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Rapid Response funding awarded to help confront COVID-19

The Vice-Principal (Research) announces first round of internal funding for projects supporting medical and social coronavirus related solutions.

In late March, the Queen’s University Vice-Principal (Research) launched the Rapid Response competition to fund and support research projects that will contribute to the development, testing, and implementation of medical or social countermeasures to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19. Thirteen applicants have received funding in the first round. 

The successful projects range from the development of a biosensor tool to psychotherapy programs for addressing mental health issues. Queen’s researchers are also examining the government response on household finances and planning for more effective physical distancing measures. 

Congratulations to the first round of Rapid Response funding recipients, says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). These are outstanding projects that span the key research areas important to both managing the virus itself and understanding its social and economic impacts. I will follow these projects with great interest.” 

The successful projects include: 

  • Stephen Archer (Medicine)  Synthesis and preclinical testing of novel small molecule therapies for COVID-19. 

  • Aristides Docoslis (Chemical Engineering)  Developing, validating, and implementing a portable diagnostic prototype (COVID-19 Scanner) for rapid, point-of-care detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) from nasopharyngeal swabs. 

  • Nazanin Alavi (Psychiatry)  Online delivery of psychotherapy, tailored to patients' suffering from mental health problems due to COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • Xiaolong Yang (Pathology and Molecular Medicine)  Developing of a biosensor tool using an ultra-bright bioluminescent enzyme purified from glowing deep-sea shrimp to "visualize" and quantify the interaction between viruses and cells. 

  • Amy Wu (Mechanical and Materials Engineering)  Designing, testing, and evaluating low-cost, medical grade face shields that can be easily produced by the rapid prototyping resources within our community. 

  • Tom Hollenstein (Psychology) – Examining the use of digital technology to inform universities, clinicians, and policymakers as they make recommendations for coping with the emotional fall-out of social distancing. 

  • Nicole Myers (Sociology) – The project will use official data, review government policy and legal decisions, observe virtual courts and conduct interviews to understand the changes in bail practices and discretionary release decision making in response to the pandemic. 

  • Setareh Ghahari (Rehabilitation Therapy)  Identifying the challenges that Kingston refugee youth are likely to face when attempting to reorient themselves to online learning during this unprecedented time. The goal is to provide solutions/recommendations that could help mitigate those challenges and improve the students’ online learning experience. 

  • Robert Clark (Economics)  Providing policymakers with the information necessary to adopt new measures, or to fine tune existing ones, in order to minimize COVID-19’s detrimental effects on the financial situation of Canadian households and to limit the risks to the stability of the financial sector. 

  • John Meligrana (Geography and Planning)  Developing a set of comprehensive physical distancing guidelines tailored to the gradual reopening of our cities, communities and country as well as more being more sensitive to the impacts on vulnerable communities. 

  • Warren Mabee (Policy Studies)  Creating an integrated policy response to facilitate Canadian recovery from COVID-19. 

  • Imaan Bayoumi (Family Medicine)  Exploring the hidden social, emotional and mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and public health countermeasures on residents of Kingston and area, with a focus on marginalized groups such as those using substances, living in poverty, single parents, children or people suffering from mental health conditions, chronic health conditions and family conflict. 

  • Oded Haklai (Political Studies) Tracking and comparing the measures taken by governments around the world, examining check-and-balances on executive power that remain, and assessing the extent to which democracy can be resumed in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

For more information on the Rapid Response competition, visit the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research). 

Why ‘The Scream’ is going viral again

In these coronavirus times, artist Edvard Munch's iconic image speaks to our anxieties about illness and societal collapse.
‘The Scream,’ by Edvard Munch, hand-coloured lithograph version from 1895. (Munchmuseet)CC BY

Few works of art are as iconic as The Scream, by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863–1944). The combination of an open mouth, eyes wide open and two hands raised to cheeks has become a near-universal signifier of shock and existential fear, helped along by 1990s movie franchises such as Scream and Home Alone. Not to mention the scream emoji.

The ConversationIn these “coronatimes,” The Scream has taken on new significance, summoned once again to represent our anxieties of illness and death, of economic recession and of societal collapse.

Versions of The Scream have proliferated online. There are Screams with face masks or even as face masks. There are Screams anxious about handwashing and face touching, and Screams with eyes drawn in the now recognizable shape of the coronavirus. Screaming figures are fleeing cities and financial institutions. They are hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Poignant images

Most of these coronavirus Scream images tap into our collective fears and transform them through humour. But there are more poignant images as well. Consider a “social distancing” Scream created by Hrag Vartanian, editor-in-chief of the art site Hyperallergic.

Vartanian digitally altered the image so that only a single lone individual remains in the background.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

#EdvardMunch in the age of social distancing.

A post shared by Hrag Vartanian (@hragv) on

Vartanian said:

“I wanted to create something jarring that reminds us to look at familiar things in new ways, just like we’re doing with our lives in the era of social distancing.”

And then there’s 2020 Plague Expulsion Rite, a photo collage by Shenzhen-based photographer Wu Guoyong. After collaborating with Luo Dawei, who runs the photo platform Fengmian, to curate a series of family portraits of Chinese New Year in quarantine, Wu gathered together 3,500 images of lockdown to create a collective Scream.

2020 Plague Expulsion Rite poses profound questions: if we are all screaming, and if we imagine everyone else screaming, is it possible to feel less alone? And if we are all screaming together, how else might we act collectively in these times?

Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ pastel version, 1895. (Wikimedia), CC BY

‘Quaking with angst’

After numerous sketches and some false starts, Munch completed a first version of The Scream in 1893 while living in Berlin, where his avant-garde circle enthusiastically received it as an embodiment of modern angst bordering on mental illness.

Carefully conceived for maximum emotional effect, Munch intended the work to be a powerful image that would represent an intense emotional experience that he had while walking along a fjord in his native Norway. He also tried to put that experience into words:

“I was walking along the road with two friends — the sun was setting — I felt a wave of sadness — the sky suddenly turned blood-red. I stopped, leaned against the fence tired to death … My friends walked on — stood there quaking with angst — and I felt as though a vast, endless scream passed through nature.”

Munch created three more versions of The Scream, a lithograph and a pastel in 1895, and another painting, probably in 1910.

The Scream has a dramatic history. The 1893 version was stolen and then recovered in 1994. Ten years later, the 1910 version was also stolen and recovered, albeit damaged. In 2012, the pastel version was auctioned for the record sum of nearly US$120 million. Now, as reported by the Guardian, conservators recommend that the 1910 painting practise its own physical distancing to avoid further damage from human breath.

Staring, open-mouthed figures

Throughout his long career, Munch often represented the despair and fear provoked by deadly diseases not yet well understood by modern medicine, including tuberculosis, syphilis and influenza. A staring, open-mouthed figure, often alienated from its body, recurred in those representations.

Before The Scream, Munch produced a drawing in one of his early sketchbooks, probably a self-portrait, and captioned it “Influenca.” A figure doubled, frightened and frightening, looks back at us from a mirror. His eyes are wide open and his tongue is sticking out. Perhaps he is saying “aaahhh” and waiting for a diagnosis.

Munch suffered from lung and bronchial problems throughout his life, possibly related to the tuberculosis that killed his mother and sister when he was a child. In 1919, he was one of the few artists to respond to the worldwide flu pandemic. In a large self-portrait simply titled Spanish Flu, the artist turns his head to the viewer, eyes strangely vacant, and opens his mouth to … what? Speak? Cough? Gasp for breath? Scream?

Munch Self-Portrait
Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu, by Edvard Munch. (National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, The Fine Art Collections)

Rise in cult status

The Scream gained its cult status only after the artist’s death in 1944.

While the full story of its emergence into popular culture remains to be told, key early moments are probably a Time magazine cover from 1961 with the banner “Guilt & Anxiety,” and a 1973 book by Reinhold Heller about Munch’s iconic painting.

In recent years, The Scream has been used to raise awareness of climate change, to critique and protest Brexit as well as the presidency of Donald Trump in the United States.

Anxiety about nuclear proliferation also speaks through The Scream. In 2009, graphic designer Małgorzata Będowska transformed the instantly recognizable nuclear hazard sign into an iconic mashup for the poster Nuclear Emergency. The striking design has since become commonplace at anti-nuclear events.

A common visual language

We might turn to the arts to soothe ourselves in times of crisis and stress. But in those same times, history has shown that art can help us to express or deal with difficult emotions, including those stemming from our experiences of illness.

The internet-enabled global circulation of The Scream is intensifying in an age of political instability and a pandemic enabled by globalization. The increasing virality of The Scream demonstrates the ongoing need for a common visual language to communicate and to cope with what many fear the most: the shared vulnerability of having a body that might become ill, suffer and die.The Conversation

__________________________________________________________________________

Allison Morehead, Associate Professor of Art History and in the Graduate Program in Cultural Studies, Queen's University, Ontario

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

 

Exploring new frontiers in research

Queen’s researchers receive support from the New Frontiers in Research Fund.

A total of seven Queen’s research projects are receiving funding from the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) 2019 Exploration competition. (Photo by Bernard Clark / University Communications)

Seven Queen’s research projects have been funded by the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) 2019 Exploration competition, a program that fosters discovery and innovation by encouraging Canadian researchers to explore, take risks, and work with partners across disciplines and borders.

Queen’s will receive $1.7 million of the $46.3 million in funding allocated to support 186 research projects across Canada. The competition provides grants of up to $125,000 a year for two years for teams of two or more researchers.

The 2019 Exploration grants support a wide range of research projects at the university — from developing a micro-scale antibiotic discovery platform to community-led policy engagement on Vancouver’s housing crisis. A full list of funded projects is below:

  • Breakthroughs in robotics and machine learning have the potential to have a significant impact on the way chemical synthesis is performed, and to dramatically accelerate the pace of discovery and optimization. Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry) and collaborators have received $250,000 to apply machine learning-based chemical optimization to the synthesis of metal nanoclusters, which form a key link between molecules and materials.
  • Jeffrey Masuda (Kinesiology and Health Studies) and co-applicants, including Audrey Kobayashi (Geography and Planning), have received $248,960 to generate a creative space for community-led policy engagement in the heart of Vancouver’s housing crisis. Using materials from archival, qualitative, and humanities-based methodologies gathered through four years of SSHRC Insight participatory action research, they will develop a permanent exhibit that will tell the histories of governance, activism, and inhabitance surrounding single room occupancy (SRO) hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
  • The spread of cancer beyond the initial site (metastasis) occurs frequently and is the cause of 90 per cent of cancer-related deaths. P. Andrew Evans (Chemistry) with John Allingham (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) and Andrew Craig (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), , will leverage $250,000 from the NFRF to develop small molecule inhibitors inspired by marine macrolide natural products, which target the cellular engine that drives cancer metastasis. 
  • Stephen Lougheed (Biology), Yuxiang Wang (Biology) and collaborators are developing new, real-time, community-based environmental DNA protocols for assessing freshwater ecosystem health with $249,363 in support from the NFRF. Their platform will combine eDNA approaches with community capacity building, focusing on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River as test cases.
  • Environmental bacteria are an excellent source of new antibiotics. However, when cultivated in the laboratory, they frequently fail to produce the vast majority of their encoded molecules unless very particular and specific conditions are used. Avena Ross (Chemistry) and Richard Oleschuk (Chemistry) will use $250,000 in support from the NFRF to develop a microfluidics platform to identify new antibiotics from bacteria, enabling them to rapidly identify/prioritize new antibiotic drug leads.
  • Michael Rauh (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) and Susan Crocker (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) have received $240,500 for their work in profiling blood for genomic instability associated with neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). With their combined expertise, they will demonstrate how changes in cell-free and cell-contained DNA in blood contribute to AD pathophysiology.
  • Amber Simpson (School of Computing and Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) and Sharday Mosurinjohn (School of Religion) have received $250,000 to develop a cancer digital twin from 400,000 medical images that predicts the pattern of cancer spread while considering the bioethical implications raised by the technology. Their project will bring to bear combined expertise in AI, oncology, religion, philosophy, and cultural sociology to analyze AI’s existential risks and rewards.
Discover Research@Queen’s
Did you know that the university recently launched a new central website for Queen’s research? From in-depth features to the latest information on how our researchers are confronting COVID-19, the site is a destination showcasing the impact of Queen’s research. Discover Research@Queen’s.

The NFRF’s 2019 Exploration competition supports research that defies current paradigms, bridges disciplines, or tackles fundamental problems from new perspectives. A key principle of this stream is the recognition that exploring new directions in research carries risk but that these risks are worthwhile, given their potential for significant impact.

“Through the NFRF, researchers at Queen’s are bringing disciplines together in nontraditional ways to explore new research directions in social, cultural, economic, health and technological areas that may benefit Canadians,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “Thank you to the Government of Canada for their support of this work.”

The NFRF is an initiative of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee and is managed as a tri-agency program on behalf of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. For more information, visit the website.

Don’t miss out on research funding opportunities, subscribe to the University Research Services Funding Opportunities listserv.

Research@Queen’s: Championing AI for social justice

How Queen’s researchers are using AI to level the legal playing field for Canadians, including those affected by COVID-19 unemployment.

Research at Queen's

Queen's researcher Samuel Dahan is focused on making legal services more equitable, and he knows all about winning and losing disputes in battle, and the importance of a level playing field for combatants. While researching alternative dispute resolution for his PhD in law at the University of Cambridge, this versatile, black-belt competitor won many bouts in the ring as Cambridge taekwondo team captain and a varsity kickboxer. He also earned medals in the French taekwondo nationals, and the French and British kickboxing championships.

Discover Research@Queen’s
Did you know that the university recently launched a new central website for Queen’s research? From in-depth features to the latest information on how our researchers are confronting COVID-19, the site is a destination showcasing the impact of Queen’s research. Discover Research@Queen’s.

“In martial arts competition, you don’t want to fight someone less experienced than you or someone better than you. Fights are arranged so there is a balance of power,” says Dahan, Director of the Conflict Analytics Lab and assistant professor in the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University. “But fighting is the worst scenario for settling disputes in the real world."

Dahan has teamed up with Xiaodan Zhu, assistant professor in the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Queen’s, to develop an AI (artificial intelligence)-powered set of tools to help level the legal playing field for lower- and middle-income Canadians.

In the wake of COVID-19 unemployment, Dahan and collaborators also recently launched MyOpenCourt.org, an open access app to help recently laid off workers.

Continue the story on the Research@Queen’s website.

Samuel Dahan and Xiaodan Zu

Samuel Dahan, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law, teamed up with Xiaodan Zhu, assistant professor in the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, to develop an AI-powered set of tools to help level the legal playing field for lower- and middle-income Canadians. (Photograph was taken before social distancing measures were implemented.)

Leaning on our furry friends

Queen's University researcher Lisa Carver discusses the benefits of pets during the pandemic.

A couple carry a puppy
The human and animal bond can be helpful during times of stress, however, as Queen's researcher Lisa Carver points out, pets are only beneficial to us if we have the time and energy for them and the knowledge/ability to care for them. (Courtesy Andrew McLaughlin Photography)

They say you can never underestimate the warmth of the cold, wet nose of a furry friend. In a Q&A with the Gazette, Queen’s University researcher Lisa Carver (Faculty of Health Science, Faculty of Arts and Science) discusses the benefits of animal companionship as we face isolation, stress, and fear. 

Q: How important is the human and animal bond during this stressful time? 

A: First, we need to start with the caveat that pets are only beneficial to us if we have the time and energy for them and the knowledge/ability to care for them. Getting a pet when you are already stretched too thin financially or emotionally will not be helpful to the human or the animal. However, when there is a caring relationship between a human and a dog or cat, interacting with it can decrease psychological arousal and stress. So the presence of a family pet actually creates physiological changes that make us feel better. In fact,  having a pet may be a powerful influencer in maintaining health protective behaviours , such as eating well or going out for a walk. The basic activities involved in caring for cats, dogs, and other companion animals, such as “bending, reaching, ambulating, and using both arms in a functional manner to provide food, water, and grooming” actually provide exercise, which is very important for people who spend the day in a stationary position. 

Q: What can animals provide that we might be lacking? 

A: During the COVID-19 pandemic I have been running an online study on relationships between humans and non-human companions, like dogs and cats. Preliminary results, from 100 respondents in their 30s to 90s, living in Canada, the USA, England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, revealed that animals provide comfort, and help to alleviate depression and isolation. Several people reported that they would be lost without their pet and another said “It is the only thing that is keeping me sane.” The presence of a dog or a cat in the home may be the barrier between an isolated person and despair. 

Q: We see videos of pets visiting seniors at the windows of nursing homes. Is this beneficial if the seniors can’t physically touch the animals? 

A: In my opinion this is definitely helpful for two main reasons. First of all, when people bring animals to visit, even outside the window, it is a reminder to those on the inside that they are not forgotten and someone cares about them. Just knowing that you are important enough to someone that they took time out of their day to see you can help manage situational depression, caused by being away from your loved ones. The other reason it is helpful is the visit breaks up the monotony of days spent alone. Even if there is no physical interaction, having a visitor with a loveable animal outside the window can be uplifting. 

Q: What about so-called robot pets for seniors – can they substitute for pets, especially during a time when real animals can’t visit?

A: Whether robot pets can be used to replace live animals is an important question, especially since robot pets were being provided to some older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. In my survey during the COVID-19 pandemic, respondents were asked whether, given the choice, they would choose a robot pet or a live animal. Out of 102 people who answered this question, not one of them said they would choose a robot pet. When asked why, they said things like “it is not about the companionship alone. It is about the emotional connection. To get that from a robotic creation is not love. We need the love that comes with these pets.” It was very clear that robots are not the same as a living breathing animal. Providing a robot pet is like giving a stuffed animal. It might be nice to cuddle, but it does not provide the reciprocal relationship that most animal lovers seek from a companion animal. 

Queen’s launches AI-enhanced tools for those affected by pandemic layoffs

MyOpenCourt, a project of the Conflict Analytics Lab at the Faculty of Law and Smith School of Business, helps out-of-work Canadians to understand their legal rights and options.

MyOpenCourt, a project of the Conflict Analytics Lab at the Faculty of Law and Smith School of Business,
MyOpenCourt currently features two free and simple-to-use web-based tools that harness artificial intelligence and data science technologies. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, millions of Canadians are out of work and facing uncertainty about returning. These circumstances can put workers, particularly those in ‘gig economy’ jobs, in situations where their legal rights are unclear. 

MyOpenCourt, a project of the Conflict Analytics Lab at Queen’s University’s Faculty of Law and Smith School of Business, will now help these workers understand their rights – and options. 

“Most Canadian workers cannot afford an employment lawyer, or live in areas with few skilled employment law experts,” says Samuel Dahan, Director of the Conflict Analytics Lab and a professor in the Faculty of Law with a cross-appointment to Smith. “Since COVID-19’s arrival in Canada, we have seen nearly 2 million jobs lost with terminations and layoffs across many different sectors, and decided to launch our tools to help Canadians who have lost work.”

MyOpenCourt currently features two free and simple-to-use web-based tools that harness artificial intelligence and data science technologies. Both are available at the project site at myopencourt.org

The “Am I an employee or contractor?” application can determine the likelihood that a work arrangement is an employment relationship or that of a contractor through a fast, anonymous questionnaire.

Workers who believe they have been wrongfully dismissed can use the “How much severance am I entitled to?” tool to calculate reasonable notice for dismissal.

“These tools are as valuable for employers as they are for workers,” Professor Dahan says. “Navigating employer-contractor relationships is challenging, and severance is difficult to calculate. We hope to provide both workers and employers with ways to avoid pitfalls and find equitable solutions to the challenges created by the pandemic.” 

Powerful AI technology lies behind both tools. Working from thousands of Canadian employment law cases, MyOpenCourt can make predictions that can offer guidance to workers in these uncertain situations. While these applications cannot take the place of a lawyer, they can help users understand if they have a case before contacting one.

Should a user discover they have a case, MyOpenCourt will automatically connect the user to a partner law firm at no cost. 

The MyOpenCourt tools have been developed by students and researchers at Queen’s Law, the Smith Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence, Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and partners like McGill University and institutions based in the U.S. and Europe. Professor Maxime Cohen of McGill and Professor Jonathan Touboul of Brandeis University provided data science expertise, helping to translate the case data into predictions.

“We are thrilled that the Conflict Analytics Lab has been able to launch this platform, at a time when these tools will be able to help many Canadians,” says Yuri Levin, Executive Director of the Analytics and AI ecosystem at Smith and an instrumental player in the creation of the Conflict Analytics Lab.

 MyOpenCourt reasonable notice calculator cannot currently be used to generate case outcomes for Québec-based users.

To learn more about the work of the Conflict Analytics Lab, visit conflictanalytics.queenslaw.ca

About Conflict Analytics Lab

The Conflict Analytics Lab (CAL) strives to build a fairer future by improving access to justice.

We are experts in applying artificial intelligence to help resolve conflicts in a transparent, consistent, and innovative manner all over the world.

Housed at Queen’s University, the CAL combines academics, technology experts, and the legal industry to revolutionize the way we approach conflicts and better serve those who cannot afford traditional justice. 

Using self-regulation to help children deal with stress

Research shows that approximately 40 per cent of children struggle with attention, motivation, and impulsive behaviours at school.

Kristy Timmons, professor, Faculty of Education
Kristy Timmons, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education, discusses self-regulation in kindergarten contexts during a recent presentation. (Supplied photo)

Children today face a vastly different educational experience than what most of us typically remember from our own childhood. Children as young as four and five years of age are experiencing extraordinarily high levels of stress, resulting in challenges at home and at school. Canadian research shows that approximately 40 per cent of children struggle with attention, motivation, and impulsive behaviours at school.

Kristy Timmons, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education, is well aware of the current climate.

“The number of children experiencing these challenges is growing and behaviours are becoming more severe and presenting at a younger age,” she says.

As a result, teachers are spending an inordinate amount of time and resources on managing behavior which leaves less time to focus on classroom learning. In order to address this, educators and parents need to help children develop the skills to deal with both difficult and day-to-day situations.

“Without addressing the underlying factor of stress, efforts to work solely at the level of behaviour will be at best ineffective and at worst will exacerbate the child's challenges in regulating their emotions and behaviours,” Dr. Timmons says.

In the past, educators and parents addressed challenging behaviours of children reactively. Dr. Timmons’ research focuses instead on the ways educators and parents can support self-regulation proactively to combat what might appear to be behavior challenges but what is actually a stress reaction. These proactive strategies include working with young children to develop learning goals, coming up with strategies with children in advance so that the children have a strategy to pull from when needed. This also includes the use of contemplative practices (e.g., mindfulness and mediational based practices) as a tool to facilitate self-regulation skills in the early childhood classroom.

Important role of shared- and co-regulation

Her research emphasizes the important role of shared- and co-regulation. After all, “children learn self-regulation skills best through the modeling of regulation strategies by educators, parents and peers.” Through her research, Dr. Timmons continues to lead work in understanding processes that influence young children's' learning, engagement, and self-regulation, as well as educators’ and parents’ ability to support this.

She became aware of the misconceptions within the field of self-regulation including the limited understanding of how best to support self-regulation skills. This has become a driving force behind her research, prompting her to partner with numerous organizations to help improve understanding of self-regulation and self-regulated learning practices.

Listen to Dr. Timmons discuss self-regulation in the early years in her invited talk on the VoiceEd podcast.

One key partnership is with the Self-Regulation Institute (SRI), a charitable organization founded by Stuart Shanker, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Psychology at York University. A partnership with the SRI will leverage cutting edge research on stress and the brain to better support young children’s self-regulation.

Dr. Timmons has also worked with researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education to develop the Child Observation Framework, a tool to help researchers make meaningful observations about self-regulation behaviours.

She is currently working to adapt this framework so that it can be used by teachers and early childhood educators to assess self-regulation in play-based context.

Additional barriers

Dr. Timmons’ research also assists children who face additional barriers and those who work with them. She is currently working with The Kid’s Brain Health Network to conduct an objectives-based program evaluation of the Provincial Outreach Program for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (POPFASD). POPFASD is funded by the British Columbia Ministry of Education with the mandate of increasing educators' capacity to meet the educational needs of students with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

This research will provide important insight into how POPFASD is preparing educators to support students with FASD, and more broadly helping teachers across Canada to support these students.

Across her research, Dr. Timmons’ commitment to children’s health and learning is central. What also stands out is her ability to collaborate with academics, government, communities, and organizations to improve the experiences of Canadian children and to build the capacity of those who work with them.

Helping leaders make public health decisions during COVID-19

Queen’s researcher Dongmei Chen and collaborators receive federal funding to explore how the social dynamics of coronavirus transmission impact decision making.

[Photo of Toronto skyline featuring the CN Tower]
Queen's researcher Dongmei Chen and her collaborators are examining the social dynamics of COVID-19 transmission. They are collaborating with community partners in Toronto to examine the epidemic's impact on the Chinese community in the Greater Toronto Area. (Image: Unsplash/ Richard Kidger)

As governments and public health agencies move to rapidly address the COVID-19 pandemic, they face the challenge of making decisions under considerable time constraints and with uncertainty. Developing evidence-based responses will be a key tool, now and for the future, for leaders to make confident decisions on assessing preventive measures, allocating resources and equipment, identifying high-risk groups, and establishing policies on emergency response.

Social dynamics of virus transmission

[Photo of Dr. Dongmei Chen]
Dr. Dongmei Chen (Geography and Planning)

Queen’s researcher Dongmei Chen (Geography and Planning) is working on a project that will help decision-makers access vital information they need for their public health response to COVID-19 and future infectious disease pandemics. Dr. Chen, along with researchers Lu Wang (nominated PI) and Lixia Yang from Ryerson University, have received support from the Government of Canada’s rapid research funding competition to address COVID-19. The Canadian Institutes for Health Research has awarded their project more than $180,000 to study the social dynamics of virus transmission in a large urban hub to help us better understand the impact of our public health response. 

How the social dynamics of coronavirus transmission impact a community are largely shaped by the relationship between community prevention behaviour and individual activity space.

“The effectiveness of preventive measures depends fundamentally on the public’s willingness to cooperate, which is highly associated with the level of risk a person perceives,” explains Dr. Chen. “Because COVID-19 typically spreads via close contact, it is of critical importance to understand, at an individual level, the characteristics of activity space for individuals during an outbreak or a potential outbreak.”

Collaborating with community partners in Toronto

Their project will also explore the importance of how risk perceptions and the specific measures taken in a community can be tailored to the unique circumstances of a transnational community. Specifically, Dr. Chen and her collaborators will examine the epidemic’s impact on the Chinese community in Toronto.

At the time of the proposal in February, the majority of cases in Canada could be traced to travel from China. As the Greater Toronto Area is home to the largest Chinese diaspora outside of China, Dr. Chen and her collaborators believed that the impact of the outbreak would be large for this community because of their many connections to mainland China and Hong Kong. The team, whose research expertise range from transnational healthcare to health among immigrant populations and spatial modelling, will work with three Chinese community organizations and health centres in Toronto to provide new insights on the cultural dimensions of the epidemic and the implications of pandemics within large global cities.

Future emergency responses

Dr. Chen’s expertise in understanding and modelling the interactions between human activities and their physical environment will be key to analyzing the data collected from the team’s community partnerships. Under Dr. Chen’s leadership, Queen’s LaGISA (Laboratory of Geographic Information and Spatial Analysis) will conduct the project’s spatial analysis, geovisualization and modelling of individual activity spaces before and during the pandemic, and help to interpret their implication in COVID-19 prevention and transmission.

Their project will not only be crucial to the current public health response to COVID-19, it will have long-lasting implications. “Such evidence-based findings can be utilized by public health, locally and internationally, in assessing community preventive measures and enhancing the collective capacity for emergency responses to COVID-19, along with other future infectious diseases,” explains Dr. Chen.

Principal announces 2020 Distinguished University Professors

Six faculty members receive Queen’s University’s top research-related honour.

 

Six faculty members receive Queen’s University’s top research-related honour
The 2020 Distinguished University Professors are, clockwise from top left: David Bakhurst (Philosophy); Audrey Kobayashi (Geography), Julian Barling (Smith School of Business); Glenville Jones (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences); Kathleen Lahey (Law);John Smol (Biology).

Queen’s University has announced the latest recipients of the Distinguished University Professor designation, the university’s highest research-related honour.

Now in its second year, the Distinguished University Professor Program recognizes professors for exhibiting an outstanding and sustained research record, teaching excellence, and significant and lasting contributions to Queen’s, Canada, and the world.

“There is world-class research and teaching being conducted every day at Queen’s and this seems all the more imperative with the challenges we currently face with COVID-19,” says Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s. “Each recipient exemplifies excellence in their field and it is my great pleasure to designate these six accomplished faculty members as Distinguished University Professors.”

The 2020 Distinguished University Professors are:

  • David Bakhurst, Department of Philosophy
  • Julian Barling, Smith School of Business
  • Glenville Jones, Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences
  • Audrey Kobayashi, Department of Geography
  • Kathleen Lahey, Faculty of Law
  • John Smol, Department of Biology

The Distinguished University Professor Program was made official by the university’s Senate in 2017-18. Each year, the program’s advisory committee invites nominations from the campus community, reviews the submissions, and makes recommendations to the principal, who then determines the recipients.

“Assessing the submissions for this program provides an invaluable opportunity to see just how our faculty members are having an impact in the classroom and through their research,” adds Principal Deane.

Each recipient will soon add an honorific name to their title, to be selected from a list of Senate approved names.

Visit the Principal’s website to learn more about the Distinguished University Professors Program, its advisory committee, and selection of honorific names.

The inaugural list of recipients, announced last year, included nine faculty members.

Queen’s-KHSC team develop in-house COVID-19 test

Researchers from Queen’s and Kingston Health Sciences Centres have developed a test that provides results in just 24 hours.

A researcher analyzes a COVID-19 test
Queen’s University and Kingston Health Sciences Centres (KHSC) partnered with Public Health Ontario Laboratories and Hamilton Health Sciences Center to develop an in-house test for COVID-19 that can be completed in large volumes and provide results in 24 hours. (Photo by Matthew Manor / Kingston Health Sciences Centre)

Testing is key to containment and management of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Yet, the costs, availability, and current timelines for testing have challenged health-care systems worldwide.

Anticipating these complications, in the early days of the pandemic, a team of researchers from Queen’s University and Kingston Health Sciences Centres (KHSC) partnered with Public Health Ontario Laboratories and Hamilton Health Sciences Center to develop an in-house test that could be completed in large volumes by redeployed and retrained technologists and provide results in 24 hours. The test has since been licensed by the Ontario Ministry of Health.

“We wanted to be up and running with a test for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) as soon as possible because we knew other labs were having supply issues with commercial tests,” says Prameet Sheth, Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, and Director of Microbiology in the Division of Microbiology at KHSC. “We decided to create our own test so that shortages of reagent (a substance or mixture for use in chemical analysis) would not be a major hurdle in our testing capacity. The second consideration was that the cost of a lab-developed test is about a tenth of the commercial platforms.”

Testing for detection

While all tests for coronavirus have the same principle of detection, each targets a different part of the virus. For example, the test the team developed does not actually detect the virus itself, but it identifies genetic information of the virus.

How is this done? Nasal swab samples from tested individuals are analyzed for any presence of the coronavirus’s genetic material, using a technique known as a “polymerase chain reaction.”

The team explains that PCR is a method used in molecular biology that allows for a particular piece of DNA to be targeted and copied many, many times. Eventually, the genetic sequence is amplified so much that it can be detected by specialized laboratory equipment at KHSC. But if the COVID-19 sequence is not present in the sample, nothing would get duplicated, so the test would be negative.

Once samples are ready, it takes three to four hours to complete the process and results are reported out as soon as they are available. This has allowed not only more tests to be completed from a few per day to a capacity of 400 per day  in the Kingston region, but also for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health to inform tested patients of outcomes within two days.

The result is more tests and faster results at a fraction of the cost. The team’s testing technique has been shared with other laboratories across Ontario through a provincial diagnostic network, which has been set up so that Ontario could see a coordinated approach to COVID-19 testing across the province.

A networked approach

Established by Ontario Health, the network includes all Ontario laboratories undertaking COVID-19 testing to ensure all labs can meet capacity and testing requirements and work together to manage needs. The group meets seven days a week as a means of sharing laboratory data, problem solving, and idea generation. 

“Laboratories have never seen the volume of testing that has been pouring in as a result of the pandemic,” says Lewis Tomalty, Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and Service Chief, Clinical Microbiology at KHSC.  “Early on, a number of the large labs that would normally be the primary providers of such testing became overwhelmed and turnaround times started to suffer. The goal of the network is to ensure the ability to offload from labs that were at overcapacity to other labs that had the ability to take on more volume.”

This partnership means that all laboratories are able to provide COVID 19 results in reasonable timeframes, and immediately react and re-direct specimens if a laboratory goes down (e.g. equipment malfunction or supply limitations). 

The Queen’s and KHSC team will continue to monitor the virus and will be sure to adapt the test if the virus changes over time, which is something they do each year for influenza.

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