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    Queen’s community remembers Professor Emeritus John Downie

    The Queen’s community is remembering John Downie, professor emeritus in the Department of Chemical Engineering, who died March 27 at the age of 91.

    Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, John, like many other school-aged children during the Second World War, was moved out to the country to live with his grandparents. While he was more interested in playing football during these days, one of his teachers must have spotted his academic potential, as he made him write out chemical equations whenever he got into trouble.

    John would attend Strathclyde University, earning a degree in chemical engineering. A day later he emigrated to Canada, following an offer to relocate from a childhood friend. He would first settle down in Montreal where he worked for a year as a chemist for Canada Packers. He was then on the move again and began graduate studies at the University of Toronto where he earned a master’s and PhD in chemical engineering. It was during this time that he met Mary Alice, his wife of 63 years.

    Upon earning his doctorate, he moved to Pittsburgh to work for the Gulf Oil Research Institute for three and a half years.

    In 1962 John returned to Canada to join the Department of Chemical Engineering at Queen's University where he spent his entire academic career apart from three memorable sabbaticals at the University of Cambridge.

    John was regarded as an “extremely tough” professor, but also fair. During subsequent Homecomings, alumni would show up at the family home looking for Dr. Downie, to pay their respects.

    John was a daily luncher at the Faculty Club, now the University Club. He felt strongly that it was important for faculty members to meet each other outside of the context of the classroom, and they had a club table where members were encouraged to come solo and interact with colleagues from other areas of study.

    John also served in a number of administrative roles including Acting Dean, Department Head, and Head of the Faculty Association. He also provided faculty input during the design process of Dupuis Hall.

    Mark Green appointed as the new Scholar in Residence for NSERC

    [Photo of Dr. Mark Green]
    Dr. Mark Green

    The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced today the appointment of Mark Rahswahérha Green as the new Scholar in Residence. This is a two-year advisory position where Dr. Green will provide an Indigenous research perspective on NSERC’s programs, policies, and processes.

    Dr. Green has been part of the Department of Civil Engineering for over 30 years, where he investigates how to prepare bridges and other concrete structures to withstand extreme conditions, like fires. Dr. Green is also a champion of inclusivity and Indigenization at Queen’s, working with Indigenous communities across Ontario to implement sustainable engineering projects. He also served as Queen’s Provost from 2020 to 2022.

    Dr. Green sits with the Turtle Clan in the Kenhtè:ke Longhouse in Tyendinaga and has played a crucial role in initiatives such as Queen’s University’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force and Queen’s Indigenous Futures in Engineering, which promotes engineering education for Indigenous students.

    Throughout his career, Dr. Green has published over 250 research papers and received numerous awards, including the Professional Engineers Ontario Medal for Research and Development (2013), the Premier’s Research Excellence Award (2000), the Queen’s Employment Equity Award (2012) and Queen’s Engineering 125th Anniversary Faculty Award (2019). He is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering (CAE), the International Institute for FRP in Construction (IIFC), the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering (CSCE), and the American Concrete Institute (ACI).

    In his new role with NSERC, Dr. Green will advise the government funding agency on how best to advance reconciliation through research.

    "Indigenous perspectives have so much to offer Canadian scientific research, and I’m excited about the opportunity to strengthen these relationships," says Dr. Green. "I am looking forward to working with NSERC to help create partnerships with Indigenous communities for mutual benefit."

    Read the NSERC story to learn more.

    Mechanical and materials engineering, put into practice

    Queen's engineering students work with a wildlife centre to design solutions for animal rehabilitation.

    [Photo of a squirrel]
    Credit: Unsplash / Andy Willis

    When Sydney Garrah started her undergrad studies in mechanical engineering, she had no idea she would end up designing splints for injured wildlife. Yet, it was an experience that taught her a lot about the role an engineer can play off-campus and in the community. As part of a Capstone Design Course offered to fourth- and fifth-year students, Garrah and her colleagues worked with Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre (SPWC), a wildlife refuge in Greater Napanee, to support their daily work treating injured small animals.

    "I feel fortunate to be a part of a project that could make a significant impact on the local wildlife rescue community," says Garrah. "My team was able to take technical skills from our courses and learn how to effectively apply those to a project involving clients helping vulnerable wildlife."

    SPWC is a small non-profit organization that has been caring for injured and orphaned wildlife for 25 years. The team cares for approximately 5,000 animals a year, including foxes, deer, beavers, rabbits, turtles, owls and many species of birds and rodents, including squirrels. Since the partnership with Queen’s Engineering started in 2022, they have benefited from three newly designed solutions.

    [Model rendering of the splint]
    Example of the 3D printing solution software developed to construct customized splints.

    "Working with Queen's Engineering students has allowed us to improve patient care at the centre in ways that we could not do on our own," says Jess Pelow, education coordinator at SPWC. "The creativity and skillset of the students has been incredibly impressive and we are excited to continue this partnership."

    Professor Roshni Rainbow (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) is one of the faculty advisors involved. Her students worked with SPWC to understand some of its problems, brainstorm solutions, create mock-ups or prototypes, and discuss testing and budgeting.

    The first project Dr. Rainbow’s students investigated came from the vet operating room. When treating injured small animals, SPWC was using veterinary splints designed for cats and dogs. These devices, while helpful, were time consuming to apply and didn’t really fit the wild species they were working with. Instead, the staff was searching for a solution that would be simpler to use and apply.

    "This project taught us the importance of user-centered design," says Garrah. "It was crucial for us to imagine ourselves in the role and day-to-day routine of the SPWC staff to be able to find a solution that could integrate into their workflow. This is important in any design project and is a skill I will carry with me through my career as an engineer."

    The team created a 3D printing solution and an easy workflow to work with. Now, the veterinarians take a few measurements from the injured animal’s limbs and put them into a spreadsheet that calculates the details of the design to be printed.

    The interdisciplinary work with veterinarians at the wildlife centre also brought up some additional challenges for the students to research. One of the big ones was considering that wild animals could chew on the splints – they had to be resistant and non-toxic, and preferably easy to clean so they could be reused.

    [Photo of a bird]
    A raven tests the perch created by Queen's Engineering students. The different materials used to build the perch simulate a natural environment and prevent foot infection. (Photo courtesy of SPWC)

    From birds to raccoons

    In addition to the 3D printed splints, Queen’s engineering students worked on two other designs that are already in use by SPWC: a playground for baby raccoons and a perch for prey birds.

    "When raptors and different kinds of birds come in, they tend to get an infection on their feet because they don't move from different materials like they do in the wild," explains Dr. Rainbow. The students addressed this challenge by creating a perch with different textures.

    Another group of students worked on an enrichment centre for baby raccoons, allowing them to develop certain skills to survive in the wild, such as foraging and climbing. The group looked at natural materials available at SPWC grounds and created a rope ladder fashioned from different kinds of sticks and branches to build a climbing structure. They also used milk crates and other materials that would be easy to replace if needed and provided instructions on how to repair the design in case of damage.

    Dr. Rainbow highlights that all the projects took technical analysis and engineering skills into consideration. "For example, in engineering we spend a lot of time learning about stress and strain and material properties. The students implemented this knowledge to solve real problems, testing and finding the actual values of different properties of their design," she says. "We want our students to know that engineering can happen everywhere and they can go out there and change the world."

    SPWC is looking forward to continuing this collaboration. The Centre is always looking for innovative solutions to reduce animal stress and improve their medical care. Ideas for future projects include designing safer enclosures for a songbird and making a custom medical device for a turtle.

    [Photo of a racoon from a security camera feed]
    Night camera at SPWC captures the image of an orphan raccoon using the playground structures built by Engineering students. (Photo courtesy of SPWC)


    Competing on the national stage

    Soot Film
    One blast’s fragile story (Yaroslava Poroshyna, PhD Student, Mechanical Engineering, Gaby Ciccarelli, Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering, and Sebastien S.M. Lau-Chapdelaine, Royal Military College)

    Science Exposed, the national photo contest that gives researchers across Canada the opportunity to showcase the beauty of their work, is back. The images provide the public with a behind-the-scenes glimpse of STEM research in action.

    Organized annually by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the contest allows researchers from all fields of study to capture and share images promoting scientific discussion and knowledge. This year, Queen’s PhD student Yaroslava Poroshyna (Mechanical Engineering) and Associate Professor Gaby Ciccarelli (Mechanical Engineering) have submitted an image that is among the 20 finalists.

    Art of Research
    Interested in seeing more Queen’s research? The university’s annual Art of Research photo contest has been showcasing the work of Queen’s researchers through their incredible images over the past seven years. From under the stars to on top of the world, Art of Research brings to life the unseen moments of the research process.

    The winners will be chosen through a public vote, open until Sept. 17, 2023. A prize of $2,000 will be awarded to the photo voted people’s choice. Three finalists will also be selected by a jury to receive $2,000 each.

    Learn more about Queen’s finalist:

    One blast’s fragile story (Yaroslava Poroshyna, PhD Student, Mechanical Engineering, Gaby Ciccarelli, Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering, and Sebastien S.M. Lau-Chapdelaine, Royal Military College)

    A soot foil is a soot-covered metal sheet used to measure the size of detonation cells. The seemingly fragile gossamer featured in this image is a footprint left on a soot foil by a detonation (a scientific phenomenon of immense power and destruction). Transverse waves are formed due to the complicated chemical reactions that release heat and drive detonations, and as a result, leave this sophisticated pattern on the soot-coated surface. Understanding the mechanism underlying the emergence of such dark lines on the foil is a crucial part of our research, because unleashing the potential of detonations could lead to numerous advances, from harnessing their power for propulsion to enhancing our response to blast-wave disasters.

    To see the other finalists and vote, visit the Science Exposed website.

    Queen’s remembers Professor James Mason

    James MasonThe Queen’s community is remembering James (Jim) Mason, a long-time professor in electrical and computer engineering and the inaugural associate dean for first-year studies in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, who died March 18, at the age of 75.

    Dr. Mason earned his PhD at Queen’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering and then taught at universities in Australia and New Zealand before returning to Kingston.

    Early in his time at Queen’s, Dr. Mason and faculty colleagues Sid Penstone and Lloyd Peppard, formed a university-industry collaboration with Bell Northern Research (later Northern Telecom) to enable graduate students to have their microchip designs prototype-manufactured at one of Canada’s leading industrial fabrication facilities. The collaboration was so successful that in 1984 it resulted in the creation of the not-for-profit organization Canadian Microelectronics Corporation, now known as CMC Microsystems. CMC enabled the network’s groundbreaking work by managing the university-industry projects, and through two other novel activities: sourcing, loaning and supporting industry-calibre equipment for enabling excellent research, and – years ahead of the internet – facilitating cross-country collaboration and knowledge-sharing via electronic networks.

    Today, the National Design Network links approximately 1,000 professors, 7,000 other innovators (from undergrads to postdoctoral fellows), and research staff at 54 institutions across Canada with more than 600 industry collaborators (including at least 50 NDN startups), more than 30 fabrication partners, and numerous related national and international organizations. NDN innovations span electronics and computing to health care, energy, the environment, transportation, and aerospace.   

    Dan Gale, former president of CMC Microsystems said that Dr. Mason was “instrumental in establishing research links at MIT and U.S. corporations and he was an envoy for Canadian activity helping to forge links with others – including similar talent formation and prototyping initiatives that had taken place around the world.”

    In another important project for Queen’s, Dr. Mason, along with James McCowan, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, were key contributors to the development of the concept of integrated learning for the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and in designing a new type of facility – the Integrated Learning Centre – to support student learning. Both professors believed that first year engineering should be organized and delivered as a program, and not as a collection of courses. This led to substantial changes in the first-year program – including the introduction of group and teamwork projects with significant community impacts. These projects brought focus to the development of professional skills early in students’ engineering studies. Peer mentoring by upper-year students was also introduced.  Shortly after, Dr. Mason was appointed as the inaugural associate dean of first-year studies.

    Outside of his work to support student learning and research Dr. Mason was actively involved in the governance of the Campus Bookstore. He was president of QUESSI for 10 years – the non-profit corporation that has owned and operated the Campus Bookstore since 1963. Former general manager, Chris Tabor said that Dr. Mason was instrumental in QUESSI’s lobbying of the federal government to ensure that students had access to courseware, and that “Jim was a long-range thinker who always considered long-range implications of decisions.”  With QUESSI leadership, the precursor to campus-ebookstore.com was formed. Today, this organization works with hundreds of institutions and publishers in Canada and the United States to provide for the distribution of digital course materials. 

    “Jim was a fierce advocate for student agency,” says Tom Harris, former Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. “This was seen in the impact of his contributions in CMC MicrosSystems, the development of the Integrated Learning Initiative and Beamish-Munro Hall and his leadership on the Campus Bookstore. He understood the forces of inertia and the need to challenge the status quo in engineering education. He had a thoughtful and collaborative approach to leadership and change.”

    A celebration of his life will take place this summer.

    Queen’s remembers Gerald Dyer

    Gerald DyerThe Queen’s community is remembering Gerald (Gerry) Dyer, a long-time friend of the university, alumnus, and honorary degree recipient, who died April 19 in his 94th year of life.

    Gerry grew up in Port Arthur, now Thunder Bay and his parents Gwyneth and Charles nurtured and supported his lifelong interest in learning and education. He started his post-secondary career at Lakehead University where his interests in math, sciences, and engineering were solidified.

    Gerry first arrived at Queen’s to study chemical engineering, the beginning of a decades-long relationship, and, after graduating in 1952, built a successful career working for DuPont, retiring as Director of Research after 41 years with the company.

    While at Queen’s, Gerry met his wife of 65 years, Margaret. After working for DuPont in the United States and other cities in Ontario, they settled in Kingston and raised their four children.

    At Queen’s he participated in several committees including one for the development of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science’s Integrated Learning Centre (ILC), providing the invaluable perspective of a highly successful practicing engineer.

    Another contribution, in collaboration with Jim McCowan, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, led to Queen’s and DuPont becoming strong participants in the field of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectroscopy. They recognized the power and potential of innovative technology developed in Germany by the Bruker company and to acquire and operate the equipment, devised a partnership to acquire and operate this state-of-the-art equipment. This initiative, which would not have been feasible for either DuPont or the university to do independently, proved to be a very successful partnership and provided additional learning and research opportunities.

    In 1994 he received an honorary degree (DSc) from Queen’s for his contributions and commitment to learning.

    Gerry contributed to the support of Queen’s students, creating two funds – the G&C Fund and Dyer Awards. Both are focused on removing barriers for undergraduate engineering students in financial need. The G&C Fund was created in remembrance of his parents Gwyneth and Charles. He never forgot the sacrifices his parents made for their children to have a post-secondary education and he created this fund to ensure that financial barriers did not limit opportunities for students. The Dyer Awards honor and recognize the education and opportunities that Queen’s University provided to three of his children, his two daughters-in-law, and his granddaughter.

    He was also a loyal and generous supporter of the Ban Righ Centre, an on-campus organization that provides resources, support, and a community for mature women returning to post-secondary education. He was an ardent supporter of woman in engineering and sciences and felt strongly about removing barriers for their success.

    In recognition of Gerry’s contribution to improving and advancing science education, DuPont established two scholarships, one to a male and one to a female, studying chemical engineering, engineering chemistry or chemistry.

    Gerry served for years as the chair of the Research and Development Committee of the Canadian Manufacturers Association and was an active member of the Science Council of Canada. He was a strong believer in innovation and supporting Canadian solutions in the sciences.

    Throughout his life Gerry was not only enthusiastic about education, but politics, and the environment. Gerry played a key role in the development of the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority.

    After his retirement, he was part of the Queen’s 49ers club, and he was often seen debating politics with his friends at the University Club.

    Queen’s places 3rd worldwide in 2023 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings

    University secures its best performance to date with third consecutive top-10 finish.

    [Illustrative aerial drone photo Queen's University campus]

    For the third straight year, Queen’s has ranked among the top 10 in the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings – earning third place worldwide and first place in North America out of over 1,700 universities. Queen’s is the only Canadian university to achieve three top-10 placements since the rankings began in 2019.

    The THE Impact Rankings are a global measurement for assessing universities’ performance in advancing the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were established by UN member nations in 2015 to guide global action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure shared peace and prosperity for all people by 2030.  

    "It is an honour to be recognized for our institution’s ongoing contributions to advancing the SDGs. These goals are reflective of the university’s mission and our desire to be recognized as a global institution," says Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor. "The Impact Rankings have played an instrumental role in bringing together our community by creating a focus on the numerous ways Queen’s is engaged in solving the world’s most pressing challenges. Our performance in the rankings tells us that we are on the right track, and our efforts are having an impact."

    The 2023 rankings reviewed institutions from 117 countries, including 26 Canadian universities, and saw an overall increase of 11 per cent in worldwide participation over last year.

    "It’s really impressive what Queen’s University is doing to meet the goals and is a testament to how seriously it takes those critically important goals and how the whole sector is united in pursuit of a sustainable future for us all," says Phil Baty, Chief Global Affairs Officer with Times Higher Education. "The rankings are vital for millions of prospective students who are increasingly demanding to see evidence that the universities they consider for their education are committed to sustainability and to helping them to become sustainably minded citizens."

    Our performance

    The Impact Rankings evaluate universities’ activities across four important areas – research, teaching, outreach, and stewardship – using hundreds of quantitative and qualitative data points.

    Once again Queen’s submitted evidence for all 17 SDGs, and scored outstanding marks, in particular for advancing SDGs 2, 11, and 16. The university placed first in the world for its contributions to SDG 2: Zero Hunger; second in the world for SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions; and seventh for SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

    "Our performance in this year’s rankings confirms that Queen’s is realizing its aspirations to be a university that effects real, positive change at the local, national, and global level," says Principal Deane. "Our community is working together to improve our world and to help shape a better future for all of us and the planet."

    Queen’s submitted more than 400 pieces of evidence this year, highlighting institutional operations, policies, research, and strategy, and involving collaborative work by dozens of units across the university. Some examples of the evidence provided and evaluated this year include:

    • SDG 2 – Swipe it Forward Queen’s, an initiative to help address food insecurity on campus and provide short-term, immediate support to students in need. All students on meal plans have the option to donate up to five meals per semester to a student in need.
    • SDG 2 – The new Queen’s PEACH Market, a ‘pay what you can’ model where untouched food is packaged and made available to members of the university community.
    • SDG 16 – The John Deutsch Institute for the Study of Economic Policy in the Department of Economics informs policymaking in Canada and abroad by focusing on policy-relevant research in economics and related fields.
    • SDG 16 – Queen’s Model Parliament (QMP) is the oldest and largest model parliament in Canada. The student-led event sees about 300 students take over Canada’s House of Commons where they experience the legislative process by forming political parties, running for office, drafting bills, and debating them on the floor.
    • SDG 11 – Queen’s is committed to recording and preserving aspects of cultural heritage such as local folklore, traditions, language, and knowledge. Our Office of Indigenous Initiatives – Art on Campus program has installed artwork across campus from many different Indigenous nations, as well as an outdoor plinth that identifies the Indigenous land the university sits on.
    • SDG 11 – The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, or "The Isabel" as it is fondly known, hosts public performances, bringing local, national, and internationally renowned artists and performers of all genres to the local community, including musicians and performing artists.
    • SDG 11 – The Sustainable Transportation Sub-Working Group provides recommendations for the implementation of alternative transportation such as public transit options, parking pass options, and active transportation with a focus on benefits for the environment, human health, and the economy.
    • SDG 15 – The Queen's University Biological Station (QUBS) is one of the premier scientific field stations in Canada. For almost 70 years, researchers and students have gathered at QUBS to conduct leading-edge research and participate in courses spanning ecology, evolution, conservation, geography, and environmental science.
    • SDG 15 – Sustainability and biodiversity initiatives are core to the mandate of Queen’s Bader College (UK). The campus acts as a living laboratory, where students collect samples and perform experiments on the rich variety of ecosystems and land forms that are present.

    Learn more about Queen’s University’s performance in the 2023 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings and contributions to the SDGs.

    Science Rendezvous Kingston returns

    Queen’s researchers and community partners will showcase their science and outreach activities at the family-oriented event on May 13.

    [Photo of a student learning about static electricity]

    Each year in mid-May, Queen’s researchers and students take over the Leon’s Centre and The Tragically Hip Way in Downtown Kingston for a full day of science outreach activities featuring topics in biology, chemistry, geology, psychology, engineering, health, and many others. For over a decade, thousands of children, youth and their families have interacted with the displays and queried the researchers to learn about their work.

    This year, Science Rendezvous returns to Kingston on May 13. The festival, which is free of charge, will be the biggest one yet, with over 400 volunteers spread across 50 booths featuring research discoveries and interactive activities.

    "We are proud to see so many of our researchers, students and community partners invested in sharing knowledge with young people and their families," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "Events like Science Rendezvous help us translate the impact of Queen’s research and inspire the next generation of scientists."

    The theme of this year’s event is CREATE, showcasing how discoveries are made and new knowledge is built in different research settings, from labs to cities, from underground to outer space, from forests to hospitals.

    Highlights of the day include Queen's CardioPulmonary Unit (QCPU) showcasing a mini CT-scanner which will allow visitors to view real-time scans of QCPU’s mascot, Dr. Squeak. Queen’s Ingenuity Labs will introduce audiences to their robot dogs, Boston Dynamics Spot and Unitree Go 1, who allow engineers to safely and effectively navigate challenging terrain.

    New to Science Rendezvous this year is Kingston Fire and Rescue, who will demonstrate hydraulics and water supply with a fire hydrant and truck, and the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, in partnership with Queen’s Art Conservation Program, who will introduce the tools and techniques used by museum professionals to study and preserve artwork and heritage objects.

    Also, for the first time, Science Rendezvous Kingston will feature a Sensory Friendly Science Zone designed for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, social and emotional mental health needs, and other sensory-related or physical disabilities.

    [Photo of a student looking through a telescope]

    "Our goal is to be increasingly inclusive, ensuring everyone gets the opportunity to experience science and fun," says Queen’s Professor Emerita Lynda Colgan, founder and coordinator of Science Rendezvous Kingston. "We want to show children that scientists come in all colours, genders, and ages, and that anyone can be a scientist if they want to."

    Dr. Colgan highlights how important it is to provide a fully free event in a post-pandemic world where the costs of taking a whole family to a science museum are out of reach for so many people.

    Science Rendezvous Kingston is part of the Canada-wide, not-for-profit initiative Science Rendezvous, the largest one-day science festival in the country, happening in over 30 cities in 10 provinces and two territories. The event is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). On March 8, Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson, on behalf of Kingston City Council, proclaimed May 13, 2023 to be "Science Rendezvous Kingston Day" in the city.

    Highlights of Science Rendezvous Kingston 2023

    • Research Casting International (RCI) is mounting a cast skeleton of Saurophaganax, a large carnivorous Allosaur that lived in North America during the late Jurassic period (about 151 million years ago)
    • A giant, interactive floor map brought by the Canadian Ocean Literacy Coalition will allow visitors to experience the ocean and waterways with augmented reality
    • A Chemistry Magic Show will be presented by Queen’s Department of Chemistry on the main stage at 10:30 am and 1:45 pm
    • Award-winning Canadian authors will give visitors a behind-the-scenes look at how authors create STEM books out of cutting-edge science
    • Queen’s Plant Sciences Research Group will share knowledge about flowers, vegetables, grains, and oilseeds

    Visit the website for a full list of booths and for more information on the event, or follow Science Rendezvous Kingston on social media (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram).

    Funding boost for frontiers research

    Nine Queen's programs will receive a total of $3 million from the federal government.

    [Aerial photo of Queen's campus]
    [Photo by Allen Tian]

    On April 25, the Government of Canada announced support for high-risk, high-reward research projects that address some of Canada's and the world's most pressing challenges with a multidisciplinary, innovative approach. Nine Queen’s-led programs were granted a total of $3 million through the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF).

    The successful applications were responding to two calls from the NFRF: the 2022 Special Call, looking for research projects with a focus on post-pandemic recovery, and the 2022 Exploration competition, which invited researchers to go beyond their own disciplines to inform bold new perspectives.

    The six projects supported by the Exploration competition received $250,000 each, while the three projects on the Special Call each received around half a million dollars.

    "As a society we are faced with complex challenges that require input from multiple perspectives," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "Support from the New Frontiers Programs allows our researchers to take risks and think big to maximize potential impact. I look forward to seeing how these projects evolve."

    NFRF 2022 Exploration competition

    Christopher Lohans (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), Carlos Escobedo (Chemical Engineering), Aristides Docoslis (Chemical Engineering), and Prameet Sheth (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) will develop a new diagnostic device to quickly diagnose antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. Many current methods rely on bacterial culturing, which can take a couple of days – a time during which infections can worsen. But the new ultrasensitive method will be able to detect resistant bacteria in just one hour, directly from patients’ blood or urine samples using surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy. Researchers also expect the technology can be used to deepen our understanding of the degradation and metabolism of antibiotics and other drugs.

    Farhana Zulkernine (School of Computing) will work with long-term care facilities to adapt voice assistant bots (e.g., Amazon Alexa) to the needs and preferences of senior citizens. This research program will leverage interdisciplinary approaches from computer science, psychology, and cognitive neuroscience to address the struggles of aging adults in using this type of technology. By developing and testing bot adaptations with and for senior users, the project aims to support safe aging in a home environment, including assisting with medication reminders, offering guidance with challenging tasks, or even providing a form of companionship.

    Amer Johri (Medicine) and Nazanin Alavi (Psychiatry) are planning to establish a national remotely supervised virtual point-of-care ultrasound (Tele-POCUS) program. While this revolutionary technology can facilitate clinical examinations by providing the ability to assess the heart, lungs, and other organs immediately at the bedside and live-stream images from remote regions directly to experts thousands of kilometres away, it also poses challenges related to technology access, inclusion, and human-to-system interactions. The team of psychosocial, medical, and digital experts will look at the implementation and sustainability of the new technology and work with remote and Indigenous communities on impact assessment.

    Parvin Mousavi (School of Computing) and David Maslove (Medicine & Critical Care Medicine), along with colleagues from business, critical care, computing and surgery will aim to improve the management of intensive care unit (ICU) patients across Canada using machine learning methods coupled with large-scale physiologic data. They will explore strategies to identify and anticipate important clinical events, with an emphasis on personalized therapeutic strategies, integration with clinical workflows, as well as the ethical and equitable deployment of artificial intelligence-based systems.

    Xiaolong Yang (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) and Shetuan Zhang (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) will look at how to increase patient survival rates of heart failure. Myocardial infarctions or hypertension-related cardiac hypertrophy result in decreased oxygen flow to the heart tissue, causing cardiac muscle cells (cardiomyocytes) to die, resulting in heart failure. However, available treatment strategies only target symptoms, and there are currently no clinically approved drugs that promote cardiomyocyte survival and/or regeneration. This research program will focus on developing new therapeutical drugs for heart failure using artificial intelligent and biosensor technologies and testing them on pre-clinical models. Specifically, it will deliver small molecule drugs to heart tissue to inhibit cardiomyocyte death caused by LATS, an enzyme that is upregulated during the heart failure process.

    Ryan Alkins (Surgery) and team will explore new therapies for glioblastoma, the most common type of central nervous system tumour in adults, combining two cutting edge technologies: therapeutic ultrasound and cellular immunotherapy. They will test if available immunotherapies using chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T or Natural Killer (NK) cells can have their efficacy enhanced by using ultrasound and microbubbles to activate brain endothelial cells – an approach that will pave the way for new treatment paradigms.

    NFRF 2022 Special Call: Research for Postpandemic Recovery

    Elijah Bisung (School of Kinesiology and Health Studies) aims to enhance evidence-informed policy-making and practice to promote the health, wellbeing and economic empowerment of poor women in a pandemic recovery world in sub-Saharan Africa. This research program will look at the impact of cash transfer and complementary water services on the work and health of poor women in Ghana. The team will use community based participatory and action-oriented research approaches to critically explore opportunities and barriers to gender transformative policy making and programing across multiple sectors (education, health, agriculture).

    Jacqueline Galica (School of Nursing) and Erna Snelgrove-Clarke (School of Nursing) will focus on organizational compassion and how it could be fostered and used to facilitate post-pandemic recovery, such as post-traumatic stress experienced by front-line healthcare providers. The team will investigate how workplace characteristics impact workers’ mental health, with special attention to organizational- and unit-level mechanisms rooted in social support, respectful culture, and compassion role modeling by managers. The goal is to formulate a plan to promote organizational compassion to mitigate stress among front-line workers, and disseminate results and recommendations to multiple decision-making groups, including policy makers and professional organizations. This research program will be carried out both in Canada and in Ethiopia.

    Li-Jun Ji (Psychology) is partnering with researchers from China to address mental health challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to healthcare workers. Their approach involves a cutting-edge online intervention that is anonymous, flexible, time-efficient, accessible, and scalable. The intervention consists of a series of writing exercises that use AI-guided art generation to help people express their emotional responses to the pandemic in a culturally acceptable manner. With participants’ permission, some of the writings will be shared with peers and the public to allow for a broader understanding of healthcare workers’ perspectives.

    For more information on the NFRF announcement, visit the website.

    Understanding human-machine connections

    New funding from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund will provide York University and Queen’s with over $105 million to advance understanding of how technology is transforming society.

    [Illustrative photo of two people facing each over with a brain overlaid]

    New and emerging technologies are changing the way we live and work, and how we interact with each other. While the benefits of AI and disruptive technologies are often touted as life enhancing, there are also risks and questions of access and equity to understand and evaluate.

    Connected Minds brings together researchers across eight faculties at York and three faculties (Health Sciences, Engineering and Applied Sciences, Arts and Science) at Queen’s. The Queen’s research team, includes:

    Core team
    • Gunnar Blohm, Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Centre for Neuroscience Studies
    • Catherine Donnelly, School of Rehabilitation Therapy
    Extended team
    • Susan Boehnke, Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Centre for Neuroscience Studies
    • Fernanda De Felice, Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Centre for Neuroscience Studies
    • Ali Etemad, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Ingenuity Labs
    • Douglas Munoz, Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Centre for Neuroscience Studies
    • Stephen Scott, Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Centre for Neuroscience Studies
    • Amber Simpson, School of Computing, Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Centre for Health Innovation

    Today, the Government of Canada has pledged $105.7 million from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund to support a new interdisciplinary research initiative, Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society, which will assess the potential risks and benefits of technology for humanity. The project is led by York University, who will receive $82.8 million in support, in partnership with Queen’s, whose activities are being supported with $22.8 million of the federal funds. Additionally, with institutional and multi-sector contributions, the seven-year initiative will see an overall investment of $318.4 million to advance these major research questions.

    "The Connected Minds project builds on a history of partnership and collaboration between Queen’s and York," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research) at Queen’s. "Each institution brings unique but complementary research strengths to bear on the important challenges and opportunities that come with disruptive technologies and their impact on Canadian and global citizens."

    The techno-social collective

    Connected Minds identifies that the world is moving to a new social collective comprised of both human and artificial intelligence agents. This "techno-social collective" is reflective of how disruptive technologies are entangled with our daily lives and interactions, bringing extensive benefits but also unknown consequences. The program’s proposed projects include explorations into a more inclusive metaverse, understanding how virtual reality can be leveraged for community organizing, developing neurotechnologies for healthy aging, supporting Indigenous data sovereignty, and understanding how brain function changes when people interact with AI versus other humans. Community-engaged research will be woven throughout these projects as well as an overarching decolonization, equity, diversity, and inclusion (DEDI) strategy.

    To tackle these core research questions, Connected Minds will bring together field-leading experts across multiple disciplines. York’s leading expertise in human science, disruptive technologies, and social justice will be paired with Queen’s established strengths in advanced computing, AI, human health, and ethics. For instance, one of the Queen’s teams will study how networks of neurons, people and smart devices interact in order to develop next generation technologies. The Connected Minds project will also engage over fifty community partners and research collaborators, including leaders from industry, health care, and government, and Indigenous community partners.

    "York is an international leader in interdisciplinary research involving artificial intelligence and other disruptive technologies, social justice, and human science like neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology. The government’s substantial investment will unite York’s incredible strengths with Queen’s health specialties to chart new territory in socially responsible, community-engaged research for a rapidly changing digital world," says Amir Asif, Vice-President, Research and Innovation at York.

    Building research capacity

    [Photos of Drs. Gunnar Blohm and Catherine Donnelly]
    Queen’s researchers Gunnar Blohm and Catherine Donnelly are members of the core research team for Connected Minds. Dr. Blohm will also act as the project’s Vice-Director.

    Connected Minds will also support 35 new faculty hires, including six new Canada Research Chairs and three new Ontario Research Chairs, and 385 positions for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will be created. While most of these positions will sit at York, Queen’s has committed to hiring nine tenure-track faculty positions and supporting 50 graduate trainees and 27 postdoctoral fellows. These positions will enhance the contributions of the Queen’s Centre for Neuroscience Studies, the Centre for Health Innovation, the Health Services and Policy Research Institute, and Ingenuity Labs Research Institute to the Connected Minds program.

    "I look forward to working with our Indigenous, community and industrial partners to develop more equitable and socially responsible research outputs for the benefit of all," says Dr. Gunnar Blohm, Professor in Computational Neuroscience and Queen's Vice-Director of Connected Minds. "I am also excited about the many educational and outreach opportunities that Connected Minds will produce – from school programs to graduate training and professional skills development. We want to democratize education and access to knowledge, with the aim of spreading a new culture of innovation for a more equitable, inclusive, and healthy society."

     Visit the website and associated press release for more information on the Connected Minds program and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund announcement.

    [Promotional graphic including York University and Queen's University logos; Text: Connected Minds Esprits Branches]



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