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Engineering and Applied Science

Bringing research into focus

The annual Art of Research photo contest will continue to showcase how the Queen's research community is advancing the United Nations' SDGs and introduce a new video category to capture research in motion.

[Collage photo with text: Art of Research Photo Contest]

Taking us behind the scenes of the lab, fieldwork, and the archives, the Art of Research photo contest brings to life the unseen moments of the research process. This year, the hallmark initiative is returning with a new twist: A new video category that will challenge participants to creatively share their research in 30 seconds or less.

"Through the Art of Research we have catalogued hundreds of images that illuminate what our researchers experience in the pursuit of new knowledge," says Michael Fraser, Vice-Principal (University Relations). "Expanding to video will add another dimension to our storytelling, allowing us to reach and engage new audiences with our research."

With one video and five photo categories, the contest will once again look at research though lens of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This focus aligns with the mission and vision of the Queen’s Strategy and our participation in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, which measure an institution's impact on society, based on their success in delivering on strategies that advance the SDGs. Queen’s ranked in the top 10 globally in both the 2021 and 2022 Impact Rankings.

Photo submissions will be accepted from Feb. 8 to March 10, 2023.

Mobilizing research to new audiences

For the past six years, the Art of Research has been an opportunity for Queen’s researchers to share their work through compelling visuals and engage the public in seeing their research in new ways. Previous contests have received local and national media attention for their role of showcasing the breadth and diversity of research endeavors at Canadian universities. Here at Queen’s, the images are used to support various aspects of research and SDGs storytelling – across websites, social media, and print collateral.

"It is important that we find creative and accessible ways to promote our research beyond the academy," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "The Art of Research has been an effective tool to demonstrate the impact of our work in addressing the challenges of society at home and around the world. I encourage members of our community to participate!"

Eligibility and prizes

The contest is open to Queen’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Research depicted in the submissions must have been completed at Queen’s or while the submitter was affiliated with the university. Five SDG-themed photo categories and one video category will be offered this year. These add up to a total of six prizes of $250 each for the top submission in each category. More information about contest rules can be found on the Research@Queen’s website.

2023 categories:

Good health and wellbeing

Research that advances our understanding and the improvement of human health and supports the wellbeing of all global citizens.

Inspired by SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger), and 3 (Good Health and Well-Being)

Climate action

Research that seeks to protect our planet’s natural resources, including water, biodiversity, and climate for future generations.

Inspired by SDGs 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life Below Water), and 15 (Life on Land)

Creative and sustainable communities

Research that helps us to understand our past and present to help build resilient, sustainably-focused, and creative communities.

Inspired by SDGs 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions)

Partnerships for inclusivity

Research that promotes just and inclusive societies through partnerships and community-based research.

Inspired by SDGs 4 (Quality Education), 5 (Gender Equality), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), and 10 (Reduced Inequalities)

Innovation for global impact

Discovery- and curiosity-based research and innovations that addresses wicked, complex global challenges.

Inspired by SDGs 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals)

Research in motion

A video 30 seconds or less that captures the pursuit of your research in action and shows us behind the scenes of where it takes place, from the lab to the field or the archive.

The contest closes on March 10. To submit an entry and explore winning images from previous contests, visit the Research@Queen’s website.

2022: The year in research

We are celebrating the milestones and accomplishments of Queen’s research community over the past 12 months.

From January to December, our researchers, students, and staff enjoyed being back to in-person events, celebrating funding for groundbreaking projects, and connecting to our community beyond campus. As we approach the end of year, let’s take time to review some of the highlights from 2022.

Memorable moments

As Canada gradually reopened after pandemic shutdowns, we had the chance to once again hold on campus events to celebrate research and innovation. In July, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation, and Trade Vic Fedeli, and other dignitaries came to Queen’s to announce a $1.5 billion investment in an EV battery facility in Eastern Ontario that will create hundreds of jobs and partnership opportunities for the university, and boost Ontario’s economy. The podium party also took the opportunity to interact with Queen’s researchers and students.

[Group photo of Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Champagne, and Queen's researchers]
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister François-Philippe Champagne meet with Kevin Deluzio, Dean of Engineering and Applied Science, and Queen's researchers at Ingenuity Labs Research Institute.

In November, Queen's hosted the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. He met with students, senior leadership, and members of the research community. The same week, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) president Ted Hewitt visited the campus to meet with Queen's senior leadership and early career researchers, including scholars in Indigenous and Black Studies research.

Support for groundbreaking research

Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry) kicked-off 2022 with $24 million in support from Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund to advance research on molecular coatings designed to significantly extend the lifespan of vital metals.

In August, the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Major Science Initiatives Fund also announced key support for two research facilities affiliated with Queen’s. Combined, SNOLAB – Canada’s deep clean astroparticle research laboratory – and the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) Operations and Statistics Centre were granted $122 million, representing around 20 per cent of the total funding announced to support Canada’s major research infrastructure. Vice-Principal (Research) Nancy Ross travelled 2 km underground to host the announcement, which included Minister Champagne and Mona Nemer, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor.

[Photo of Queen's researchers and government officials travel to SNOLAB]
Dr. Nancy Ross accompanies Queen's Emeritus Professor and Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald, Minister François-Philippe Champagne, local Members of Parliament, and SNOLAB administration on their way to the facility 2 km underground.

Other funding that will support Queen’s future research include:

[Art of Research photo Aging with Oasis by Riley Malvern]
Queen's Art of Research photo contest winner: Aging with Oasis by Riley Malvern, Staff (Health Services and Policy Research Institute), Kingston, Ontario.

Several Queen’s researchers were also recognized with prestigious awards and prizes. John McGarry (Political Studies) was the 2022 laureate for the Pearson Peace Medal, an award designated by the United Nations Association of Canada to recognize a Canadian who has made outstanding contributions to peace and prosperity around the world.

Nobel Laureate and Professor Emeritus Arthur McDonald (Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy) received the inaugural Canadian Association of Physicists Fellowship for lifetime achievement. Kerry Rowe (Civil Engineering) was awarded the inaugural NSERC Donna Strickland Prize for Societal Impact of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research, which recognizes outstanding research that has led to exceptional benefits for Canadian society, the environment, and the economy. Early-career researcher Farnaz Heidar-Zadeh (Chemistry) earned Ontario’s Polanyi Prize for her research advancing innovative computational molecular design techniques.

Other recognitions included fellowships from of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Faculty members were also appointed or reappointed as Canada Research Chairs, the UNESCO Chair in Arts and Learning, and as the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Chair of Artificial Intelligence. Queen’s students and postdoctoral fellows received Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships, two of the most prestigious national awards for future researchers. Internally, three researchers received the Queen’s Prizes for Excellence in Research, which are granted to early-career researchers who have demonstrated significant contributions to their fields.

[Clockwise: Fateme Babaha, Mackenzie Collins, Jessica Hallenbeck, Joshua Kofsky, Sandra Smeltzer, Jodi-Mae John, Michael P.A. Murphy, Chloe Halpenny.]
Queen's 2022 Vanier Scholars and Banting Fellows [clockwise] Fateme Babaha, Mackenzie Collins, Jessica Hallenbeck, Joshua Kofsky, Sandra Smeltzer, Jodi-Mae John, Michael P.A. Murphy, Chloe Halpenny.

In the news

The Gazette published dozens of research profiles and stories that highlight some of the groundbreaking research undertaken by faculty and students. Our community is addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges, like climate change, with programs on carbon dioxide conversion technology and sustainable finance.

Queen’s experts are responding to challenges worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, like health professionals’ mental health struggles, and working to create new technological solutions for human problems, including robots that can improve human mobility. They are also advancing the field of neuromorphic computers and figuring out new ways to manage obesity.

We continued our partnership with The Conversation Canada, an online news platform that pairs academic experts with experienced journalists to write informed content that can be shared and repurposed by media outlets worldwide. Over spring and fall, Queen’s hosted members of their editorial team for four workshops for researchers and graduate students.

This year, 69 Queen’s researchers published 76 articles and garnered over 1.7 million reads on The Conversation. Some of our most read articles covered topics like the impacts of housework imbalance in women’s sexual desire, the power of routines, the relationships between eating rhythms and mental health, and the causes for lung damage in COVID-19.

[Art of Research photo: The Tiniest Tree of Life by Dr. Elahe Alizadeh]
Queen's Art of Research photo contest winner: The Tiniest Tree of Life by Dr. Elahe Alizadeh, Staff (Queen's CardioPulmonary Unit [QCPU]), Queen's University.

Mobilizing research

At Queen’s, we believe inspiring new generations of researchers, gearing research processes towards more equitable and inclusive ones, and bringing together the academy and our community is as important as doing outstanding research. We are proud of our efforts to support Black Excellence in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine/health) and women’s participation and leadership in Engineering.

In 2022, our annual photo contest, Art of Research, was reimagined to focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and placed a spotlight on the intrinsic connection between research and social impact.

Our researchers and students have also been working to bring their expertise to the public via outreach events, art installations, short presentations, and connecting with the global community to discuss urgent matters like the crisis in Ukraine – in April, we hosted a panel discussion about the origins and the impact of the conflict featuring experts in political studies and law.

[Art of Research photo: Polar Bear Denning by Scott Arlidge]
Queen's Art of Research photo contest winner: Polar Bear Denning by Scott Arlidge, Graduate Student (School of Environmental Studies), Coral Harbour, Nunavut.

 

Keeping watch on the new crossing

Queen’s students and faculty members are using leading-edge technology to help the City of Kingston monitor the performance of the new bridge across the Cataraqui River.

Photograph of new Waaban Crossing in Kingston
Queen's Ingenuity Labs installed sensors to monitor the new Waaban Crossing, which opened to traffic Dec. 13. (Mike Hill)

A team of students and faculty members based in Queen’s Ingenuity Labs recently found themselves high above the Cataraqui River looking down at all the construction equipment working on the City of Kingston’s new Waaban Crossing bridge. But they were not on top of the new structure. They were on ladders underneath it, installing sensors on the joints and bearings so the city will be able to monitor how the bridge is working in real time.

The new bridge is the largest infrastructure project the City of Kingston has ever undertaken and opened to traffic on Dec. 13. It is 1.2 km long and took more than four years of construction. All three levels of government each contributed $60 million to the project.

During the construction phase, the city approached Queen’s to partner in finding tools that could help track the performance of the new structure. After more than a year of testing and preparation, the Ingenuity Labs team is now using the latest technology to help the city monitor the safety and integrity of the bridge in an efficient and affordable way.

“One of our goals at Ingenuity Labs is to bring together researchers with different areas of expertise to work on projects that can contribute to the betterment of society. This project gives us a chance to have that impact at the local level,” says Josh Woods, Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and the Mitchell Professor in Intelligent Infrastructure Monitoring at Ingenuity Labs. “Without sensor technology, municipalities rely on annual or biannual visual inspections of bridges to determine if there are any issues with the structure. With the sensors that we’ve installed on the bridge, the City of Kingston will have constant access to real-time quantitative data that can help them make more informed decisions about the maintenance of the structure.”

Photograph of Queen's student under the new Waaban Crossing with a newly-installed sensor.
Isabel Heykoop, graduate student in the Master of Applied Science program, underneath the Waaban Crossing with a newly-installed sensor to the left. (Supplied photo)

The sensors collect data that examine how the bridge’s expansion joints and bearings perform as the concrete expands and contracts with changes in seasons and temperatures. To ensure the sensors worked properly and could withstand the conditions they’d face under the bridge, the team put them through comprehensive tests in a variety of conditions, including lying them under the sun on top of Ellis Hall and letting them sit in a freezer for extended periods of time.

The Ingenuity Labs team will also be using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – commonly referred to as “drones” – to supplement the data from the sensors with detailed visual inspections. With images captured by the UAVs, the city will be able to inspect aspects of the bridge that would be difficult to see otherwise.

“The City of Kingston is excited to work with faculty and students from Queen’s to find innovative and ‘smart’ methods to monitor the structural health of the new Waaban Crossing," says Mark Van Buren, Deputy Commissioner, Major Projects Office, City of Kingston. "It’s a great benefit for the city to be able to partner with Queen’s and draw on the expertise of the world-class researchers in our own backyard while also giving their students valuable opportunities to develop their skills. We look forward to continue working with the great team in Ingenuity Labs as we maintain this major new piece of infrastructure and keep it safe for our community.”

Students integral to the project

A Queen’s post-doctoral fellow and two Queen’s students are playing instrumental roles in the project: Isabel Heykoop, a graduate student in the Master of Applied Science program; Heshan Fernando, a post-doctoral fellow at Ingenuity Labs; and Dylan Neves, an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. Each one provided a different perspective and set of skills that contributed to the successful completion of the project.

Photograph of Queen's students and post-doctoral underneath the new Waaban Crossing
Dylan Neves, Heshan Fernando, and Isabel Heykoop underneath the new Waaban Crossing earlier this year to install sensors. (Supplied photo)

Heykoop also served as the manager of the project, taking the lead on keeping track of deadlines, submitting plans, and coordinating with the city.

“I went to Queen’s for my undergraduate degree as well, so Kingston has been part of my growth as a student and a person,” says Heykoop. “It means a lot to me to make a contribution to the city that will help improve the lives of people here for years to come.”

Future ingenuity for Kingston

Going forward, the team in Ingenuity Labs is working to provide the city with tools that will help them efficiently analyze the data they receive from the sensors on the bridge. Ingenuity Labs will also be using UAVs to help the city inspect infrastructure beyond the bridge to make decisions about maintenance.

“The City of Kingston gives our students great opportunities to do field work close to campus and use the city as a kind of living lab for them to test ideas and build their skill sets,” says Dr. Woods. “Ingenuity Labs looks forward to continue working with them in the future.”

Learn more on the City of Kingston website and the Ingenuity Labs website.

Impact on the community

This project makes up part of Queen’s social and economic impact on the Kingston community and surrounding area, which has been measured in a study conducted by Deloitte. That study found that Queen’s students, faculty, and staff annually raise more than $1 million to support local causes. It also found that Queen’s students work thousands of volunteer hours for local causes.

Learn more about the community and economic impact of Queen’s students and read the full study on the Queen’s Economic and Community Impact website.

Building Community Together

This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting how students across Queen’s are building community together through meaningful projects in the Kingston area.

Queen’s community gathers for the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

Students, faculty and staff join in-person ceremony to remember the 14 victims of the mass shooting that took place on Dec. 6, 1989.

  • Queen's community members gather for an in-person ceremony marking National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
    Queen's community members gather for an in-person ceremony marking National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
  • Kevin Deluzio, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, speaks during Tuesday's event at Beamish-Munro Hall.
    Kevin Deluzio, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science speaks during Tuesday's event at Beamish-Munro Hall.
  • Each of the 14 victims of the mass shooting that took place on Dec. 6, 1989 were recognized during the special ceremony organized by the Engineering Society.
    Each of the 14 victims of the mass shooting that took place on Dec. 6, 1989 were recognized during the special ceremony organized by the Engineering Society.
  • The permanent Dec. 6 memorial in Beamish-Munro Hall was designed by Queen's alumna Haley Adams (Sc'21), and unveiled in 2020.
    The permanent Dec. 6 memorial in Beamish-Munro Hall was designed by Queen's alumna Haley Adams (Sc'21), and unveiled in 2020.

The Queen’s community took time on Tuesday to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

In the annual event, hosted by the Engineering Society and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, 14 women, representing engineering students, staff, and faculty, held red roses, lit white candles and read a brief outline of each of the victims who were killed on Dec. 6, 1989 at Montreal’s l’École Polytechnique.

Those gathered crowd also heard from Kevin Deluzio, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and other speakers.

This year’s event was also the first opportunity for many Queen’s community members to observe the day in the presence of the permanent Dec. 6 memorial in Beamish-Munro Hall. The memorial was designed by Queen’s alumna Haley Adams (Sc’21), and was unveiled in 2020.

Remembering the victims of Dec. 6

Queen’s marks the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women with an in-person ceremony. 

Photograph of December 6 memorial in Beamish-Munro Hall
The permanent Dec. 6 memorial in Beamish-Munro Hall was designed by Queen's alumna Haley Adams (Sc'21), and unveiled in 2020.

For the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Queen’s community will be joining together in person without gathering restrictions for a live ceremony to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women on Dec. 6. The national day memorializes the 14 women who were murdered at l’École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989. It is a day to remember the victims and think about the effects that gender-based violence has had – and continues to have – on society.

The ceremony is organized by students in the Engineering Society, and it will be held in the Beamish-Munro Hall atrium at 11 a.m.

“It is important for all of us never to forget the horrific acts of violence that occurred on Dec. 6, 1989,” says Kevin Deluzio, Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. “The 14 victims were targeted because they were women, and the engineering community needs to honour their memory by continually striving to be more inclusive and equitable. I hope people from across the Queen’s community join us in reflecting on the significance of this day.”

During the ceremony, 14 members of the Queen’s community will read the names of the 14 victims, share facts about their lives, and reflect on why it is important to remember them. A moment of silence will follow.

This year will also be the first opportunity for many Queen’s community members to observe the day in the presence of the permanent Dec. 6 memorial in Beamish-Munro Hall. The memorial was designed by Queen’s alumna Haley Adams (Sc’21), and it was unveiled in 2020.

“The centerpiece of the memorial is the white rose, which is surrounded by a petal for each of the women who lost their lives that day. The petals drift along the wall, representing the idea that although we move forward, their memories are with us,” says Adams. “It is my hope that this memorial can act as a gentle reminder to this generation of engineers that diversity in the profession is our strength. Only when the engineering community reflects the society we serve can we best design for the needs of our communities.”

Supporting the next generation of leading researchers

Eight Queen’s students and researchers have been recognized nationally with Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships.

[Photo collage - clockwise: Fateme Babaha, Mackenzie Collins, Jessica Hallenbeck, Joshua Kofsky, Sandra Smeltzer, Jodi-Mae John, Michael P.A. Murphy, Chloe Halpenny.]
Clockwise: Fateme Babaha, Mackenzie Collins, Jessica Hallenbeck, Joshua Kofsky, Sandra Smeltzer, Jodi-Mae John, Michael P.A. Murphy, Chloe Halpenny.

Canada’s top funding agencies have announced the recipients of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships, two of the most prestigious national awards for doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. Eight Queen’s students and fellows are among this year’s recipients recognized for their exceptional research achievements and leadership skills.

"The Government of Canada continues to make record investments in science and research because we know it’s key to creating a more equitable future for all," says the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. "This year’s recipients of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships represent the highest calibre of researchers in the health sciences, natural sciences and engineering, and social sciences and humanities. They will bring new voices and new insights to help ensure that cutting-edge discoveries continue to propel Canada as a global leader."

Jointly funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), these awards recognize students who have demonstrated exceptional scholarly achievement and leadership in their research fields. This year, more than 200 students and fellows across Canada will be receiving an investment of $34.7 million in funding over three years to support their top-tier research.

"Queen’s is honoured to host this year’s Vanier and Banting scholars, students whose academic excellence and leadership have been recognized at a national level," says Fahim Quadir, Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs. "We are tremendously proud of these individuals, who embody Queen’s aim to foster a culture of bold knowledge production and reflective new thinking and learning in pursuit of a better future."

Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships

The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships program provides $140,000 of funding over two years to the very best postdoctoral applicants, both nationally and internationally, who will positively contribute to Canada’s economic, social, and research-based growth. Queen’s recipients include:

Jessica Hallenbeck (Cultural Studies) – Flow: Film as a method for decolonial digital publishing

Michael P.A. Murphy (Political Studies) – Active teaching, assessment, and evaluation in political science

Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships

The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships program provides $150,000 of funding over three years to doctoral students who demonstrate leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences, and/or engineering and health. Queen’s recipients include:

CIHR

Fateme Babaha (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) – Evaluation of a novel native enhancer element from the factor 8 locus to improve adeno-associated virus (AAV) delivered FVIII transgene expression

NSERC

Sandra Smeltzer (Chemical Engineering) – Polymeric materials as a replacement for toxic surfactants in waterborne coating production

Mackenzie Collins (Collaborative Biomedical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering) – Developing a prototype of an eye-gaze based system for emotion identification in children with cerebral palsy

Joshua Kofsky (Chemistry) – Synthesis of complex O-glycans for probing glycan-protein binding interactions

SSHRC

Jodi-Mae John (Geography and Planning) – Exploring Kanyen'keha:ka (Mohawk) values and relationship building with healthcare providers in Kenhte:ke (Tyendinaga)

Chloe Halpenny (Kinesiology and Health Studies) – She works hard for the money: A critical feminist analysis of social assistance in Ontario

For more information on this year’s recipients, visit the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada website.

Engineering solutions for a sustainable future

Kerry Rowe has been awarded the inaugural NSERC Donna Strickland Prize for Societal Impact for his research improving the design of waste containment facilities worldwide.

[Photo of Dr. Kerry Rowe]
Dr. Kerry Rowe, Canada Research Chair in Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering, in his lab in Ellis Hall where his team tests the integrity of different types of landfill liners using environmental simulations.

Landfills are likely not the first thing that comes to mind when asked what type of municipal infrastructure is most important. Yet, a contamination disaster quickly alerts us to how devastating landfill leakages can be for a community’s supply of groundwater and the surrounding environment.

Devoting his life’s work to the prevention and remediation of groundwater and surface water contamination disasters, Queen’s researcher Dr. Kerry Rowe (Civil Engineering) has pioneered the field of geoenvironmental engineering and transformed landfill barrier systems around the world. Today, he was awarded the inaugural NSERC Donna Strickland Prize for Societal Impact of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research, which recognizes outstanding research that has led to exceptional benefits for Canadian society, the environment, and the economy. Named after the 2018 Canadian Nobel Laureate in Physics, the award also comes with a $250,000 grant to support the recipient’s continued research and knowledge dissemination.

Dr. Rowe’s work has impacted regulations, contaminant remediation, design, and the construction practice of landfills across three continents. His research focuses on the measures in place in waste disposal sites to ensure environmental protection, recognizing that some can, and will, fail at some time. By introducing innovations in the design of covers, fluid collection and liners, as well as improvements in regulatory and safety procedures, Dr. Rowe has guided the safe development of waste containment sites around the world.

"By putting the innovative systems in place to prevent waste contamination, Dr. Rowe’s research has had a profound impact on the health and wellbeing of millions of people worldwide," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "Congratulations to Dr. Rowe on receiving this prestigious national honour."

In an interview with the Queen’s Gazette, Dr. Rowe reflects on milestones, what the award means to him, and the future of the field.


How does it feel to be the first recipient of the NSERC Donna Strickland Prize?

It is great to see that there is now an award for the social impact of natural science and engineering research, and of course, I am delighted to be the first winner. To me, it's recognition of the critical role played by the research of civil engineers and, in this case more specifically, the sub-discipline of geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineers. The application of their work to both improving and protecting lives can sometimes fly under the radar. So, beyond the recognition of the specific work undertaken by my team of collaborators and students, it's great to see this recognition of our profession.

Your research has been a driving force in the implementation of life-saving improvements and safety standards around the world. Looking back on your career, what has been your process in achieving this?

As in all research, my work begins by identifying an important problem, finding a solution, and publishing the results. However, as I look back over the past 40 years, the major challenge in establishing a new sub-discipline and having an impact on society has been influencing regulations and practitioners in both the adoption of new methods of design and construction, and avoiding practices that save money in the short-term, but ultimately lead to future problems and substantial financial and social costs. One key element of that process has been the training of highly qualified personnel (HQP) and having them also carry the message to industry and regulatory authorities. Today, many of my former HQP are industry leaders.

You’ve stated that "working with nature rather than fighting nature and making nature work for us instead of against us" has been a key component to your research. How do you think this approach has guided your discoveries and identified opportunities for innovation?

There are many aspects to how nature influences geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering. Examples include water that will always find a path of least resistance, bacteria that have been around since the dawn of life and are amazingly adaptable, and processes like diffusion which are often thought to be too slow to be of consequence but turn out to be major players in managing environmental issues.

In the early days of thoughtful landfill design (1980s-1990s), sand was used to drain the contaminated fluid, called leachate, generated by the waste itself and the percolation of water through the waste. This would make sense had leachate simply been water, since water drains easily through coarse sand. However, it was soon found that the sand was being cemented together and substantially lost its ability to collect leachate. This is because leachate is mostly water but also contains bacteria, dissolved chemicals like calcium and this combination produces calcium carbonate which blocks water passageways through the sand. Using coarse gravel, instead of sand, was the first step in reducing the problem, but the bacteria were still the enemy and given time would clog the gravel.

The more effective approach we adopted involved placing a layer above the drainage layer where the same bacteria cleaned up the leachate, reducing the potential for clogging in the drainage layer while locking up contaminates like heavy metals and still allowing adequate drainage. Thus, the bacteria ceased to be our bio-enemy and became a bio-friend.

[Photo of Dr. Rowe's team working on installing a liner at the Queen's University Environmental Liner Test Site in Godfrey, Ontario]
Dr. Rowe's team works on installing a liner at the Queen's University Environmental Liner Test Site in Godfrey, Ontario.

What do you think will be the next obstacle in maintaining the safety and success of our landfills?

For landfills, the major challenge of the next decade, or more, will be managing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These are human-made chemicals that have become ubiquitous in our daily lives over the last 60 years and are in numerous items, from food packaging to beauty products, to carpets and numerous other products, that find a way into landfills and result in concentrations in leachate at levels 100 to 1000 times what is considered acceptable in drinking water. They are sometimes called “forever chemicals” since they do not readily breakdown in a landfill.

There are numerous implications both for existing and future landfills, such as how they affect the service life of the engineered system. Looking beyond landfills, the movement to green energy has many unintended consequences that have not received adequate consideration. Along with climate change and its implications for all forms of waste management, these challenges will keep us busy for the next decade or more.

You’ve been recognized during your career with 130 awards and honours, including being made an Officer of the Order of Canada and a Fellow of the Royal Society (UK). You’ve also trained 157 graduate students. What advice do you give your students looking to make an impact with their research?

My advice is to focus their research on solving important questions that address problems that are now, or in the future, likely to impact society. This does not mean solving today's problem tomorrow. My key contributions have each taken a couple of decades to do the fundamental research behind the practical solution to a problem that impacts society. My point here is that there is too much tendency to want immediate results. Breaking new ground in research always requires patience.

[Photo of Dr. Kerry Rowe along with graduate students Jiying Fan and Farhana Jabin in his lab in Ellis Hall.]
Dr. Kerry Rowe with graduate students Farhana Jabin and Jiying Fan in his lab in Ellis Hall.

To learn more about the Donna Strickland Prize and other named NSERC prizes, visit the NSERC website.


Building on a history of excellence

Queen’s researchers have been recipients of some of NSERC’s most prestigious awards and distinctions. Their achievements have also been inspiration for others. In 2020, the E.W.R Steacie Memorial Fellowships established to support early-stage researchers was renamed to honour Queen’s Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald. From outstanding contributions to science communication, to building multi-disciplinary teams to draw on their combined knowledge, and receiving the highest value funding grants, Queen’s researchers are tackling some of the world’s most significant and urgent challenges.

Learn more about these accomplishments below:

Discovery Grant

Awarded to innovative and bold research projects with the potential to create big impacts and to fund projects with long-term goals and support researchers with flexibility to explore multiple avenues in their field of study

2021 Highest Value: Dr. Cathleen Crudden

Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering

Recognizes outstanding Canadian teams of researchers from different disciplines who came together to engage in research drawing on their combined knowledge and skills, and produced a record of excellence achievements in the natural sciences and engineering

2019: Drs. Pascale Champagne, Michael Cunningham, Philip Jessop, Warren Mabee

2013: Drs. John Smol and Jules Blais (University of Ottawa)

Awards for Science Promotion

Honour individuals and groups who make an outstanding contribution to the promotion of science in Canada through activities encouraging popular interest in science or developing science abilities

2019: Dr. Lynda Colgan

Arthur B. McDonald Fellowships

Awarded annually to recognize early-stage academic researchers in the natural sciences and engineering and to enhance their research capacity so that they can become leaders in and inspire others (Previously known as the E.W.R. Steacie Memoral Fellowships)

2018: Dr. Ahmed Hassan

2008: Dr. Troy Day

2003: Dr. Zongchao Jia

NSERC John C. Polanyi Award

Given to an individual or team whose research, conducted in Canada, has led to a recent outstanding advance in any NSERC-supported field of the natural sciences or engineering

2008: Dr. Philip Jessop

Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

Awarded annually to an individual whose body of work, conducted in Canada in the natural sciences for engineering, has demonstrated persistent excellence and influence

2004: Dr. John Smol

2003: Dr. Arthur McDonald, Nobel Prize Laureate in Physics

Participate in Science Rendezvous Kingston 2023

Each year, the Queen’s research community comes together to provide Kingstonians with a day of interactive and family-friendly science activities. As one of the longest-running and most successful outreach events in Canada, Science Rendezvous Kingston provides an opportunity for our faculty, students, and staff to give back to the community while exercising their ability to communicate with the public. The Vice-Principal (Research) Portfolio is now calling out for researchers or groups interested in having a booth in Science Rendezvous Kingston 2023. The event will be hosted on May 13 at the Leon’s Centre.

During the annual event, thousands of visitors have first-hand opportunities to engage with scientists: asking questions, doing experiments, exploring artefacts, and using equipment. All activities are free, thus providing quality exhibits to families for whom costly museums, zoos, nature and environmental programs, and other science-rich experiential opportunities are out of reach.

From virtual tours of SNOLAB to birding guides, activity booklets, instructional guides, book recommendations and teaching modules, Science Rendezvous Kingston strives to educate, engage, and inspire learners of all ages to become aware of and trust science as well as the people behind it. After a virtual edition in 2021 and a hybrid one in 2022, the initiative is ready to go back to a full in-person event, while maintaining a website with educational resources available year-round.

Science Rendezvous Kingston is part of Science Odyssey, a national campaign created by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to celebrate Canadian achievements in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.

Welcoming new and exciting experiences

A limited number of booths are available for 2023. Individuals, labs and departments at Queen’s who would like to be a part of this exciting and impactful public education event are welcome to complete the application form by December 1, 2022 at 4:30 p.m.

Applicants are reminded that the event is family focused. While there is no fee for a booth, it is the responsibility of the booth coordinator to ensure that there are sufficient consumable materials and volunteers for the full day of activities.

Successful applicants will be advised of their place in the program by January 13, 2023.

Any questions, contact Lynda Colgan, Coordinator, Science Rendezvous Kingston and Executive Director, Science Rendezvous at Lynda.Colgan@queensu.ca

Using carbon dioxide to build a green future

Chemical engineering researcher Cao Thang Dinh is attempting to turn one of the world’s worst pollutants into sustainable fuels and chemicals.

Aerial photography of passing vehicles on highway leading to Toronto.
Queen's researchers are looking at how to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into chemicals that can be used across industries. (Unsplash/ Matthew Henry)

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is critical to how we live our lives, but it is also one of the world’s main pollutants. For decades, both researchers and climate activists have been warning about the damage it can cause to the planet.

Sustainability plans and goals often focus on reducing CO2 emissions, which is crucial to avoid a climate catastrophe. A different and complementary approach is also on the horizon: to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into useful and sustainable products.

Assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, Cao Thang Dinh has developed technology to capture and convert CO2 into valuable chemicals and fuels using renewable energy. He recently spoke to the Gazette about his current research projects and his plans to create solutions advancing a greener future.

What are your overall research goals?

My lab’s current focus is carbon dioxide conversion technology, which has multiple advantages and the potential to solve some key world problems.

Worldwide, we emit around 40 million tons of CO2 every year, and one of our biggest challenges is how to reduce CO2 levels in the air. We are working on a technology that will enable us to do exactly that. Our first goal is to convert carbon dioxide into chemicals like methane, methanol and ethanol that can be used as fuels.

Dr. Cao Thang Dinh
Dr. Cao Thang Dinh

A second goal is to develop technology to use carbon dioxide as a precursor to produce other chemicals, like polymers – big molecules that we use to produce plastics, nylon, silicone, and other materials. We currently make polymers from fossil fuel precursors. If we can use CO2, we can make these materials more sustainable.

Lastly, an important aspect of our research is that we are looking for ways to convert electricity and green energy sources, like wind or solar energy, into liquid fuel that can be easily stored with current infrastructures. This would solve another huge challenge.

What are the main challenges in developing new carbon dioxide conversion technology?

Improving efficiency is one of them. We produce CO2 every time we burn fuels, and CO2 is a very stable molecule. To convert it into something new, we need energy: producing one liter of fuel from CO2 requires a lot of electricity, so high energy efficiency is a critical requirement.

The other challenge is how to control the conversion of CO2 into the desired molecules. Carbon dioxide can be converted into many different molecules in a single process. This is great opportunity to produce a variety of products. However, we need to make sure we are being selective on what we are producing – otherwise, we will have to spend a lot of energy purifying the final product.

How is the technology you are proposing different from existing technologies?

There are research groups working on technology to capture carbon dioxide from the air or from power plant exhausts. And there’s technology for CO2 conversion. But what we are trying to achieve is to combine both processes in the same system to significantly reduce the amount of energy needed for CO2 capture and conversion.

We’ve built an integrated system capable of capturing and converting carbon dioxide, with higher energy efficiency. We are also working on solutions to improve selectivity in the CO2 conversion to various products.

When can we expect this new technology to be available?

That will depend on the kind of molecules we are hoping to produce from CO2. For simpler molecules, like carbon monoxide or formic acid, the technology is already advanced and there are some startups working on making this technology available, although it is still an expensive technology. I would say in the next three to five years we will see the scale-up of products using this technology.

For more complex products, it can take longer.

We want to use this technology to produce fuels like ethanol or a precursor to make plastics like polyethylene. As an example, it could be used to produce plastic bottles, which is a huge market. However, the technology to make these is not yet advanced.

Are there other areas where your work have potential impact?

Yes. We can apply the same principles we use in carbon dioxide conversion to other molecules. We have a project with an industrial partner where we convert the oxygen in the air into hydrogen peroxide and then incorporate it into a wastewater treatment system. We are also exploring how to produce different chemicals for agricultural purposes. One project we are working on is to convert CO2 and nitrogen from the air to produce urea – a widely used fertilizer.

What excites you most about the possibility of this technology?

Imagine that we can produce fuels, materials, and fertilizers in a sustainable and distributed way from solar, wind, air, and water, which are available almost everywhere. This would provide access to clean energy, water, and food to everyone – a truly sustainable world.

Communicating research beyond the academy

In-person workshops with The Conversation Canada will help Queen’s researchers reach bigger audiences with their expertise.

[graphic image] Queen's University & The Conversation workshops

Researchers are experts in their fields and know how society could make use of their expertise to support critical thinking and daily decision making related to a range of topics – from climate change, health, politics, technology, to the economy, and many other topics. But communicating evidence-based knowledge has its challenges: what platform to use? Which aspects of the research are the most interesting to the public? How to address complex issues in a language everyone can understand?

In two workshops hosted by University Relations, the editorial team of The Conversation Canada will walk researchers through these and other questions. The in-person, hands-on workshops will feature what makes a good article, how to explain your research effectively, and how to work with The Conversation to boost research promotion across mediums.

The workshops will be held on Thursday, Oct. 20 at Mitchell Hall (see sidebar to learn more). Faculty members, post-docs, and graduate students are welcome to participate. In the afternoon session, there will be a focus on how to promote research in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Seats are limited to 40 participants in each session. Refreshments will be provided.

The Conversation and Queen’s

The Conversation, an online news platform created in Australia in 2011, pairs academic experts with experienced journalists to write informed content that can be shared and repurposed by media outlets worldwide. Following its success in Australia, regional editions began appearing worldwide and, in 2017, The Conversation Canada launched with support from some of the country’s top universities, including Queen’s, and Canada’s research funding agencies.

As a founding member of The Conversation Canada, the Queen’s research community has embraced the platform as a unique tool for sharing their research expertise and engaging with the media. Almost 270 Queen’s researchers have published 425 articles that have garnered over 8 million views via The Conversation Canada’s website. Through the platform’s Creative Commons Licensing and newswire access, hundreds of major media outlets, including The National Post, CNN, TIME, The Washington Post, The Weather Network, Today’s Parent, and Scientific American, have republished these pieces.

From cryptocurrencies to how eating rhythms impact our mental health, Queen’s researchers have written on a variety of timely and timeless topics. Some of our most-read articles looked at the physical symptoms caused by pandemic stress, the drama of Haitian children abandoned by UN fathers, the extinction of a bird species, the rising popularity of spirituality without religion, and the negative effects of salting icy roads on aquatic ecosystems.

The Conversation Canada and Queen’s University Workshops

Thursday, Oct. 20

Session 1:
10 to 11:30 a.m. (Click to register.)

Session 2 (STEM research):
2 to 3:30 p.m. (Click to register.)

Rose Innovation Hub Space,
Mitchell Hall

For any questions, contact researchcommunications@queensu.ca

The Conversation is a powerful tool for community engagement, bolstering the efforts of our researchers to share their expertise and build profile,” says Michael Fraser, Vice-Principal (University Relations). “We have seen participation from every faculty, and Queen’s continues to show leadership in contributing to the platform among Canadian peers.”

The workshops: How to write for The Conversation

The workshops will be led by Scott White, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of The Conversation Canada, and Nehal El-Hadi, the Science + Technology Editor of The Conversation Canada. The in-person program will highlight the changing media landscape, the role of The Conversation and researchers as credible news sources, and how to craft the perfect pitch. Participants will develop pitch ideas and can receive real-time editorial feedback.

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