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A shot in the dark worth taking

Renowned French astrophysicist Gilles Gerbier officially became the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Particle Astrophysics on Sept. 26. Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer, caught up with Dr. Gerbier a week before the official announcement to discuss his new position at Queen’s and SNOLAB and what he hopes to accomplish. 

[Gilles Gerbier]

Mark Kerr: Why did you want to come to Queen’s and SNOLAB?

Gilles Gerbier: I’m interested in dark matter physics and this research is performed in underground labs. There aren’t many underground labs in the world and SNOLAB is arguably the best one because it’s very deep and very clean with available space.

Another reason is that I knew most of the team members at SNOLAB and at Queen’s. They’re very good physicists, and I really wanted to work with them.

MK: What is dark matter?

GG: We have many hints that dark matter should exist through observations of celestial bodies: stars moving around in galaxies, galaxies moving relative to each other. All of these observations point to the fact that, in addition to the matter we know such as atoms and nuclei, there is additional mass that accounts for the difference between the higher measured speeds of objects orbiting around each other than what we would expect from only normal/shining matter. So there should be additional matter that we don’t see, which is why we call it “dark.”

MK: What are the goals of your research program?

GG: There is a large consensus among scientists in this field that the dark matter is made up of new particles, yet undiscovered. The goal is to perform studies on the identification of these particles. These particles, if they constitute dark matter, should be around us, crossing the earth, and would interact in detectors that are deep underground at SNOLAB. The research has to take place deep underground to avoid parasitic signals at the surface.

MK: How will Queen’s and SNOLAB serve to advance your research?

GG: So far, we haven’t observed dark matter’s existence so we must do more sensitive experiments in SNOLAB with European and North American teams. One of my goals, which I have already started pursuing the past few years, is to bring together these big groups and have larger experiments that are more sensitive. This is something that could be ideally done in SNOLAB because the North American groups have already planned and been funded to perform experiments there.

The second project is related to a new kind of technology to identify these particles using spherical gaseous detectors. I’ve started this innovative research with a colleague in France. We already have hints that it will bring new insights to dark matter but of course we have to build the experiments and tune them to make them better. SNOLAB is a great site to base this experiment.

[Gilles Gerbier]

MK: Why are you interested in this field?

GG: I came into this research a long time ago after my post-doc at Berkeley. I started in particle physics and found the idea that three-quarters of the mass of the universe is something we don’t know and may be made of new particles to be really intriguing. Now I’ve been in this field for 30 years.

Certainly, it may look a bit discouraging not having found anything, but you have to be patient. Sometimes it takes a long time to find what you are looking for and maybe we are going to find something different than what we thought. So I do hope to contribute and identify dark matter working in a better environment with new people, new ideas and significant funds to do experiments.

MK: Was it a difficult decision to leave France and move to Canada?

GG: Maybe it would have been more comfortable to stay in France, but our kids are grown up and mostly on their own, so in some ways it was less complicated for my wife (Francine) and me to move.

The move was also made easier because of the connections I’ve made in Canada through my work, in particular with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). For three years, I have served on a committee that dispatches NSERC funds to the particle physics community. I was very impressed with the way it was done and I appreciated the Canadian style.

Queen's names newest Canada Excellence Research Chair

  • Steven Liss (VP, Research) speaks at the announcement.
  • Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder officially pins Gilles Gerbier.
  • Master's student Ben Broerman chats with Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder.
  • Gilles Gerbier (l) walks with Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder and Steven Liss (VP, Research).
  • Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder speaks at Friday's announcement.
  • Principal Daniel Woolf addresses the audience at the announcement.
  • Gilles Gerbier speaks at the announcement after being welcomed as a new CERC.
  • Steven Liss (VP, Research) hands Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder the CERC pin while Gilles Gerbier looks on.
  • Steven Liss (VP, Research) speaks at the luncheon.

Gilles Gerbier has joined Queen’s University as the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Particle Astrophysics. Dr. Gerbier is working both in the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy and at SNOLAB in Sudbury, researching the mysteries surrounding dark matter.

“I’m very excited to work at SNOLAB,” says Dr. Gerbier. “It is a unique site — one of the world’s premier underground research laboratories — and it is operated as a clean room. The technicians, engineers and scientists working there are highly skilled, and the resources, availability and equipment are second-to-none. Once I found out that the CERC funding was in place for the chair at Queen’s, moving to Canada was a straightforward decision to make.”

The goals of Dr. Gerbier’s research include strengthening the Canadian presence in a joint North-American/European SNOLAB project to search for low-mass dark matter particles and facilitating the sharing and transfer of expertise and knowledge between European and Canadian researchers.

“Queen’s University is a natural home for Dr. Gerbier given our strength in this area,” says Principal Daniel Woolf. “He is not only a perfect match for the university’s research interests, he is an exceptional leader and mentor, and will be a catalyst for future international collaborations.”

Dr. Gerbier is a graduate of the École Centrale Paris, and in 1983, he obtained his PhD from the Université Paris XI for work on neutrino interactions in bubble chambers. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, he became a founding member and team leader of the Beijing-Paris-Rome-Saclay Collaboration, producing seminal work on the characterization of scintillators for dark matter searches.

A shot in the dark worth taking
Read the official Queen's news release, the Q&A with Dr. Gerbier and the official government release

 In 2005, he became the team leader of the EDELWEISS experiment and in 2010 of the EURECA European collaboration, dedicated to the direct detection of dark matter particles with bolometric detectors located at the Modane Underground Laboratory (LSM) in France.

 “Attracting one of the world’s leading researchers in particle astrophysics to Queen’s will have tremendous benefits for not only our scholarly community, but for all Canadians,” says Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research). “Dr. Gerbier’s research into the mysteries of dark matter will deepen our understanding of the vast complexities of our universe. His work with colleagues at SNOLAB will strengthen our research ties with scholars worldwide and secure the reputation of Queen’s and Canada as leaders in the field.”

Dr. Gerbier is also a major contributor to the astroparticle community. He has served as director of the LSM, project manager of the large European Network: Integrated Large Infrastructures for Astroparticle Science, and co-ordinator of the France-China Underground Lab network.

Coptic Pope to deliver unity message in lecture

The Pope of the Coptic Church will give a lecture about strengthening the bonds between different Christian denominations. 

Pope Tawadros II.

His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate will deliver the Donald Mathers Memorial Lecture this Friday.

The sold-out lecture, titled “The Role of the Coptic Church in Strengthening Unity and Narrowing Gaps between Denominations,” will feature a discussion of the roles of the Coptic Church in Egypt, its country of origin, as well as in other nations including Canada.

“The School of Religion is honoured to host His Holiness during his Canadian tour,” says Richard Ascough, Director, School of Religion. “As the person with the highest religious authority in the Coptic Church, the lecture given by His Holiness will provide valuable insight into the Coptic Church’s role in Christianity today.”

Pope Tawadros is visiting Canada on a tour during which he will bless the founding of the first Canadian Coptic Monastery in Perth, Ont. He plans to come through Kingston following a trip to Ottawa.

Local dignitaries including Sophie Kiwala, Liberal MPP for Kingston and the Islands, Archbishop Brendan Michael O’Brien of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese Kingston, and the Rt. Rev. Michael Oulton, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Ontario, will also be in attendance at the lecture.  

“His Holiness is very much perceived as a peaceful diplomat and we look forward to connecting with the Canadian Coptic community through this event,” says Dr. Ascough. “His Holiness’ visit will strengthen the connections between Canada and the Coptic Church.”

For more information on the Coptic Pope’s visit to campus, follow this link.

When David beats Goliath

Body size has long been recognized to play a key role in shaping species interactions, with larger species usually winning conflicts with their smaller counterparts. But Queen’s University biologist Paul Martin has found that occasionally, small species of birds can dominate larger species during aggressive interactions, particularly when they interact with distantly related species.

The new findings provide evidence that the evolution of certain traits can allow species to overcome the disadvantage of a smaller size.

The Sparkling Violetear Mulauco was one of the bird species biologist Paul Martin studied for his research into understanding why species live where they do.

“We want to understand why species live where they do, and how different species partition resources, like food, in nature,” Dr. Martin explains. “This research feeds into that. The 'larger animal wins' rule that usually governs species interactions, and often influences where smaller species can live, is more likely to break down when the interacting species are distantly related.”

For his research, Dr. Martin examined the outcome of 23,362 aggressive interactions among 246 bird species pairs including vultures at carcasses, hummingbirds at nectar sources and antbirds and woodcreepers at army ant swarms. The research looked at the outcome of aggressive contests for food among species as a function of their body size and evolutionary distance.

The research found that the advantages of large size declined with increased evolutionary distance between species — a pattern explained by the evolution of certain traits in smaller birds that enhanced their abilities in aggressive contests.

Specific traits that may provide advantages to small species in aggressive interactions included well-developed leg musculature and talons, enhanced flight acceleration and maneuverability and traits associated with aggression including testosterone and muscle development.

“This study examines broad patterns across many species, and now we would like to understand the details of these interactions by studying specific groups,” says Dr. Martin. “We really want to understand why some species can overcome the disadvantages of small size, while other species cannot.”

The research was done in collaboration with Cameron Ghalambor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, who received a Good Family Visiting Faculty Research Fellowship to come to Queen's for the work.

The research was published in the latest issue of PLOS ONE.

Insights, advice and a song for Major Admission Awards

  • [Admission Awards - Abrams Brothers]
    John and James Abrams of The Abrams Brothers perform during the Major Admission Awards Reception held Monday, Sept 22 at Wallace Hall.
  • [Admission Awards - Abrams Brothers]
    John and James Abrams of The Abrams Brothers perform during the Major Admission Awards Reception.
  • [Admission Awards - Abrams Brothers]
    John and James Abrams stand alongside Alan Harrison, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic), during the Major Admission Awards Reception.
  • [Admission Awards - Haley Kawaja]
    Haley Kawaja, a Chernoff Family Award Scholar, speaks during the Major Admission Awards Reception as Ann Tierney and Alan Harrison look on.
  • [Admission Awards Reception]
    Donato Santeramo, Department Head for Languages, Literatures & Cultures, speaks to students at the Major Admission Awards Reception.
  • [Admission Awards - Ann Tierney]
    Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs, emceees the Major Admission Awards Reception at Wallace Hall.
  • [Admission Awards Reception]
    Students and faculty members attend the Major Admission Awards Reception held Monday, Sept. 22 at Wallace Hall.

A pair of upper year students offered their advice and personal insights Monday evening as Queen’s recognized its major admission award recipients at a reception. 

Both John Abrams and Haley Kawaja are award recipients themselves but have taken very different paths in their education and lives.

Mr. Abrams, a Chancellor’s Scholar from Kingston, is in his third year majoring in Film and Media with a minor in English Language and Literature.

However, he is better known as half of The Abrams Brothers, a country music duo named Best New Artist at the 2012 Canadian Country Music Awards. He and his brother James performed a song for the gathered crowd at Wallace Hall.  

His message was that many people, past and present, may have the ability to study at the university level but may not have the means. It was a message he related through the stories of his grandparents and parents. His father, now a judge, studied law after a career in the RCMP. Mr. Abrams recalled going to his father’s classes at Queen’s when he was a mere three years old.

“Most importantly for me, I recognize that in my generation a lot of us have what I would consider a misplaced sense of entitlement,” he says. “I observe that and I try every day to remember that I am not necessarily entitled to this, that this is a wonderful privilege to be here at this institution, to have this scholarship. As a result I carry myself accordingly and try and work as hard as I can to live up to those expectations and responsibilities.”

Ms. Kawaja, a Chernoff Family Award Scholar from Cornerbrook, N.L., is a fourth-year biology student with a minor in English Language and Literature.

She too has not taken the conventional path in her education, having taken a year away from her studies to live in Kenya, where she developed an educational program for HIV prevention.

Her message was that it was okay to not know what you want, a pressure that many award recipients and Queen’s students may feel.

“I wanted to get across that your plans are always made by a less mature version of yourself,” she says. “You make a plan in high school for the next four years, then in four years your plan hasn’t accounted for everything you learn over that time. More than anything, (my message is) it’s okay to not know what you want and to change your plan.”

Currently, there are 251 entering and in-course award recipients at Queen’s, hailing from coast to coast and across all faculties and departments.  

“Major Admission Award recipients are those who are engaged within their high schools and/or communities, demonstrate outstanding leadership abilities, possess creativity and initiative, and excel academically.  They continue to demonstrate these attributes throughout their time here," says Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs, who emceed the event. “Each year, the selection committee has to work harder to make its decisions, because of the calibre of students who apply to Queen's.”

The awards are generously supported by numerous donors.  Many donors want to give back this way because they too received some form of support, recognition and encouragement when they were students. Their generosity has a significant impact within the Queen's community and the recipients of their awards.

The 2015-16 Major Admission Award application is now open for students applying to Queen's for the 2015-16 academic year. The deadline to apply is Dec. 1, 2014. Visit the Student Awards website for further information about our Major Admission Awards.

Principal Woolf announces his priorities for 2014-2015

At the beginning of each academic year it has been my practice to outline for the community, in broad strokes, the goals and priorities I intend to pursue over the course of the year. These goals are, unsurprisingly, aligned with the four strategic drivers identified in the Queen’s University Strategic Framework 2014-2019, a document that will guide the university’s decision making over the next five years.

Principal Daniel Woolf speaks with students during an event on campus. Strengthening the student learning experience is one of his goals for the 2014-15 academic year.

As I commence my second term as Principal my overarching goal remains unchanged-- to advance Queen’s as a university that uniquely combines quality and intensity of research with excellence in undergraduate and graduate education. The strategic drivers – the student learning experience, research prominence, financial sustainability and internationalization – directly support the success of Queen’s as a balanced academy.

It should be noted that the framework builds on and is fully aligned with The Third Juncture, a 10-year vision for Queen’s that I wrote in 2012, as well as a number of other recent planning documents including the Academic Plan (2011), the Strategic Research Plan (2012), the Teaching and Learning Action Plan (2014), and the Campus Master Plan.

In this context, my senior administrative colleagues and I are committed to:

1. Strengthening the student learning experience

A transformative learning experience is central to the Queen’s identity and to our vision as a university. Our academic plan outlines the centrality of developing our students’ fundamental academic skills while also providing them with learning opportunities that will help prepare them for the future. Goals related to this priority include:

  • Increasing the number of new opportunities for expanded credentials, as well as more opportunities for experiential and entrepreneurial learning, both on and off campus.
  • Further integrating technology into the delivery of course content where it enables improved learning.
  • Continuing to focus on strategies for teaching and learning based on student engagement and broad-based learning outcomes.

2. Strengthening our research prominence

Queen’s is recognized as one of Canada’s outstanding research institutions, but sustaining and enhancing our status means we must guide and support our research enterprise while resolutely pursuing funding. Goals related to this priority include:

  • Maintaining success rates in applications for Tri-Council funding.
  • Remaining among the country’s top three universities for faculty awards, honours and prizes, and election to major learned bodies such as the Royal Society of Canada.
  • Supporting the development and engagement of Queen’s faculty members as set out in the Senate-approved Strategic Research Plan.

3. Ensuring financial sustainability

To support teaching and research into the future, we will need stable and diverse revenue streams, particularly as government funding, per student, continues to fall. Goals related to this priority include:

  • Continuing strong revenue growth together with revenue diversification.
  • Meeting our $60 million annual fund raising target as part of the Initiative Campaign, while focusing on its overall achievement by 2016.
  • Pursuing long-term sustainability for our pension plan.

4. Raising our international profile

Two years ago I stated in The Third Juncture that as global competition among universities increases over the next decade, it will not be sufficient to be simply ‘known’ in one’s own country. Increasingly, the value of our students’ degrees will be tied to our international reputation, as will our ability to attract international students, who raise our profile and contribute a great deal to the academic environment. Goals related to this priority include:

  • Moving forward on multi-year plans to increase undergraduate international enrolment.
  • Maintaining our strong record in attracting international graduate students.
  • Supporting growth in international collaborations and partnerships.

5. Promoting and developing talent

We will need to ensure that we are able to acquire, develop and retain top quality faculty and staff to thrive as an institution. Our talent management strategy, which I initiated last year, will provide a strategic approach to ensure we have the right leaders in place and in the wings as we advance our academic mission and work to secure financial sustainability. Goals related to this priority include:

  • Continuing with succession planning efforts for academic and administrative leadership roles across the university.
  • Developing a competency model that will be used to identify necessary competencies when hiring, and for leadership development and performance dialogue discussions.
  • Refining our hiring practices.
  • Promoting discussion among the Deans around faculty renewal. 

Research leaders earn prestigious medals

Queen’s researchers Guy Narbonne and John McGarry were honoured today by the Royal Society of Canada for contributions to geology and political science, respectively.

Dr. Narbonne (Geological Sciences) is the recipient of the Bancroft Award for publication, instruction and research in the earth sciences and his contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of the subject of geology.

John McGarry has won the Innis-Gerin Medal.

Dr. McGarry (Political Studies) is the recipient of the Innis-Gerin Medal for his contribution to the literature of the social sciences. The medal has only been awarded 21 times since its inception in 1967.

“Drs. Narbonne and McGarry have been leaders in their respective fields for many years and these medals are recognition of their outstanding work,” says Principal Daniel Woolf. “The fact that Queen’s won two medals out of the 14 available in 2014 caps off a banner year with respect to Royal Society of Canada awards and honours.”

Dr. Narbonne is best known for his research into evolution’s first foray into complex multicellular life, the Ediacaran biota, a group of large, soft-bodied creatures that populated the floor of the world’s oceans 580 million years ago after three billion years of mostly microbial evolution. His multidisciplinary research on the origin of Earth’s earliest animals has been widely reported in the scientific literature and through public outreach.

Guy Narbonne (r) works with David Attenborough at Mistaken Point.

Dr. Narbonne also played a major role in establishing the Ediacaran Period, the first new geological period recognized in more than a century.

“I’m thrilled for the recognition this brings to Queen’s since to win this medal, you have to excel in three different areas – research, communication and tangible contributions to science,” says Dr. Narbonne.

Dr. McGarry is the Canada Research Chair in Nationalism and Democracy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the winner of both the Trudeau Fellowship and the Killam Prize. Since 2009 he has worked as a part-time senior advisor on governance to the United Nations-mediated negotiations in Cyprus. He is viewed by many as one of the world’s leading experts on power sharing, federalism and constitutional design.

“It is thrilling for me to receive an award that is named after two of Canada’s most famous social scientists, and whose first recipient in 1967 was Queen’s own W.A. Mackintosh,” says Dr. McGarry.

For more information on the medals visit the website.

Mind over matter

Tom Hollenstein (Psychology) is running a two-year trial to see if the video game MindLight can help youth cope with and eventually conquer their anxiety.

The Playnice Institute develops video games such as MindLight with the goal of promoting emotional resilience in youth. Left unchecked, anxiety in youth is shown to lead to higher rates of substance abuse, school absenteeism, depression and suicide.

“The game gives kids a chance to practice regulating their emotions at their own pace and in a safe space using a popular tool, a video game. The idea is that through the game, they will learn how to deal with anxiety-provoking situations,” says Dr. Hollenstein, who is using a grant from the Ontario Mental Health Foundation to conduct the research.

MindLight is designed for children aged eight to 16 years old. Players enter a scary mansion and learn their grandmother was abducted by the shadows. They must travel the dark hallways, solve puzzles and avoid frightening monsters to find their grandmother.

Ethan Flanagan plays MindLight under the watchful eye of Tom Hollenstein.

To beat the darkness, players wear Teru the Magical Hat who teaches the player how to use their “mind light” mounted on that magical hat. Players wear a neurofeedback headset called MindWave that measures the player’s level of relaxation or anxiety and that information is incorporated into key features of game play.

“If the trial results are positive, it could lead the way to an entirely new way of treating anxious children and help researchers better understand the power of video games,” Dr. Hollenstein says.

The trial, conducted with the support of Dr. Hollenstein’s co-investigators Sarosh Khalid-Khan (Psychiatry) and Isabel Granic (Psychology), includes two elements. The first takes place through the Mood and Anxiety Treatment Program at Hotel Dieu. For the second part, Dr. Hollenstein’s research team is partnering with local schools to identify at-risk youth and work with them to determine if the game play can help reduce children’s anxiety.

World-renowned architects make their mark at Queen's

The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts is now open, hosting classes and performances, and those interested in learning more about how the building was created and designed will get the chance to hear from the lead architect. Craig Dykers of Snøhetta will be speaking at the Isabel on Friday, Sept. 19 from 7-8:30 p.m. The event, which is free and open to all, is organized by the School of Urban and Regional Planning.

[Craig Dykers]
Craig Dykers, founding partner and a principal architect at Snøhetta, will be making a special presentation at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts on Friday evening. (Photo University Communications)

They designed the pavilion marking the entrance to the memorial museum at New York’s World Trade Centre site, reimagined Manhattan’s Times Square, and have drawn up the plans for hundreds of innovative buildings around the world, from opera houses to spaces for learning. And with the opening of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts on the Kingston waterfront, world-renowned architectural firm Snøhetta marks its Canadian debut.

Home to the Department of Film and Media, the Isabel will also provide learning and working space for the university’s other creative arts disciplines, while housing a film screening room, black-box theatre and a state-of-the-art concert hall.  Snøhetta, who worked in partnerships with Ottawa’s N45 Architecture when devising the building, took a careful look at the university’s plans for the intended structure, while also considering both the users’ experience and the way the building would integrate into the existing landscape.

“Fundamentally, we wanted a place that brought light into (the users’) experience,” explained Craig Dykers, Snøhetta’s founding partner and a principal architect with the firm on a visit to Queen’s in late 2013. “We wanted to establish a strong connection between the landscape and the character of the shore, as well as the broader environment.”

It was for the latter reason that Dykers and his team chose to work with limestone – a building material commonly used in the Kingston area – reimagining it in a more monolithic, or slab-like interpretation so that it might look like it was emerging organically out of the landscape. They also deliberately incorporated two historic limestone buildings that made up the original site.

“We like being able to provide a new perspective on a material that people are already very familiar with,” said Dykers of his rationale. “It’s like being married and still wanting to learn new things about (your partner), even though you’ve lived together for so long.”

When it came to conceiving of the building’s jewel-like interior concert hall, Dykers and his team again turned to local limestone for inspiration. “We came across a beautiful limestone outcropping on one of our early visits to Kingston,” he recalls. “Each layer seemed to depict a different event in the history of this place, laid down over the millennia.”

The solution was to reinterpret the limestone’s subtleties in warm wood, a material that would also pay homage to the instruments that would be highlighted in the acoustically perfected space. The architects also decided to create a hall that is ever so slightly asymmetrical – the result being a room with a slightly more organic feel.

That hall was formally animated for the first time on Saturday, Sept.13 when the JUNO-nominated band Timber Timbre took to the stage as part of the Isabel Goes Alt series. The Isabel’s classical series kicks off on Sept. 21 with a performance by the Afiara Quartet, who will be joined by pianist Maxim Bernard.

For Dykers and his architectural collaborators, it will an opportunity to see Isabel’s spaces – once only imagined – being inhabited and enjoyed by the audiences it was first intended for. “It’s hard to be proud of something before the doors are open and people are using it,” says Dykers. “People are excited about this building.”

The Isabel 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.

Uncovering Herstmonceux Castle's history

For the past seven years, Scott McLean has been analyzing the archaeology of the Herstmonceux Castle estate in East Sussex, England. A new excavation program at the estate aims to uncover the ways medieval peoples adapted when the region went through climate change.

Members of the excavation team worked this summer at a site called Mota Piece.

“Through combined excavations, archival research and environmental analysis we are hoping to reconstruct a better understanding of what the Herstmonceux Castle estate was like during the medieval period,” says Scott McLean, an associate professor of history at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC). “With the information we gather, we hope to learn more about how the owners coped with the fierce storms and rising sea levels that constituted this period of climate change.”

The Herstmonceux estate occupies 600 acres of land adjacent to the Pevensey Levels, an ecologically sensitive region that was repeatedly flooded starting in the 13th century when the world entered a period of global cooling known as the Little Ice Age.

Dr. McLean’s research scope has expanded with the excavation program that draws in collaborators from Queen’s University and the University of Waterloo. The program, which has received a $200,000 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, will also place a strong focus on training students in archeology, archival research and public history research.

“The Herstmonceux Estate excavation provides an excellent opportunity for fruitful collaboration between experts at the BISC, Queen’s and the University of Waterloo,” says Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research). “Participating in and observing operations at the archaeological sites also represents a unique hands-on learning opportunity for students studying at the BISC.” 

After their first summer of excavation, the team has turned up evidence of an early manor house on the edge of Pevensey Levels. The researchers have also uncovered approximately 100 previously unknown medieval documents related to the castle and estate.

 Excavations at Herstmonceux Estate are planned to continue until 2017.

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