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Engineering and Applied Science

Cast your vote for the Art of Research

The public has until June 2 to vote for their favourite Queen's research photo in the People’s Choice category.

[Collage of photos with text: Art of Research photo contest]
A selection of Queen's research photos included in the People's Choice vote as part of the Art of Research photo contest.

Voting is now open for the People’s Choice prize in the annual Art of Research photo contest. The public is invited to cast their ballot and participate in promoting the diversity of research happening across Queen’s.

Hosted by the Office of the Vice-Principal (University Relations), the annual contest is an opportunity for Queen’s researchers to mobilize their research beyond the academy. The contest is aimed at providing a creative and accessible method of sharing the ground-breaking research being done by the Queen’s community and celebrating the global and social impact of this work.

Contest prizes

The 2022 contest has been reimagined through the lens of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to celebrate the impact of research in advancing these important global goals. Five new categories inspired by the SDGs were introduced for this year’s contest alongside the popular People’s Choice prize.

Images selected for voting in the People’s Choice are entries that generated discussion and were shortlisted by the adjudication committee.

All prizes come with a monetary prize of $250.

Cast your vote

The survey closes on June 2 at midnight. Winners of the 2022 Art of Research photo contest will be announced shortly following the vote.

To learn more about past contests, visit the Research@Queen’s website.

2022 Art of Research Adjudication Committee

  • Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research)
  • Kanonhsyonne - Janice Hill, Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation)
  • Nicholas Mosey, Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Arts and Science
  • Heidi Ploeg, QFEAS Chair for Women in Engineering, Mechanical and Materials Engineering
  • Ruth Dunley, Associate Director, Editorial Strategy, Office of Advancement
  • Jung-Ah Kim, PhD Student, Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies
  • Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, University Relations
  • Véronique St-Antoine, Communications Advisor, NSERC

Inspired by the human brain

Queen’s researchers advance the evolving field of neuromorphic photonic computing.

Male researcher looking at a microscope.
The field of photonics looks at how to send and process information using light instead of electricity.

The idea that the human brain, the most impressive machine ever known, could inspire the development of computers is not new. In fact, the concept of artificial networks inspired by neurons, the central units that make up the brain, first surfaced in the 1950s. But the last decade has seen a resurgence of research programs looking at building neuromorphic computing with the help of a new ally: photonics.

Computers are traditionally built as electronic devices, relying on transistors to communicate information – roughly, a transistor works like a switch that can be on or off, and a specific sequence of commands tells the computer what to do. This digital system is very efficient in performing several tasks, and over the years, we’ve developed better, faster, and smaller transistors to power our computers. Today, a standard computer has tens of billions of them.

While electronics are an excellent solution for many of our computing needs, they are not ideal for addressing challenges like advancing artificial intelligence or machine learning capacity. And that’s why the human brain has surfaced once again as an inspiration for computing.

“We have realized that our brains are very good computers, but they do not operate with transistor-like switches. The brain uses a very different computing model,” explains Bhavin Shastri, assistant professor of in the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy and a pioneer in the emerging field of neuromorphic photonics. “Our brain does not operate with ones and zeros, but with analog, continuous signals.”

Because electronics cannot provide a good model for analog systems, scientists started looking at photonics, a field that investigates how to use light – instead of electricity – to send and process information.

 “Light behaves very differently from electrons, and in some cases, those are advantageous behaviors for certain applications,” says Alex Tait, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “For instance, in communications, fibre optic cables replaced electronic wiring because light is just more effective: it can communicate more information per second.”

Bhavin Shastri and Alex Tait
Bhavin Shastri and Alex Tait have been collaborating for over a decade in research to advance neuromorphic photonic computing.

For over a decade, Shastri and Tait have been collaborating on research that looks at how photonics can benefit neuromorphic computing. After doing proofs of concept, fabricating, and demonstrating devices, they are now working on how to build this knowledge into an actual, usable computer.

The distributed, non-sequential, parallel communications between neurons are crucial for tasks like pattern matching, reasoning, and categorizing information – tasks a brain does well, but computers have limited ability to do.

“Our brains are also extremely efficient in performing those tasks using very little energy. Our brain can do a thousand times more operations than the fastest existing supercomputer, using a million times less energy,” suggests Shastri.

Tait explains that the goal in developing light-based neuromorphic computers is not to substitute what we use today but rather to explore specific needs that can’t be met by traditional computing or that photonic can address more efficiently.

“It has great potential in situations where you need to reduce energy consumption – like in data centers where you're doing tons of number crunching. And they can be applied in situations where you need faster processing, like in a self-driving car where you must make decisions very quickly,” he adds.

Photonic computing can also be key in advancing other science areas, like high-energy physics and experiments to detect new fundamental particles. Shastri explains: “When you are looking at particles that collide in a particle accelerator, you collect a lot of data, but not all of it is useful. Machine learning techniques can help sort the useful information faster – and photonics might be the bridge to link these two disciplines together.”

To learn more about how Queen’s is advancing the field of neuromorphic photonics, access the Shastri Lab website.

Research that reaches for the stars

Multidisciplinary Queen’s research projects explore impact of space travel on health, including bone loss and aging.

Experiencing space flight and being amongst the stars is a dream out of this world for many, but for astronauts, there can be serious health implications that accompany space travel.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has identified three human space flight risks as high priorities: bone fragility, mission risks associated with altered metabolism, and the effect of nutrient composition of diet on health during space missions. With support from the CSA, Queen’s research teams are exploring how to make space travel safer by better understanding how astronaut diets affects bone loss, and how space flight may impact astronauts’ DNA and the aging process.

Preventing bone loss in space

Rachel Holden
Rachel Holden (Medicine)

Research shows that astronauts lose substantial amounts of bone during space missions. It's a mystery that has inspired researchers at Queen's to take a closer look at a mineral that is commonly found in many foods — phosphate. Phosphate is important for bone health, but abnormalities in the way the body processes phosphate have been linked to bone loss on Earth. Since astronauts on the International Space Station consume high levels of phosphate, it led the multidisciplinary research team of Heidi Ploeg (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) and Rachel Holden (Medicine), experts in orthopaedic biomechanics and vascular calcification in chronic kidney disease, to question if there is an association.

Normally, the phosphate a person consumes would go into their blood and any extra would be removed by the kidneys. However, if a person’s kidneys don't work properly, they can develop high phosphate levels in their blood which can stimulate the loss of calcium from their bones. Researchers are now seeing this outcome of weaker bones in people without kidney issues as influenced by diets that are high in the amount of phosphate due to its addition by food manufacturers. Since food in space is enriched with inorganic phosphate for preservation, this could be contributing to bone loss in astronauts as well.

“In the last five years it has become evident that dietary phosphate intake may promote cardiovascular disease and bone loss in people with adequate kidney function. Dietary phosphate intake has risen substantially over the past 10 years as inorganic phosphate is increasingly added to food for preservation by the food manufacturing industry,” Dr. Holden says.

Heidi Ploeg
Heidi Ploeg (Mechanical and Materials Engineering)

For Dr. Ploeg, the Chair for Women in Engineering at Queen's, the project provides interesting insights into how bone can adapt to its environments.

“Bone is an amazing structure. It's beautifully complex and best of all it adapts in response to its environment. Engineers can learn about optimal and self-heal structures by studying biological structures like bone,” Dr. Ploeg says. “If we can better understand this process, we can better assess fragility fracture risk and reduce these fracture rates through treatments including diet, physical therapy, and pharmaceuticals.”

Understanding how dietary phosphate promotes bone loss could reduce the burden of chronic disease in our aging society on Earth through regulations, and could contribute to the overall health of astronauts and the success of long-duration space missions in the future.

How does DNA replicate under microgravity?

Another Queen’s research team looking at human health during space travel is Virginia Walker’s lab in biology. The team's research has shown that DNA replication under microgravity — a small amount of gravity such as what is found in space, causing astronauts to “float” — is less accurate than under Earth gravity. This could pose risks for astronaut health including cancer and age-related problems during extended periods in space — like on missions to a future Moon station or Mars. To do this work, graduate student Aaron Rosenstein flew two missions aboard the CSA and National Research Council’s Falcon 20 jet, better known as the “vomit comet,” which simulates space flight.

Dr. Walker’s interest in space began when she was a child and the first lunar mission, Apollo 11, launched in 1969. This interest was reinforced by the show Star Trek, while Rosenstein was fittingly inspired by Star Trek, Next Generation.

Aaron Rosenstein prepares for a flight on the 'vomit comet'.
Aaron Rosenstein, Queen's graduate student at the time, flew two missions aboard the CSA and National Research Council’s Falcon 20 jet, better known as the “vomit comet,” which simulates space flight. (Supplied Photo)

Dr. Walker’s research in the area of the molecular genetic responses to stress led her to research extreme habitats, including those that are models for Mars. Her lectures on astrobiology caught Rosenstein’s imagination, who at the time was an undergraduate life science student. He and others created a student club and invited Dr. Walker to be the faculty advisor. This club’s work led to a CSA research grant that has recently concluded.

Their study found that DNA polymerases — the enzymes essential for DNA replication — make more errors in microgravity. This means there could be a health risk for astronauts on extended missions in space — since decreased DNA replication accuracy could lead to premature aging and cancer. Dr. Walker says this demonstrates the importance of designing spaceships that alleviate such negative effects.

“Our research, showing that more mistakes can be made when replicating DNA in microgravity, will surely bolster efforts by the international community to create artificial gravity by rotating space stations, for example,” Dr. Walker says.

As humans continue to push the boundaries of space travel, there are important health implications that the CSA has identified. The work by Dr. Walker, Dr. Ploeg, and Dr. Holden will contribute to the research to make space flight safer for those who venture off Earth.

Science Rendezvous Day declared

Queen’s and the Kingston community prepare for popular science festival recently proclaimed an official day on May 7.

Kids participate on hands-on science activities during Science Rendezvous
Leon's Centre in Downtown Kingston will host over 30 hands-on science activities for people of all ages.

From a bird walk across City Park to seeing real fossils of Ice Age creatures, Queen’s will be once again hosting its favourite hands-on science event: Science Rendezvous. After being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and pivoting to virtual in 2021, the Kingston-based science festival is ready for an in-person comeback. Earlier this year, Mayor Bryan Paterson, on behalf of the Kingston City Council, proclaimed May 7, 2022 as “Science Rendezvous Kingston Day” in the City of Kingston.

“I like to say Science Rendezvous Kingston is like a spring garden that bursts into full bloom each May. It is colourful, diverse and waiting to be walked through, discovered and enjoyed,” says Professor Emerita in the Faculty of Education Lynda Colgan, who has been leading the event in Kingston for the past decade.

Science Rendezvous is part of Science Odyssey, a country-wide science festival powered by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to celebrate Canadian research in all STEM areas. This year will mark the 11th annual Science Rendezvous celebrated in Kingston.

The free, family-oriented event at the Leon’s Centre in downtown Kingston will feature Queen’s research in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). A large team of volunteers, including many Queen’s faculty, staff and students will be on hand to help the public navigate through the exhibits and answer visitor’s questions. Over 30 interactive displays will be set up, covering topics like space research, the human brain and heart, mining, climate, robotics and more.

Exhibitors include the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute and SNOLAB, the Queen’s Cardiovascular Imaging Network at Queen's (CINQ Lab), the Chemistry Department, the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and the Queen’s Baja Dune Buggy team.

Kids participate on hands-on science activities during Science Rendezvous
Outdoor activities are also part of Science Rendezvous 2022.

That same day, the Kingston Frontenac Public Library will host two different hands-on workshops, “Ice Age”, for grades 4-6, and “Youth Climate Lab Policy Jam,” for secondary students. While these activities are also free, pre-registration is required due to limited space.

Ahead of the big day, the Science Rendezvous team will offer a sneak peek of the activities at Kingston’s Springer Market Square on Wednesday, May 4 from 3-6 pm where the public will have the chance to interact with robots, look inside working beehives, see fossil skulls from pre-historic giant mammals, and operate a ping pong ball cannon.

The program for this year’s science festival also includes virtual presentations and workshops running from May 6-13, including a virtual tour of SNOLAB, Canada’s deep underground research laboratory near Sudbury, Ontario, and a presentation on how robots can improve the daily work of dairy farms. Those virtual activities require pre-registration.

On May 4, the Science Rendezvous Kingston team is also launching STEM on DEMAND, a collection of resources for educators and families to keep STEM learning alive all year long. “With over 30 groups providing videos, activity booklets and instruction sheets, children can learn and have fun to extend the Science Rendezvous experience in many purposeful and engaging ways,” says Dr. Colgan.

For more information and registration links, access the website.

Robots to improve human mobility

Queen’s researcher Amy Wu investigates how people walk, building knowledge that can lead to the development of robots that can help people with disabilities.

Researchers interact with the Spot robot at the Ingenuity Labs.
The state-of-the-art Spot robot, a collaborative research tool at Ingenuity Labs, can be used to study topics ranging from autonomous monitoring of remote sites to directly assistance of humans during joint tasks. The robot is capable of walking at fast speeds, on uneven terrain, and up and down stairs, making it highly suitable for test and deployment in the range of environments required for practical applications.

Most people take walking for granted, as this is something they master as toddlers and remains intuitive throughout the rest of their lives. For Amy Wu, the Mitchell Professor in Bio-inspired Robotics in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, walking means much more: human mobility is her object of research.

Dr. Wu pays close attention to how humans move in regular and challenging conditions, looking for insights that will change the way we think and build assistive technologies. Her research blends two interests: biomechanics and robotics, with a focus on locomotion and balance control. In a nutshell, Dr. Wu’s goal is to understand how humans move to help improve human mobility.

“The idea is to study the principles of how humans walk and balance, and use these insights to build better robots,” she explains, noting that there’s a variety of potential applications, from walking robots to wearable devices and exoskeletons that will restore mobility for people with disabilities.

A member of the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute, Dr. Wu’s team uses state-of-the-art technology to investigate human gait and balance. Volunteers in the lab wear reflective markers all over their bodies and walk in front of a high-resolution recording camera and over a platform that measures the force their feet apply to the ground. Additionally, the researchers monitor respiration – specifically, oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide expenditures to better understand the how much energy people exert while walking.

Amy Wu – Queen’s Mitchell Professor in Bio-Inspired Robotics from Queen's Engineering on Vimeo.

Dr. Wu meticulously observes how the human body behaves under different conditions. She pays attention, for instance, to how different joints bend, or how high one needs to lift their feet to avoid tripping, or how a faster or slower gait changes the way the body moves.

“We are also starting to study how people move outside. We monitored volunteers walking in a loop around campus in the summer months and then during winter, looking at how they change their gait to avoid slipping and falling,” says Dr. Wu, noting that there’s not a lot of studies that have looked at stability in walking outdoors – doing experiments in these settings poses some extra challenges to the research, because the environment can’t be completely controlled.

Knowledge obtained through this in-depth investigation of human motion can be applied in a variety of ways, including the previously mentioned wearable devices, or in the development of legged robots that can walk side-by-side with people to help them out, or even robots built to explore places no human can reach – Traveling to another planet? A location devastated by a natural disaster? One can imagine innumerous possibilities.

But while it is easy to dream of imaginative scenarios, Dr. Wu’s feet are firmly planted on the ground. Part of her research is looking at the practical ways in which robots can move from sci-fi movies and books into interacting and supporting humans in their everyday lives. That includes how to balance function and design to facilitate the interaction between humans and robots, which is crucial in developing robots that will help people in their daily tasks. We need to ensure our assistive robots are easy to operate, safe, and, ideally, affordable.

Queen's Engineering researchers designed an exoskeleton that improves walking efficiency, allowing users to walk further while using less energy. The study was featured in the leading academic journal ScienceLearn more.

There’s also a lot of practical and ethical questions that need to be answered.

“If robots were everywhere, walking with us, carrying our groceries, or working by our side, how would they affect the way we behave? How can we design robots to be more acceptable and integrated with the society?” asks Dr. Wu.

Those are important questions the team keeps in mind while investigating how humans move and how robots can improve mobility in people with disabilities – one step at a time.

Transforming the global academy

Principal Patrick Deane on how the SDGs are helping break down silos, provoke dialogue, and unite us all in a common global purpose.

[Photo of Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane]
Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen's University

This op-ed was originally published in the Times Higher Education supplement in 2021.

As a member of the international group tasked with updating the Magna Charta Universitatum – the declaration of university freedoms and principles that was first signed in Bologna in 1988 – I am struck by the extent to which the intervening three decades have altered the global consensus about the nature and function of universities. Where the original document spoke eloquently to the fundamental values of the academy, the new Magna Charta Universitatum 2020 reaffirms those values but also expands upon their social function and utility. I would summarise the shift this way: we have moved from an understanding of universities as defined primarily by their ability to transcend historical contingency to a more complicated view, which asserts that timeless principles such as academic freedom and institutional autonomy are the platform from which the academy must engage with history.

If the situation in Europe and around the world in 1988 made it important to speak up for the freedoms without which teaching and research would be impoverished, by 2020 it had become equally important to speak of the responsibilities incumbent on institutions by virtue of the privileges accorded to them. The reality of rapid climate change has brought urgency and authority to this new view of universities, as have parallel trends in the social, cultural, and political climate, and “education for sustainable development” has emerged as the increasingly dominant model for global higher education – one which fuses the concerns of environment, society, and economy.  

Recent columns in Times Higher Education have admirably described the diverse ways in which the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been intrinsic to this reorientation of the global academy: as a rallying point for students and staff, as an accountability framework, and as a global language for political action, for example. Here at Queen’s University, the SDGs have been an important frame for our current planning process, and in all of those ways have influenced the manner in which we understand and wish to articulate our mission.

At one point in the process, an influential and valued friend of the university expressed some irritation to me about the way in which the SDGs had come to dominate and disrupt the university’s normally untroubled and inwardly-focused dialogue with itself about mission and values. “And in any case,” came the throwaway dismissal, “there’s nothing original or new about aligning with the SDGs.” Of course, that is true in 2021, but is it relevant? If a university is able to maximise its global impact, does the inherent originality or novelty of its planning parameters matter? In such exchanges – still occurring, I’m certain, on campuses everywhere – we can see that the changing consensus about which I wrote at the start is not yet complete.

It seems to me, in fact, that much of the value of the SDGs as an organising framework for universities resides in their not being proprietary or “original” to one institution, or to an exclusive group of institutions. It has often been pointed out that they now provide a shared language which helps universities in diverse geographical, political, and socio-economic locations understand and build upon the commonality of their work in both teaching and research. Adoption of the SDGs, however variously that is done from institution to institution, is turning the “global academy” from a rhetorical to a real construct, and I can’t imagine why it would be in the interests of any university to hold itself aloof from that transformation. Having watched our planning process unfold at Queen’s over the last two years, I can confirm that what the SDGs do at the global level, they do also at the level of the individual institution, providing a common language that provokes and sustains dialogue – not only between disciplines, but between the academic and non-academic parts of the operation.

I want to end by commenting on the excitement generated when siloes are broken open and when people and units understand how they are united with others in a common purpose and in service to the greater good. To cultivate that understanding has been the primary objective of planning at Queen’s for the last two years, and preparing our first submission to the Impact Rankings has been an intrinsic part of that process of learning and self-discovery. Naturally, we are delighted and excited by where we find ourselves in the rankings, but we are energised in a more profound way by the knowledge of what synergies and collaborations exist or appear possible both within our university and in the global academy.

The first 16 SDGs point to the areas in which we want to have impact. The 17th tells us what the whole project is really all about: acting in community for the communal good.

 

Queen’s secures second consecutive top 10 position globally in Times Higher Education Impact Rankings

Queen’s places 7th in international rankings out of over 1,500 institutions in advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

[7th in the world - 2022 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings]

Capturing 7th position globally, Queen’s is ranked in the top 10 of the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings for the second year in a row. The rankings measure the actions universities are taking to advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) both within and beyond their local communities. This 2022 international competition saw participation from over 1,500 post-secondary institutions (up from 1,240 in 2021).

Created in 2019, the THE Impact Rankings are the only international assessment to evaluate how universities’ programs and initiatives align with the SDGs. This set of 17 wide-ranging goals is central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a universal call to protect the planet and its people.

"I am incredibly proud of the Queen’s community for this repeat stellar performance," says Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen’s University. "The ranking recognizes the sustained impact we are having in our local and global communities, but also serves to inspire future action fueled by our collective intellectual curiosity, passion to achieve, and commitment to collaboration – key to our mission and values."

Using calibrated metrics and indicators across four key areas – research, teaching, outreach, and stewardship – the rankings assess hundreds of data points and qualitative evidence that tangibly measure the impact of higher education institutions in addressing urgent global challenges. Since its inaugural year in 2019, participation in the THE Rankings has increased from 450 institutions to 1,500 participating institutions across 110 countries in 2022. This includes 400 first-time ranked institutions and 24 Canadian universities.

"The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are unique in examining universities’ impact on society, through each of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals," says Phil Baty, Chief Knowledge Officer, Times Higher Education. "Canada is one of the outstanding performers in this ranking, with ten universities in the world top 50 – and it is great to see Queen’s among Canada’s leading institutions, making the world top 10 and excelling in its contribution to SDG 1, and SDG 11, and SDG 16, in particular. It is important to be able to identify and celebrate the work universities do to make the world a better place."

Queen’s performance

Queen’s results once again reflect the cross-university collaboration and partnership of dozens of units across faculties, portfolios, and departments. Highlights from the 2022 rankings include:

  • Queen’s was ranked across all 17 SDGs
  • 2nd worldwide for SDG 1: 'No Poverty.' Queen’s strong performance acknowledged the Commitment Scholars program, which provides financial support for students who are members of underserved or underrepresented groups and who have demonstrated leadership in, and commitment to, racial justice, social justice, or diversity initiatives, and Swipe it Forward, a peer-to-peer program that facilitates the donation of meals to students facing food insecurity
  • 3rd worldwide for SDG 11: 'Sustainable Cities and Communities.' Queen’s supports public access to green spaces, including self-guided tours of the university’s Snodgrass Arboretum, free trail access at Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre, and the castle gardens at the Bader International Study Centre in the UK. State-of-the-art cultural facilities – including the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts and the Agnes Etherington Art Centre – showcase world-class performing arts and collections to the community
  • 2nd worldwide for SDG 16: 'Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.' In addition to significant collaboration with all levels of government and training the next generation of policy makers though the School of Policy Studies, Queen’s supports academic freedom and is a member of the Scholars at Risk program, which arranges temporary research and teaching positions for scholars whose lives, freedom and well-being are under threat
  • Queen’s ranked in the top 100 of 12/17 SDGs and in the top 30 of 8/17 SDGs

Evidence of impact

[Report Cover - Queen’s contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals Advancing social impact | 2020-2021]
Read the report: Queen's contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Advancing social impact | 2020-2021 [PDF Report 13 KB]

More than 600 pieces of quantitative and qualitative evidence looked at Queen’s research, teaching, outreach, and stewardship and included:

  • Queen’s partnership with the Karta Initiative to provide educational opportunities to low-income youth from rural India
  • The new Queen’s Institute for Global and Population Health, created to boost research, education, service, and collaborative projects that will help advance and decolonize global health systems
  • Black Youth in STEM, an outreach program engaging Black elementary students in science, technology, engineering, and math programming through fun, hands-on activities in a Black-positive space
  • Leanpath Spark, a program to measure food waste and foster education and inspire action in Queen’s dining halls
  • A new Campus Map focused on accessibility to assists campus visitors in navigating Queen’s buildings and accessible routes, entrances, washrooms, and more
  • The Queen’s University Biological Station, one of Canada’s premier scientific field stations dedicated to environmental and conservation research and outreach
  • Supporting and connecting women of all ages through the Ban Righ Centre, dedicated to diversity and community building
  • Queen’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and meeting its goal for a 35 per cent reduction in emissions between 2008 to 2020
  • A website and report created to illustrate Queen’s commitment to the SDGs and showcase programs and initiatives that address some of the world’s most pressing challenges

The Queen's University’s community of exceptional students, researchers, staff, and alumni all contribute to making a positive contribution to social impact and sustainability. For more information on the THE Impact Rankings and how the university is contributing to the SDGs, visit the Advancing Social Impact website.

[Illustration of Queen's campus and collaborations]

For the Record – April 14, 2022

For the Record provides postings of appointment, committee, grant, award, and other notices set out by collective agreements and university policies and processes. It is the university’s primary vehicle for sharing this information with our community.

Submit For the Record information for posting to Gazette editor Andrew Carroll.

Department Head Search - Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

Dr. Keith Pilkey’s term as Head of the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering ends Dec. 31, 2022.

In accordance with the terms of Article 41 of the Collective Agreement between Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) and Queen’s University, a selection committee will be formed to consider the present state and future prospects of the department, and to assist the Provost and Vice Principal (Academic) in the selection of a Department Head.

Members of the bargaining unit will elect five members. Faculty, staff and students are also invited to nominate staff and students from the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and faculty from cognate disciplines, for membership on the selection committee.

Nominations should be sent to Kevin J. Deluzio (Chair), c/o Jacqueline Hill, Staffing Officer, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science by May 13, 2022.

Funding to advance bold, innovative research programs

Queen’s receives $3 million from the New Frontiers in Research Fund programs for projects pushing the frontiers of knowledge and pioneering solutions to overcome challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Queen's campus in Kingston, Ontario
Queen’s researchers are developing out-of-the-box solutions to wicked problems. 

The Government of Canada has announced a $45 million investment to support high-risk, high-reward research through the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) Exploration and Research in a Pandemic Context streams. The announcement was made Monday by the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health. Queen’s researchers have received a total of $3 million in support.

"The NFRF programs challenge researchers to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to complex global problems – from climate change to how we can leverage learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "Congratulations to our funded research teams for their novel ideas and creativity. I look forward to seeing how these projects progress and evolve."

Pushing the boundaries of research

The 2021 Exploration stream grants funding for programs that propose exciting new areas of research with an interdisciplinary approach. Five Queen’s research programs will receive $250,000 each:

  • Cao Thang Dinh and Laurence Yang (Chemical Engineering) will work with a team of experts in electrochemical engineering, computational system biology, and microbiology to find solutions to improve the efficiency of bioprocesses – that is, processes that use living cells to convert carbon dioxide, renewable, non-food biomass and waste into chemicals with industrial applications – by powering them with renewable electricity such as wind and solar using an electrochemical process. Their research has potential impact in reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as enabling cost-effective, large-scale production of biodegradable bioplastics to reduce plastic waste.
  • The genetic and epigenetic origins of cancer are the root of a program led by Anna Panchenko (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) and Maria Aristizabal (Biology). The team will investigate the role of mutations in histone genes in the genesis of cancer using an integrative in silico/ in vivo platform. Histones are proteins that help form the structure of chromosomes and might have the potential to be used as diagnostic biomarkers or targets for therapeutic intervention.
  • Zongchao Jia (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) and Yong Jun Lai (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) are partnering to develop a microsensor to help test novel drugs with potential to treat bacterial infections without causing antibiotic resistance. They will work with a family of compounds that, instead of killing the bacteria, reduce their virulence. The immediate application of the research would be to treat infections caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an opportunistic bacterium known for causing severe disease, particularly in immunocompromised patients and those with cystic fibrosis.
  • A team led by Beata Batorowicz (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) and Sidney Givigi (School of Computing), experts in the fields of rehabilitation science, child development, computer science, engineering, education, and ethics will work together to develop new tools to improve communication for children with neuromotor disabilities. Their idea is to use robots to improve quantity and quality of social interactions, helping children overcome the challenges posed by impaired speech and mobility.
  • Jason Gallivan (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences/ Psychology) and Anita Tusche (Economics/ Psychology) are looking into the potential of digital technology to  protect people from the bodily effects of social isolation – experienced, for example, during the pandemic lockdowns. They aim to understand the multifaceted neurobiological changes that occur during isolation and test how virtual interactions – like video chats – can reduce them. The team expects results could be used to rethink digital technology applications (e.g. remote education, telemedicine) and social policy (e.g. concerning vulnerable populations with limited access to digital resources).

Seeing the pandemic impacts and opportunities through multiple lenses

Seven research projects at Queen’s received funding from the 2021 Innovative Approaches to Research in the Pandemic Context competition, a program that encourages scholars to pioneer innovative solutions to research challenges brought on by the pandemic. Each project was granted $250,000:

  • Understanding how urbanisation affects biodiversity is essential for the sustainability of healthy human and wildlife communities. Scholarly attention is lacking, however, on urbanisation in economically disadvantaged areas. After shifting to community-based research in response to Covid restrictions, researchers Frances Bonier (Biology) and Paul Martin (Biology) began developing a novel, community science method to survey bird populations in cities in developing nations, while working in partnership with local experts and trained participants. Bonier and Martin’s new community science method will allow for important advances in urban ecology, while also addressing the neglect of economically disadvantaged regions in ecological research.
  • Due to COVID-19, activities that involved singing were restricted, forcing Julia Brook (Drama and Music) and Colleen Renihan’s (Drama and Music) study examining accessible and inclusive music theatre to pivot online. After the online medium proved surprisingly beneficial, particularly for older adults who can experience difficulty travelling to a particular location, Brook and Renihan aim to accelerate the exploration of virtual music theatre to address the pressing need for virtual leisure opportunities for older adults that foster overall well-being. This study is both unprecedented and incredibly relevant given the growing population of older adults in Canada and around the world.
  • Although we understand what influences mental health, we do not understand the way influences change across situations, nor how they vary between demographics. In response to this gap in understanding and pandemic restrictions highlighting how changes in situation sometimes prevent social interaction, researchers Jonathan Smallwood (Psychology) and Jeffrey Wammes (Psychology) propose developing new methods for quantifying influences on mental health without in-person data collection. Their study will use smartphones to measure a person’s “in the moment” thinking and machine learning will identify how these data are linked to their happiness and productivity. This project could facilitate the creation of a comprehensive mental health database to help researchers and community members better understand how context shapes individual mental health.
  • The onset of the pandemic came with a huge increase in pandemic-related research, as scientists worked to understand how to reduce transmission and aid in recovery. Journals often struggled to review and disseminate results quickly, leading many researchers to share results publicly without peer review. This increased concerns about the quality and reliability of research findings that policymakers and the public were exposed to, potentially generating confusion, distorting policy, and decreasing some people’s trust in the scientific process. Researchers Christopher Cotton (Economics) and David Maslove (Medicine) are assessing the pandemic experiences of researchers and policymakers who rely on research, as well as exploring novel methods of rapid review and better quality control, including an experiment with a peer-reviewed journal that has been inundated with COVID-related submissions. Their results could revolutionize the ways in which research is reviewed and disseminated, especially during crises.
  • The waiting time for triage in hospital emergency departments (ED) is an ongoing challenge across Canada. Farhana Zulkernine (School of Computing) and Furkan Alaca (School of Computing) have developed a novel solution to the problem with Triage-Bot: an AI robot used to leverage existing hospital-triage systems by assessing patient’s symptoms and securely linking them to hospital data to assess the criticality of a patient’s health condition. Also deployable to personal residences, this technology could allow remote assessments of patients with COVID or chronic health problems in addition to reducing triage wait time and improving health care services in Canada, overall.
  • Infants born with complex health conditions require ongoing neonatal follow-up visits to track their health and development to ensure their future wellbeing. The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have compounded the myriad of geographic and socioeconomic factors posing significant barriers for families to access the care they need. Sandra Fucile (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) and her team at Kingston Health Sciences Centre are proposing the creation of a parent-administered, virtually guided standardised tool for evaluating developmental milestones of at-risk infants. This study has potential to allow for equitable health service delivery to all children across Canada.
  • The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is the world’s second largest after Syria. Researchers Susan Bartels (Emergency Medicine) and Amanda Collier (Emergency Medicine) are proposing the use of an app (Balcony.io) to help migrants and humanitarian responders communicate even when travel is restricted, while simultaneously collecting important research data to inform responsive decision making and resource allocation during crises. If successful, this study on the use of Balcony.io in Latin America’s migration crisis will bring the voices and needs of migrants to the forefront, while allowing response teams to pivot in real time to rapidly changing circumstances.

The NFRF is an initiative created by the Canada Research Coordinating Committee. It is managed by a tri-agency program on behalf of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. To find out more about the funding announcement, visit the website.

Protecting a critical resource

In recognition of the UN's World Water Day, Queen's researcher Sarah Jane Payne speaks about the importance of water quality and access in combating a global crisis affecting over two billion people. 

[Photo of Dr. Sarah Jane Payne]
Dr. Sarah Jane Payne (Civil Engineering)

Clean drinking water is a critical component for sustainable development – from poverty reduction to economic growth and environmental sustainability. Currently, according to the United Nations (UN) there is a global water crisis affecting almost 2.2 billion people who lack access to safe water. To raise awareness of the crisis and support the global work advancing Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation the UN identified March 22 as World Water Day.

To learn more about innovations in water system infrastructure, the role of sanitation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the improvements needed to provide equal access to clean water in Canada, the Gazette spoke with Queen’s researcher Sarah Jane Payne (Civil Engineering). An expert in emerging water contaminants and water quality management, Dr. Payne previously worked in the federal public service holding roles in water, wastewater, and environmental policy and regulation for Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada. At Queen’s, she is Co-Lead of the Queen’s COVID-19 Wastewater Surveillance Initiative and Co-Director of the Drinking Water Quality Group (DWQG), an affiliated research program of the Contaminants of Emerging Concern-Research Excellence Network (CEC-REN).

Could you tell us more about the Drinking Water Quality Group and facilities such as the Drinking Water Distribution Lab (DWDL) at Queen’s and how they support your research?

Queen’s is home to two world-class facilities with labs at Mitchell Hall and the Drinking Water Distribution Lab (DWDL). In fact, DWDL is only one of two full-scale research facilities in the world and the only one in North America. When I started working at Queen’s, I quickly discovered that I had many complementary academic interests with DWDL’s lead Yves Filion (Civil Engineering). We formed the Drinking Water Quality Group as a way for us to envision and explore complex, collaborative, and interdisciplinary research, recruit students, and situate Queen’s at the centre for solving critical issues in the water industry.

Currently, the Group is focused on understanding and predicting drinking water quality deterioration and looking for ways to prevent it, specifically through analyzing utilities data collected for regulatory compliance purposes. The DWDL allows us to conduct research in a controlled environment and look at the causes of drinking water discolouration or the accumulation of contaminants on pipe walls and learn about the optimal ways to remove them. We can also conduct smaller scale experiments in Mitchell Hall that allows us to further isolate the key mechanisms. Combining all of this knowledge together, we plan to develop machine learning tools to help predict high risk areas for water quality deterioration. This type of artificial intelligence (AI) tool could allow utilities to optimize their resources by strategically targeting the right areas for maintenance or replacing problematic pipe materials.

[Photo of Simon van der Plas preparing a wastewater sample for analysis]
Simon van der Plas prepares a wastewater sample for analysis. [Supplied photo] 

What is something people may be surprised to know affects their local water quality and what actions could to be taken to minimize harmful effects?

The question I get asked the most is: do I drink tap water? I do! I am a tap water enthusiast, and I enjoy taste testing tap water in different cities. The challenge with local water quality is that the problems can be very localized and can even be specific to your home. Awareness of what issues you might encounter and knowing where to find resources to help is key.

My two biggest "local" water concerns are for private wells and lead service lines. Private wells can become contaminated and pose risks for users such as gastrointestinal illness. The most important thing owners can do is test their wells routinely for microbial contaminants. In Ontario, this water testing is free and there are several resources and actions owners can take to improve their well water quality if needed.

My other big worry is about lead exposure and its harmful effects for infants and children as a powerful neurotoxin. The largest sources of lead in drinking water come from building plumbing materials, such as the service line connecting the distribution system to your house (allowed until 1975), lead tin solder (allowed until 1986), and brass fittings that could contain up to 8 per cent lead (allowed until 2014). Depending on the age of the home, I advise people to connect with their local water utility to ask whether or not lead service lines are expected in their neighbourhood and to have their water tested if needed. If lead is present, there are several options for eliminating it or using a certified treatment device and flushing your taps every day.

[Post-Doctoral Fellow, Dr. Abdul Rahman Alashraf examines the results of a test for viruses]
Post-Doctoral Fellow Abdul Rahman Alashraf examines the results of a test for viruses. [Supplied Photo]

How did you pivot your wastewater research to confront COVID-19? Your team has been working in partnership with Utilities Kingston, Loyalist Township, the City of Cornwall, and KFL&A Public Health to monitor trends in transmission locally, do you plan to build on your partnerships for future collaborations?

One my undergraduate students asked me if there was a connection between COVID-19 and wastewater. In searching for an answer, I read about some early and important proof-of-concept work out of the Netherlands that also suggested that SARS-CoV-2 wastewater surveillance could be both an early warning tool and non-invasive and inexpensive way to monitor the level of infection in a whole community. There was a lot of initial skepticism that it could be done at all, as detection is almost a needle in a very inhospitable haystack. However, through highly collaborative and open research endeavours provincially, nationally, and globally wastewater-based epidemiology has generated a whirlwind of scientific discovery and insight.

At Queen’s, Stephen Brown (Chemistry) and I lead an amazing team of post-doctoral fellows, technical staff, graduate, undergraduate, and summer students who are working tirelessly in the lab to hone this technique and explore its application possibilities. We have plans to advance wastewater-based epidemiology to monitor other viruses and bacteria as an early warning system for public health decision makers. We are also looking to optimize analysis for other targets and refine the technique as the applications expand.

Our utility and municipal partners are vital to this project and provide sample collection and operational expertise to interpreting sample quality issues. We share the data with our public health unit partners and it is used in their situation awareness and public resources, such as KFL&A Public Health’s COVID-19 in Wastewater dashboard. It is a privilege to do work that is helpful to public health decision makers and an honour to work with the talented people on our team, our partners, as well as our colleagues across Ontario, Canada, and around the world. This project to confront COVID-19 has been the most unexpected, challenging, collaborative, and also the most rewarding work of my career. I’m very excited about our future work together, and the opportunity to protect public health through advancing wastewater science and engineering research.

While Canada is a freshwater-rich country, many here to do not have access to safe and clean water, particularly in Indigenous communities. The federal government has identified water treatment systems and infrastructure as crucial investments with a significant focus on renovating and upgrading existing systems to expand access. What key innovations and developments do you think are needed to retrofit Canada’s ageing water infrastructure for a sustainable future?

For innovations and development, I think of two things. The first is a community-based approach to ensure that the infrastructure is what a community wants, needs, and can operate and maintain. The second is a fulsome definition of sustainability that ensures adequate funding for operation and maintenance, resources for the recruitment, training, and retaining of talent to operate and maintain that infrastructure, and that the infrastructure is robust, efficient, resilient, and climate change ready.

Water is essential to life, and it is a universal need. We need to value it, protect it, celebrate it, and make sure that we can all access it.

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