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Engineering and Applied Science

2020: The Year in Research

A look back at the major initiatives, the funding and awards garnered, and how a community mobilized to respond to and combat COVID-19.

In recent years, we have taken a moment each December to highlight some of the research that has captured our attention over the previous 12 months.

2020 was not a normal year. It challenged us, tested us, and saw our research community pivot in creative and unexpected ways to respond to the global crisis. Through all of this, research prominence remained a key driver for Queen’s and our researchers continued to make national and international headlines for their discoveries and award-winning scholarship.

Join us as we review some of the highlights of 2020.

[Photo of Hailey Poole dispensing hand sanitizer]
A team of Queen’s researchers from the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering along with GreenCentre Canada partnered with Kingston Health Sciences Centre and Tri-Art Manufacturing (Kingston) to develop hand sanitizer, producing up to 300 litres of product per week to help meet the needs of Kingston hospitals.

COVID-19 Response: Mobilizing as a Community to Confront COVID-19

In the early days of the pandemic, Queen’s researchers across disciplines were active in offering commentary and fact-based analysis on COVID-19-related issues – from understanding if DNA is key to whether you get COVID and helping to diagnose unusual symptoms related to COVID stress to suggesting 5-min workouts you can do at home. Many of these analyses were carried on national and international news platforms, demonstrating the critical contribution that researchers and academics can make to informing the conversation.

When news of PPE and ventilator shortages and test wait times hit international media, research and student groups across campus leveraged their skills to come up with innovative solutions. Here are a few examples:

  • A team of researchers from the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, along with GreenCentre Canada, partnered with Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) and Tri-Art Manufacturing (Kingston) to make 300 litres of hand sanitizer per week to help meet the needs of Kingston hospitals
  • Researchers from Queen’s University and KHSC partnered with Public Health Ontario Laboratories and Hamilton Health Sciences Center to develop an in-house COVID test that can provide results in 24 hours
  • Faculty and students at the Human Mobility Research Centre and Ingenuity Labs joined forces with KHSC health professionals to take on the Code Life Ventilator Challenge, a global call to design a low-cost and easy-to-manufacture ventilator that can be created and deployed anywhere around the world
  • Queen’s Noble Laureate, Dr. Arthur B. McDonald, led the Canadian arm of the Mechanical Ventilator Milano project, which aimed to create an easy-to-build ventilator that can help treat COVID-19 patients. In May, the Government of Canada announced an agreement with Vexos to produce 10,000 Mechanical Ventilator Milano (MVM) units and in September the ventilators received Health Canada approval
(Photo by Matthew Manor / Kingston Health Sciences Centre)
Queen’s University and Kingston Health Sciences Centres (KHSC) partnered with Public Health Ontario Laboratories and Hamilton Health Sciences Center to develop an in-house test for COVID-19 that can be completed in large volumes and provide results in 24 hours. (Photo by Matthew Manor / Kingston Health Sciences Centre)

The Vice-Principal (Research) Portfolio also quickly mobilized to offer Rapid Response funding, which was awarded to advance 20 research projects supporting medical and social coronavirus-related solutions. Queen’s researchers also partnered with industry to transform pandemic decision-making and healthcare through two Digital Technology Supercluster projects, Looking Glass and Project ACTT, focused on predictive modelling and cancer testing and treatment. The projects received over $4 million in funding from the Government of Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster’s COVID-19 program.

Funding Future Research

Queen’s continued to attract leading researchers and competitive funding and awards through a number of national and international programs.

[Rendering of the MVM Ventilator]
A team of Canadian physicists, led by Queen’s Nobel Laureate Art McDonald, is part of an international effort to design the MVM Ventilator. With support from Canadian philanthropists and Queen's alumni the project was able to progress, leading to an order of 10,000 units from the Government of Canada.

Hundreds of grants for new projects and research infrastructure were secured through CHIR, SSHRC, NSERC and CFI, Canada’s national funding agencies. Seven multidisciplinary Queen’s research projects received $1.7 million in support from the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) 2019 Exploration competition, a program that fosters discovery and innovation by encouraging Canadian researchers to explore, take risks, and work with partners across disciplines and borders. Additionally, The Canadian Cancer Trials Group, SNOLAB, and Canada’s National Design Network, all of which are Queen’s-affiliated research facilities, saw a funding increase of over $60 million through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Major Sciences Initiatives fund. The Institute for Sustainable Finance received a boost of $5 million from Canada’s big banks to support ISF’s mission of aligning mainstream financial markets with Canada’s transition to a lower carbon economy.

The university welcomed and appointed seven new and two renewed Canada Research Chairs (CRC) in two rounds (September and December 2020) of CRC competition announced this year. One of the country’s highest research honours, Queen’s is now home to over 50 Canada Research Chairs. Queen’s also welcomed seven promising new researchers through the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholars and Banting Post-Doctoral Fellowship programs.

Recognizing Research Leadership

2020 saw Queen’s researchers win some of Canada’s top awards and honours for research excellence and the university continues to rank second in Canada for awards per faculty member (2021 Maclean’s University Rankings).

[Photo of Leach’s storm petrel chick by Sabina Wilhelm]
Queen's researchers, from graduate students to Canada Research Chairs, continue to make an impact on our understanding of the world. (Photo by Sabina Wilhelm

Queen’s had a successful year earning fellowships within Canada’s national academies. Nancy van Deusen and Cathleen Crudden were elected to the Fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada, while Amy Latimer-Cheung and Awet Weldemichael were named members of the organization’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Health research leaders Janet Dancey, Marcia Finlayson, and Graeme Smith were inducted into the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and Michael Cunningham and Jean Hutchinson were elected to the Canadian Academy of Engineering.

While our researchers were recognized with dozens of honours throughout the year, below are a few highlights: David Lyon secured Canada’s Molson Prize for pioneering the field of surveillance studies. Education researcher Lynda Colgan received the NSERC Science Promo Prize for her efforts in promoting science to the general public. Heather Castleden was awarded a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa to engage with Native Hawaiians about their leadership in renewable energy projects. A lauded steward of the environment, John Smol received Canada’s Massey Medal for his lifetime of work in studying environmental stressors. The first Indigenous midwife in Canada to earn a doctoral degree, health researcher Karen Lawford was named one of this year’s 12 outstanding Indigenous leaders and received the Indspire Award for Health.

Internally, researchers were honoured with the university’s Prizes for Excellence in Research (Yan-Fei-Liu, Michael Cunningham, and Gabor Fichtinger) and the Distinguished University Professor (Audrey Kobayashi, David Bakhurst, Julian Barling, Glenville Jones, John Smol, Kathleen Lahey) title.

Major Initiatives

The Discover Research@Queen’s campaign was launched to build engagement with the Research@Queen’s website and encouraged 1000s of key external stakeholders to learn more about the research happening at the University. Our community continued to mobilize their research through fact-based analysis on The Conversation Canada’s news platform. In 2020, 79 Queen’s researchers published 85 articles that garnered over 1.9 million views.

[Illustration of the scales of justice by Gary Neill]
Queen's University researchers Samuel Dahan and Xiaodan Zhu are using AI to level the legal playing field for Canadians, including those affected by COVID-19 unemployment.

This year marked the fifth anniversary of the Art of Research photo contest with over 100 faculty, staff, students, and alumni submitting engaging and thought-provoking research images. Ten category and special prizes were awarded.

The WE-Can (Women Entrepreneurs Canada) program through Queen’s Partnership and Innovation (QPI) celebrated one year of supporting women entrepreneurs in Kingston and the surrounding area, through programs such as Compass North and LEAD.  The QPI team also marked one year at its new downtown Kingston location, the Seaway Coworking building, which allows easy access for the community and partners.

To support researchers thinking outside of the box to solve some of humanity’s most complex problems, the Vice-Principal (Research) portfolio launched the Wicked Ideas competition to fund high risk, high reward projects with interdisciplinary teams that are not easily supported through traditional funding opportunities. Twelve projects received funding in round one and researchers can now apply for round two.

Congratulations to the Queen’s research community for their resilience and successes this year. We look forward to seeing what new research and opportunities 2021 will bring. To learn more about research at the university, visit the Research@Queen’s website, and for information about research promotion, contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives.

[Art of Photo by Hayden Wainwright]
2020 Art of Research Photo Contest Winner: Hayden Wainwright (MSc Biology), Nature's van Gogh (Category: Out in the Field)

A catalyst for change

Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and the student who started the Erased by FEAS account discuss ways to change the faculty, and profession.

Dean Kevin Deluzio and Ramsubick
Fifth-year engineering student Nicholas Ramsubick and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science Kevin Deluzio take part in an online discussion on the topic of EDII (equity, diversity, inclusion and indigeneity) and how it relates to engineering.

Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science Kevin Deluzio and Nicholas Ramsubick, a fifth-year biochemical engineering student and co-president of EngiQueers, sat down for a frank, virtual discussion on Nov. 26 and Nov. 27 to discuss the topic of EDII (equity, diversity, inclusion and indigeneity) and how it relates to engineering.

The conversation was organized by the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, as part of a two-day conference on #EDIAdvantage, focusing on the benefits and strengths that diversity brings to engineering. In front of a national audience of close to 600 engineering professionals, students, and government officials, Dean Deluzio and Ramsubick spent a half hour talking about institutional barriers and allyship, followed by a lively Q&A with attendees.  

It’s a topic Dean Deluzio and Ramsubick have been discussing since early this summer when a number of important questions were thrust into the spotlight within the faculty, through the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, the faculty joining a national “Shut Down STEM” day of action in June, and Ramsubick’s creation of the Erased by FEAS Instagram page.

“As a Black student in the engineering faculty, I often felt I was living in a state of racelessness. That’s when Black students or racialized students may have to give up their identity to succeed, and conform to spaces where they aren’t seen,” says Ramsubick.

His feelings were further enforced after leaving campus for an internship. It was around this time that other similar pages, both at Queen's and at other post-secondary institutions were created, and students were taking notice.

“I realized this was the time to start having those conversations within engineering,” says Ramsubick. “It was meant to be healing; a catalyst for change.” 

As the Instagram project began to generate interest, Ramsubick says he started to see a real interconnection among students in the faculty and learned more about what they were going through.

“Stories that were shared on sexual violence, queer identities, different racial abuse — those same students were the ones making the change.”

When Dean Deluzio first read the stories he admits he was overwhelmed by feelings of empathy and appreciation.

“The narratives were so strong. They were students; they were my students and they were part of our community,” he says “The stories are difficult to read, and they must be difficult to experience. Writing them down, putting them on a public platform is going through that experience again.”

Dean Deluzio admits there is a strong sense of cultural identity within the faculty.

“I’ve been at Queen’s a long time and know it is a predominately white campus with issues around diversity in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field. We focus a lot on it being an issue of gender but it goes way beyond that,” he says. “I did not understand the degree that these issues were affecting students. But I believe the work we are starting now is the change that is needed.”

Ramsubick believes there needs to be a shift in the work being done to invoke change.

“We need to centre BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) voices and make sure they are heard," he says. "We shouldn’t force them to do the work. It isn’t the job of the oppressed to fight that systemic racism. We need to create culturally competent engineers. They can’t be blind to the racial inequalities that exist in the communities where they work.”

Several future faculty initiatives were discussed, including the need for equity and diversity training in engineering programs. Diversifying STEM by bringing in more racialized engineers, and continuing to accept more women, are viewed as steps in the right direction.

In recent months, Queen’s engineering has created a new Chair for Women in Engineering, held by Heidi Ploeg, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. The faculty's mandatory first-year APSC100 course now features videos and readings related to anti-racism, and other curricular updates are being examined. Dean Deluzio has also committed to creating dedicated space in the Integrated Learning Centre, in Beamish-Munro Hall, for marginalized students to connect in a ‘safe space’.

Dean Deluzio says engineers are trained problem solvers and are called to answer some of the most complex problems of our time including COVID-19, as well as complex societal issues that are identified through the Black Lives Matter movement. He is calling for leaders in the profession recognize the issues and take steps to understand and address them.

“If we don’t train them to be proactive in the areas of equity, diversity, inclusion and indigenization and the problems understanding that, the solutions will be less impactful, and the change won’t be fast enough," he says.

Internal funding for global impact

The Wicked Ideas research competition is now open for applications with notice of intent due Jan. 6.

The Vice-Principal (Research) is offering close to $2 million in funding for Queen’s researchers who are thinking outside of the box to solve some of humanity’s most complex problems.

[Wicked Ideas Graphic]

The Wicked Ideas Competition is open for its second year as an initiative to fund high risk, high reward projects with interdisciplinary teams that are not easily supported through traditional funding opportunities. The goal is to provide Queen’s researchers with the initial support to collaborate and apply their expertise towards wicked problems, issues so complex and dependent on so many factors that it is hard to grasp what exactly the problem is or how to tackle it. This year the initiative supported innovative approaches to cleantech, Lyme disease, and microplastics.

The Competition

This year’s competition will have two application streams. A minimum of 10 teams will be funded through the Interdisciplinary Stream where team members will be from multiple disciplines. The Discipline Specific Stream will fund a maximum of five teams where members can be from within a given discipline. The competition is open to all Queen’s faculty members, and teams can also leverage the expertise of students, post-doctoral fellows, and community members, to name a few, as members. Up to 15 teams successful in the first phase of the competition will be awarded $75,000.

To compete for the second phase of funding, teams will be invited to pitch their projects to an adjudication panel made up of researchers, community members, industry, and other partners. Up to five successful teams from this round will receive an additional $150,000. Projects can concentrate on local, national, or global challenges and should focus on novel approaches (high risk) and disruptive or transformative thinking (high reward). Participating teams will also be asked about their potential knowledge mobilization outcomes and how this research could impact the community or lead to further partnerships for implementation and collaboration.

"The first Wicked Ideas competition supported exciting projects that are addressing complex issues in creative and innovative ways with the potential to lead to additional funding through the government’s New Frontiers in Research program," says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research). "I very much look forward to the response of the research community to this year’s opportunity."

Notice of Intent

Notice of Intent applications are due Jan. 6, 2021. For more information on the initiative and how to submit your project, see the Vice-Principal (Research) Office.

Queen's Engineering student earns Order of the White Rose scholarship

The $30,000 scholarship commemorates the victims of the Dec. 6 massacre and recognizes the accomplishments of women engineering students.

Photograph of Brielle Thorsen with white roses
A Cree woman, Brielle Thorsen is pursuing a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering at Queen's. (Supplied photo.)

At a live online ceremony from Polytechnique Montréal and featuring the new White Rose installation in the Integrated Learning Centre at Queen’s University, Brielle Thorsen (Sc’20, MASc'22) was announced as the 2020 recipient of the Order of the White Rose Scholarship.

Polytechnique Montréal created the Order of the White Rose in tribute to the victims as well as the wounded, the families, the faculty members, the employees and the students who were forever affected by the 1989 Montreal Massacre. White roses have become the symbol of Polytechnique Montréal’s commemorative activities to mark the tragedy.

The $30,000 scholarship is awarded annually by the Polytechnique administration to a woman engineering student who intends to undertake graduate studies in engineering (master’s or PhD) at the institution of her choice, in Canada or elsewhere in the world.

Thorsen is a graduate of Mathematics and Engineering from Queen’s and is now pursuing a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering here.

“I want to follow in the footsteps of my father, who is also an engineer,” Thorsen said in a statement. “Throughout my academic career I’ve had the opportunity to explore different facets of mechanical engineering. I’m now in a position to make an informed choice about what inspires me most, which is specializing in sustainable energy. I am a strong nehiyaw iskwew (Cree woman) and a fearless female engineer. I plan to use my knowledge to benefit Indigenous communities in the North, and to run my own business.”

Order of the White Rose scholarship evaluation criteria are based on academic record, technical achievements, and non-technical achievements. Established by Polytechnique Montréal, the selection committee comprises deans from the engineering faculties of the University of Toronto, Queen's University, Université de Sherbrooke, Dalhousie University and University of Victoria, and is chaired by Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire, Honorary Chair of the Polytechnique Board of Directors and the first woman to earn a civil engineering degree from Polytechnique in 1963.

Thorsen acknowledged in both her application and acceptance speech she is a survivor of sexual assault, a trauma she suffered on the Queen's campus during her first year of study here.

Queen’s Engineering Dean Kevin Deluzio recused himself from the selection committee upon learning of Thorsen’s application. Today he expressed his congratulations to Brielle, who since early October has worked part-time in addition to her studies with the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science’s Aboriginal Access to Engineering initiative.

“Brielle has overcome a number of obstacles to not only thrive in engineering, but become an inspiration to young women and Indigenous youth,” he said. “It is particularly important to celebrate and support the accomplishments of young engineers who face systemic challenges in both our schools and the profession. Brielle’s courage and resilience in not only overcoming sexual violence and discrimination, but being willing to speak to it, is a call to action for all of us.”

The announcement of Thorsen's scholarship was just one of the activities the Queen's engineering community took part in to recognize the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. On Thursday Dec. 3, the faculty hosted an alumni panel on women in STEM and the Engineering Society held a commemorative event during which they unveiled a new permanent memorial installation in Beamish-Munro Hall designed by Haley Adams, an engineering student. Learn more about these activities in a previous story in the Queen's Gazette

Read more about Brielle Thorsen and the Order of the White Rose scholarship on the Polytechnique Montréal website.

Remembering the victims of Dec. 6

The Queen’s engineering community is hosting commemorative events and unveiling a new permanent memorial on Dec. 3.

Photograph of new permanent memorial installation in Beamish-Munro Hall
The new permanent memorial installation in Beamish-Munro Hall, designed by Haley Adams, features a white rose petal for each of the 14 victims of the Dec. 6 massacre.

Each year on Dec. 6, Canadians pause to reflect on the murder of 14 women that occurred at l’École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989. It is day to remember the victims and think about the effects that gender-based violence has had – and continues to have – on our society.

As the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women approaches, the Queen’s community is preparing to recognize the day at two physically-distanced events hosted within the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science (FEAS) on Thursday, Dec. 3, as Dec. 6 falls on Sunday this year. The first event will be a panel discussion on women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and the second will be a memorial event hosted by the Engineering Society of Queen’s.

“We need to remember the terrible events of December 6 at l’École Polytechnique. Most of the victims were women engineering students and they were targeted because they were women. It is important for the engineering community to reflect on that loss, and to strengthen our resolve to welcome more women into the profession. As a society we have much work to do in the areas of equity, diversity and inclusion, so this is a meaningful day for everyone at Queen’s. I hope that people from across the university join us in reflecting on this day’s significance,” says Dean Kevin Deluzio.

The panel discussion on women in STEM will feature female alumni from FEAS in conversation with current members of Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE), a student-run organization. While the conversation will not focus exclusively on the events of Dec. 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women is prompting the discussion. The virtual panel begins at noon on Dec. 3.

Later in the day, the Engineering Society will hold a memorial event over Zoom to commemorate the victims. During the event, 14 current FEAS students will speak about the 14 women who were killed and express their views on why it is important to remember them. Dean Deluzio and Associate Professor Heidi Ploeg will provide opening remarks for the commemoration.

The event will also feature the unveiling of the new permanent memorial installation in the Integrated Learning Centre in Beamish-Munro Hall. In 2019, Dean Deluzio and the Engineering Society announced that they would be creating a permanent installation and sent out a call for designs to the Queen’s community.

The Memorial Design Committee ultimately selected the design submitted by Haley Adams, a civil engineering student, and Dean Deluzio announced the choice on the 30th anniversary of the massacre. A video introduction to the new installation will be shared with the community during the memorial event, which starts at 2 p.m. on Dec. 3

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

Learn more about the events and find out how to attend on the FEAS website.

Queen’s remembers Cpl. Stanley Clark Fields

Cpl. Stanley Fields

This Remembrance Day, Queen’s remembers Cpl. Stanley Clark Fields, 5th Field Company - Royal Canadian Engineers veteran of the Second World War and the D-Day landings at Normandy.

The 5th Field Company was originally formed in April 1910, by the School of Mining Engineering at Queen’s. Initially made up of Queen’s students, professors, and staff, it later welcomed other members and went on to serve with distinction in the First World War. The unit was once again deployed during the Second World War, at which time Cpl. Fields joined.

Together with his comrades, Cpl. Fields landed on Juno Beach early in the morning of June 6, 1944. The soldiers of the 5th Field Company cleared the assault beach of underwater obstacles and mines at H-Hour. They advanced with the Canadian Corps through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.   

Queen’s was honoured to welcome Cpl. Fields to campus on Remembrance Day 2017, for the unveiling of the Queen’s Remembers plinth, which commemorates the 5th Field Company. He also led a wreath laying in the Memorial Room of the John Deutsch University Centre (JDUC), in which the 351 names of the Queen’s fallen from both world wars are listed.

Those who were privileged to meet Cpl. Fields on that day were touched by his wit and warmth. He was gracious with those who wished to learn from him, despite the painful memories that might have been evoked.

“Queen’s Engineering is very proud of our military history, and in particular of our role in forming the 5th Field Company,” says Kevin Deluzio, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. “Therefore, it was a real pleasure and an honour to meet Cpl. Fields and his family during our Remembrance Day ceremony a few years ago. His presence that day reminded me of the personal nature of the sacrifices that have been made by the men and women who served our country.”

Later in life, Cpl. Fields was one of the founders of the 5th Field Company RCE Veterans, through which he and his comrades maintained their bonds well into this century. Cpl. Stanley Clark Fields died peacefully at the Perley & Rideau Veterans Health Centre on April 11, 2020, at the age of 101.  

We will remember him.

Medical education, artificial intelligence and augmented reality

Queen’s University researchers receive funding to develop a next generation medical simulation platform.

A multidisciplinary group of faculty and post-doctoral researchers, in partnership with Queen’s University’s Ingenuity Labs Research Institute, recently received a grant from the Department of National Defence's IDEaS fund to advance the development of intelligently adaptive augmented reality and virtual reality medical simulations. 

As a teaching strategy, simulation-based training has been around a long time. From aviation and space flight to the military, from law to policing, simulation has been used to create learning environments that reflect the real world, without putting the learner or other participants at risk. 

A multidisciplinary group of faculty and post-doctoral researchers from the faculties of Engineering and Applied Science, Health Sciences, Arts and Science, and Education, in partnership with Queen’s University’s Ingenuity Labs Research Institute, has received a $850,000 grant from the Department of National Defence's IDEaS fund to advance the development of intelligently adaptive augmented reality (overlaying virtual images, audio or entire scenes within a real world context) and virtual reality (a completely constructed virtual space) simulations. 

The group’s goal is to create a next generation medical simulation platform that creates intelligent, compelling, life-like, and adaptive simulation environments that can respond to each individual learner. 

“Medical simulation is becoming a critical part of our teaching toolbox,” explains Daniel Howes, Professor, Critical Care Medicine and director of the Clinical Simulation Centre (CSC) at Queen’s University. “Still, we’re behind other disciplines in using simulation to help close the gap between clinical knowledge and clinical practice. In aviation, for example, 80 per cent of their training is simulation based, but in medicine, it’s currently about 20 per cent.” 

Research like this is why the CSC, Canada’s first virtual reality medical training facility, was created. But the ability to make simulation more lifelike and accessible is only part of the objective of the grant.  

“Research shows that to be effective, the complexity of the simulation must match the learner’s level of expertise and cognitive capacity or load, and right now, most simulations are not designed that way,” says Adam Szulewski, Associate Professor, Emergency Medicine. “We know that, to maximize learning, we have to hit the sweet spot for a given learner in terms of simulation complexity. The holy grail is a system that can adapt to the learner on the fly.” 

Traditionally, learner performance in a simulation was observed by experts who could then decide about their performance against standard benchmarks. Previously, there was no way to investigate the mind of the learner to really understand how they were reacting to the challenges in the simulation. 

All of that has changed with the availability of real-time, wearable sensors such as electrocardiograms (ECG), electroencephalograms (EEG), and eye-trackers, in combination with artificial intelligence. The data these generate can be used by deep neural networks and machine learning to accurately identify the learner’s expertise, cognitive load, emotional state, and level of engagement with the simulation. 

“We have the chance to completely redefine the simulation learning paradigm,” says Paul Hungler, Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering. “From a static relationship based on simple behaviours to a dynamic partnership, in which the simulation platform can identify and immediately respond to a learner by changing the complexity of the simulation. That’s revolutionary.” 

The proposed platform demands expertise in engineering and software to realize the augmented / virtual reality and AI / deep learning components of the project, while the medical simulation design requires medical, cognitive and educational expertise. 

“As a research institute with a mandate specifically seeking to explore and integrate artificial intelligence, robotics and human-machine interaction, the Ingenuity Lab is perfectly positioned to support this type of deeply interdisciplinary project,” states Ramzi Asfour, Associate Director. 

The research team has formed SIMIAN (Simulation and Intelligent Adaptivity Network) to support the advancement of this type of dynamic simulation-based learning technology. 

"With augmented and virtual reality, we can significantly reduce the cost of simulation while simultaneously increasing its realism and accessibility,” says Dr. Howes. “We’re really excited about the potential of this technology.” 

Promoting Research@Queen’s

Looking back on some of the most compelling stories of the Discover Research@Queen’s promotional campaign.

In February, the university launched an institutional campaign, Discover Research@Queen’s, to showcase the impactful research happening at Queen’s and to build engagement with the new Research@Queen’s website.

  • [Photo of compacted plastics]
    Diving into microplastics: Addressing our "wicked" waste problem: Microplastics – They are in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we consume, and we are still learning about what this means for our health, the health of our environment, and our future. How do we tackle this “wicked” problem? Queen’s researcher Myra Hird believes the answer is in our own consumption habits.
  • [Photo of a woman touching her forehead]
    Strange physical symptoms? Blame the chronic stress of life during the COVID-19 pandemic: Itchy skin? More aches and pains? Unusual rash? Headaches? Pimples? If you've been experiencing unusual physical symptoms recently, Queen's researcher Kate Harkness explains it may be due to living with chronic stress for The Conversation Canada.
  • [Photo of Samuel Dahan and Xiaodan Zhu by Bernard Clark]
    Championing AI for social justice: Queen's University researchers Samuel Dahan and Xiaodan Zhu are using AI to level the legal playing field for Canadians, including those affected by COVID-19 unemployment.
  • [Art of Research Photo by Grace Adeniyi-Ogunyankin of a market in Adelabu]
    Capturing the Art of Research: Celebrating the 2020 prize recipients: The Queen’s Art of Research photo contest celebrates its fifth year, with the selection of ten stunning winning images.
  • [Illustration of a bar graph and tree by Gary Neill]
    Fixing financial fairy tales – The rise of sustainable finance in Canada: The Institute for Sustainable Finance based at Queen's Smith School of Business is dedicated to exploring how the many different ways in which we spend money might be adapted to reflect the principles of sustainability.

However, much like the rest of the world, the campaign had to take stock and respond to the urgent concerns of the pandemic. As a consequence, the campaign was paused between March and May. During this period many Queen’s researchers pivoted their efforts to focus on pandemic relief and research, sharing their expertise and advice with the public as the crisis unfolded. In April, the campaign was reimagined to reflect these activities culminating in a new virtual events series with Advancement, Conversations Confronting COVID-19, where Queen’s researchers and alumni were able to discuss their research, provide comment, and take questions. These Conversations have reached more than 1,000 people and featured topics such as innovation and aging during the pandemic.

“The original goal of the campaign was to help our audiences discover the critical and impactful research happening at Queen’s,” says Michael Fraser, Vice-Principal (University Relations). “While COVID-19 forced us to rethink our approach to a degree, the success of these efforts illustrate how eager our audiences are to understand how the work being done by Queen’s researchers can make a difference.”

Overall, the campaign has doubled traffic to the Research@Queen’s website and helped drive significant awareness of the research happening at Queen’s. As we wrap up the campaign, the last phase features some of the most well-received stories featured over the last 10 months.

Discover Research@Queen’s Stories and Features

Diving into microplastics: Addressing our "wicked" waste problem: Microplastics – They are in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we consume, and we are still learning about what this means for our health, the health of our environment, and our future. How do we tackle this “wicked” problem? Queen’s researcher Myra Hird believes the answer is in our own consumption habits.

Strange physical symptoms? Blame the chronic stress of life during the COVID-19 pandemic: Itchy skin? More aches and pains? Unusual rash? Headaches? Pimples? If you've been experiencing unusual physical symptoms recently, Queen's researcher Kate Harkness explains it may be due to living with chronic stress for The Conversation Canada.

Championing AI for social justice: Queen's University researchers Samuel Dahan and Xiaodan Zhu are using AI to level the legal playing field for Canadians, including those affected by COVID-19 unemployment.

Capturing the Art of Research: Celebrating the 2020 prize recipients: The Queen’s Art of Research photo contest celebrates its fifth year, with the selection of 10 stunning winning images.

Fixing financial fairy tales – The rise of sustainable finance in Canada: The Institute for Sustainable Finance, based at Queen's Smith School of Business, is dedicated to exploring how the many different ways in which we spend money might be adapted to reflect the principles of sustainability.

For more information, visit the Research@Queen’s website or contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives.

Recognizing research and scholarship at Queen’s

The Prizes for Excellence in Research are Queen’s highest internal research award.

Prizes for Excellence in Research
Michael Cunningham (Chemical Engineering), Gabor Fichtinger (Computing), and Yan-Fei Liu (Engineering) are the 2020 recipients of the Prizes for Excellence in Research.

Three Queen’s researchers have earned the institution’s top recognition for research excellence. The researchers, Michael Cunningham (Chemical Engineering), Gabor Fichtinger (Computing), and Yan-Fei Liu (Engineering), are committed to advancing knowledge in a variety of fields, including polymer chemistry and green engineering, developing technologies for computer-integrated surgery and advancing power conversion systems.

The Prizes for Excellence in Research have been the signature internal research prize since 1980 and represent an important investment by Queen’s in recognizing research and scholarship across the faculties. This year, the awards are going to three recipients, with each being awarded a prize of $20,000, allocated for research and accessible through a special research account. Also new this year was a consideration of overall research impact and efforts in knowledge mobilization through collaborations and partnerships, and in sharing research beyond the academy.  

“My sincere congratulations to this year’s recipients of the Prizes,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research). “Nominated by their peers, Drs. Cunningham, Fichtinger, and Liu represent scholars who have successfully combined research excellence and knowledge translation – a winning combination.”

Michael Cunningham (Chemical Engineering): Dr. Cunningham’s research achievements in polymer chemistry and green engineering have attracted the attention of academics and numerous companies worldwide. He has spent 30 years studying how to reduce the environmental and health-related impacts of processes used to make materials that are essential for a modern society. His research group has pioneered major innovations in developing new water-based processes that eliminate the use of harmful chemicals in manufacturing processes, developed new materials that may replace solvent based products and offer new ways to purify drinking water, and more recently established new protocols for making renewably-sourced materials.

Gabor Fichtinger (School of Computing)Dr. Fichtinger is being recognized for seminal contributions to the development, clinical translation and global dissemination of novel technologies for computational imaging guidance in surgery and medical interventions. He is particularly respected for his ground-breaking work in image-guided interventional robotics. Dr. Fichtinger has also made worldwide impact by championing the development and dissemination of free open source software resources for computer-assisted cancer diagnosis and treatment, particularly targeting countries with limited technological resources. His Laboratory for Percutaneous Surgery is the world leader in this movement; their software offerings have been downloaded over 1 million times, contributing to healthcare, research and commercial development on a global scale.

Yan-Fei Liu (Electrical and Computer Engineering): Dr. Liu is a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the field of power electronics – a scientific field to which he has made numerous original and substantial contributions. His most significant work is concerned with the advancement of high frequency power conversion technology for its use in the telecommunications, computer and lighting industries. He is inventor of over 50 US Patents and has authored more than 90 journal papers. His work has been cited by more than 7,000 independent references and is widely used in industry worldwide.

Traditionally, the prizes are presented to recipients at convocation, and recipients also deliver a public presentation about their research. Given the current COVID-19 restrictions, the university is exploring options to celebrate this year’s recipients and to help them share their research findings with the community.

For further information, or to learn more about previous prize winners, visit the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research) website .

The power of computers

A Queen’s alumnus develops an innovative platform that harnesses idle computer power to aid groundbreaking research.

Dan Desjardins
Queen's alumnus Daniel Desjardins, an assistant professor (Physics and Space Science) at the Royal Military College of Canada, and his team at Kings Distributed Systems (KDS), have collaborated with Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation and Queen’s faculty members to develop a distributed computing model.

The expectation surrounding what our computer devices can do for us has grown exponentially in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic is the most recent example of how we are testing the limits of our computer speeds, as we juggle Skype and Zoom calls from home, while managing emails, searching websites and writing documents. A fast and reliable computing platform is especially important to Queen’s researchers, who need to be able to analyze data in a timely, cost-efficient way. 

Daniel Desjardins, a Queen’s alumnus (Physics PhD) and assistant professor (Physics and Space Science) at the Royal Military College of Canada, and his team at Kings Distributed Systems (KDS), have collaborated with Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation and Queen’s faculty members to develop a distributed computing model to aide these efforts. KDS has built a secure platform to help researchers and decision-makers with a variety of projects, including the critical analysis and policy making surrounding COVID-19.

Evolving Distributed Computing

Although the concept of distributed computing has been around since the 1960s, Dr. Desjardins’s team adapted the technology to use cutting edge web technology in a modern setting.

“Whenever our special screensaver is running, we can harness the computer's idle computing power, even if no one is logged in” says Dr. Desjardins. “Our web-based platform is the most powerful, secure, portable, easy to use, and future-proof platform on the market. It is also faster and cheaper than commercial cloud.”

Kings Distributed Systems was created in 2017, and its development and growth has been fostered by the Queen’s Partnership and Innovation team and the Queen’s Centre for Advanced Computing.

“The university trialed our technology at the Centre for Advanced Computing and on a cluster of computers on campus,” says Dr. Desjardins.  “Our platform allowed a Queen's researcher in physics to deploy a large computational workload and spread it automatically across 40 on-campus computers that were otherwise sitting idle. Those computers, connected by our platform, were able to work together to complete the job in minutes instead of days.”

KDS works with a host of clients, in both non-profit and for-profit sectors. KDS has even developed an educational hybrid computing platform, called the Distributed Compute Labs, which spreads computations over the many idle computers found in schools, homes, and businesses instead of in commercial cloud data centers. It provides this technology at no cost to universities and high schools across Canada.

Dr. Desjardins’s companies maintain a close connection to Queen’s.  

“Over the last three years we've hired 13 students, co-sponsored seven student conferences and hackathons, participated in their business accelerator programs, and, together, have applied for and been awarded over $5.2M in government funding for joint projects” he says.

KDS has also received mentorship and connections for resources through Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) and receptors such as the Eastern Ontario Leadership Council and the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce.

Applications to Policy-Making

Recently, Kings Distributed Systems and research partners at Queen’s and elsewhere received funding through the Government of Canada’s Digital Supercluster initiative to lead a project called The Looking Glass: Protecting Canadians in a Return to Community. The team is building a database that uses predictive modelling to help decision-makers determine the impact that a proposed policy will have on public health and the economy. With partners and contributors from a range of institutions and industry across Canada, this diverse collaboration will develop Looking Glass into a powerful tool to forecast not only COVID-19 infection rates from actions such as re-opening schools, but also other critical public health issues like vaccination campaigns and managing tick-borne diseases.

Edge Computing

The collaborations between KDS and Queen’s continue to grow. Queen’s was recently awarded a large NSERC Alliance award with KDS as the industry partner and Hossam Hassanein (School of Computing) as the lead Principal Investigator. Dr. Hassanein, his team, and KDS are embarking on a four-year, $3-million project that will look into the concept of “edge computing,” technology where data is processed by the device itself or by a local computer or server, rather than being transmitted to a data centre, making it accessible to everyone. This emerging technology could be applied to many applications, like smart homes, transportation and city applications, thus magnifying Canada's impact in the IT and smart services sectors.

“The proposed research will democratize edge computing by exploiting unused heterogeneous computing resources and recycled resources of existing infrastructures to create distributed edge computing clusters,” says Dr. Hassanein. “With our industry partner KDS, we will make edge computing accessible to all rather than restricted to the control of cloud service providers and network operators. This will open an entirely new market for Canadian businesses and local governments, who will be able to act as edge providers themselves.”

During the project Dr. Hassanein’s team will train a diverse group of more than 20 talented, highly-qualified personnel who will go on to help further advance Canada's edge computing technologies and help maintain Canada's leadership in Information and computer technology.

Speaking of the future, Dr. Desjardins says he already has his sights set on new ventures.

“We want to share this technology with 10 more Canadian universities and high schools over the next six months," he says. "On the enterprise, we are scaling out to more verticals and on-boarding more large clients who want to reduce their expenditure on commercial cloud. In the long run, our vision is for our technology to become the web standard for distributed and edge computing.”


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