Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Arts and Science

Improving science education one researcher at a time

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

A team of Queen’s and Harvard researchers has identified important gaps between education research and teaching practices that are impeding the adoption of novel teaching strategies in post-secondary science education. Research-based instructional strategies have been validated in many classrooms, including large enrollment first-year courses, but these highly interactive approaches have been slow to spread.

James Fraser (Physics) and the Queen’s University-Harvard University team are proposing ways that education research can better serve front-line teachers, as well as approaches faculty members can take that will provide better learning opportunities for their science students.

“About 60 per cent of students who enter college intending to major in a science-related field do not graduate with a science degree,” says Dr. Fraser. “The continued prevalence of the traditional lecture approach is surprising given the dramatic gains achieved by highly interactive approaches in improved conceptual understanding, and increased retention in enrollment.”

Working with Harvard University researcher Eric Mazur, Dr. Fraser explored particularly successful practices and ways to improve their dissemination. The researchers synthesized results from studies of instructional techniques from a wide range of North American schools.

The review identified three major barriers to improving education in the science fields: the challenges of validating teaching approaches in real classrooms (with many uncontrolled variables), a professor’s lack of specific and timely feedback about the learning environment of their students, and the time limitations of faculty who cannot put their teaching and research roles on hold to become education research experts.

“There are real barriers for a professor to adopt an interactive teaching approach.  Education research has tested methods of overcoming some of these obstacles so we need to better disseminate the successful results,” says Dr. Fraser. “But other obstacles remain and education research needs to do a better job at addressing these issues.”

The research looked at a number of schools including Harvard, Ohio State, Indiana University and Arizona State. Queen’s was not included in the study.

The paper was published in the journal Reports on Progress in Physics. In addition, Dr. Mazur has been named one of the plenary facilitators at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Annual Conference that will be held this year at Queen’s from June 17 to 20.

Concurrent music program formally launches

By Meredith Dault, Senior Communications Officer 

A concurrent music program between Queen's University and St. Lawrence College was formally launched this afternoon at a reception that included performances by student musicians. The five-year Bachelor of Music/Music and Digital Media program will allow students to jointly earn qualifications from Queen's and St. Lawrence College. The interdisciplinary program introduces a new partnership between the two institutions. 

Read more about the program on the Queen's News Centre. 



Evergreens restrict Arctic tundra responses to climate change

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

How climate change will affect the Arctic is a research question of increasing urgency.  New research out of Queen’s University indicates that current predictions of vegetation change that will occur as the Arctic warms could only be part of the story. There are other key players that have been overlooked.

Using experimental greenhouses located at the Daring Lake Research Station in the Northwest Territories, Tara Zamin (former PhD student, Biology), co-author Paul Grogan (Biology) and co-author Donie Bret-Harte (University of Alaska Fairbanks) demonstrated that climate change impacted the vegetation much differently than has been observed at other Arctic sites, leading to more conservative predictions for tundra change. They are the first scientists to carefully measure not only above but also belowground growth responses of individual plants, thereby allowing them to comprehensively assess how each Arctic species is being affected.

Paul Grogan and Tara Zamin research at the Daring Lake Research Station in the Northwest Territories.

“It’s the turtle and the hare of the Arctic tundra in the ongoing race to adapt to a changing climate. Deciduous shrubs are the hare, and have been rapidly increasing in more fertile arctic sites, leading to predictions that the tundra could become a birch or willow shrubland, which would feed back to increased warming. Evergreen shrubs are the turtle - slow, but well adapted to the infertile soils typical of Arctic tundra, and at our site are presently in the lead.”

 “Our results are  important because evergreens grow more slowly, are shorter, and produce litter that tends to restrict soil nutrient availability, all of which will tend to slow down the responsiveness of tundra ecosystems to climate change,” says Dr. Grogan.

As temperatures continue to rise in the Arctic, the warming will enhance soil nutrient availability. The study concludes that although deciduous shrubs are likely to become dominant in particularly fertile locations in the tundra, evergreens will dominate elsewhere.

“Over this century, we can expect substantial vegetation change across southern Canada and at lower latitudes more generally,” says Dr. Grogan. “As ecologists, our goal is to understand and predict what those changes might be.  Will evergreen trees like cedar fare better than deciduous species like maple?  The latter is an important species culturally and economically for Canada, and therefore the answers to such questions are critical to successfully adapting to the climate change that we have already committed ourselves to.”

The research was published in the Journal of Ecology.

Queen's researchers patent cutting-edge technology

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Queen’s University researchers Cathleen Crudden and Hugh Horton (Chemistry), along with students, postdoctoral fellows and other collaborators have developed a new process that allows organic compounds to bind to metal surfaces. This cutting-edge technology is now being patented and commercialized by PARTEQ and Green Centre Canada.

“Imagine pouring vegetable oil onto a metal surface and expecting it to stay,” says Dr. Horton. “We have created a bond through a chemical absorption process that would allow that to happen.”

The first example of the formation of organic monolayers (single molecule-thick coatings) on metals was published about 30 years ago and ignited huge interest in the scientific community. The technique forms the basis for a wide range of biosensing applications using modified metal surfaces.  However these coatings lack robustness and are sensitive even to exposure to air, greatly limiting their applications and making the technique expensive. 

Drs. Crudden and Horton are the first in the world to develop a viable alternative to this initial process.  In their strategy, the bond between the metal and the organic coating occurs through carbon instead of sulfur, which gives much greater strength and resistance to oxidation.

Common, every day uses of this technology could include applying organic coatings to automotive surfaces that would protect them from corrosion and decrease friction.  The use of these coatings to improve commercial biosensors for medical diagnostics is already underway.

The research was published in Nature Chemistry.

Olympic champion raises funds for local mental health initatives

[Clara Hughes Roumen Milev]
Money raised  through a talk by Clara Hughes is being donated to a mental health research project led by Queen’s professor Roumen Milev.

By Anne Craig, Queen’s University

Clara Hughes will be speaking at the Ambassador Hotel on Monday, March 24 at 7 pm.
Tickets are $12 for students and $20 for adults at the door.

When six-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes visits Kingston March 24, she will be raising funds and awareness of mental health issues. Money raised at the event is being donated to a mental health research project led by Queen’s professor Roumen Milev (Psychiatry).

Major depression affects close to two million Canadians annually and is the leading cause of lost time from work. CAN-BIND (Canadian Biomarker Integration Network for Depression) is a joint initiative between researchers at eight universities. The goal is to identify the biological signatures of currently uncharacterized subtypes of major depressive disorder to provide an accurate and rapid diagnosis that can help determine treatment selection.

“Clara’s Big Ride for Bell Let’s Talk is important for two reasons,” says Dr. Milev. “She is doing very important work de-stigmatizing mental health issues, and she is also raising imperative funding to support mental health research.”

Ms. Hughes will be speaking at the Ambassador Hotel and Conference Centre March 24 at 7 pm at the BREAK the stigma. JOIN the conversation event organized by the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation. Several Queen’s University researchers and students are speaking at the event, including:

  • Alex Martin, a third year psychology student. She is involved in the Jack Project and is the co-leader of Unleash the Noise Canada’s second annual student mental health summit.
  • Tom Edgerton,  a third year political studies student. He has been volunteering with the Jack Project for two years and has twice been the on-stage host of Unleash the Noise. This year he also worked alongside Ms. Martin as co-leader of the event.
  • Wendy Craig, a professor of psychology and one of Canada’s leading researchers in the field of mental health. Dr. Craig is the co-leader of the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNET), a knowledge mobilization network that focuses on reducing violence.
  • Saraosh Khalid-Khan, an associate professor of psychiatry and Director of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Clinic in the Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at Hotel Dieu Hospital.

Along with support from Clara’s Big Ride, CAN-BIND has received funding from the Ontario Brain Institute and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Joining Queen’s in the five year research project are University of Toronto, McMaster University, University of Guelph, University of Ottawa, McGill University, University of Calgary and University of British Columbia.

Tickets are $12 for students and $20 for adults and available at the door.

Jeffrey Simpson to receive alumni award

By Andrea Gunn, Manager, Alumni Marketing and Communications

Jeffrey Simpson (Arts’71, LLD’05) will receive the 2014 Agnes Benidickson Award from the Ottawa Branch of the Queen’s University Alumni Association on March 26, in recognition of his distinguished work as a journalist, and his volunteer contributions to both Queen’s and the Ottawa community.

[Jeffrey Simpson]Jeffrey SImpson (Arts'71, LLD'05), the Globe and Mail's national affairs columnist, got his start in journalism at CFRC Radio.

The national affairs columnist of The Globe and Mail and author of eight books, Mr. Simpson's interests in politics and journalism were honed at Queen’s, both inside the classroom and out. A student of political science and history, he was also active in campus activities, including the Debating Club.

Knowing he wanted to pursue journalism as a career, Mr. Simpson approached The Queen’s Journal in first year to volunteer. He was rebuffed.

“I was deemed not good enough for The Queen’s Journal,” he laughs. “[At the time], the Journal was under the control of something called the Free Socialist Movement, a group of Marxist-oriented students…. And I didn’t fit the mold, as it were, so I was actively discouraged from continuing my association. So, I marched down to the CFRC studio in the basement of Carruthers Hall, waltzed in, and introduced myself.”

Thus began four years as an on-air broadcaster for CFRC Radio. Mr. Simpson co-hosted a weekly news show on international and national affairs and then started calling the Gaels football games, making a name for himself as “The Voice of the Golden Gaels.”

He also got involved in campus governance, becoming one of the first elected student representatives on University Senate. As an alumnus, Mr. Simpson continued to contribute to Queen’s governance, sitting first on University Council, then on the Board of Trustees. His other contribution was his work, in 1993, to find Queen’s next principal. He was recruited by Chancellor Agnes Benidickson for a working group of the Board of Trustees that selected Bill Leggett.

I marched down to the CFRC studio in the basement of Carruthers Hall, waltzed in, and introduced myself.

Mr. Simpson began writing for The Globe and Mail in 1974, first covering the city hall beat in Toronto, then moving on to Quebec politics. In 1977, he became a member of the paper’s Ottawa bureau. Still based in Ottawa, he has been the newspaper’s national affairs columnist since 1984.

More information about the 2014 Agnes Benidickson Award Reception can be found on the Alumni Relations website. (A longer version of this story appears on the Alumni Relations news site).

Music students take on Broadway

By Meredith Dault, Senior Communications Officer

 The Queen's Symphony Orchestra will perform as part of Broadway - Take Two! 

When Elisabeth Santos (BMus ’14) steps out onto the stage at Grant Hall and begins to sing as part of the School of Music’s fundraising concert, Broadway – Take Two, it will be a performance more than a year in the making. All ready to sing in last year’s show, Broadway – Live in Concert, Ms. Santos never got to take to the stage when the February event was cancelled due to bad weather. Organizers were not able to reschedule to the concert due to Grant Hall being solidly booked.

“I am looking forward to getting to finally sing through this show for the audience I know had been looking forward to it last year,” she says, “even though Mother Nature had other plans!”

The two-hour show, which features performances by music and drama students, as well as faculty members, will showcase Broadway melodies from Oklahoma!, Les Misérables, and Annie Get Your Gun, among others. The singers will be accompanied by the Queen’s Symphony Orchestra.

Produced by Bruce Kelly, an opera singer and adjunct lecturer in voice, says cast members audition to participate and are not required to be majoring in drama or music. Those doing solos, however, usually work with their teachers to perfect their performances.

Students ready for the spotlight 

Broadway - Take Two!
Friday, March 21, 2014
7 :30pm at Grant Hall 

• Directed by Gordon Craig • Produced by Bruce Kelly
• $20 general admission
• Tickets available in advance at the Performing Arts Office in the John Deutsch University Centre 
• For ticket information call 613-533-2558

Third year student Jacqui Sirois (Artsci ’15), a drama major and music minor, was also slated to be in last year’s show. She says she is thrilled to be performing in this year’s fundraiser.

“There are some really wonderful singers and musicians taking part in this show,” says Ms. Sirois, who will be performing a song from South Pacific and a duet from The King and I. “They not only bring out the beauty of the music, but they also showcase the incredible musical talent that Queen’s has to offer.”

Ms. Santos, who will be singing a solo from Jesus Christ, Superstar!, a duet from The Phantom of the Opera, and as part of the chorus, says taking part in this year’s performance has given her the opportunity to connect with her musical theatre side.

“I was involved in a lot of musical productions in high school, but since arriving at Queen’s, my repertoire has become mainly classical as I focus on more operatic singing,” she explains.

“This experience has been a nice way to get into another character and have fun singing a lot of upbeat pieces with a strong cast of talented performers.” 

-Elisabeth Santos (BMus '14)

While Ms. Sirois admits she’s a little nervous about Friday’s performance, she says she is looking forward to the moment when the orchestra and singers first come together in Grant Hall.

“That moment always gives me chills,” she says. “It’s such a treat to listen to the orchestra play this music, especially in Grant Hall, because the music just fills the air… I never manage to wipe the grin off my face when I'm listening to the performances.”

For more information, visit the School of Music's website. 




Subscribe to RSS - Arts and Science