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Engineering and Applied Science

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.”

Tackling COVID-19 spread by monitoring wastewater

Interdisciplinary research team at Queen’s University joins national network.

An interdisciplinary research team at Queen’s University is taking the first step in establishing a local group in the  National Sewage Sentinel Surveillance  in Canada. The pilot project is developing capacity to detect SARS-CoV-2 (the infectious agent that causes COVID-19) in sewage and septic samples. 

This work, being conducted at the Beaty Water Research Centre (BWRC), will help with early detection of community-borne COVID-19 and can also be applied to future viral outbreaks. 

“The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has been detected in stool of some infected individuals, including asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic,” says Stephen Brown, professor in the Department of Chemistry and an affiliate of BWRC. “Feces of COVID-19 infected patients may serve as a mechanism for community surveillance with the possibility of earlier detection of outbreaks.” 

The focus of the initial study will be to work with samples from potential hotspots as a way to monitor campus health. The team will also be receiving samples from the Peel region, which has continuously been a hotspot in Ontario for COVID-19 cases. 

This pilot study will use the results as a sentinel for community COVID-19 infection levels and for surveillance for early emergence or reemergence (future waves, seasonal reoccurrence), thereby informing public health mitigation. 

The team will then start with sampling wastewater from Kingston and surrounding areas by working with local utilities and, down the line, the researchers would also like to expand to testing sewage from rural communities who rely on their own private drinking wells and septic systems. 

“Although SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to be effectively removed through a variety of standard water treatment processes, in the absence of a treatment system, households that rely on private supplies may be vulnerable to fecal-oral transmission through the drinking of well water contaminated by a nearby septic tank,” says Dr. Brown. “Another natural extension is to sample recreational waters. For example, the possibility of storm water overflows releasing untreated or partially treated sewage into a receiving recreational water body.” 

For more information please contact the BWRC at BWRC.info@queensu.ca. 

Start writing for The Conversation Canada

Scott White, Editor-in-Chief of The Conversation Canada, to host two online, interactive workshops for faculty, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows on Sept. 17 and 21.

The importance of fact-based, expert commentary in the news has never been more apparent. The public is seeking informed information on issues important to them, particularly as the world gets accustomed to the new normal of living in a global pandemic.  

For researchers looking for an opportunity to reach the public and mobilize their knowledge, The Conversation is an ideal platform. It combines academic rigour with journalistic flair by pairing academic experts with experienced journalists to write informed content that can be repurposed by media outlets worldwide.

Global Reach

Founded in Australia in 2011, the online news platform has 11 national or regional editions with more than 112,000 academics from 2,065 institutions as registered authors whose articles attract 42 million readers monthly worldwide. The Conversation’s Creative Commons Licensing has meant that over 22,000 news outlets around the world have shared and repurposed content.

As a founding member of The Conversation Canada, over the last three years the Queen’s research community has embraced the platform as a unique tool for sharing their research expertise and engaging with the media. More than 160 Queen’s researchers have published 270 articles that have received an impressive audience of over 4.3 million via The Conversation Canada’s website. Through the platform’s Creative Commons Licensing and newswire access, dozens of major media outlets, including Maclean’sThe National PostTIME, and The Washington Post, to name a few, have republished these pieces.

For Queen’s researchers interested in learning more about the platform, University Relations and the School of Graduate Studies will host two interactive, online workshops in September. The workshops will explore the changing media landscape in Canada, why researchers should write for The Conversation, and how to develop the perfect pitch. 

Online Workshops

Faculty are invited to attend the workshop on Thursday, Sept. 17 from 10-11:30 am. Interested graduate students and post-doctoral fellows are asked to register for a specially designed workshop on Monday, Sept. 21 from 10-11:30 am that will also count towards the SGS Expanding Horizons Certificate in Professional Development. Scott White, Editor-in-Chief of The Conversation Canada, and members of his editorial team will host both workshops over Zoom. Participants are asked to bring an idea to pitch to the workshop to receive real-time editorial feedback from the team.

In order to facilitate a collaborative workshop, spaces will be limited. Please visit the Research@Queen’s website to register.

It’s time to join The Conversation

Queen’s is looking to add to its roster of authors taking part in The Conversation Canada. Faculty and graduate students interested in learning more about the platform and research promotion are encouraged to register for the September workshops or contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, for more information.

Queen’s remembers Isabelle Brisson

The Queen’s community is remembering Isabelle Brisson, a 2020 graduate of the civil engineering program, who died July 2 while tree planting in Alberta. She was 23.

Born and raised in Edmonton, Isabelle attended Queen’s as a Chancellor's Scholar. She focused her tremendous energy to excel academically and earned a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in April. Embracing university life from the day she arrived, Isabelle participated in a wide range of extracurricular activities at Queen’s and in the Kingston community.

Izzy deeply loved her family and friends, and cherished meeting new friends. She was a good listener, offered wise counsel and encouragement, loved dancing, and strived to apply her skills productively. As a young girl she often hiked and cross-country skied in the Rockies, solidifying her love for fresh air and the outdoors. Always ready for a new outdoor challenge, Izzy found peace in nature’s beauty. Her positive outlook and distinctive laugh drew others in and she will be terribly missed by everyone who was connected to her.

A memorial service was held on July 14, 2020.

Safely moving into residence

New procedures for student move-in will support campus and community safety.

Photograph of Leonard Hall
Move-in for the reduced number of students living on campus will take place from Sept.1 to Sept. 5 at staggered times throughout the day.

The Labour Day weekend is usually an incredibly busy one at Queen’s, with first-year students all moving into residence for the start of the fall term. It’s also an important milestone for the students who move in, as unpacking their boxes in their residence room marks the beginning of their Queen’s experience.  

Due to COVID-19, moving in will look different this year for the reduced number of students living on campus. A new move-in process is being implemented to prioritize the health and safety of students, their families and supporters, staff, and the Kingston community.

This year, move in will take place over five days from Sept. 1 to Sept. 5 at staggered times throughout the day.

“Keeping students, families, supports, Queen’s staff, and the community safe during move-in is our top priority. Our new procedures will make it possible for everyone to maintain a safe physical distance throughout the process,” says Leah Wales, Executive Director, Housing and Ancillary Services.

For the fall, Queen’s has reduced the number of students who can live in residence to approximately half of the usual total. And only 10 of the 17 buildings will be in use.

During the move-in week, no more than 450 students will move into residence on one day, and students can bring a maximum of two people with them for assistance. When they arrive on campus, students will head to Richardson Stadium, where there is a contactless check-in station. Students will remain in their cars while they pick up the key to their room.  Queen’s staff will be present during the move-in days to provide information and directions, however the typical large numbers of volunteers will not be involved in move-in this year, in order to maintain physical distancing.

Additional measures have been put in place inside the residences to promote safety during all move-in days. There is a planned movement flow throughout the buildings to maximize physical distancing, everyone must wear a face covering, and the university has placed COVID-19 informational signs and hand sanitizers throughout all buildings. There will be frequent cleanings of surfaces such as door handles and elevator buttons throughout each day.

Traffic and parking

Compared to previous years, move-in days will have limited impact on traffic and parking in the campus area. There will be no closures of public streets around residence buildings.

Bader Lane will be restricted to one-way traffic, west-bound only, and no parking will be permitted on the street. These changes will be in effect from Tuesday Sept. 1 at 8 am through Saturday Sept. 5 at 9 pm. In addition, parking restrictions will be in place for the five-day period, on the following streets:

  • Lower Albert, from Queen’s Crescent to King St.
  • Queen’s Crescent
  • Collingwood St., from King to Queen’s Crescent
  • Stuart St., from University to Albert

Representatives from the City of Kingston have approved the university’s traffic management plan.

Safe return to campus

While they live in residence, students will be protected by a variety of safety measures. No guests will be permitted into any residence building. All students will be living in single rooms and sharing a bathroom with only a small number of other students. To limit the number of people students are in contact with, floors are being organized by academic program.

Queen’s is taking a variety of actions to ensure the safety of the campus and Kingston communities beyond residences as well. New and returning students are being asked to take important safety measures, including testing and limiting contact with others. The university has also launched a communications and advertising campaign that directs students to important information that will help them keep themselves and the campus and Kingston communities safe.

Learn more about plans for residence move-in days and residence safety on the Queen’s Residences website.

For more information about the university’s plans for the fall semester, see the Queen’s COVID-19 website.

Supporting research at Queen’s University

The Vice-Principal (Research) at Queen’s provides internal funding to help researchers accelerate their programs and engage in knowledge mobilization.

Queen’s University has awarded more than $1 million in funding to its researchers. Through unique competitions such as Wicked Ideas, Queen's Research Opportunities Fund, and national programs like the SSHRC Institutional Grant (SIG), the Vice-Principal (Research) is supporting researchers at all stages of their careers and across all disciplines – from discovering innovative solutions, to artistic production, and knowledge mobilization.

In its inaugural year, the Wicked Ideas initiative was designed to support research collaborations across disciplines tackling wicked problems, issues so multi-dimensional and complex that they require multiple perspectives to solve them. Some of the successful projects include exploring cleantech, Lyme disease, and microplastics.

Additionally, through the internal funding initiatives several grants were also awarded to Queen’s researchers who have pivoted their research to help confront COVID-19. These projects ranged from determinants of self-rated health, to understanding resilience and fragility, and the spatial implications of the Bank of Canada’s response to COVID-19.

“It is extraordinarily exciting to see the research ideas that are brewing here on campus, matched with the commitment we have to making things happen," says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research). "I truly look forward to the outcomes of these awards.”

Learn more about the 2020 recipients and the individual internal funds below. For more information on the research happening at Queen’s, as well as Queen’s researchers’ efforts to confront COVID-19, visit the Research@Queen’s website.

Wicked Ideas

The Wicked Ideas Competition is a Vice-Principal (Research) pilot initiative to fund and support research collaboration and excellence. Wicked Problems are 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. Wicked Ideas are needed to solve these problems and demand the input of multiple disciplines with relevant practical expertise.

2020 Recipients

Investigator Project Title
David Lyon (Sociology) &
Dan Cohen (Geography and Planning)
Big Data Exposed: What Smartphone Metadata Reveals about Users
John Allingham (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) &
Chantelle Capicciotti (Chemistry)
Design and Development of Novel Classes of Actin-Targeting Toxin-Glycan-Antibody Conjugates
Susan Bartels (Emergency Medicine) &
Stéfanie von Hlatky (Political Studies)
Peace Support Operations (PSO) in Countries Affected by Political Instability, Armed Conflict, and Insecurity
Joe Bramante (Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy) &
James Fraser (Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy)
Macro Coherent Quantum Transitions in Parahydrogen
Kevin Stamplecoskie (Chemistry) &
Cathy Crudden (Chemistry)
Immortal Solar Cells
Kerry Rowe (Civil Engineering) &
Fady Abdelaal (Civil Engineering)
Using Cleantech to Monitor Geosynthetic Liners in Frozen Grounds for Sustainable Development of Sub-Arctic and Arctic Mineral Resources
Graeme Howe (Chemistry) &
Philip Jessop (Chemistry)
Solving the Water-Removal Bottleneck in Sustainable Chemistry
Nora Fayed (Rehabilitation Therapy) &
Claire Davies (Mechanical and Materials Engineering)
SOCIALITE: An Emotional Augmentation System for Children with Profound Communication Disability
Laurence Yang (Chemical Engineering) &
Pascale Champagne (Civil Engineering)
Reducing the Greenhouse Gas Burden of Livestock by Harnessing Carbon-Neutral Algae to Produce Milk
Robert Colautti (Biology) &
Nader Ghasemlou (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences)
The E.D.G.E. of Lyme
Mark Daymond (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) & 
Suraj Persaud (Mechanical and Materials Engineering)
Materials Performance in Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) Environments Proposed for Advanced Nuclear Systems
Heather Castleden (Geography and Planning) &
Diane Orihel (Biology)
The Spirit of the Lakes and All Their Relations: Two-Eyed Seeing in Microplastics Research

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Institutional Grant

Through its SSHRC Institutional Grant (SIG) funding opportunity, SSHRC provides annual block grants to help eligible Canadian postsecondary institutions fund, through their own merit review processes, small-scale research and research-related activities by their faculty in the social sciences and humanities.

Explore Grant

This grant supports social sciences and humanities researchers at any career stage with funds to allow for small-scale research project development or pilot work, or to allow for participation of students in research projects.

2020 Recipients

Investigator Project Title
Cynthia Levine-Rasky (Sociology) The Good Fight: Voices of Elder Activists
Theodore Christou (Education) Map Making and Indigenous History Education: Supporting Reconciliatory Education by Visualizing Canada’s Indian Day Schools
Heather McGregor (Education) History Education in the Anthropocene
Grégoire Webber (Law) Recovering the Good in the Law
Jennifer Hosek (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures) Cultures of Resilience and Fragility under COVID: Does Money Matter?
Leandre Fabrigar (Psychology) Exploring Objective and Subjective Measures of Attitude Bases
Dan Cohen (Geography and Planning) The Spatial Implications of Bank of Canada’s COVID-19 Response
Richard Ascough (Religion) Associations and Christ Groups under Roman Colonization: Assimilation and Resistance in the Western Provinces
Gabriel Menotti Miglio Pinto Gonring (Film and Media) Audiovisual-made Museums: An Archaeology of Video as an Exhibition Platform
Danielle Blouin (Emergency Medicine) Accreditation of Medical Education Programs: What are the Effective Components?
Heather Macfarlane (English Language and Literature) How to be at Home in Canada: Literary Land Claims in Indigenous and Diaspora Texts
Sergio Sismondo (Philosophy) Epistemic Corruption
Collin Grey (Law) Humanitarianism and Deportation
Martha Munezhi (Policy Studies) Determinants of Self-rated Health in the Midst of COVID-19
Ian Robinson (Film and Media) Film and Placemaking
Ruqu Wang (Economics) Modeling International Trade Disputes
Marcus Taylor (Global Development Studies) Sustainability Transformations in Eastern Ontario Agriculture
Alison Murray (Art History and Art Conservation) Teaching Science to Art Conservation Students: Threshold Concepts as a Revitalizing Tool
Amanda Ross-White (Library) Predatory, Deceptive or Imitation: What Motivates Publishers and Editors on the Margins of Scholarly Literature?

Exchange Grant

This grant supports the organization of small-scale knowledge mobilization activities in order to encourage collaboration and dissemination of research results both within and beyond the academic community, as well as allow researchers to attend or present research at scholarly conferences and other venues to advance their careers and promote the exchange of ideas.

2020 Recipients

Investigator Project Title
Elizabeth Brule (Gender Studies) Indigenous Resurgence, Decolonization and the Politics of Solidarity Work
Elizabeth Anne Kelley (Psychology) Utilitarianism: A New Strengths-Based Approach to ASD

Queen’s Research Opportunities Funds

QROF represent a strategic investment in areas of institutional research strength that provide researchers and scholars opportunities to accelerate their programs and research goals.

Catalyst Fund

This fund was created to enhance areas of research excellence that are of strategic importance to the university by giving scholars an opportunity to accelerate their research programs. Ten awards were allocated with a minimum of six awards designated for Early Career Researchers, defined as those who are within 10 years of their first academic appointment. Applicants were required to hold Tri-Council funding or have applied for Tri-Council funding within the last two years.

2020 Recipients

Investigator Project Title
Grégoire Webber (Law) Human Goods and Human Laws
Meredith Chivers (Psychology)

Racializing and Diversifying Sexual Response: The Effects of Racial Identification, Emotional Appraisal, and Racial Bias on the Physiological and Psychological Sexual Responses of Black and White Women Viewing Racially Diverse Erotic Stimuli

Grace Adeniyi-Ogunyankin (Geography and Planning) Started from the Bottom: Youth Social Mobility and Affective Labour in Ibadan, Nigeria
Vicki Friesen (Biology) Using Whole Genome Sequencing to help Protect the Potential of Wildlife to Adapt to Changing Arctic Ecosystems, Focusing on Species Important to Indigenous Subsistence and Culture  
Chantelle Capicciotti (Chemistry) Targeting Cancer Glycans with Imaging Probes - New Frontiers to Chemically Map Tissue Surfaces
Jennifer Day (Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering)

Investigation of Sea Stack Stability in Popular Geotourism Destinations, Prediction of Their Structural Collapse, Evaluation of the Effects of Sea Stack Collapse on Public Safety, and Forecasting Risk Associated with Climate Change Evolution

Nader Ghasemlou (Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine, Biomedical & Molecular sciences) Circadian Control of Pain and Neuroinflammation
Eun-Young Lee (School of Kinesiology and Health Studies) Knowledge into Action: Development of Carbon Footprint Equivalences that Incorporate Lifestyle Behaviours for Dual Benefits of Environmental Sustainability and Human Health
Susan Bartels (Emergency Medicine) Improving Emergency Department Care Experiences for Equity-Seeking Groups in Kingston: A Mixed Methods Research Study
David Maslove (Critical Care Medicine & Medicine)

Deep Learning Applied to High-Frequency Physiologic Waveforms for the Detection of Atrial Fibrillation in Critical Illness

Arts Funds

This fund makes an institutional commitments in support of artistic production and expression that strategically align with the university’s scholarly strengths and priorities. This includes supporting artists, their contribution to the scholarly community and to advancing Queen’s University. The Arts Fund is also intended to attract outstanding artists to Queen’s University each year.

Artistic Production

This fund assists in the actual production of a work of art, such as the creation of a piece of visual art; the writing of a novel, poem, play or screen play; the composition of music; the production of a motion picture; the performance of a play, a musical composition, a piece of performance art, or the production of a master recording.

2020 Recipients

Investigator Project Title
Gabriel Menotti Miglio Pinto Gonring (Film and Media) Hollow Constructions
Matthew Rogalsky (Film and Media) Highly Directional Loudspeakers: Research and Development for Distanced Sound Performance and Installation

Visiting Artist in Residence

To enrich the cultural life of the university and to encourage exchange between artists at Queen’s University and the broader community. It is intended to provide educational and scholarly opportunities for artists by facilitating the extended presence on campus of visiting artists. Residencies are normally two to eight weeks in duration.

2020 Recipients

Investigator Project Title
Carolyn Smart (English Language and Literature) Writer-in-Residence for Queen's University: Kaie Kellough
Juliana Bevilacqua (Art History and Art Conservation) Rosana Paulino: Project North-South Dialogues
Karen Dubinsky (Global Development Studies) Cuban Roots in Canadian Soil: Canada's Cuban Musical History

How climate change could trigger ‘mega-tsunamis’

Damage caused by a tsunami at Lituya Bay, Alaska.
In 1958 a tsunami triggered by a landslide left a large swathe of damage in Lituya Bay, Alaska. (Alaska Earthquake Center) 

Just over 60 years ago, a giant wave washed over the narrow inlet of Lituya Bay, Alaska, knocking down the forest, sinking two fishing boats and claiming two lives.

A nearby earthquake had triggered a rockslide into the bay, suddenly displacing massive volumes of water. The large landslide tsunami reached a height of more than 160 metres and caused a run-up (the vertical height that a wave reaches up a slope) of 524 metres above sea level. For perspective, imagine run-up to about the height of the CN Tower in Toronto (553 metres) or One World Trade Center in New York City (541 metres).

Large landslides, like the one that hit Lituya Bay in 1958, are mixtures of rock, soil and water that can move very quickly. When a landslide hits a body of water, it can generate waves, especially in mountainous coastal areas, where steep slopes meet a fiord, lake or reservoir. Although mega-tsunamis are often sensationalized in the news, real and scientifically documented events motivate new research.

In late July, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake near Perryville, Alaska, triggered a tsunami warning for south Alaska, the Aleutian Islands and the Alaskan Peninsula. And scientists recently warned that a retreating glacier in a fiord in Prince William Sound, Alaska, had elevated the risk of a landslide and tsunami in a popular fishing and tourism area not far from the town of Whittier.

International research efforts are urgently underway to better understand these major natural hazards. This is critically important, since climate change could contribute to increasing the number and size of these events.

Recent giant wave events

Triggered by either an earthquake or higher than normal rainfall, another massive landslide occurred in Alaska in 2015. This one was in Taan Fiord, 500 kilometres east of Anchorage. This event was so powerful, it released an enormous amount of energy and registered as a magnitude 4.9 earthquake, approximately equal to the explosive force of 340 tons of TNT.

The landslide impact into the water was so strong that it generated seismic signals that were detected at monitoring stations in the United States and around the world. The impact generated a wave with a run-up of 193 metres. Thankfully, the area is remote and no one was killed.

However, the 2017 landslide into Karrat Fiord, Greenland, was deadly. It generated a 90 metre high tsunami at the impact site. This wave propagated 30 kilometres to the community of Nuugaatsiaq, wiping it out and killing four people. Other major landslide wave events have recently occurred in Norway and British Columbia.

Tsunamis are also generated by other mechanisms including earthquakes, volcanic collapse and submarine landslides. Earthquakes can trigger massive submarine landslides, which have been shown to be major contributors to the maximum tsunami run-up. This occurred when earthquakes struck Japan in 2011 and New Zealand in 2016, resulting in run-up of 40 metres and seven metres in each case.

Predicting the wave size

Large landslide tsunamis are difficult or impossible to measure in the field. They typically occur in mountainous regions with very steep slopes, and therefore are usually far from big cities. Geologists have documented many of the cases by mapping the run-up elevations or deposits of trees and rocks washed off slopes after these events, like in Taan Fiord.

In October 2015, a massive landslide fell into Taan Fiord and created a tsunami that stripped the land more than 10 kilometres from the slide. (Ground Truth Trekking), CC BY-NC

But these natural hazards pose a major threat to society. What if a landslide into a reservoir creates a wave that overtops a dam? This happened in 1963 in Vajont, Italy, killing more than 2,000 people who lived downstream.

A better understanding of how landslides generate waves is crucial. Experimental studies are a way to gain insight into these waves. Laboratory tests have led to empirical equations to predict the size of landslide tsunamis.

Recent research with detailed measurements using high-speed digital cameras is helping to determine the controls of the landslide properties on the generation of waves. This has led to new research at Queen’s University that has improved the theoretical understanding of how landslides transfer momentum to water and generate waves.

The wave size depends on the thickness and speed of the slide at impact. The shape of these waves can now be predicted and along with the wave amplitude (the distance from rest to crest), and be used as input to computer models for wave propagation and full simulation of landslide wave generation. These models can help understand and predict the behaviour of waves at the laboratory scale and at the field scale in coastal environments.

Past and future events

Since 1900, there have been eight confirmed massive wave events where large landslides have generated waves greater than 30 metres high. Two of these led to over 100 deaths in Norway in the 1930s. Of these eight major events, four have occurred since 2000.

However, other events with smaller waves have devastated more populated coasts. For example, the collapse of the Anak Krakatau volcano in 2018 generated a tsunami on the coast of Indonesia that caused over 400 casualties and major infrastructure damage.

Will more of these events occur in the future? Climate change could influence the frequency and magnitude of these natural hazards.

A warming climate certainly changes northern and alpine environments in many ways. This can include permafrost thawing, retreating glaciers and iceberg calving, more frequent freeze-thaw cycles and increased rainfall or other hydraulic triggers. All of these can contribute to destabilizing rock slopes and increase the risk of a major landslide into water.

These natural hazards can’t be prevented, but damage to infrastructure and populations can be minimized. This can be achieved through scientific understanding of the physical processes, site-specific engineering risk analysis and coastal management of hazard-prone regions.The Conversation


Ryan P. Mulligan, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, Queen's University and Andy Take, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Power professor: 100 patents and counting

Electrical and computing engineering professor Praveen Jain hits milestone of 100 patents of his research.

Preveen Jain shows off his lab
Praveen Jain (Electrical and Computer Engineering), a leading researcher in the field of power solutions, has surpassed 100 patents in his career. (Queen's University)

Patents do not just attribute intellectual property; they also recognize contributions towards scientific discovery and innovation. This is particularly true for Praveen Jain, a professor and researcher in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, with more than 100 patents to his name. Testament to his prolific contributions to the advancement of power solutions for an evolving world, Dr. Jain’s patents span the whole range of the power electronics field.

Originally from a small town in India, Dr. Jain recalls going to a school with only one teacher.

“I can remember much of my primary learning occurring sitting under a tree,” he says. “Many in my extended family were engineers, which later inspired me to study engineering.”

After completing his bachelor’s degree, Dr. Jain worked for two companies in India. One of his uncles, who had been mentoring him, suggested that he pursue higher education abroad, and in 1981 he was accepted to the University of Toronto as a graduate student. He completed his study focused on high-frequency power conversion, a topic that carved his future path.

Over the years, Dr. Jain explored power solutions in a number of different careers, beginning with Canadian Astronautics, where he worked on power systems for space applications, including the Canadarm2. This was followed by his employment at Nortel where he created many novel power solutions for telecommunications.

“I further developed my work on space power and applied that technology in telecom,” he says.

Making a difference

Since joining Queen’s, Dr. Jain’s work has spanned the field of power electronics, and included collaborations with peers and industry, as well as mentoring the next generation of researchers. He has founded two companies, CHiL Semiconductor in digital power control chips, and Sparq Systems Inc. in solar microinverters.

His research has been applied in more than 20 major engineering projects, demonstrating the breadth of his contributions’ significance. And his contributions continue: current research focuses on power electronics for smart micro-grids, renewable energy systems, electric vehicles, and information systems.

Consideration of Dr. Jain’s long-standing relationship with the former PARTEQ Innovations, now Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI), provides insight to this productivity. From 2008 to 2015, PARTEQ received numerous invention disclosures from Dr. Jain and his research group, based on their work with micro-inverters for renewable energy systems. During this period PARTEQ filed patent applications for 10 inventions, including three international patent applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). From those patent applications, 31 patents have been granted in Canada, United States, Japan, Australia, Mexico, China, and India, and three applications are still pending.

In the patent office of each country where a patent application is filed, the application is subjected to examination to confirm the invention is not only new but is not obvious in light of the closest prior work. 

Thus, “the grant of a patent attests to the significance of the contribution that the patent makes to its field of technology,” says Stephen Scribner, Director, Intellectual Property at QPI, who prepared and prosecuted these patent applications. 

As the director of the Centre for Energy and Power Electronics (ePower), Dr. Jain is collaborating with others to develop innovative solutions, and believes that distributed renewable power represents the future of energy systems.

“By the end of the century, I can see there being no electric grid, just distributed power,” he says. “We have important work to do to advance products and practices that will make better use of renewables and distributed systems that are more efficient, and better for our planet.”


This article is an adaptation of a piece written by Teegan Burks, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Sci ’21, for the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Congratulating new graduates

Over 5,500 diplomas are being mailed to new Queen’s graduates.

Photo of diploma and congratulatory letters
Diplomas are being mailed with congratulatory messages and alumni pins, among other items. (Supplied photo.)

Queen’s students work hard to earn their degrees, and their achievements are typically celebrated with pomp and circumstance at convocation. While COVID-19 delayed this spring’s in-person ceremonies, the university is sending 5,554 special diploma packages to new graduates by mail this month.

In-person convocation ceremonies will be scheduled for the Class of 2020 when larger gatherings are permitted.

“Graduating from Queen’s is a great accomplishment, and it is disappointing that we were not able to celebrate with our new graduates in person this year. When they receive their diplomas in the mail, I hope they will reflect on all their hard work and feel proud of what they’ve achieved,” says Stuart Pinchin, University Registrar (Interim).

To help mark the occasion, Queen’s is sending three congratulatory letters along with the diplomas. One comes from the dean of the student’s faculty or school; another is from Alumni Services; and the third comes from Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada.

The university will also be mailing the objects typically presented to students during convocation ceremonies or shortly before. Indigenous students will be receiving a Blackfoot Peoples Mountain Blanket, graduates of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science will be receiving iron rings, and all graduates will receive an alumni pin.

During the period convocation ceremonies would have occurred, Queen’s developed a website about degree conferral and graduation activities to help congratulate graduates. This website features video messages from the principal, the chancellor, and the rector, who typically all address graduates during convocation ceremonies. And it also features a recorded message from members of the Indigenous community at Queen’s.

To view these messages and to learn more about how each faculty and school recognized graduation this year, see the spring 2020-degree conferral and graduation activities website.

Queen’s education professor wins prestigious NSERC Science Promotion Prize

Lynda Colgan adds national research outreach award to a list of recognition for career achievements.

Lynda Colgan
Lynda Colgane (Education) has been awarded the 2020 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Science Promotion Award for individual achievement.

A distinguished mentor, researcher, and educator at Queen’s University has just been awarded the 2020 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Science Promotion Award for individual achievement. The award honours people and groups that are inspirational in the way they promote science to the general public. They are an opportunity for Canada's science community to recognize, support and encourage outstanding science promoters. 

The common denominator in Lynda Colgan’s research and passion has been to dispel the myth that math and science are hard, dead subjects that only certain people can do successfully. Dr. Colgan uses intuitive approaches and strategies to help educators see mathematics through the eyes of children.  

“The math and science experience have changed drastically over the years. Today, so many things are paid for with a debit or credit card, and cashiers are told by registers what change to give back to customers, resulting in them not counting the change for customers. Part of it is that there are many things happening around them that makes children actually believe that they don’t ever have to use math.” says Dr. Colgan, professor of elementary mathematics and coordinator of the  Education Community Outreach Centre, Faculty of Education.  

To respond to this need, her approach has evolved and expanded to include outreach, and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, resulting in projects and products that search for creative avenues to engage both students, parents, and educators. 

“What I try to do is encourage everyone – family members included – to become math mentors and role models who ‘do’ math naturally and for real purposes every day, everywhere. I do this by creating and disseminating simple ‘unplugged’ STEM crafts, games and experiments to encourage, facilitate, reinforce and/or review important skills and STEM concepts on the go’ – in the car, the backyard, the park, the grocery store,” says Dr. Colgan.  

One of these initiatives is the highly successful Science Rendezvous Kingston, which is a celebration of STEM subjects and discoveries, scientists, and researchers featuring demonstrations, experiments and exhibits to bring people of all ages – toddlers to retirees – from across south-eastern Ontario into the world of science. Participation in Science Rendezvous Kingston has grown each year, as its reputation swells, from 650 to over 5,000 attendees in 2019, making it the most-attended Science Rendezvous event in Canada.  

“What we’re hoping is that we inspire a little curiosity,” says Dr. Colgan. “That we inspire that little niggle, that helps the kids to say, ‘I want to know more about that, I want to read about that, I want to do that,’ and, basically, that will grow.” Dr. Colgan, along with the other Science Rendezvous coordinator, Kim Garrett, won the STEAM BIG Award from NSERC in 2019, for outstanding contribution to a Science Rendezvous event. 

Prior to her appointment at Queen’s in 1998, Dr. Colgan was an award-winning educator with the Scarborough Board of Education for 25 years. During that time, she taught or held leadership and administrative positions at every educational level – elementary (K-6), intermediate (7-8), secondary (9-13), and post-secondary in roles centred around the integration of computer technology and mathematics. Throughout her tenure, Dr. Colgan has developed pivotal resources for the mathematics curriculum across Canada, including textbooks, research monographs and teacher and parent resource guides. 

Dr. Colgan was also awarded funding for a three-year NSERC PromoScience grant for a project called Learning with Dinosaurs: A gateway to multidisciplinary STEM learning. That project, in collaboration with Peter May and Research Casting International, seeks to revitalize educational resources about dinosaurs by disseminating museum-quality artifacts and interactive guided curriculum to provide hands-on STEM activities to improve Canadian teachers’ knowledge and student interest in the multidisciplinary field of paleontology, which includes biology, zoology, geology, chemistry and physics. 

She is also the recipient of an NSERC Promo Science Supplement Grant for Science Literacy Week. It will go to support a virtual author in residence program and is set to take place this September. 


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