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Physicist sifts through sandy shrapnel

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Once the site of the Second World War’s bloodiest battles, the beaches of Normandy are now a mecca of sunbathing and swimming. Lurking in the sand, though, is a time capsule of those battles.

Kevin Robbie (Physics) is examining the shrapnel-containing sand on the Normandy beaches by using microscopic imaging to take photographs that are both scientific and artistic. He is working with professional photographer Donald Weber, in a project that combines landscape photography of the beaches with Dr. Robbie’s microscopic photographs of the sand.

Optical microscope image of several pieces of steel shrapnel, showing rust (orange), and salt (white) on the surface.

“Several aspects inspired me to work on this project: the historical importance of the D-Day invasion as a geopolitical event, the artistic juxtaposition of the peaceful appearance of the beaches in the landscape photography with the rough and violent-seeming appearance of the microscopic photographs of the shrapnel grains in the sand,” says Dr. Robbie.

“The shrapnel and sand provides an environmental commentary about the inconspicuous evidence that man-made products of war will remain in these sands for centuries, and the remarkable fact that solidified bubbles of molten iron form nearly-identical spherical particles in the explosions of both artillery shells and meteorites.”

Kevin Robbie

Among the ordinary grains of sand, Dr. Robbie found rounded spheres of iron (called microspherules)   no larger than a period on a printed page. Although these microspherules are sometimes produced from meteorites exploding in the upper atmosphere, they can also occur with bomb and artillery explosions.

The next phase of Dr. Robbie’s research will be a more thorough analysis of the microspherules he observed – quantifying the number of particles per kilogram of sand and distinguishing man-made vs. meteorite origin conclusively.

“In my work, I’m always looking at small things that I don’t see other than through the electron microscope so it’s neat for me to see a piece of history,” says Dr. Robbie. “The remnants of this battle over 60 years ago are still sitting around in the sand.”

The research was published in Canadian Geographic Compass blog.

Caught by a hair

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Crime fighters could have a new tool at their disposal following promising research by Queen’s professor Diane Beauchemin.

Dr. Beauchemin (Chemistry) and student Lily Huang (MSc’15) have developed a cutting-edge technique to identify human hair. Their test is quicker than DNA analysis techniques currently used by law enforcement. Early sample testing at Queen’s produced a 100 per cent success rate.

Lily Huang crushes up the human hair prior to testing.

“My first paper and foray into forensic chemistry was developing a method of identifying paint that could help solve hit and run cases,” explains Dr. Beauchemin. “Last year, Lily wanted to research hair analysis, so I started working in that area.”

Blood samples are often used to identify gender and ethnicity, but blood can deteriorate quickly and can easily be contaminated. Hair, on the other hand, is very stable. Elements in hair originate from sweat secretions that alter with diet, ethnicity, gender, the environment and working conditions.

Dr. Beauchemin’s process takes 85 seconds to complete and involves grinding up the hair, burning it and then analyzing the vapour that is produced.

“Our analysis process is very robust and can be used universally,” says Ms. Huang. “One of our samples even included dyed hair and the test was 100 per cent accurate. The test was able to distinguish East Asians, Caucasians and South Asians.”

Dr. Beauchemin says she has contacted law enforcement agencies about using the new technology. She is also planning to collect more hair samples and continue her research with a goal of pinpointing where exactly in the world the hair sample is from, to look for more ethnicities and determine specific age.

The research was published in the latest edition of Chemistry World.

Examining the world's monetary problems

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

After spending seven years at Queen’s University, Amy Sun is already making a name for herself. The economics professor was recently awarded the Governor’s Award from the Bank of Canada for her research into real-world issues with monetary policy, asset distributions and wealth inequality.

“I’m absolutely honoured to win this,” says Dr. Sun, who was born and raised in China but came to Canada for her master’s and doctoral education. “My current research focuses on theoretical frameworks that allow for a serious micro-foundation for the notion of endogenous liquidity. I use these frameworks to examine real-world monetary problems, as well as conducting policy analysis.”

Amy Sun has earned the Governor's Award from the Bank of Canada.

The Governor’s Award recognizes outstanding academics at a relatively early stage in their careers who are working in areas of research critical to the Bank of Canada’s mandate of promoting the economic and financial well-being of Canada.

“The Bank is proud to support the work of Professor Sun, whose ability to make exemplary research contributions in the areas of both macro- and microeconomics would be valued by any central bank,” said Stephen S. Poloz, Governor of the Bank of Canada. “The issues she is planning on studying clearly match those at the heart of the Bank’s mandate and are of central concern to us.” Dr. Sun says it was an easy decision to join the Queen’s economics department in 2007.

“Queen’s is a prestigious university and this is a prestigious department. The whole department is very collegial so much so that my colleagues had a party to congratulate me and another colleague on winning respective research awards this year. It was moving.”

The funding award will allow Dr. Sun to continue her research into monetary theory and policy.

Finding his place in the world

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

The gift of a simple globe to a seven-year-old boy has led to a 35-year career in the geography department at Queen’s University. That storied career has led to George Lovell being recognized by the Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG) with an Award for Scholarly Distinction in Geography. Dr. Lovell was also recently elected president of the American Society for Ethnohistory (ASE).

These two honours are something that would have made his mother, who gave him that globe as a Christmas present, proud.

George Lovell's love of geography was inspired by his mother.

“She passed away 14 years ago,” says Dr. Lovell, who was constantly pushed by her to achieve great things after coming to Canada from Scotland in 1973. “I’m truly honoured by these awards, which I’m sure would have pleased my mum.”

Arriving in Canada as a graduate student, Dr. Lovell pursued his love of Latin America at the University of Alberta. He earned both his master’s and doctorate degrees at that institution before being offered a one-year, non-renewable position at Queen’s in 1979. That turned into a tenure-track position in 1986, after a few hardscrabble years. Now Dr. Lovell is a fixture in the geography department. “I’m lucky still to have the first academic job I applied for,” he adds with a laugh.

Dr. Lovell’s research focuses on colonial experiences and patterns of Indigenous survival in Central America, the fate of Mayan peoples in Guatemala in particular. Besides teaching at Queen’s, Dr. Lovell is also a visiting professor in Latin American history at Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Seville, Spain. Decades of research have led to the presidency of the ASE, an association dedicated to creating an inclusive picture of the histories of native groups in the Americas, and elsewhere.

“Things in life have a way of converging. My first experience attending a conference and presenting a paper was at an ASE conference in October 1979. Now being named president of the same organization is a fitting turn,” he says.

The award from the CAG, a body committed to the promotion of geography in education and research, acknowledges Dr. Lovell’s 35 years of contributions to the field.

With all his successes, Dr. Lovell admits that job overtures have come his way throughout the years, but he hasn’t wavered from his commitment to Queen’s.

“I’ve always felt at home here,” he says. “For me, the best thing about the job is the students. We get exceptional students who have a passion for learning. So I get to hang out with great young people. It’s fun.”


Uncovering an oily mystery

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Queen’s researchers are making new discoveries about Paul Kane’s paintings, an important collection of art for understanding 19th century Canada.

George Bevan (Classics) is using infrared light technology to peer underneath the oil of Kane’s paintings and see the original pencil drawings. Kane’s pencil drawings sketched in the field are the earliest depiction of 19th century Canadian and Aboriginal life. The artist took these sketches back to his Toronto studio in the 1850s and used oil paints to finish the artworks.

Ian Longo displays the camera used to look under the oil of Paul Kane's paintings.

Working with Ian Longo, Dr. Bevan examined 130 paintings in the collection. Their work forms the basis of a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum entitled The First Brush: Paul Kane and Infrared Reflectography.

“Paul Kane recorded a critical time in Canadian history. We wanted to learn how and if the paintings were adapted for the Western tastes of the time,” says Dr. Bevan.

Mr. Longo photographed the paintings with a consumer grade camera. The infrared light technology revealed pencil, charcoal and painted sketches beneath the final oil painted surface – details that could not be detected by the naked eye.

“At times it was shocking to see the difference in Kane’s initial sketch work on the canvas and his final product,” says Mr. Longo. “One of my favourites is a piece entitled ”Return of a war party” in which the river in the scene has what appears to the viewer as only two large war canoes on it. In our photograph, though, we discovered a third large canoe that Kane later decided to eliminate from the scene and painted a large rock over top instead.”

Based on the success of this project, Dr. Bevan hopes to put more collections of paintings under the lens for closer examination.

“The more we learn about paintings and painters like this, the more it helps us learn about history. We were lucky to be involved in this project.”

Passionate about protecting our planet

Queen’s University Communications Officer Anne Craig caught up with Warren Mabee as he prepared his presentation for the What Matters Now Kingston event on Wednesday, May 21. The event features five of Ontario’s leading researchers pitching why their research is important to a Dragon’s Den-type panel. Dr. Mabee’s research focus is renewable energy.

AC: Why are you so passionate about renewable energy?

WM: I believe that the most important thing in reducing our footprint on the planet is to shift to sustainable energy systems. This will require us to find lots of ways to conserve energy ­– we can’t possibly replace all of the fossil power out there with renewables – and will drive innovation and create new opportunities for Canadians. As a country, we have the resources to be an early adopter of these systems, and I want to see us setting the course for other countries to follow.

AC: What is the first step we need to take towards using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels?

WM: Continuing to expand the use of renewable energy without driving costs up too high will require relatively cheap biomass feedstocks. The best feedstocks we can get are those materials which are found in our waste streams. These range from the cheapest option, industrial wastes left over from processing - concentrated at factories and easy to collect - through residential, agricultural, and finally residues from forest operations, which are the most dispersed and probably most expensive. 

AC: One of your focuses is agricultural biomass. What is it and how can it be used effectively as a renewable energy source?

WM: Agricultural biomass is the stuff we don’t eat - straw from wheat or stover from corn. Right now, it is left on the field or collected for use as livestock bedding. A good amount of agricultural residue is essentially wasted; studies have shown that recovering a portion of the residue from the field can be done sustainably, providing feedstock for materials, chemicals, fuels and energy.

AC: What is the most effective way to move towards sustainable energy production and storage?

WM: We’ve already begun the shift towards more sustainable energy production.  To continue this move, we need to focus on getting the economics right. Too much renewable power requires heavy subsidy today, but we are seeing vast improvements in technology costs and process efficiencies which mean that subsidies are becoming less necessary. Existing ethanol from corn and wheat, for instance, is far more competitive today than it once was. 

AC: What are some recent renewable energy success stories?
WM: The cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically in the past few years, and continues to fall. This will make solar power more easily accessible and indeed should pave the way to rooftop solar becoming ubiquitous. In the biomass-to-energy sector, we’ve seen breakthroughs with Canadian technologies; Enerkem is completing a full-scale plant near Edmonton and will be building a second plant near Montreal. These are examples of the rapidly changing world of renewable power; what was once priced beyond the reach of society is now becoming competitive.

The art of war

By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer

As Canada commemorates the end of the military mission in Afghanistan, a new exhibition at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (AEAC) explores issues around international conflict and the Canadian Forces’ involvement on the world stage.

Curator Christine Conley leads a tour of Terms of Engagement during the spring launch of exhibitions at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre on April 26.

Terms of Engagement displays works by three artists who participated in the Canadian Forces Artists Program (CFAP). Adrian Stimson, Dick Averns and nichola feldman-kiss deployed to Afghanistan, Sinai and Sudan with the United Nations mission, respectively, from 2009-2011. Unlike previous war art programs that date back to the First World War, the CFAP does not exhibit, purchase or otherwise support artists once their deployment is over.

“Although the exhibition doesn’t directly address the National Day of Honour, works such as Adrian Stimson’s Afghanistan video series can help viewers better understand and contemplate international conflicts,” says Sarah Smith, Curator of Contemporary Art, AEAC. “I believe his work has a critical edge that offers viewers the opportunity to go beyond memorializing and ask questions of Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan.”

[Dick Averns]Dick Averns, "MFO Canadian Contingent (Corporal Jeremy Duff)," 2009, colour digital print

Christine Conley, a professor at the University of Ottawa, curated the exhibition that was organized by the AEAC in partnership with the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery in Halifax and the Esker Foundation in Calgary. Ms. Conley says the independence of the artists allows them to explore the politics of military intervention.

At the same time, the artists relied on the Canadian Forces’ hospitality, protection and social networks in order to access the war zones. The result is ambivalence in the works, according to Ms. Smith, most notably in pieces by Dick Averns, who was hosted by the Multinational Force and Observers (North Base, Sinai), an international peacekeeping force.

“In the 20 photographs that make up the 2009 work “Canadian MFO Contingent,” you can see Mr. Averns really engaged the soldiers who are sitting for those portraits,” Ms. Smith says. “The exhibition offers, I believe, an important duality of both honouring the troops but also reflecting on the recent history of Canadian military engagement abroad.”

The exhibition continues until Aug. 10. The Terms of Engagement website also contains videos of the artists speaking about their work and their CFAP experience. The AEAC has two tablets that patrons can use to view the videos when they are walking through the exhibition. Ms. Smith will lead a free tour of the exhibition on May 29 from 12:15-1 pm. There will also be a public discussion on peacekeeping and Canada’s military at the gallery on June 8 from 2-3:15 pm. This event will feature Major Brent Beardsley in conversation with Jamie Swift.

PhD student embraces 'activist scholar' role

By Dominique Delmas, Communications Intern

Krystle Maki believes her research into welfare surveillance in Ontario can make a difference in the world beyond the walls of academia.

“I have this vision of positive social change,” says Ms. Maki, a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology. “There’s stigmatization on so many different fronts, and my research is intended to dismantle stereotypes. I also want to shed light on the labour conditions social assistance case workers often face and the single mothers within the system who are so often silenced.”

Krystle Maki, a Vanier Scholar, is nearing the end of her doctorate work investigating the ways welfare surveillance in the Ontario Works program impacts social assistance recipients, service providers and community advocacy groups.

Ms. Maki, who is nearing the end of doctorate work, is investigating the ways in which welfare surveillance in the Ontario Works program impacts social assistance recipients, service providers and community advocacy groups. She has used the support from the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship she received in 2011 to conduct 35 in-depth interviews across Ontario with single mothers on social assistance, case workers, frontline workers and antipoverty advocates.

“After sitting with single mothers who shared with me their trauma, violence, abuse and poverty, I would just leave the interviews shell-shocked. Their powerful stories speak to why I do the work I do,” she says.

Her experience with poverty has driven her to get involved in the Kingston community. Currently, Ms. Maki sits on the board for the Kingston Interval House, a service for women and their children who have been victimized by violence. In the past, she has volunteered for the Elizabeth Fry Society, investigated human rights violations in penitentiaries for women, helped organize Kingston international women’s week activities and was a co-organizer of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) funded Instigate 2010 anti-poverty conference.

Ms. Maki came to Queen’s for her Master’s degree in 2007 after completing her undergraduate studies at Trent University in Women’s Studies and Sociology. She was drawn to the Sociology graduate program at Queen’s because of feminist legal scholar Laureen Snider (Professor Emerita, Sociology), who first introduced Ms. Maki to the field of surveillance studies.

After sitting with single mothers who shared with me their trauma, violence, abuse and poverty, I would just leave the interviews shell-shocked. Their powerful stories speak to why I do the work I do.

PhD candidate Krystle Maki

She chose to stay at Queen’s following her Master’s degree to pursue her doctorate studies under the supervision of Margaret Little (Gender Studies/Political Studies) and Catherine Krull (Sociology/Cultural Studies).

“Dr. Little’s work as an anti-poverty activist and academic was essential in transforming me into the activist scholar I am today. I was being offered the chance to work with my idol,” she says. “Dr. Krull has also been a huge inspiration. I’m lucky to have the chance to work with people whose work I really admire and respect.”

Ms. Maki looks forward to teaching ‘Advanced Studies in Gender’ in the Sociology Department in the 2015 winter term. Her future ambitions include raising awareness on social justice issues and developing community resources for low-income populations.

“We often forget that poverty is an incredibly isolating experience. I plan on continuing to participate in academic and non-academic workshops and seminars. Knowledge is power and that’s what my research is about: giving knowledge back to the people who have to use these services.”

Combat soundtrack

Dr. Kip Pegley.

In early April the Canadian Opera Company (COC) opened its production of Hercules. The play — written in 500 BC and adapted by George Frideric Handel in 1745 — tells the story of a soldier’s struggles after returning home from war. Kip Pegley (School of Music) was invited to an advance performance of Hercules and gave a talk about war veterans, music and rehabilitation at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs as part of a symposium organized by the COC and the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.

Dr. Pegley sat down with Rosie Hales, Communications Officer, to discuss her research into music as a rehabilitation technique for war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and how she hopes her research will help soldiers and veterans in the future.

Rosie Hales: Your research centres on music and veteran health. Why did you decide to choose this as a research focus?

Kip Pegley: I believe that the research we choose to undertake says a lot about us. For example, my father was a Korean War veteran and served in the Canadian Navy for 35 years. He was an emotionally reserved man; to learn more about him, I joined the Naval Reserves as a teenager. However, as I got older I realized that the best way to know him was through music – it was the one place he really opened up emotionally. Music was entwined with his sense of duty and his career in the Navy.

Since 2002, when Canada officially deployed our military to Afghanistan, I’ve been interested in learning more about what music means to this generation of soldiers. With so many soldiers returning with PTSD, I was also curious to seek out ways that music might help them while they are deployed as well as in post-deployment.

RH: How has the role of music for deployed soldiers changed since your father’s work in the Navy?

KP: When my father was deployed he was listening to big band and other music that was played over the radio with his fellow soldiers. Now, soldiers use different technologies, like iPods and CDs, to pump music through the tanks or listen in their bunks alone at night. For my father, music was more of a shared event but soldiers today have the option to make it a more personalized and individual experience.

RH: So, what kind of music do soldiers listen to when they’re going into war?

KP: The music soldiers blare in the tanks when they’re going into combat isn’t the music you might initially suspect: Popular culture today is saturated with “militainment,” a genre that conflates entertainment with war. Watching “militainment” movies or playing video games like Call of Duty or American Army might make us believe that soldiers listen to heavy metal and rap music to get them pumped up for combat. It might surprise some to know that a Canadian veteran I interviewed was going into combat in a tank with 10 other men singing along to Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The female tank driver, meanwhile, listened to hymns her grandmother sang to her as a child through her iPod headphones. This same female tank driver used music as a way to bond with the women living in her barracks – she played the Dirty Dancing soundtrack and that got everyone up and moving. Music provided them a safe opportunity to sing, dance and lower their hyper vigilance for a little while.

RH: How can music help soldiers once they’re home from war, or if they’re suffering from PTSD?

KP: Music gets people, veterans or not, talking. Music therapy can be anything from a group singing country songs to a drumming circle. Music is an important portal for veterans to access a range of feelings-- ̶love and loss, fear and guilt. Sometimes they can sing what they cannot  ̶ and would not ever ̶̶ say.

My upcoming research will involve studying how neural feedback can help war veterans cope with their PTSD. In neurofeedback, the subject puts on a headset and listens to music with electrodes wired up to their brain. When they are listening to the music, they may start thinking and their brainwaves might become more stressed. When this happens, the music stops and they hear a “click” sound which refocuses them by resetting their brain. 

It's my hope that one day music will play an important role in traumatic rehabilitation and help get soldiers - and all traumatized individuals - back on their feet. 

Programming problem solvers

Last Saturday the Queen's School of Computing hosted the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario's (ECOO) annual East Regional Programming Contest for eastern Ontario high school students. 

Thirteen teams from high schools in Ottawa, Brockville, Kingston, and Belleville competed to find working solutions to four programming problems. Congratulations to Team 1 from Bell High School in Ottawa who placed first.

Photos courtesy of Dave Dove.


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