” potential target required either supination or pronation (one or the other, not both).

The research found that the wrist orientation participants selected when the ambiguous target was cued was strongly biased by the wrist orientation that the participant would have had to use if the other target been selected.

“This finding strongly suggests that motor plans (specifically wrist orientation) were prepared in advance; had participants planned the movement after the ambiguous target was cued, we would not expect any influence of the other target,” explains Dr. Gallivan.

The next stage in the research is understanding how and where these plans are formed in the brain and what regions are involved in selecting one plan over the other.

Dr. Gallivan and Dr. Flanagan’s research was published in Nature Communications.

Celebrating 70 years of field biology

  • [Jessie V. Deslauriers Centre for Biology]
    The new Jessie V. Deslauriers Centre for Biology at QUBS includes the Jack Hambleton Library, laboratory classrooms and a herbarium. (Photo by Greg Black)
  • [Principal Daniel Woolf and MPP Sophie Kiwala]
    Queen's Principal Daniel Woolf and MPP Sophie Kiwala attended the grand opening of the Jessie V. Deslauriers Centre for Biology at the Queen's University Biological Station. The new facility includes the Jack Hambleton Library. (Photo by Greg Black)
  • [Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre display]
    The open house featured displays by several groups including the Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre, which is the result of an agreement between QUBS and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. (Photo by Greg Black)
  • [Dragonfly]
    Open house attendees got an up-close look at some of the insects that inhabit the Lake Opinicon area. (Photo by Greg Black)

The Queen’s University Biological Station just turned 70 and it shows no signs of slowing down.

QUBS, which is located 50 km northeast of Kingston near the small community of Chaffey’s Lock, hosted its annual open house on June 28 where supporters marked the anniversary and celebrated the official opening of the new Jessie V. Deslauriers Centre for Biology. Ms. Deslaurier, Artsci’87, Artsci’91, gave a $1 million gift to support the construction of the research and teaching facility. The building includes a library named in honour of her father, noted journalist Jack Hambleton, four laboratory classrooms and a herbarium.

Also during the open house, guests could browse displays created by QUBS researchers and summer interns, as well as learn more about local diversity and various conservation initiatives.

As one of the premier scientific field stations in Canada, QUBS has supported thousands of students who have studied and explored the Lake Opinicon area. They’ve conducted research and participated in courses spanning ecology, evolution, conservation, geography and environmental science. Learn more about QUBS.

Master's student earns Women’s Health Scholars Award

A Queen’s University student has won an award for her research into women’s health. 

[Robyn Jackowich]
Robyn Jackowich, a master’s student in clinical psychology, has received an Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award. (Supplied Photo) 

Robyn Jackowich, a master’s student in clinical psychology, received an Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award for her research into better understanding the menstrual cycle’s impact on chronic vulvar pain in order to help decrease pain levels.

“I feel very honoured to have been selected for an Ontario Women’s Health Scholar Award,” Ms. Jackowich says. “With this support I will have the ability of focus on research dedicated to the important issue of women’s sexual health concerns, which I hope will contribute to the well-being of many women as well as future research efforts in this area. Sexuality is an integral part of health and quality of life, and it is exciting to see this recognized by prominent funding agencies.”

Provoked vestibulodynia (PVD), which affects 12 to 16 per cent of women, is characterized by severe burning pain at the vaginal entrance in response to any contact. It has a significant negative impact on psychological and sexual well-being. The findings from Ms. Jackowich’s research will have implications for the standardization of future PVD research as well as the clinical care of women with PVD.

PVD has also proven costly to the health-care system as women often are required to consult numerous medical providers before receiving a diagnosis, and a single curative treatment has yet to be identified. As there are no physical indicators of the presence of PVD, its causes remain unknown.

Overall, nine awards were handed out, totaling $230,000, with the aim of improving the health of women through research into such issues as stroke, eating disorders, autism, postpartum depression and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

“The Women’s Health Scholars Awards are a gateway to important breakthroughs in the understanding of women’s health that will benefit not just women here in Ontario, but all around the world,” says Max Blouw, President of Wilfrid Laurier University and Chair of the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), which administers the awards.

The 2015 recipients include post-doctoral, doctoral and master’s students from eight Ontario universities who will receive scholarships of $18,000 to $40,000 each plus grants of $1,000 to $5,000 to support the research.

The awards were established in 2001 through funding from Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Life sciences degree now offered online

[Kevin Vennesland]
 Kevin Vennesland will soon be completing an online Bachelor of Arts in history through Queen’s. This fall the university will, for the first time, be offering an online Bachelor of Science degree. (Supplied photo)

Queen’s Faculty of Arts and Science will begin offering its first online Bachelor of Science degree this fall – a three-year general BSc in Life Sciences.

“Queen’s has a long history of making education accessible to students who are studying at a distance, and we are delighted to be able to offer the university’s first fully online BSc degree in collaboration with the Faculty of Health Sciences,” says Brenda Ravenscroft, Associate Dean (Teaching and Learning) in the Faculty of Arts and Science.

Like the four other online bachelor degree programs offered by the Faculty of Arts and Science – including English, history, psychology, and global development studies – the new online degree is a three-year program. Students, however, can tailor their studies to accommodate their schedules and do not need to finish within three years. All of the Arts and Science online degrees are the equivalent of an on-campus degree.

Dr. Ravenscroft notes that Queen’s is an emerging leader in online learning and has a track record of delivering online courses of a very high quality. The Faculty of Arts and Science has been offering online courses in biology, anatomy and physiology for several years and, more recently, online courses have been developed in chemistry, physics and microbiology. This has enabled the faculty to meet curricular requirements for the life sciences degree through fully online studies.

“The extraordinary developments in educational technology have made it possible for science subjects to be studied online in a way simply not possible before,” says Dr. Ravenscroft. “Sophisticated online resources, such as multimedia simulations of biological processes, allow students to learn about the subjects in a very rich way. All online courses also include activities that encourage student interactions, thereby creating communities of science students.”

The flexibility of an online degree is an attractive option for many students, who for various reasons, can’t be on campus for their studies. This has been the case for Kevin Vennesland, who is close to completing an online Bachelor of Arts in history through Queen’s. Mr. Vennesland juggles his course load with the demands of a young family and several jobs.

“Going to school full-time and in-person just wasn’t practical for me,” says Mr. Vennesland, who lives in Vancouver. “It was important to me to complete my degree – as a testament to my belief in education, to further my career, and as an example I wanted to set for my kids. I was attracted to the Queen’s program for several reasons. The most important was reputation – Queen’s is well-respected, both among students and employers. I also wanted to study history, and after researching extensively, it was clear that Queen’s would deliver exceptional options in this field.”

More information on the online Life Sciences degree, as well as the four other online Bachelor of Arts programs, is available on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences website. Students can apply for the 2015 fall term beginning June 30.

Queen’s recently announced its success in the second round of the Ontario Online Initiative funding competition, which supports the development of online learning courses and modules at Ontario post-secondary institutions.

Lives Lived: Loss of an extraordinary geographer and friend

Robert Gilbert passed away on April 27 after a brave battle with cancer. We have lost an extraordinary geographer and friend.

[Professor Emeritus Robert Gilbert]
Robert Gilbert

Professor Gilbert was a highly productive, dedicated and creative scientist. He joined the Geography Department at Queen’s University in 1975 from the University of Alberta where he was a Postdoctoral Fellow.

He received his BA, MA and PhD degrees from the University of British Columbia in 1968, 1970 and 1972 respectively.

At Queen’s, his research focused on the processes that occur in lakes and the sea, especially on how sediments are delivered to, distributed through, and deposited in water bodies in the Great Lakes region, western Canada, the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Antarctica, Nepal and the southern United States. In 2004, he and a team of international researchers discovered an active underwater volcano off the coast of Antarctica that towered 700 metres above the ocean floor. Professor Gilbert led by example through his passion for research and a deep commitment to teaching at all levels.

Professor Gilbert taught undergraduate courses in Earth System Science, physical limnology and arctic and periglacial environments. At the graduate level he taught and supervised students in lacustrine and marine systems. Throughout his distinguished career, he has been a champion for the discipline.

 Dr. Gilbert established the Robert Gilbert Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Geography in 2007. The purpose of this award is to support young scholars in the field of Physical Geography/Earth System Science for a two-year postdoctoral experience.

These postdoctoral fellows work closely on research projects affiliated with a faculty member in the Department of Geography at Queen's. At the time the Fellowship was established Bob said, “it seemed like a useful thing to do in this department to enhance the research. There’s limited funding for post-docs in any field. There are always more people wanting to take up a post-doc than there are funds to support them.”

To date, the department has welcomed three Robert Gilbert Postdoctoral Fellows, with the fourth to start in July 2015.

Paul Treitz is Professor and Head of the Department of Geography  

Drama professor earns provincial arts award

Daniel David Moses is being recognized as one of Ontario’s key figures in Aboriginal arts and as an advocate for Aboriginal culture.

Daniel David Moses is the 2014 recipient of the Ontario Arts Council Aboriginal Arts Award. (Supplied Photo) 

The associate professor in the Department of Drama at Queen’s University recently received the Ontario Arts Council Aboriginal Arts Award for his work as a poet, playwright and essayist.

Mr. Moses, a Delaware who hails from the Six Nations of the Grand River, arrived at Queen’s in 2003 as a Queen’s National Scholar. Adding to the significance of the award, he says, is that the jury was composed of fellow Aboriginal artists from a broad spectrum of art forms.

“Often an artist spends their time in their room, working away just making things,” he says. “You don’t necessarily know if the audience is there, but this is evidence of it.”

Created in 2012, the $10,000 award celebrates the work of Aboriginal artists and arts leaders who have made significant contributions to the arts in Ontario.

Mr. Moses credits his time at Queen’s for helping him get to where he is today in an arts career that has spanned more than 30 years.

“It’s been a wonderful supportive time for me,” he says. “It’s allowed me to clearly think about the art forms I work in and find ways of communicating the ideas I have about them – poetry, plays and essays.”

In selecting him, the jury noted that Mr. Moses is: “one of the key figures of Aboriginal theatre, both artistically and academically, and is developing an essential Indigenous archive. He is committed to telling the stories that created this country and is an advocate for Aboriginal culture.”

Mr. Moses is also co-editor of An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English, a founding text for the study of Canadian Indigenous literature, the fourth and 20thanniversary edition of which was published in 2013.

Among his 13 published plays are Coyote City, a 1991 Governor General’s Literary Award nominee, The Indian Medicine Shows, the 1996 James Buller Memorial Award winner, and Almighty Voice and His Wife, which in January and February 2012 completed a national Canadian tour. His most recent poetry collections are River Range and A Small Essay on the Largeness of Light and Other Poems.

Queen’s awarded $14 million in research funding

A majority of the 79 NSERC grants span five years, facilitating more in-depth inquiries by Queen’s researchers.

Queen’s University researchers recently received more than $14 million in funding through a number of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) programs.

The funding for various individual and group projects and infrastructure will serve to advance research in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. A majority of the grants span five years, giving researchers flexibility to explore different avenues of research.

“Funding from NSERC and other partners is extremely important to our researchers and to Queen’s, which prides itself on being a first-class research institution,” says Dr. Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research). “The fact that so many of our faculty members, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from a wide range of faculties received these awards is a testament to the high quality of researchers we have on our campus.”

Fifty-nine researchers received a total of $11.6 million in NSERC Discovery Grants. More notably, Mark Chen (Physics) was awarded $1. 25 million to help complete and commission the SNO+ laboratory in Sudbury, Ontario.

Five Queen’s researchers earned Discovery Accelerator Supplements totaling $120,000 over three years. The list of recipients includes Juergen Dingel (School of Computing), Stephen Hughes (Physics), Scott Lamoureux (Geography), Steven Smith (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) and William Andrew Take (Civil Engineering). They research an interesting range of topics including embedded software, permafrost, nanomachines and the impact of climate change on soil slopes.

The NSERC announcement also includes funding for doctoral and post-doctoral students varying between two and three years. Fifteen students were awarded funding totalling $1.86 million in a wide range of disciplines including geography, biology, chemistry, computing, engineering and neuroscience.

For more information visit the website.

Flipped classroom 'liberating' for professor

In Brenda Ravenscroft’s “flipped classroom,” students worked communally in small clusters to analyze a difficult musical score. They discussed, made calculations, and worked together in order to understand the underlying organization of the piece.

“The flipped model challenges the traditional uses of classroom time,” says Dr. Ravenscroft, Professor in the School of Music as well as Associate Dean (Teaching and Learning) in the Faculty of Arts and Science. “The idea is to take the content transmission outside of class and use classroom time more effectively, as a space where students analyze and synthesize information, problem-solve, and make discoveries.”

In MUSC 446, students used interactive touchscreens in an Ellis Hall classroom to dissect complex musical scores.

That element of discovery is key, says Dr. Ravenscroft, who redesigned and taught her class, MUSC 446, this past year. In the flipped classroom, instructors move aside – using their role to facilitate learning through listening, prompting and asking guiding questions – so students can experience those “aha!” moments while sifting and comparing, and collaborating with others.

Instead of listening to lectures, class time is meant for going deeper into the work and dealing with any problems that may have arisen for students in their preparatory work of readings and online research.

To make this process of discovery work well in MUSC 446: Advanced Analysis, Dr. Ravenscroft purposefully chose complex music by a contemporary composer – the late Elliott Carter, an American. Dr. Ravenscroft is an expert in Mr. Carter’s music, but she chose pieces that she hadn’t explored – in fact, no one had looked at this music, she says, because it was so new.

“I wanted to be learning alongside the students. I didn’t want to have all the answers,” she says. “There is more risk involved with this approach for instructors, since we generally want to know the answers and have them ready, but I found it exciting, and liberating.”

•    •    •

Dr. Ravenscroft had been thinking of redesigning this class – a very technical course in which students examine the organizational structure of Carter’s work, focusing on pitch, rhythm and text setting – for many years. As associate dean of teaching and learning in Arts and Science, she’s had the opportunity to investigate many different teaching and learning practices, as well as to learn effective, evidence-based practices from other faculty members who are innovating in their classes. And after years of not teaching (because of her senior administrative duties), she was keen to apply the ideas she’d been exploring.

Student feedback on Dr. Ravenscroft’s MUSC 446

“Dr. Ravenscroft did a brilliant job of opening my mind to a new way of thinking. I am happy to say that no matter what industry/field I eventually choose my career in, what I've learned in this class will always be relevant to me.”

"I like the blended learning style in that it allowed more class time to work with our groups and ask questions instead of just being lectured at."

"The group work aspect was very interesting and well implemented — it really allowed for the learning to be student-oriented as we learned through actually doing the work."

“The teaching and learning research shows that students learn well in groups. That was certainly the case in my class,” Dr. Ravenscroft explains. “Students thrived. They were excited to come to class, and sometimes brought visitors to show them what we were doing. And the quality of the work they produced proved to me that this is an effective method. There was a greater depth of analytical insight than I’d seen in previous courses, and all of their final essays were very well written and researched.”

The course itself required a great deal of preparation, and Dr. Ravenscroft took care in creating a very thorough course website through Moodle that outlines week-to-week what is expected of students and what they’ll be learning. Also on that page are details on the numerous assessments (quizzes, assignments, in-class tests, and final essay), along with the course syllabus and ongoing messages from Dr. Ravenscroft. Students also completed peer evaluations at the mid- and end-points of the course – and many commented that this process gave them time to reflect on how they worked in their groups, and what they could improve.

The class was held in one of the Ellis Hall active learning classrooms, which gave students an interactive space for exploring in groups. They used the large touchscreens to engage with the musical scores – annotating with different-coloured pens and making notes in margins.

Dr. Ravenscroft also designed a “health break” into each three-hour class. Every week, one group would bring in a snack and orchestrate a movement session (YouTube videos on the touchscreens were very popular), with Dr. Ravenscroft starting things off the first week.

“I am not opposed to having fun in class,” says Dr. Ravenscroft. “The experience is definitely less formal, but it was enjoyable. And it’s well known that an inclusive and interactive class climate has a positive effect on learning.

“It enabled me to interact with students on a more human scale. Many things came up in conversation that wouldn’t have otherwise, such as using music theory after graduation. And it was clear that many of the skills the students were building in class – the group interactions, in particular – would transfer out of class, into playing with an orchestra but also beyond musical contexts, to any workplace environment where teamwork is important.”

•    •    •

Many Queen’s instructors are experimenting with the flipped classroom and other blended learning models. In the Faculty of Arts and Science, the Blended Learning Project includes 15 high-enrolment first- and second-year courses in a wide range of subjects. These courses all flip the structure to deliver content through online materials and focus class time on engaging students through active learning and group work.

“The results of the research we are doing for the project show this model is very effective,” says Dr. Ravenscroft. “Student engagement scores have increased significantly.”

Supports for teaching and learning

Dr. Ravenscroft gave a presentation about her experience with the flipped classroom at the recent Showcase of Teaching and Learning, an annual event that gives Queen’s educators the chance to share their innovative and new teaching practices.

“The flipped classroom is one of the active learning models that the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) helps promote and develop alongside Queen’s professors and instructors,” says Peter Wolf, Associate Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) and Director of the CTL. “At the CTL, we have educational developers and numerous resources available to guide professors through the process of redesigning a course and we encourage them to come to us with any ideas or questions.”



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