Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Arts and Science

The ethics of driverless cars

 By Andrew Stokes, Communications Officer

Jason Millar, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Philosophy, spends a lot of time thinking about driverless cars. Though you aren’t likely to be able to buy them for 10 years, he says there are a number of ethical problems that need to be tackled before they go mainstream.

“This isn’t an issue for the next generation, it’s happening right now. Driverless cars are on the road in certain jurisdictions as they’re being prepared for a mass market,” says Millar, whose dissertation focuses on robot ethics and the implications of increasingly autonomous machinery. “These cars promise safety benefits, but I’m interested in what happens to the cars in a difficult situation, one where lives are on the line.”

Illustration by Craig Berry.

To explore this problem he created a thought experiment, called the Tunnel Problem, which attracted hundreds of thousands of readers and commenters online. The Tunnel Problem reworks ethical philosophy’s Trolley Problem.

The setup is this: You are driving in an autonomous car along a narrow road, headed towards a one-lane tunnel when a child errantly runs on to the road and trips. The car cannot brake fast enough to avoid hitting the child and so it must decide whether to swerve off the road, effectively harming you, or remain driving straight, harming the child.

“This is a problem with only bad outcomes that even a human driver cannot easily solve,” says Mr. Millar. “What’s particularly useful about this situation is that it focuses our attention on a design question, as the car will be programmed to respond a certain way — I want to ask who should make the decision about the car’s response.”

After initially posting his article on Robohub.org, the site ran a poll to gauge readers’ responses and rationales as to who should render the judgement.

“A near majority responded that the passenger in the car should have the right to make the decision about whether to swerve or not, and only about 12 per cent suggested it should be up to the car’s designers,” he says. A full third of respondents said it should be left up to lawmakers and legislators to make the call.

“That so many people were willing to trust a life and death situation to politicians and lawmakers really surprised me,” Mr. Millar says. “Many of them said they wanted a standard behaviour so that people would know what to expect in that situation, while others simply wanted someone else to make the decision and take it off their hands.”

The Tunnel Problem is just one of a series of problems that Millar foresees being an issue with driverless cars. “There’s also the problem of who’s culpable when a car crashes. If we maintain current standards of product liability, then the fault will tend to lie with the manufacturer, but we may also shift to a system where we consider the robot at fault,” he says.

It’s a possibility, but Millar says the future of driverless cars is far from certain. “Holding the robot responsible may be less satisfying for those with a mind for punitive justice.”

Students meet with Premier and Kingston MPP

Queen’s students Liz Boag (second from left) and Taylor Jennings (third from left) met with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (left) and Kingston and the Islands MPP Sophie Kiwala at Queen’s Park on Aug. 13. The students stopped by to congratulate Premier Wynne (Artsci’77) on her recent election victory, and present her and MPP Kiwala with some Queen’s clothing. Ms. Boag (Artsci’15) is a member of the women’s basketball team, while Ms. Jennings (Artsci’15) is the president of the Queen’s Student Alumni Association. During their visit, the students chatted with Premier Wynne and MPP Kiwala about their experiences at Queen’s and in Kingston. 



Arts and Science departs for Dunning

By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer

A new academic year brings with it a new home for many students as well as the university’s largest faculty.

After several decades, the Faculty of Arts and Science office is moving from its current location in Mackintosh-Corry Hall to Dunning Hall.

Update your contacts as of Aug. 25:

Faculty of Arts and Science
Dunning Hall, Main Floor
94 University Avenue
Queen’s University
Kingston, Ontario
K7L 3N6

“The move to Dunning Hall is exciting for us for many reasons, but most importantly for the ability to serve students better,” says Susan Mumm, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science. “With both a better location and increased capacity, the new space will ensure that during peak times students will benefit from faster service and reduced queuing.”

With renovations of the space in Dunning Hall nearly complete, Arts and Science will set up shop between Aug. 18-22. Student Services will move early in the week, followed by Continuing and Distance Studies, and then finally the Dean’s Office near the end of the week.

With both a better location and increased capacity, the new space will ensure that during peak times students will benefit from faster service and reduced queuing.

Susan Mumm, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science

“Combining the three internal units of the faculty office -- the Dean’s Office, Students Services and Continuing and Distance Studies -- into one space will also help us to serve student needs more efficiently,” Dr. Mumm says. “Overall, this is a strategic move that helps us become more student focused.”

Service may be intermittent next week during the move. The faculty expects service to return to normal the week of Aug. 25.

While phone numbers and email address will remain the same, the new office address is:

Faculty of Arts and Science
Dunning Hall, Main Floor
94 University Avenue
Queen’s University
Kingston, Ontario
K7L 3N6

Students head to the woods for re-indigenization program

Bob Lovelace and Richard Day, professors in the Department of Global Development Studies, run Re-indigenizing People and Environments, an experiential learning course. (University Communications)

By Andrew Stokes, Communications Officer

For a week this August a group of students will live in the woods north of Kingston.

Re-indigenizing People and Environments, an experiential learning course in the Department of Global Development Studies, has a small group of students engage with Indigenous theory and practice while learning to forage for food, build shelter and understand their environment.

The course, now entering its second year, is taught by Bob Lovelace and Richard Day, professors in the Department of Global Development Studies. While students sleep every night in a structure they’ll build themselves, Mr. Lovelace’s house is nearby in the event of an emergency. Of course, they get some lessons in wilderness safety too.

“Our re-indigenization course encourages students to foster a knowledge of their surroundings, which is something that is often lost in modern society,” says Mr. Lovelace. “With this course we hope to foster greater reliance on oneself, one’s community and the land.”

Besides building shelter, students will learn the basics of hunting, trapping and sustainable approaches to agriculture. The lessons learnt by last year’s student cohort inspired them to bring the course back to Kingston. They created the Sydenham Street United Church Community Garden out of their desire to apply what they’d learnt about eco-friendly farming.

“We’re not preaching to the students that they should adopt a particular lifestyle,” says Mr. Lovelace, “but to explore the basics of an alternative way of living and to examine their personal values.”

Richard Day says the course is especially effective at imparting practical lessons alongside the theoretical.

“Critical thinking is essential to this course, not just in terms of the decisions the students have to make about food and shelter, but in the discussions we encourage about what it means to be a settler,” he says. “We hope it serves as a transformative learning experience and it’s great to see those who participated last year taking what they learnt and turning it into community involvement.”

Re-indigenization has a more traditional academic component as well. Prior to trekking out into the woods students read books and articles, watch documentaries and participate in online discussion with one another about the content through Moodle. With guidance from the instructors, they write a research paper about a course-related topic once they’re back in Kingston.

“There’s a feeling and a way of being that can be accessed in nature that’s been found to make healthier, happier people,” says Dr. Day. “I think more people are going hiking and camping to try to get in touch with this feeling. This course isn’t summer camp or a walk in the woods, but an engagement with the practical challenges and politics of living in a way that would be more in keeping with traditional Indigenous practices.”

Promoting a deeper understanding and broader engagement with Indigenous culture, the course is a welcome addition to university’s offerings.

“Queen’s has a deep commitment to Indigenous learning and this re-indigenization course is a perfect example of the possibilities that come from embracing this corpus of knowledge,” says Gordon Smith, Vice Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science. “As demonstrated with the Indigenous Studies minor degree plan, the Faculty of Arts and Science is dedicated to building this as an interdisciplinary field of study.”

Bringing world-class acoustics to the Isabel

Joe Solway, an acoustician with international design consulting firm Arup, holds a starter's pistol that is being used to test the acoustics of the performance hall at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. (University Communications)

This article, printed in the August edition of the Gazette, is the second of a series featuring some of the people and firms behind the planning, design and construction of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Copies of the newspaper are available around campus.

By Andrew Carroll, Gazette editor

While the soon-to-be completed Isabel Bader Centre for Performing Arts is a visual splendor, Joe Solway is more interested in how it sounds.

And as impressive as it looks, the Isabel perhaps sounds even better.

That’s due in large part to the team at Arup, international design consulting firm, led by acoustician Joe Solway, whose job it is to ensure that the Isabel has world-class acoustics.

Enveloped and surrounded by sound within the cozy confines of the performance hall, the crown jewel of the Isabel, Mr. Solway is confident that anyone attending a concert or performance will be thoroughly impressed. It will not be like anything else they have experienced in Kingston.

“There’s just a level of acoustical quality that we have achieved, in terms of the audience experience, the level of envelopment, the level of intimacy – when people come in here and listen they will just be blown away ” he says.

It’s a painstaking process. When approaching the acoustics of a building like the Isabel, Mr. Solway has to take in countless minute details. It takes not only a refined ear but a clinical mind as well. There is so much sound that we take for granted – mechanical systems, rehearsals in the next room, vibrations in the structure of the facility, airflow.

An acoustician takes all of this into account. And it isn’t just about the performance hall.

“From the beginning we’re saying ‘Okay, what is this building going to sound like: What can you hear as you enter the lobby, what kind of acoustic is there when you are in the classrooms, when you go into the auditorium, when you go into the studio theatre?’” Mr. Solway explains. “Each of these rooms, thinking about what is the acoustics inside the spaces, what can you hear from the building systems, the mechanical systems, the lighting systems. Can you hear them? If so, what kind of response do they elicit? What can you hear in the surrounding spaces, can you hear the classroom next door, how loud is it, how do we control that? Can we hear the outside?”

The acoustic goals for the building were formulated in consultation with Queen’s administration and faculty, from the first planning meetings back in 2008. Then Mr. Solway and Arup translated these goals into design criteria that the architects and designers, Snøhetta and N45, could build upon.

It has been a collaborative, interpretive process, One that Mr. Solway feels has been very successful.

And while this applies to each room in the building, the collaboration perhaps is best embodied in the creation of the performance hall.

“We worked together from beginning to say ‘This is what we need out of it acoustically in terms of its volume, its shape, its form, its finishes, and Snøhetta and N45 took all that information and then cleverly embedded the very architectural DNA of the room with those requirements,” he says. “So there’s no conflict with the architecture and what we are trying to do acoustically.”

In those early discussions with the university it became clear that the performance hall would come with world-class acoustics. The quality, it is hoped, will attract the world’s finest musicians and draw audiences from across Canada, not just Kingston.

When entering the performance hall the first thing that strikes the visitor is the uniquely-designed walls. The layers of wood with ledges jutting out here and there serve a dual purpose and were borne from the collaborative approach to the project.

“We had an ideal opportunity for marrying together Snøhetta’s desire to reflect the local limestone geology in the architecture with the acoustical work for some surface texture that diffuses sound,” Mr. Solway says. “It was a wonderful interactive process where we sketched out some ideas acoustically how it could work and then came up with a shared interpretive model that we bounced back and forth between ourselves and them. And then came up with something that visually represented what they wanted in terms of the local limestone geology that acoustically also deals with what we need in terms of sound diffusion.”

The result of this harmony of architecture and acoustics, along with testing every single item in the hall that creates noise in Arup’s Sound Lab, will be the sought-after world-class experience.

The hall itself is physically isolated from the rest of the building. Walk around the outside of the hall and there is a little black line in the floor which marks the separation like a border on a map. This ensures that any sound, any vibration, in the rest of the building will not transmit into the performance hall, Mr. Solway says.

With the official opening mere weeks away, the excitement surrounding this gem on the shore of Lake Ontario isn’t lost on Mr. Solway.

“It almost feels like I’m going to my kid’s graduation. They’re going off into the world. I’ve watched this thing over the last six years and now get to see it go off to university. To go off into the world and be used and just have a whole new life outside the design phase,” he says. “It’s quite emotional, releasing this thing out into the world and it’s really exciting.”

The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts was made possible by a transformational gift from Alfred Bader (Sc’45, Arts’46, MSc’47, LLD’86) and his wife, Isabel (LLD’07) as well as the financial backing of the federal and provincial governments, the City of Kingston and additional philanthropic support.

More than summer fun in Muskoka for PhD student

By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer

Like many students, Sarah Hasnain has spent her summer on the water. However, this biology PhD candidate has devoted her time to academic rather than leisure pursuits.

[Sarah Hasnain]PhD candidate Sarah Hasnain is conducting research on the response of zooplankton communities in the Muskoka Watershed to the spiny water flea, an invasive species. (Supplied photo) 

Ms. Hasnain’s research on the response of zooplankton communities to the spiny water flea, an invasive species in the Muskoka Watershed, earned her the inaugural Muskoka Summit on the Environment Research Award earlier this summer. The $7,500 award supports a graduate student’s environmental research within Muskoka in fields related to environmental science, resource studies and/or policy.

“I never expected to win, especially since there is a lot of excellent and important environmental research being carried out in this region,” says Ms. Hasnain, who is co-supervised by Shelley Arnott (Biology) and Troy Day (Mathematics and Statistics). “Having my research recognized as being important by not only local scientists, but managers and stakeholders as well, is very humbling.”

The Muskoka Watershed is the most heavily invaded region for the spiny water flea in Canada. Previous research has shown the spiny water flea results in a decline of zooplankton, an integral part of the aquatic food web. Zooplankton consumes algae and, in turn, serves as a food source for fish.

Having my research recognized as being important by not only local scientists, but managers and stakeholders as well, is very humbling.

Sarah Hasnain, PhD candidate (Biology)

Ms. Hasnain is examining how differences in the behaviour of Daphnia species of zooplankton can actually help invaded lakes absorb and recover from the impacts of the spiny water flea. During a field survey last summer of 63 lakes in the Muskoka region, she found the Daphnia zooplankton move lower in the water column to avoid the spiny water flea, a visual predator that needs light to feed. She plans to use these findings to test whether this downward movement can help zooplankton communities survive spiny water flea invasions. Her work could help stakeholders better manage lakes that have been invaded by the spiny water flea.

Two years into her PhD program, Ms. Hasnain is particularly interested in community ecology, which focuses on examining the biological mechanisms that maintain species diversity on Earth. She intends to use the award money to finance her research expenses and living costs for this summer’s field season.

An international invitation

Andrea Craig

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

Andrea Craig, a doctoral student in the Department of Economics at Queen’s, has been invited to attend the prestigious Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences in Lindau, Germany.

Nearly 460 young economists from more than 80 countries will be participating in these meetings, along with 19 laureates of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) nominated a number of young Canadian scholars, from which a select group were invited to attend.

“I am very excited to be participating in the Lindau meeting,” says Andrea. “It's an honour to be nominated by SSHRC and I feel very fortunate to have been selected by the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.”

The meetings provide a chance for Canadian scholars to interact with some of the world’s most accomplished economic minds. It’s also an opportunity for economists from all over the world, of many different generations, to exchange their economic expertise.

“It will be inspiring to attend lectures by Laureates whose research has changed economics. I also hope to connect with other young economists,” says Andrea. “Overall, I think this will be an exciting and motivating experience and I look forward to returning to sharing what I learn in Lindau.”

Dr. Marie-Louise Vierø, Ms. Craig’s supervisor and an associate professor in the Department of Economics, echoes her student’s excitement about being invited to the meeting.

“It is extremely beneficial, inspiring, and interesting to exchange ideas with the very top researchers in economics,” says Dr. Vierø. “Being chosen to attend is a well-deserved acknowledgement of a smart and hardworking student like Andrea.”

The Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences takes place August 19-23. For more information on SSHRC and the Lindau Meeting, follow this link.


Camp shows that math equals fun

[Math Quest]
Math Quest instructors Asia Matthews and Johanna Hansen have a bit of fun with the camp's director Siobhain Broekhoven as they pose for a photo with the sculptures in front of Jeffery Hall at Queen's University.

By Andrew Carroll, Gazette editor

Mathematics is fun.

That’s the message the organizers and instructors at an upcoming math camp for girls want to get across. And they know that it’s true. It’s a big part of their lives.

Math Quest, a four-day camp sponsored by the Canadian Mathematical Society and the Queen’s University Department of Mathematics and Statistics, is aimed at introducing high-school aged participants to the full breadth of mathematics through activities that are fun.

This is not math tutoring. There are no tests involved.

However, participants will surely leave with a greater knowledge of and appreciation for mathematics.

“Math is fun and I think that’s the part sometimes people don’t realize. People who have a bit of math anxiety don’t see that,” says Siobhain Broekhoven, the camp’s director. “Some people think it’s absolutely fun and that’s what this camp is all about.”

Two of those people are Asia Matthews and Johanna Hansen, Ph.D. students at Queen’s, who are instructors at the camp.

In her third year with Math Quest, Ms. Matthews sees the benefits of the camp.

“I wish there was this opportunity when I was in high school to say, ‘Oh look, there’s this thing called number theory which is really interesting and there’s combinatorics where you count things in different ways and there’s algebra which is this very abstract way of seeing groups of things,” she says. “There’s calculus and geometry, where calculus is this idea of how to describe motion and how to predict the future. I didn’t know any of that in high school.”

These aren’t you typical lessons either. Ms. Matthews will be using origami to discuss geometry while Ms. Hansen will approach probability through taking a closer look at Texas Hold’em. Another instructor and Ph.D. student, Carly Rozins, will be introducing the mathematics of nature, such as patterns seen in flowers. Each brings something that is interesting to them and that they hope will be interesting to others.

However, there also is another purpose to the camp which is to address a decrease in the number of girls attending math camps across Canada.

“Looking at the stats, even for the Canadian Mathematical Society camps that run across the country, in 2012 about 30 per cent of the participants were girls and last summer it was 20 per cent and I thought ‘What was going on?’ says Ms. Broekhoven. “We have to ask why are girls not engaged, why are they not signing up for these things? What is it about the activities? Are they too competitive or what is it that is not appealing? Women are a resource we need to utilize and that starts with getting young women engaged."

Research shows activities designed to engage girls are hands-on, project based, have real life applications and include lots of opportunities to work together cooperatively. The presence of female role models is the icing on the cake. I think it’s about time.”

This year’s camp has expanded to offer campers the opportunity to stay in residence. Ms. Broekhoven says this allows the camp further reach but also can introduce local girls to the university experience.

The deadline for bursaries, including one sponsored by the Queen’s University Alumni Association, to assist campers in covering the costs of the camp, has also been extended.

Math Quest runs daily 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Aug. 11 to 14 on Queen's campus.

For information on the camp or to register, call 613-533-2432 or visit www.mast.queensu.ca/~mathquest


Flags lowered in memory of Alec Stewart

Flags on campus are lowered in memory of Alec Stewart, professor emeritus in the Department of Physics.

Dr. Stewart graduated from Dalhousie University and then Cambridge University. He inspired many students and colleagues during his long career as a scientist at Chalk River Laboratories, and as a professor of physics at Dalhousie University, the University of North Carolina, and Queen's University.

He was a pioneer in the scattering of electrons in metals using positrons. His contributions to the scientific community were honoured in 1970 when he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He was again recognized for his achievements and public service in 2001 when he was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada.

All are welcome at a memorial service to be held at the Queen's University Club, (168 Stuart St) at 2:30 pm on Sept. 6, 2014. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Dr. Stewart's memory to a charity of your choice.

Thinking locally, acting globally

Christian Lloyd, Academic Director at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) at Herstmonceux Castle, England, was recently in Kingston. Craig Leroux, Senior Communications Officer, caught up with him to talk about the student experience at the castle.

Craig Leroux: What brings you to Kingston?

Christian Lloyd: I’m here for the special edition of the Summer Orientation to Academics and Resources (SOAR) that we do for incoming first-year castle students and their parents. Going to university is an adventure, and going to university 3,000 miles away in England for your first year is a really big adventure. SOAR is an opportunity to learn more about what to expect, both academically and socially, and about all the resources available at the castle and Queen’s.

Dr. Christian Lloyd, Academic Director at the Bader International Study Centre

What can students expect from the new first-year program?

We’ve just overhauled our first-year program to help build key skills and prepare students for the rest of their degree and their careers. The centrepiece of the new program is a core course around the theme of “thinking locally, acting globally.” It draws on content from fields like history, drama, sociology, geography and gender studies. In addition to disciplinary knowledge, it is designed to build skills like writing and working effectively in groups, and to introduce students to doing primary research.

Is experiential learning still a big part of the program?

Absolutely. New this year, during the “thinking locally” session, students will explore Brighton, the nearest city to the castle, and create a digital map to explore the themes of identities and boundaries. They will talk to people, observe the local cultures and take sound recordings, photographs, notes, sketches, or whatever they want to contribute. They will then produce an online map with clickable links to their material.

Travel is another important form of experiential learning, and we’ll take students to a number of places in Europe. It’s about building cultural competencies, which is extremely important. Either in person or virtually you are going to be working with people from around the world with quite different backgrounds and assumptions from you.

How do you ensure that travel becomes a learning experience?

Some people think that just by going abroad, wandering around the usual tourist sites, you understand something about another culture. It’s actually in many ways the opposite. You can end up reinforcing your own prejudices about that culture. When our students travel, to Brighton or Paris for example, we always challenge them to talk and engage with people and local cultures.

Some people think that just by going abroad, wandering around the usual tourist sites, you understand something about another culture. It’s actually in many ways the opposite. You can end up reinforcing your own prejudices about that culture.

- Dr. Christian Lloyd, Academic Director at the BISC

We’ll take students to the Eiffel Tower, but we’ll pay attention to what’s going on under the tower. We’ll look at why there are a bunch of guys from North Africa selling trinkets there. Who are these people, and why are they there? What are the interactions between the tourists and ordinary Parisians? We want people to have their eyes open and be active. We want them to think in detail about what they are seeing. They may not understand everything at first, but they can bring back questions instead of conclusions about what they’ve experienced.

Are there other academic changes coming to the castle?

In the past we’ve had many potential science students who want to come to the castle and that was quite difficult because we didn’t offer science courses. And they would have to catch up over the summer or do online courses. So what we have decided to do next fall is to offer a science stream at the castle. Because we don’t have labs at the castle, we’ve partnered with Battle Abbey School, a local private school that has excellent lab facilities. That will allow science students to more easily pick up their studies when they return to Queen’s for the rest of their degree.

Queen's in the World

The Bader International Study Centre is a centrepiece of Queen’s international presence. It offers small class sizes, integrated hands-on experiential learning opportunities, primary research-based projects, and a diverse faculty and student population focused on innovative global learning.


Subscribe to RSS - Arts and Science