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The Conversation: Fossil fuel era is ending, but the lawsuits are just beginning

An American coal company is suing the Canadian government over Alberta's plan to combat climate change.

Trucks at a coal mine]
Trucks make their way along a makeshift road at a coal mine in Indonesia. (Photo by Dominik Vanyi/Unsplash)

“Coal is dead.”

These are not the words of a Greenpeace activist or left-wing politician, but of Jim Barry, the global head of the infrastructure investment group at Blackrock — the world’s largest asset manager. Barry made this statement in 2017, but the writing has been on the wall for longer than that.

Banks know it, which is why they are increasingly unwilling to underwrite new coal mines and power plants. Unions and coal workers know it, which is why they are demanding a just transition and new employment opportunities in the clean economy. Even large diversified mining companies are getting out of the business of coal.

The only ones who seem to have remained in denial are President Donald Trump and non-diversified mining companies like Westmoreland Coal. The Denver-based firm made a bad bet in 2013 when it purchased five coal mines in Alberta. Now it wants Canadian taxpayers to pay for its mistake.

Alberta’s coal phaseout

Three years ago, Alberta’s New Democratic Party (NDP) committed to what some have described as “the most ambitious climate plan in North America to date.” In addition to the development of an economy-wide carbon price, the province is phasing out coal-fired power by 2030. Without the infrastructure to export coal, the climate plan has also resulted in a de facto phaseout of local thermal coal mining.

To ensure support for the plan, major utility companies in the province were provided with “transition payments” to facilitate the switch to gas and renewable energy. Westmoreland did not receive a government handout, because coal mining companies have no role to play in the energy transition. The company, which filed for bankruptcy protection for its investments in the United States in October, doesn’t think this is fair.

NAFTA’s investment chapter

Because Westmoreland is an American company, it can rely on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for protection from “unfair” treatment. NAFTA allows a foreign investor to use a process known as “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) when government action harms its business in some way.

ISDS allows foreign investors to bypass local courts and bring claims for monetary compensation to an international tribunal. The system is not unique to NAFTA; it is found in other trade agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and thousands of bilateral investment treaties (known as Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements in Canada).

ISDS is hugely controversial. Concerns have been raised by a wide range of actors about both the process of ISDS, and the way the system can infringe on the sovereign right of states to regulate to protect public health, human rights and the environment.

More than 900 ISDS cases have been launched by investors since the early 1990s, including 27 against Canada that have so far cost Canadian taxpayers at least $315 million. There is one ongoing dispute that concerns a ban on gas fracking in Québec, but the Westmoreland claim is the first brought in relation to a policy explicitly designed to combat climate change.

Westmoreland argues that part of the reason it invested in Canada in 2013 was to diversify its holdings in response to regulatory risk. At the time, the Obama Administration was taking action under the Clean Power Plan to reduce the reliance of American utilities on coal. The company’s failure to anticipate similar regulatory action by its northern neighbour is remarkable.

A key battleground

If governments respond appropriately to the urgent warning issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October, efforts to phase out fossil fuels will have to ramp up considerably — and quickly. We should expect the industry to fight these efforts through a variety of means. ISDS may become a key battleground.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA or CUSMA, depending on who is talking about it), which may replace NAFTA (it has been signed, but has not been ratified), does not retain the process of ISDS between Canada and the U.S.

While this is good news in the long run, some have suggested that there will be a “rush of filings” before access to ISDS for already established investors expires (three years after USMCA comes into force). Canada will also be exposed to claims from investors under other agreements such as the CPTPP and Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Other countries, particularly poorer nations, face an even higher risk of ISDS claims and have far less resources available to fight them. It is notable that big oil companies have retained some access to ISDS against Mexico in USMCA, after lobbying hard for it.

[Oil rig works as the sun sets]
An oil rig pumps crude oil as the sun sets. (Photo by Zbynek Burival/Unsplash) 

A climate of fear?

If Westmoreland’s case proceeds to arbitration, it will not have direct implications for Alberta’s climate policy. An investment tribunal cannot require the provincial government to reverse the coal phaseout; it can only award the company damages. Westmoreland is asking for US$470 million. It is the federal government, rather than Alberta, that would have to pay compensation to Westmoreland if the company’s claim was successful. However, Ontario did agree to pay the award in a recent NAFTA case.

What is more concerning than any potential payout is that Westmoreland’s suit could hinder efforts to implement similar plans to combat climate change in other jurisdictions.

Regulatory chill” is a phenomenon that has been observed in several jurisdictions around the world. A notable example is the decision of the New Zealand government to delay the introduction of legislation to require plain packaging of tobacco products until Australia won its ISDS case against the tobacco company Philip Morris International. This delay of regulatory action — out of fear of expensive litigation — may have cost lives.

As recent forest fires and floods have demonstrated, delays in action to combat climate change can also be deadly.

____________________________________________________________The Conversation

Kyla Tienhaara is a Canada Research Chair in Economy and Environment and an assistant professor in the School of Environmental Studies and the Department of Global Development Studies at Queen's University.

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

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

Examining Indigenous rights and the RCMP

New research from Queen’s University examines how the RCMP assess protests.

Queen’s University researcher Miles Howe and co-researcher Jeffrey Monaghan (Carleton University) have revealed in a new report how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) assess individual activists according to political beliefs, personality traits, and even their ability to use social media.

In line with other criminal justice agencies in Canada, the RCMP are now relying on new models of preemptive governance and risk-mitigating strategies.

PhD candidate Miles Howe.

"My initial interest in the RCMP's profiling methodologies stemmed from my involvement, as a journalist, with anti-shale gas protests in New Brunswick, which lasted for much of 2013,” says Howe (Cultural Studies, Global Development Studies). “In a declassified report, known as Project SITKA, the RCMP had determined that 45 Indigenous rights activists in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were meritorious of future surveillance, based upon their involvement in this protest event.”

Howe says that although their names were redacted from the report, he felt sure that many of the people who the RCMP listed had been classified as 'volatile' to state security.

“Having first-hand knowledge of the events of 2013, I was immediately curious as to how the RCMP had ranked these individuals, towards determining their 'volatility',” he added.

When co-author Jeffrey Monaghan and Howe received the RCMP's socio-psychological profiling matrices, for both individuals and events, he says the vast majority of risk ranking factors had to do with an individual or group's ability to use social media, to network, to easily convey their message – even their beliefs surrounding the issue. In short, the potential or reality of criminality was not what determined risk ranking; rather it appeared to mostly surround narrative creation and ability to disseminate.

“Though the RCMP regularly claim to protect and facilitate the right to lawful advocacy, protest, and dissent, my new research shows how these practices of strategic incapacitation exhibit highly antagonistic forms of policing,” Howe says.

The research was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Sociology.

Miles Howe arrived at Queen's University as a 2018 Vanier Scholar.

Capturing the Art of Research

The annual photo contest offers prizes for images of research in action at Queen’s in a number of categories. 

[Art of easearch Contest]
Exploring Worlds at Home by James Xie

Researchers … ready your cameras. Returning for its fourth year, the Art of Research photo contest is launching Jan. 14 to celebrate and creatively capture the research conducted by the Queen’s community.

Hosted by the Office of the Vice-Principal (University Relations) and open to Queen’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni, the Art of Research is a competition that provides a unique and accessible method of sharing and celebrating ground-breaking research. Past contest winners have captured stunning images of their research in all settings, from the summit of a mountaintop to a microscope slide.

“The contest embraces the creativity of research across disciplines, and demonstrates the breadth of Queen’s research happening at local, national, and international levels,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research).


Prizes will be awarded in the categories of “Community Collaborations,” “Invisible Discoveries,” “Out in the Field,” and “Art in Action,” with additional prizes for “Best Description,” and “People’s Choice.” The top submissions in each of these categories will receive $500.  

[Art of easearch Contest]
Unspooling Vermeer by Stephanie Dickey

This year’s contest will also celebrate the significant anniversaries of two of our faculties. The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and the Faculty of Education have collaborated with University Relations to sponsor two additional special prizes of $500 each.

To celebrate its 125th anniversary of engineering education at Queen’s, the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science special prize will be awarded to the submission that best demonstrates how engineering-specific pursuits are likely to affect positive change in our daily lives.

Additionally, to celebrate 50 years of excellence, the Queen’s Faculty of Education 50th prize will celebrate the photography of students, faculty, staff or alumni as they pursue research in education.

As with all categories, entries will be considered for these two special prizes regardless of the submitter’s faculty affiliation.


[Art of easearch Contest]
Platinum Surface Electrochemistry by Derek Esau

All winners also have an opportunity to be featured on the Queen’s Research website and in Queen’s publications. Most recently, as a part of the beauty of research initiative, four past submissions were re-purposed as pennant banners along University Avenue.

The winners of the past three contests are also featured in a travelling pop-up photo exhibit. This exhibit has helped highlight Queen’s research to the Kingston community, on Queen’s campus, and at major research conferences such as the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa. Throughout the contest the exhibit will be on display at several campus locations, such as the Queen’s Centre, to inspire imaginative submissions.

The contest closes on March 1, 2019. The submission form is available online and information on past contests and photo winners is located on the research website.  

The Conversation: When pets are family, the benefits extend into society

Studies show that living with a pet has positive outcomes when pets are considered family members and not property.

[Man hugs his golden retriever]
In addition to the health benefits of physical activity, walking your dog has many social and community benefits. (Photo by Eric Ward/Unsplash)

There is a growing global trend to consider pets as part of the family. In fact, millions of people around the world love their pets, enjoying their companionship, going for walks, playing and even talking to them. And there is evidence suggesting that attachment to pets is good for human health and even helps build community.

More and more often, animals are included in family events and become important to all members of the family. This can be particularly significant in single-parent families, where a pet can be an important companion to children. Children with pets may have higher levels of empathy and self-esteem compared to those who do not have pets. Thinking of pets as family members can actually make the chores associated with pet care less stressful than they are for those who consider pets as property. Spending more time caring for a pet increases attachment to that animal which in turn reduces stress in owners.

In the research my colleagues and I have done on aging and social participation, we found considerable analysis showing that interactions involving pets, especially if we care about them, can have a health-protective effect. Zooeyia (pronounced zoo-AY-uh) is the idea that pets, also known as companion animals, can be good for human health. In fact, pet owners in Germany and Australia were found to visit their doctor 15 per cent fewer times annually than non-pet owners.

Healthy, emotional connections

Many health benefits to humans occur when there is an emotional attachment to pets. And we tend to care the most for animals that live with us. For example, a study that looked at attachment to dogs found that people tended to care about their house dogs more than those that lived in the yard. Higher levels of attachment to dogs has been associated with a greater likelihood of walking the dog and spending more time on those walks as compared with those with a weaker bond to their dogs.

Sharing your life with a pet has been associated with a decreased risk of coronary artery disease, a reduction in stress levels and increased physical activity (especially through dog walking). The presence of a pet during stressful activities has been shown to lower the blood pressure of couples taking part in a stressful task. In fact, levels of beta-endorphin, oxytocin and dopamine, among other markers, increased in both humans and their dogs during caring interactions, demonstrating that time spent together is physiologically beneficial for both species. And owning a pet has been associated with an improved cardiovascular disease survival among older adults (aged 65 to 84 years old) being treated for hypertension.

[Cat hiding in a blanket]
Research shows that children who grow up with a pet develop higher levels of empathy and lower stress levels. (Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev/Unsplash)

Pets as family and community members

Because pets are considered family members by many people, the loss of a dog or cat is often a cause for deep grief. A missing or dead pet is hard for many to replace because the relationship between the person and pet was specific to those individuals. The attachment between humans and animals is often so strong that it is common to mourn in a way that is very similar to the feelings and behaviours associated with the loss of a human family member.

The bond between humans and animals is not just good for human health, it can also help build community. People with pets often find that activities with their companion animal creates connections with other people. Social networks that are developed based on shared concern over the welfare of animals can lead to increased human-human interaction, as well as activities involving pets (e.g. dog-walking clubs). Walking a dog gets people out of private spaces, which can be isolating, and into public areas where interactions with neighbors and other walkers are possible.

Protecting pets

Societies create laws and institutions to protect companion animals from cruelty and neglect. In most jurisdictions, regulation of shelters and pounds has not evolved to reflect the beloved status of many pets, and instead consider pets as property. If a lost pet is not reunited with an owner within a few days it can be sold to a new family, to a research lab, or be euthanized. However, some countries, such as India, Italy and Taiwan have legislated against the euthanasia of healthy shelter animals.

But in North America euthanasia is still common. In 2017, Humane Canada found that among the shelters they surveyed, over 70 per cent of lost dogs and cats were unclaimed, and tens of thousands of dogs and cats were euthanized. In 2016, 4,308,921 animals were experimented on in Canadian laboratories. Approximately 17,000 were pet dogs and cats who were provided by shelters to research laboratories and later euthanized.

The strength of the human-animal bond has resulted in the creation of not-for-profit animal rescues whose mission is to ‘pull’ lost and abandoned animals from shelters before they are euthanized or sold for research. For example, Marley’s Hope is a Nova Scotia all-breed rescue organization. The organisation also partners with the Sipekne’katik First Nation to help rehome roaming dogs as well as spay and neuter where possible. The Underdog Railroad in Toronto, Ontario, rescues dogs and cats from high-kill shelters as well as those offered “free to a good home” online. And Elderdog provides older adults with help to care for their pets as well as rescuing abandoned older dogs.

The Humane Society International — Canada assists in spay-neuter programs as well as advocating for and rescuing animals, including in the international dog and cat meat industries. They closed three South Korean dog meat farms and two slaughterhouses in 2018, rescuing 512 dogs, many of whom found homes in Canada and the USA.

Mohandas Ghandi understood the importance of the human animal bond. In his autobiography he said “man’s supremacy over the lower animals meant not that the former should prey upon the latter, but that the higher should protect the lower, and that there should be mutual aid between the two.” Recognizing the ways that companion animals enrich human lives, and understanding the depth of the affection between many humans and animals, may be the key to not only better health, but to improving the welfare of society as a whole.The Conversation


Lisa F. Carver is an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Arts and Science and Post Doctoral Fellow, SSHRC-funded ACTproject at Queen’s University.

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

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

Hormone could slow Alzheimer’s progression

Queen’s University researcher discovers potential new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Queen’s University researcher Fernanda De Felice (Psychiatry), along with co-authors from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, have identified an exercise-linked hormone that could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. This research was recently published in the high-profile publication, Nature Medicine.

Fernanda De Felice has identified a hormone that could slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. (Supplied photo)

The findings show that irisin, a hormone that is boosted by exercise, plays an important role in the brain and that Alzheimer patients carry less of the hormone. This discovery moves scientists one step closer to developing a medication that reproduces the effects of exercise-induced irisin production in the brain.

“In the past few years, researchers from many places around the world have shown that exercise is an effective tool to prevent different forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s” says Dr. De Felice, a researcher in the Centre for Neuroscience Studies at Queen’s. “This has led to an intense search for specific molecules that are responsible for the protective actions of exercise in the brain. Because irisin seems to be powerful in rescuing disrupted synapses that allow communication between brain cells and memory formation, it may become a medication to fight memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease.”

The new research is important, explains Dr. De Felice, because curing dementia is one of the greatest current and future health care challenges. Unfortunately, despite 30 years searching for treatment drugs, there is no effective medication for Alzheimer’s disease. She adds it is also important to remember that the vast majority of patients with dementia can be disabled due to other age-related illness (e.g. arthritis, heart disease, obesity, visual problems, and depression). Furthermore, it can be challenging to engage a patient in regular physical activity.

A drug that increases irisin in the brain could be the key.

“It is important to keep in mind that Alzheimer’s is a very complex disease and it is truly hard to treat Alzheimer’s patients before irreversible damage occurs in their brains. This is because when a patient is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, their brain has already been damaged," Dr De Felice says. "Finding new protective routes, such as the identification of an exercise-linked component, may be an optimal strategy to heal the brain before brain cells die and dementia becomes irreversible.”

The next step in Dr. De Felice’s research is investigating the most effective way of delivering irisin to the brain.

Read the full paper here.

The Conversation: The group dynamics that make terrorist teams work

[Twin Towers memorial]
The terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 resulted in the deaths of close to 3,000 people and injured 6,000. (Photo by James McCann/Unsplash)

Acts of terrorism are harrowing and can cause extensive damage and tragic deaths, and they have been occurring with alarming frequency over the last decade.

[The Conversation]On Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida executed a series of co-ordinated attacks against the United States, killing close to 3,000 people and injuring over 6,000. On March 11, 2004, an extremist Islamist group bombed four commuter trains in Madrid during morning rush hour, killing 191 people and injuring another 2,000. On July 7, 2005, Islamist suicide bombers attacked London’s public transport system, killing 52 people and injuring more than 700 others. The list goes on.

From 2000-2016, global deaths from terrorism increased eight-fold. Seventy-seven countries experienced at least one death due to terrorism in 2016, more than any year since 2000.

Scholars, governments and analysts have spent a lot of time exploring individual motivations of terrorists. However, terrorist activities are typically performed by groups, not isolated individuals. Examining the role of team dynamics in terrorist activities can elucidate how terrorist teams radicalize, organize and make decisions.

There is a common misconception in the West that leaders of al-Qaida and, more recently, Daesh (ISIS) are recruiting and brainwashing people into giving up their lives to establish a new political order. This is an incorrect model that has been vastly exaggerated in the media, based on a western understanding of leadership.

My recent research with Guihyun Park of Singapore Management University seeks to provide a better understanding of what motivates terrorist teams and how they make their decisions. How do terrorist teams combine their local identity with a global mission? How do they organize themselves and co-ordinate attacks in the presence of this fluidity, yet maintain a high level of cohesiveness?

Islamist terrorist teams

Conceptualizing terrorist teams as loosely coupled structures can help us answer these questions. The term loosely coupled systems refers to structures in which the entire system represents a holistic unit, while still preserving the unique identity of the components that make up the entire system.

In other words, team members enjoy a great deal of autonomy, without losing sight of the objectives of the team as a whole. Terrorist teams as systems demonstrate both loose vertical coupling — self-management — and loose horizontal coupling — little interdependence between team members.

Loosely coupled systems bear a number of advantages: they allow individuals to retain their own identity and self-determination; they are highly effective at sensing and responding to changes or opportunities in the environment; and they are better able to respond to breakdowns in the subcomponents of the system.

Our research focused on extremist Islamist terrorist attacks from the last 15 years and built on previous work conducted with researcher John R. Hollenbeck. Drawing on the theories of American organizational scholar Karl Weick, we looked at the literature on group behaviour and team decision-making and leveraged the theories of “loose coupling” in terrorist teams.

Random leadership

An emergent rather than top-down leadership structure is a defining structural feature of extremist Islamist terrorist teams. Scott Atran and Marc Sageman’s analysis of the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings which killed 191 people and injured another 2,000 shows how random the leadership structure was among the affiliated terrorist network.

The individuals that gravitated toward a leadership role in the network simply emerged as being the most effective in facilitating the logistics and communication demands of the group. The social system determines the objectives and missions, not the individual leaders.

The strength of terrorist teams does not reside in their leaders, but rather in their complexity. Despite a high degree of familiarity among some team members, connections among the larger network are typically quite loose.

In the case of the terror attacks on four commuter trains in Madrid, a diverse group of individuals was ultimately involved, from the Islamist terrorist team that carried out the attacks and its wider social support network, to petty criminals, Spanish miners and two police informants.

[Soldiers in Budapest]
A pair of armed soldiers patrol the streets of a tourist area in downtown Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Vlad Tchompalov/Unsplash)

Implications for counterterrorism efforts

The fluid nature of terrorists teams, together with their lack of a traditional leader, make their activities hard to combat. Loosely coupled terrorist teams have a tremendous ability to adapt to local circumstances.

For example, prior to the 2004 Madrid train bombings, Spanish authorities knew the terrorist group involved had been discussing and praising extremist operations worldwide. They also knew the same group had voiced their intent to conduct their own attack on Spanish soil. However, because no ties to al-Qaida could be established, none of the team members were brought in and detained. This suggests that counterterrorism efforts should focus less on external ties to terrorist organizations and more on the actual operations of the terrorist teams.

Leveraging the advantages of loose coupling

The ways in which terrorist teams organized themselves represent one of the best examples we’ve seen of loose coupling. Many of these same principles can be applied to organizations seeking to be more agile and innovative.

An organization, for instance, could assemble a team that has no formal leader. Team members would step up, but then also step back when they may not be the best individual to lead the group in a particular initiative. Establishing fluid boundaries, which let in resources and information from outside the group, could also prove effective, as well as bringing together people from different parts of the organization.

Thankfully, the majority of terrorist teams fail. They either disband before they launch an attack, are discovered during preparations, or the attack itself is not successful. That said, violent group actions have had a profound effect on our world over the last 15 years. Thus, their impact cannot be evaluated by looking at the successes or failures of individual teams, but rather the potential success of the combined attacks.The Conversation


Matthias Spitzmuller is an associate professor at the Smith School of Business and Toller Family Fellow of Organizational Behaviour

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

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

Bell Mental Health Research Chair appointed to Order of Canada

Heather Stuart (Public Health Sciences) is recognized for her commitment to advancing the mental health conversation.

[Heather Stuart]
Heather Stuart, Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Chair, has been appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada. (University Communications)

Queen’s professor and researcher Heather Stuart has been appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada in recognition of her “commitment to advancing the mental health conversation in Canada.”

Governor General Julie Payette announced 103 new appointments – two Companions, 15 Officers, and 86 Members – to the Order of Canada on Thursday, Dec. 27.

A professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences, Dr. Stuart was appointed the inaugural Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Chair, the world’s first anti-stigma research chair, in 2012. She was reappointed in January 2017.

“It is a surprise and a deep honour to be acknowledged for my work in stigma research and advocacy,” Dr. Stuart says. “I hope this acknowledgement provides reinforcement for all of those working in the mental health field, in particular, the people who have worked so closely with me to develop and implement evidence informed practice in this area.”

All recipients will receive their insignia at a ceremony in Rideau Hall at a later date.

“The Order of Canada recognizes outstanding achievement and dedication to the community and to Canada,” says Tom Harris, Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic). “Dr. Stuart is a leader in her field and has contributed greatly to the reduction of stigma around mental illness in Canada and around the world. On behalf of Queen’s, I congratulate Dr. Stuart on this well-deserved recognition.”

Created in 1967, the Order of Canada, is one of the country’s highest civilian honours, and recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.

Among those appointed Members of the Order of Canada are six alumni and honorary degree recipients, along with several others with Queen’s connections:

  • Brent Belzberg (Com’72), Senior Managing Partner, Torquest Holdings Inc. Management Services
  • Lyse Doucet (Artsci’80, LLD’15), Presenter and Chief International Correspondent, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
  • Ross D. Feldman (Artsci’73), Medical Director, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
  • Gordon Gray (Com’50) former president and chairman of Royal LePage – Established Gordon and Patricia Gray Chair in Particle Astrophysics,
  • Barbara Jackman, President, University of Ottawa, former adjunct lecturer at Queen’s Faculty of Law
  • Alexandra F. Johnston (LLD'84), former lecturer in the Faculty of Arts and Science
  • Marshall Pynkoski, Advisory board member for the Dan School of Drama and Music
  • Pekka Sinervo, former chair of the SNOLAB Institute Board of Management
  • Gregory Zeschuk (MBA’04), Co-founder of video game developer BioWare 

YEAR IN REVIEW: Research at Queen’s in 2018

[Research at Queen's 2018]
Researchers at Queen's, and their work, continue to garner attention locally, nationally, and around the world.

Research prominence at the national and international level is a key strategic priority for Queen’s. As we near the end of 2018, the Gazette takes a look back at some of the major announcements and events that captured our attention during the year.


There were a number of notable developments from the research portfolio in 2018. In April, the 2018-2023 Strategic Research Plan was approved by Senate. The five-year roadmap outlines areas of research strength and priority for the university, and sets the tone for a positive and productive environment through its emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

Also in April, it was announced that Kimberly Woodhouse would begin a two-year appointment as Interim Vice-Principal (Research), succeeding John Fisher. A professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Dr. Woodhouse also recently served as dean of that faculty for two five-year terms from 2007 to 2017.


Queen’s Research fared well in two significant rankings released this year.  According RE$EARCH Infosource, a research and development intelligence company, Queen’s placed first nationally in research income growth within the medical category.

In the annual university rankings by Maclean’s, Queen’s maintained its second-place ranking for awards per faculty member.


The university celebrated the opening of the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute in May. Named in honour of the co-winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics, the institute is a partnership of eight universities and five affiliated research organizations. Headquartered at Queen’s, the institute came to fruition as a result of the $63.7 million investment the university received through the Government of Canada’s Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

In April, a group of Queen’s researchers and administrators made the trip to Ottawa for Queen’s on Parliament Hill Day. The aim of this event, one of several held in Ottawa in 2018, was to highlight the university’s areas of strength in research and innovation while also demonstrating support for the federal government’s continuing investments in fundamental research.

Queen’s faculty members and researchers continued leverage the university’s partnership with The Conversation Canada, with a total of 63 articles being published through the online platform this year, with over 1 million views. Many pieces have been republished by local, national, and international news outlets, including Maclean’s, CNN, Time, Scientific American, The National Post, and The Washington Post.

In an ongoing effort to highlight and share the work of researchers with the Queen’s and broader communities, an integrated campaign demonstrating beauty of research highlighted winning photos from the annual Art of Research contest. Throughout much of the year, the mobile Art of Research pop-up exhibit could be seen at various locations on campus and at events across Ontario. At the same time, banners along University Avenue and building skins on a number of prominent buildings helped keep research front of mind on campus.


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

In March, the university welcomed Sari van Anders who arrived on campus as a Canada 150 Research Chair, one of only 28 such positions awarded across the nation as part of a federal government initiative designed to recruit top-tier academic talent from around the world. Dr. van Anders’ work is in social neuroendocrinology, sexuality, and gender/sex.

In May, Ahmed Hassan received the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). A leader in software engineering, Dr. Hassan (School of Computing) is only the 10th Queen’s faculty member to receive the honour since the award’s creation in 1965.

Queen’s researchers continued to be recognized by the Royal Society of Canada with Stephen Archer (Medicine), Heather Stuart (Public Health Sciences) and Rena Upitis (Faculty of Education) being elected as fellows. Ahmed Hassan added to his banner year by being named a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Across the Atlantic, John Smol was elected a fellow of the prestigious Royal Society (UK and Commonwealth) – just the third Queen’s researcher to join their ranks.

In terms of research funding, scholars across disciplines garnered financial support from the tri-agencies, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Ontario Research Fund, among others. Highlights from 2018 included receiving $15.5 million through NSERC’s Discovery Grants program, and more than $3 million from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)’s Insight and Partnership Grants program.

The research work of graduate students was also recognized as four Queen’s doctoral students also secured Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships in areas of study including Indigenous public protest, kidney function, low-income populations, and assisted dying.

To learn more about research at Queen’s, visit the Queen’s Research website.

Physicist receives Humboldt Research Award

Queen’s professor garners competitive international research honour.

Queen’s University physicist Stephen Hughes has been awarded the Humboldt Research Award, also known as the Humboldt Prize, which is granted to a maximum of 100 recipients worldwide, across all disciplines, each year.

The award recognizes Hughes’ significant contributions to optics and nanophotonics research, including quantum nanophotonics, research that is on the cutting edge of new quantum information technologies that work by manipulating light particles called photons.

The award, and a cash prize of 60,000 euros, is given to those whose research discoveries have had a significant impact on their own discipline, and winners are invited to spend up to one year in Germany cooperating on long-term research projects with specialist colleagues at research institutions in the country.

Dr. Hughes joins several Queen’s Humboldt Research Award laureates, including 2017 winner Tucker Carrington (Chemistry).

“A competitive international honour, the Humboldt Research Award recognizes researchers at the peak of their careers.” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “My sincere congratulations to Dr. Hughes and his team.”

During his time in Germany, Dr. Hughes will be working with nominator Andreas Knorr, and his group, at the Institute of Theoretical Physics, Technical University of Berlin. Dr. Knorr’s research team is one of the leading groups in the world in nonlinear optics and quantum electronics of nanostructured solids. Along with several planned trips to Germany over the next few years, Dr. Hughes will welcome Dr. Knorr to Queen’s for a six-week research stay in 2019.

“In my field of research, collaboration is essential, and the level of research going on in Germany is really world class,” says Dr. Hughes. “We will be able tackle several projects together that are particularly exciting and timely, mainly in the field of quantum nanophotonics and extreme quantum optics – which hold much promise for fundamental discoveries as well as emerging technologies. I am very grateful to Dr. Knorr and other colleagues in Germany for the nomination.”

One of the open questions for theoretical physicists in this field is how to quantize light in such extreme nanoscale geometries, and Dr. Hughes and Dr. Knorr have already initiated such a project together that could have a telling impact on fundamental quantum optics and emerging applications in quantum technologies. Just as electronic computers had world-changing effects in the last century, Dr. Hughes says he is confident that fundamental photonics research and emerging quantum technologies will have the same effect in the coming century.

The award will help to showcase Queen’s international research portfolio in optics and nanophotonics and will also advance the university’s goal of increased international collaboration in research. For instance, in addition to partnership with the Technical University of Berlin, Dr. Hughes will also collaborate with researchers at the Humboldt University of Berlin, and the Technical University of Munich. The Humboldt Research Award will also play a key role in boosting the profile of the recent Canada Foundation for Innovation-funded Queen’s Nanophotonics Research Centre.

For more information on the award, visit the website.

The Conversation: Have we reached Peak Car?

[Cars lined up on a street]
Cars clogging downtown streets is a common sight in any North American city. (Photo by Nabeel Syed/Unsplash)

General Motors has announced it’s shuttering five production facilities and killing six vehicle platforms by the end of 2019 as it reallocates resources towards self-driving technologies and electric vehicles.

The announcements should come as a surprise to no one, as they echo a similar announcement made by Ford earlier this year that it will exit all car production other than Mustang within two years.

[The Conversation]Why the sudden attitude adjustment toward cars? Well, both firms cite a focus on trucks, SUVs and crossovers. OK, sure — that’s what more people are buying when they buy a vehicle today. But there is a broader and more long-term element to this discussion.

Have we reached Peak Car?

Many may remember the dialogue associated with Peak Oil, or the idea that we had reached or would soon reach the peak production levels of oil around the globe.

Such forecasts and predictions were likely related to price run-ups on commodity and investment strategies in the oil industry. However, new exploration discoveries and extraction technologies ultimately mean we are a long way from running out of oil. While we may still hit peak production in the near future, it is more likely due to a decreasing need as society moves to alternative energy sources.

But what about cars? North American car production hit 17.5 million vehicles in 2016, and dropped marginally to 17.2 million in 2017. Interesting, but perhaps not significant.

More telling are changes in driver behaviour. In North America, for example, fewer teens are getting driver’s licences. In 1983, 92 per cent of teens were licensed, while by 2014, that number had dropped to 77 per cent. In Germany, the number of new licences issued to drivers aged 17 to 25 has dropped by 300,000 over the last 10 years.

[Cars in a parking lot]
Cars fill a parking lot. Has North America reached Peak Car? (Photo by Ryan Searle/Unsplash)

The future is driverless

Factor in ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, the comprehensive cost of vehicle ownership and more effective public transportation (everywhere but Canada) and we get a sense of some of the reasons for these evolving automotive strategies.

Most significant, however, is the evolution of self-driving technology. Picture this scenario:

Julie is an ER doctor at the local hospital, on the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. She jumps in the family car at 6:30 a.m. and is at the hospital by 6:50 a.m.

After dropping Julie off, the car then heads home, arriving in time to take Julie’s two children to their high school; one of them tosses their hockey equipment in the back of the car. The car then returns home to take Julie’s husband to the law office where he starts work at 9 a.m.

The car then swings by the school to take Julie’s daughter to hockey practice at 2:30 p.m., and then returns to the hospital to pick Julie up. And so on.The technology to support the scenario above exists now, and will result in reduced car ownership through a more economical and efficient approach to managing cars, whether accessed through independent household ownership or fleet membership.

As it is today, a family like Julie’s would need two or possibly three vehicles, and those vehicles would largely sit still most of the day. Tomorrow, the family could be down to one vehicle, possibly an SUV for the hockey gear. What happens when families or groups of people further pool their assets for more ride-sharing or increased capacity?

Fewer cars on the road within a decade

We are moving from a do-it-yourself (DIY) transportation economy to a sharing or do-it-for-me (DIFM) economy. Many of us won’t like it — I honestly like to drive — but the numbers and the technology are there.

As safety technologies improve and societal paradigms shift, this evolution will gather momentum. Based on the young driver statistics above, it seems reasonable to anticipate a reduction in cars per capita of 20 to 30 per cent in the next decade.

Unions at GM and Ford are justifiably unhappy, but they shouldn’t be surprised. It is quite possible that we have reached Peak Car in North America and Europe.

Companies that want to succeed in this new environment will need to be different, and especially better in some way. If car volumes drop by 30 per cent over the next 10 years, there better be something special about the car company that hopes to survive, let alone prosper — like better technology, better comfort or better service.

If current trends continue, we can anticipate more shutdown announcements — like GM’s — from car companies and parts suppliers, as there won’t be room for all of them.The Conversation


Barry Cross is an assistant professor in the Smith School of Business at Queen's University He is an expert and thought leader in innovation, execution and operations strategy. 

The Conversation provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen’s researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors. 

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

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


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