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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.

Dynamic 'moth'-ematics

Issue 5 of (e)AFFECT is available in PDF format here.
Bill Nelson with a tea tortrix larva.

This story, written by Ian Coutts, has been condensed and edited from its original form, which appeared in Issue 5, Spring 2014 of (e)AFFECT magazine.

Follow the trail Bill Nelson’s research is blazing and you’ll end up in a room in the basement of the BioSciences Complex. There, after donning a lab coat and elasticized booties that slip on over your street shoes, he guides you into a screened-off area filled with boxes created out of hard pink insulation, resting on industrial shelving, each connected by hoses to a noisy cooling system sitting in the corner. Those boxes, each kept at a separate temperature, house Japanese tea tortrix moths at the different stages of their life cycle – egg, larva, pupa and adult.

“What I do, if you want to put a name on it,” Dr. Nelson says, “is physiologically-structured population biology – in my case by bringing together mathematical and experimental biology.”

Simply, explains Dr. Nelson, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, most traditional ecology focuses on total populations. It looks at predator and prey relationships, the rise and fall of entire populations, but never generally pays much attention to the individual members of the population under study.

Nelson, by contrast, focuses on the individuals, in particular where they are in their life cycle, and how this generates much bigger population changes. Using data gleaned by studying the life stages of individual members of a species in the lab, he creates mathematical models that can be used to provide insights into the behaviour of larger animal populations in the natural environment.

His goal is to understand the “underlying fundamental principles behind population dynamics.”

Nelson’s initial insights into the importance of the individual in these dynamics came from his work on the zooplankton daphnia, commonly known as the water flea. This incredibly common plant-eating microorganism, Dr. Nelson calls them “the cows of the lakes,” is found in abundance in freshwater everywhere. Considered at the population level, and following standard ecological models, the expectation would be that numbers of daphnia in any population should oscillate wildly as their food supply increases and decreases.

“In those systems,” says Dr. Nelson, “you expect crazy cycles. But you never see them.”

Instead, Dr. Nelson found what altered was the length of time juveniles took to become adults. The less food, the longer each member took to reach maturity, which prevented the expected wild cycles.

Dr. Nelson continues to work with daphnia, and has also expanded his research to examine the importance of the life cycle in bean weevils – drawing him away from his initial work as a freshwater biologist to concentrating on terrestrial insects. His goal, always, has been to “push his research,” and take it in new directions.

To read this story in full, please see the most recent issue of (e)AFFECT.

A weighty discovery

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Humans have developed sophisticated concepts like mass and gravity to explain a wide range of everyday phenomena, but scientists have remarkably little understanding of how such concepts are represented by the brain.

Using advanced neuroimaging techniques, Queen’s University researchers have revealed how the brain stores knowledge about an object’s weight – information critical to our ability to successfully grasp and interact with objects in our environment.

Jason Gallivan (l) and Randy Flanagan discuss their latest research findings.

Jason Gallivan, a Banting postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology, and Randy Flanagan, a professor in the Department of Psychology, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to uncover what regions of the human brain represent an object’s weight prior to lifting that object. They found that knowledge of object weight is stored in ventral visual cortex, a brain region previously thought to only represent those properties of an object that can be directly viewed such as its size, shape, location and texture.

“We are working on various projects to determine how the brain produces actions on the world,” explains Dr. Gallivan about the work he is undertaking at the Centre for Neuroscience Studies at Queen’s. “Simply looking at an object doesn’t provide the brain with information about how much that object weighs. Take for example a suitcase. There is often nothing about its visual appearance that informs you of whether it is packed with clothes or empty. Rather, this is information that must be derived through recent interactions with that object and stored in the brain so as to guide our movements the next time we must lift and interact with that object.”

According to previous research, the ventral visual cortex supports visual processing for perception and object recognition whereas the dorsal visual cortex supports visual processing for the control of action. However, this division of labour had only been tested for visually guided actions like reaching, which are directed towards objects, and not for actions involving the manipulation of objects, which requires access to stored knowledge about object properties.

“Because information about object weight is primarily important for the control of action, we thought that this information might only be stored in motor-related areas of the brain,” says Dr. Gallivan. “Surprisingly, however, we found that this non-visual information was also stored in ventral visual cortex. Presumably this allows for the weight of an object to become easily associated with its visual properties.”

In ongoing research, Drs. Gallivan and Flanagan are using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to temporarily disrupt targeted brain areas in order to assess their contribution to skilled object manipulation. By identifying which areas of the brain control certain motor skills, Drs. Gallivan and Flanagan’s research will be helpful in assessing patients with neurological impairments including stroke.

The work was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The research was recently published in Current Biology.

The twists and turns of life

This story was written by Judy Wearing and originally appeared in Issue 5, Spring 2014 of (e)AFFECT magazine. To read the full version, visit the (e)AFFECT website.

Chemist Anne Petitjean rhymes off her childhood influences with ease – the work of Louis Pasteur, a desire to be an artist, and a need to answer life’s mysteries from the “bottom up.” She found convergence of these interests in supramolecular chemistry, a field she describes as “molecular sociology … how [molecules] behave together, the way they interact, the way they feel each other, recognize each other, sense each other.”

The field applies to everything from materials science to medicine and environmental studies.

Anne Petitjean (r) assists a student in the lab.

Like Pasteur, Petitjean’s approach to research is “to feel what society needs and be aware of where your chemistry takes you.” One of her favourite targets is DNA, which has the most predictable structure of the large, biologically important molecules. Most DNA molecules at rest in our cells have a double helix shape – with pairs of nucleic acids arranged in a twisting ladder. The arrangement is compact and keeps our genetic material safe, buried inside the helix. But cells are dynamic and when DNA’s information is read, the molecule’s architecture transforms into folds, loops, and other secondary structures.

It is these temporary structures Petitjean finds most interesting for they are “responsible for life.” Her favourite secondary structures are the guanine quadruplexes. Guanine is one of four nucleic acids in DNA, and it forms quartets –squares that lie flat, stacked like pancakes, turning a section of the DNA ladder into a wide staircase. With 23 known structural variations and a number of specific functions, Petitjean is reveling in quadruplex mysteries.

Queen's extends training agreement with Chinese ministry

By Craig Leroux, Senior Communications Officer

Queen’s and the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources (MLR) renewed their two-decade-long relationship this week with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU). Under the agreement, Queen’s will continue to provide training to Chinese officials and the MLR and its affiliates will continue to offer an internship program for Queen’s students.

“We are very grateful for this collaboration in land and resource management and we look forward to this fruitful partnership continuing for many more years,” says Alan Harrison, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic). “This collaboration has provided the opportunity for the MLR and Queen’s to share best practices, policies and processes.”

Queen's in the World

Each year Queen’s organizes a three-week training session for up to 50 MLR officials and mining professionals, aimed at exposing them to land and resource management practices in Canada. The program is jointly offered by the Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering and the Robert M. Buchan Department of Mining. Several Ontario and Canadian government ministries also present to the participants.

“I believe that our partnership will bring about a better future for both countries,” says Zhang Zhi, Director General, Department of Personnel in the MLR. “We really appreciate the support and work…provided by Queen’s University over the years.”

China provides a very good laboratory for our students to see how what they learn here can be applied in another culture.

- Professor Emeritus Hok-Lin Leung

The partnership began in 1995 as an initiative of Hok-Lin Leung, professor emeritus and former director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning, and was formally established through the signing of the first MOU in 1999. The MOU allows two Queen’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning students to work within the MLR in China each year. The agreement also covers a three to six month internship program for a small group of MLR officials to gain experience within a relevant public or private organization in Canada.

“China provides a very good laboratory for our students to see how what they learn here can be applied in another culture,” says Professor Leung. “Invariably when they come back they all have changed their perception about what China really is.”

Queen’s has a number of active partnerships and recruitment activities in China, including the recently established Master of Finance program with Renmin University and a semester abroad program with Fudan University.

Advanced dark matter experiment coming to SNOLAB

By Communications Staff

A major dark matter project is making SNOLAB, located near Sudbury, its new home.

The underground science facility has been chosen to host the Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (SuperCDMS), an international, multimillion-dollar dark matter experiment currently based in Minnesota.

  The Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search is an international, multimillion dollar dark matter experiment currently based in Minnesota with plans to progress the project by building a more sensitive detector at SNOLAB.

The SuperCDMS experiment was selected by U.S. funding agencies as one of its major second-generation dark matter projects, with support going toward expanding the science by building a more sensitive detector at SNOLAB.

Utilizing state-of-the-art cryogenic germanium detectors, the collaboration is searching for dark matter particles, also known as weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs). The discovery of these particles could resolve the dark matter problem, revolutionizing particle physics and cosmology. The use of the underground facility at SNOLAB reduces interference of known background particles.

“SNOLAB is really excited to hear the news that SuperCDMS-SNOLAB has been selected as one of the U.S. second generation direct dark matter search projects, and will be heading to SNOLAB for its next phase of operations,” says Nigel Smith (Physics), director of SNOLAB. “As a leading experiment in the field of dark matter searches, the combination of improved detector technologies and the facilities at SNOLAB will allow SuperCDMS to improve its sensitivity to WIMP dark matter interactions even further, and hopefully detect these elusive particles.”

The facility is operated by the SNOLAB Institute whose member institutions are Queen’s University, Carleton University, Laurentian University, University of Alberta and Université de Montréal. It is located two km below the surface in the Vale Creighton Mine near Sudbury, Ont.


 

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