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Research Prominence

Opening the doors to astroparticle physics research

Visitor Centre for the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute unveiled in Stirling Hall.


The research being conducted by the newly-launched Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute is providing answers to some of the biggest questions about how the universe works.

And while many people may be interested in the ground-breaking work, it isn’t always the easiest to grasp.

That’s where the institute’s Visitor Centre can help.

Launched on Thursday in concert with the McDonald Institute, named in honour of Queen’s University’s first Nobel Laureate, Professor Emeritus Art McDonald, the Visitor Centre is located in Stirling Hall, the campus home of the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy.

“Education and outreach are very important aspects for the McDonald Institute moving forward. Through the Visitor Centre we can better understand the complex scientific problems and research being conducted by the McDonald Institute in the field of astroparticle physics,” says Barbara Crow, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science. “By making the ground-breaking research more accessible we can discover how scientists like Tony Noble, Scientific Director of the McDonald Institute, and his colleagues are working to shed light on a dark universe and discover answers to its many mysteries.”

The Visitor Centre, along with a new website, presents the ongoing research conducted by SNOLAB and the McDonald Institute, such as the discovery that neutrinos have mass and the search for dark matter, with the goal of engaging and connecting visitors to the questions and findings that are fundamental to the very properties of science and our understanding of the formation and evolution of the universe.

In addition to a series of panels highlighting research, facilities, and developments, the Visitor Centre features a virtual reality setup that will allow visitors to travel though space and experience a solar storm. The centre also offers an augmented reality sandbox that will teach guests about gravitational fields in an interactive and tactile manner.

On Thursday attendees of the opening ceremony, including a group of high school students, were the first to tour the Visitor Centre. It was also the first opportunity for the centre to see how visitors interact with the displays.

“The students really gravitated toward the interactive aspects and I think, to some degree, a lot of our interactive displays are also works in progress,” says Nathalie Ouellette, Communications, Education and Outreach Officer for the McDonald Institute. “Moving forward we hope to get more feedback as guests interact with the displays and see exactly how they want to interact with them and what kind of experience they are looking for.”

The Visitor Centre is open Monday to Friday, 9:30 am-4:30 pm. Admission is free.

  • Information panels at McDonald Institute Visitor Centre
    The Visitor Centre for the newly-launched Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute is filled with information panels as well as a number of interactive displays. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Ribbon cutting for McDonald Institute Visitor Centre
    Helping cut the ribbon to officially open the Visitor Centre were, from left: Barbara Crow, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science; Nathalie Ouellette, Communications, Education and Outreach Officer for the McDonald Institute; Tony Noble, Scientific Director of the McDonald Institute; and Benjamin Tam, a graduate student in the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Virtual Reality set for McDonald Institute Visitor Centre
    The Visitor Centre offers a virtual reality setup that allows users to travel though space and experience a solar storm. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Gravity box at McDonald Institute Visitor Centre
    One of the interactive displays at the Visitor Centre is an augmented reality sandbox that can teach guests about gravitational fields in an interactive and tactile manner. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

Exploring Research Data Management in Canada

Data Day offers Queen's community an opportunity to learn about a range of data-related issues and solutions.

The increasingly important role of Research Data Management (RDM) was the topic of discussion during the fifth annual Data Day at Queen’s on Wednesday, May 2.

[Jeff Moon, Data Day]
Jeff Moon, Director of Portage Network, spoke about the Research Data Management landscape nationally, during Data Day at Queen's. (Supplied Photo)

The keynote address was given by Jeff Moon, Director, Portage Network, who described the RDM landscape in Canada, focusing on journal and funding-agency requirements surrounding research data. Moon also reviewed the emerging Tri-Agency RDM Policy and ways that Portage has been proactively addressing each of the three pillars in this policy. 

“Information about the emerging Tri-Agency RDM Policy updates and informs researchers and administrators on this important and impending set of research-related requirements,” he says. “Information about Portage platforms and services will help researchers and administrators understand and implement effective RDM practices to support high impact research. Our goal is to move the yardstick forward in understanding the importance of good RDM at Queen’s.”

This topic fit well with the offerings of Queen’s University Library, which continues to collaborate and advance Research Data Management in Canada. 

“Data Day at Queen’s is an ideal opportunity for the Queen’s community to learn about a range of data-related issues and solutions,” Moon says. “The organizers have done a great job pulling together a fantastic agenda for the day.  As a long-time member of the Queen’s community, I am thrilled to be able to share some of what I have learned in my new role as Director of Portage. I always look forward to the conversations and sharing that Data Day seems to engender.”

The Portage Network is a national Research Data Management initiative designed to assist researchers, institutions, and other stakeholders through a library-based network of RDM experts and national online platforms for planning, preserving, and discovering research data. Portage was launched in 2015 by the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, and works within the library community to coordinate expertise, services, and technology in research data management, seeking to collaborate with other research data management stakeholders.

Through its experts and partner organizations, Portage delivers nationally-coordinated RDM services and infrastructure platforms that respond directly to researcher and institutional needs.  Examples include the DMP Assistant, an online, bilingual, data management planning tool, training resources, and FRDR, the Federated Research Data Repository. The strength of this federated model stems from its promotion and enabling of sharing – of data resources, expertise, and technology, locally, regionally, provincially, and nationally.

A lifetime achievement

Gregory Jerkiewicz receives title of Professor of Chemical Sciences for Life from president of Poland.

[Gregory Jerkiewicz]
Gregory Jerkiewicz (Chemistry), was conferred with the title of Professor of Chemical Sciences for Life by Andrzej Duda, President of Poland, during a ceremony in Warsaw on April 25. (Supplied Photo)

Gregory Jerkiewicz (Chemistry), an international-leading researcher in the fields of electrochemistry and electrocatalysis, was recently conferred with the title of Professor of Chemical Sciences for Life by Andrzej Duda, President of Poland.

Dr. Jerkiewicz was one of 52 academics to receive the award during a special ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw on April 25. He was one of only two recipients from outside of Poland.

For Dr. Jerkiewicz it was a special moment recognizing the groundbreaking work he has done over his career in developing new clean energy technologies.  

“It’s an incredible recognition for all the work I have done. It’s a culmination of many years of work,” he says, admitting he felt a bit emotional as he took part in the ceremony. “It’s very satisfying because you work on something for 25 years and it’s like putting pieces of a puzzle together and finally after so many years you see the big picture.”

Dr. Jerkiewicz’s research has led to advances in hydrogen electrochemistry and he is considered the world’s leading expert in platinum electrochemistry. More recently his lab has focused on nickel electrochemistry, and received a $4 million research grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) in 2016.

Originally from Poland, Dr. Jerkiewicz completed his undergraduate and master’s studies at Gdansk University of Technology. It was during this time that he co-founded and became a leader of the Independent Students’ Association, which supported the pro-democratic work of the Solidarity trade union that eventually toppled the communist regime in Poland. However, this work came at a cost. He was imprisoned by the communist government for six months and, fearing for his safety after being released, he moved to Canada in 1985. He remains a dual citizen of Poland and Canada.

After earning his PhD at the University of Ottawa in 1991 he taught at Université de Sherbrooke and then arrived at Queen’s in 2002.

This isn’t the first time Dr. Jerkiewicz has been by the Polish government.

In 2012 he was honoured by the Polish government for his student activism with a Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, an award equivalent to the Order of Canada.

While his latest honour recognizes the work throughout his career, Dr. Jerkiewicz considers himself a mid-career academic and plans on continuing his work for many more years.

A key component is his teaching and work with new researchers through his lab.

“I really like teaching because, very often, when I teach students come to me asking some fundamental questions and I realize ‘Oh, this is not explained in some first or second year textbook and if it is not explained it’s a challenge. But lacking knowledge or being asked about something that is not explained is an opportunity for researchers. Somebody did not explain it, I can do it.”

Visit the website of the Dr. Jerkiewicz Research Group to learn more.

Queen’s and partner institutions launch national research institute

The Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute will advance scientific research and discovery in astroparticle physics.

[logo: Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute]

Queen’s University is cementing its reputation as a world leader in astroparticle physics with the official launch of a new national research network dedicated to understanding some of the universe’s deepest mysteries.

The new Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research 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 in 2016 from the Government of Canada’s Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

[galaxy image]

“The launch of this new institute represents a major step forward for our efforts to create a world-leading astroparticle physics research network, building on an area of research expertise for the university and Canada” says Queen’s Principal Daniel Woolf. “We are also honoured today to be naming this new institute after one of Canada’s most accomplished and celebrated researchers, Nobel Laureate and Queen’s emeritus professor Dr. Arthur B. McDonald.”

Over the past year and a half, the institute has been building momentum, appointing a scientific director and recruiting 13 new faculty members (out of 15 designated positions) from around the world. In total, 100 people, including faculty, staff, and students across the country will be members of the institute, all working to advance its research and outreach goals.

“This new institute will bring together unique expertise from across Canada and leverages over $255 million of federal investment, with matching amounts from provincial partners, supporting astroparticle physics research over the last 20 years, including the leading experiments at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) and the SNOLAB,” says Tony Noble, Scientific Director of the McDonald Institute. “Although the dimensions of the particles we are studying are minute, the implications of these discoveries are monumental and fundamental to the very properties of science and our understanding of the formation and evolution of the universe.”

In addition to advancing research into areas such as the mysteries surrounding dark matter and neutrino science, the institute has a mandate for scientific outreach and to develop unique undergraduate and graduate student programing and opportunities.

  • [Art McDonald at the podium]
    Dr. Arthur B. McDonald. (Photo by Lars Hagberg)
  • [Nathan Brinklow offering the Thanksgiving address]
    Nathan Brinklow offering the Thanksgiving address. (Photo by Lars Hagberg)
  • [Dr. Daniel Woolf at the podium]
    Dr. Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Queen's. (Photo by Lars Hagberg)
  • [speakers on stage]
    Pictured (l-r): Sandra Crocker (Associate Vice Principal, Carleton University), Dr. John Fisher, Liz Fletcher, Dr. Art McDonald, Kate Young (Parliamentary Secretary for Science), Dr. Tony Noble, Dr. Marie-Cecile Piro (University of Alberta). (Photo by Lars Hagberg)
  • [John Burge performing his original composition "Oscillations," a piece dedicated to Arthur and Janet McDonald]
    John Burge performing his original composition "Oscillations," a piece dedicated to Arthur and Janet McDonald. (Photo by Lars Hagberg)
  • [speakers on stage]
    Pictured (l-r): Dr. John Fisher, Liz Fletcher, Dr. Art McDonald, Kate Young (Parliamentary Secretary for Science), Dr. Tony Noble, Dr. Marie-Cecile Piro (University of Alberta), Nathan Brinklow. (Photo by Lars Hagberg)

“The McDonald Institute’s extensive research community and availability of funding for undergraduate and graduate students means that students will be able to contribute to the astroparticle physics community and the larger physics community as a whole,” says Liz Fletcher, master’s student, McDonald Institute. “By fostering of an amazing research environment across all of the McDonald Institute partner institutions, there will be an increase in opportunities for students to get involved, especially at the undergrad level, from summer positions to thesis and independent study projects.”

"Although the dimensions of the particles we are studying are minute, the implications of these discoveries are monumental and fundamental to the very properties of science and our understanding of the formation and evolution of the universe."

Along with the official launch and naming, the McDonald Institute also unveiled a new Visitor Centre located in Stirling Hall at Queen’s along with a new website. The Visitor Centre will feature a virtual reality setup that will allow guests to travel though space and experience a solar storm. The centre will also have an augmented reality sandbox that will teach guests about gravitational fields in an interactive and tactile manner.

MI logoVisit the website:
Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute

“Centres like the McDonald Institute Visitor Centre can help us better understand the world and learn how scientists like Dr. McDonald and his colleagues are working to bring light to a dark universe and discover answers to its many mysteries,” says Dean Barbara Crow. “What is so great about this space is that it makes complex scientific problems and research accessible and understandable for community members, teachers, and students of all ages who are interested in learning more about how the universe works.”

VIDEO: Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute

"With SNOLAB, Canada has become an international centre for the experimental elements of astroparticle physics. Our new Institute adds to that strong international capability through the development of a strong personnel component within Canada – it has created a new generation of researchers in this field.

Additionally, the Institute creates an intellectual centre for interaction between theorists and experimentalists on topics at the cutting edge of particle astrophysics. This is already resulting in a number of experiments at the forefront of topics that will help us to understand the world around us and how it has evolved.

With the Institute, I am convinced that this will continue and keep Canada and Queen’s as a leader in this area of research."

Dr. Arthur B. McDonald
[Dr. Art McDonald]
Dr. Arthur B. McDonald

VIDEO: May 8 Launch Event for the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute

Healthy competition at Science Rendezvous

Queen’s and Heart and Stroke promote heart health through fun, family-friendly games.

On May 12, Queen’s University researcher Kyra Pyke and the Heart and Stroke Foundation will join forces at Science Rendezvous for a heart health exhibit jam-packed with fun, educational games and activities for the whole family.

This year’s displays will mark the fifth year of an ongoing partnership between the organizations designed to promote cardiovascular health research and awareness.

Queen's and Heart and Stroke activities from Science Rendezvous 2017
Queen's University and the Heart and Stroke Foundation continue to offer educational games and activities focused on heart health at Science Rendezvous. (Supplied Photo)

“Learning about cardiovascular health and establishing heart-healthy habits as early as possible is important,” says Dr. Pyke, Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Physiology in the Queen’s School of Kinesiology and Health Studies. “Our joint display with the Heart and Stroke Foundation at Science Rendezvous features games designed to help both children and adults become better acquainted with how their cardiovascular system works, and to engage them with some of the interesting activities that we use to challenge the cardiovascular system in our research.”

One of the games, Cardio Hopscotch, involves a giant schematic of the cardiovascular system mapped out on the floor and divided into its parts – including the heart, lungs, veins and arteries. Children will be able to hop from one element to the next to learn how blood flows through the human body, and will be asked to hop faster or slower to reflect how quickly the blood flows at different levels of rest or activity. It will also include model 'oxygen molecules' that will have to be transported to various points as kids progress through the course.

“Physically moving around a giant map of the circulatory system really helps people visualize how their cardiovascular system and respiratory system move oxygen and other nutrients to the places in the body that need them,” says Dr. Pyke. “Cardio Hopscotch really drives the point home in two ways, because it actually gets the heart pumping while you learn.”

Another family-friendly activity will include a friendly ‘grip strength’ contest, in which participants will squeeze an automated handgrip device used by Dr. Pyke and her colleagues to investigate the effects of handgrip exercise training, which has been shown to lower blood pressure. With each squeeze, the device will display a number indicating the force participants were able to apply, and that number will then be recorded on a scoreboard throughout the day. By the time Science Rendezvous comes to a close, a winner will be declared who will leave with all the bragging rights.

In addition to an array of games, the exhibit will also feature a variety of resources to help inform and inspire families to make heart-healthy living a top priority in their lives.

“We’re very excited to partner with Dr. Pyke to promote the amazing work she and her colleagues in the cardiovascular field are doing to improve the lives of Canadians,” says Cory Watkins, Area Manager of the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Kingston. “This year, the Heart and Stroke Foundation has been very focused on our Ms.Understood campaign to promote women’s heart health, so it’s very fitting that our Science Rendezvous appearance falls the day before Mother’s Day – a day when families work extra hard to recognize and cherish the most important women in their lives.”

Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death for women in Canada, killing five times as many women than breast cancer. Sadly, early heart attack signs are missed in 78 per cent of women, and yet currently two-thirds of heart disease clinical research focuses on men.

“A key focus of my current research is addressing gaps in our understanding of cardiovascular function in women,” says Dr. Pyke. “It is a great pleasure to be partnering with the Heart and Stroke Foundation to promote cardiovascular health with the Kingston community at Science Rendezvous.”

Learn more about Science Rendezvous, Dr. Pyke’s research, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Ms.Understood initiative.

Four Queen’s faculty named Canada Research Chairs

The Canada Research Chairs program advances the country’s position as a leader in discovery and innovation.

Every year, the Government of Canada invests approximately $265 million through the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) Program to attract and retain some of the world’s foremost academic talent. On May 3, 2018, four Queen’s researchers were appointed to Tier 1 and Tier 2 CRC roles – two of whom have been newly selected and two who were renewed for another term.

“The Canada Research Chairs Program continues to nurture exciting research being conducted at institutions across the country,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “Here at Queen’s we are very proud to have not only two of our current Chairs renewed to their roles, but to also have two faculty members appointed as brand new chair holders. Their leadership within their respective academic disciplines represents the research excellence our university strives to achieve.”

Tier 1 Chairs are recognized by their peers as world leaders in their respective fields, while Tier 2 Chairs are recognized as emerging leaders in their research areas. Queen’s will receive $200,000 per year over seven years for each Tier 1 Chair and $100,000 per year over five years for each Tier 2 Chair. Currently, Queen’s is home to over 40 Canada Research Chairs.

Developed in 2000, the CRC program promotes research excellence in engineering, natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

Queen’s new and renewed CRCs are:

Guojun Liu (Chemistry) has been renewed at the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Materials Science. Dr. Liu’s research is focused on the development of nanostructured polymer materials for various applications, including the refinement of filters that may be able to separate water from organic solvents.


Zongchao Jia (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) has been renewed as the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Structural Biology. Dr. Jia and his team are working to understand and affect the function of several atypical protein enzymes in both bacteria and humans with the aim of developing antibiotic and therapeutic applications.


Gabor Fichtinger (Computing) has been newly appointed as the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Computer Integrated Surgery. Dr. Fichtinger’s research program will concentrate on novel technologies for minimally invasive medical interventions that use computational imaging, spacial navigation, and robotics to transcend human limitations, and ultimately improve accuracy and precision.


Kyla S. Tienhaara (Australian National University) has been newly appointed as the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Economy and Environment. Dr. Tienhaara is joining Queen’s from the Australian National University, and will be analyzing the merits of ‘Green Keynesianism’ – an economic model in which governments take on more active and regulatory roles to bolster both economic growth and the adoption of climate change mitigating measures.


Visit the Canada Research Chair Program website for more information.

Queen’s researchers to discuss ways they give VOICE to their research

The fifth annual Queen's University Data Day features presentations and panels on national initiatives and local services for managing, linking, and promoting research data.

Queen's researchers will explore the importance of providing a VOICE – Value, Openness, Inclusivity, Collaborative Platforms, Engaged Researchers – to their work during Data Day.

The fifth annual event at Queen’s will be held on Wednesday, May 2, from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm in the Douglas Library 1966 Reading Room. The conference-style program features presentations and panels on national initiatives and local services for managing, linking and promoting research data.

The Queen’s Researcher Experience Panel highlights research projects from a variety of disciplines that generate research data. This panel is an opportunity for researchers to share some of the successes and challenges associated with managing research data.

Giving research a VOICE
Value The university’s evaluation of research impact includes a wide range of measures, including not only bibliometric analytics but also assessments appropriately based in qualitative analysis.
Openness The results of research and scholarship should be disseminated as widely as possible for the advancement of research and the benefit of society.
Inclusivity All disciplines, areas of study and human differences are supported, and it is recognized that they have unique and particular needs.
Collaborative Platforms The university supports the development and use of distributed, reputable platforms for research dissemination and preservation that reduce cost barriers and are guided by the FAIR data principles – that data must be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable.
Engaged Researchers The university supports researchers in their engagement in the research enterprise, including regaining control of the scholarly communication ecosystem (e.g. by intentionally licensing their publications and other research results so that they retain their ownership while sharing them openly).

During this panel, Danielle Beaulne (Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering) of the Geophysics & Geodesy Lab, will take a closer look at the scalability of spatiotemporal data in geological sciences and engineering, specifically promoting the accessibility of geoscientific data and advancing the integration of big data into the geological sciences. Analyzing  data from hand samples, gravity, magnetometry, seismic, SAR, optical, LiDAR, laser imaging and genetic data collected from the lab, field surveys, UAV’s, airplanes and satellites requires an equivalently diverse set of software and services including the geophysics high performance computing lab and the cluster hosted by Queen’s Center for Advanced Computing.

Andrew Coombs, a doctoral student in the Faculty of Education and a member of the Assessment & Evaluation Group, will speak to his doctoral research that examines how and why classroom teachers’ assessment practices vary. These assessment practices, such as tests, observations, presentations, and exams, are important as they generate classroom-level data that teachers use to make decisions about what to teach and next steps for their students’ learning. As Andrew’s research spans the globe, he will share some of his recent experiences that have highlighted both the promise and peril of global data collection.

As the director at the Strathy Language Unit, Anastasia Riehl pursues and supports projects that explore change and variation in Canadian English using text corpora. She will introduce two different types of corpus projects based at the Strathy Language Unit: the Strathy Corpus of Canadian English and the Wolfe Island English Corpus.

Stephen W. Thomas (Smith School of Business) will share insights on Advanced Analytics at SCENE, a loyalty program for movie/entertainment lovers that collects a massive volume of member data. Using member demographics and member transactions data, his research aims to increase member engagement and recruit new members by uncovering patterns of behaviour in the data, and making predictions about future member behaviour while making use of the Centre for Advanced Computing (CAC) for data hosting and computational power for this research.

Data Day provides a forum for researchers to connect and discuss their data strategies in their research, and learn more about what supports and services Queen’s has to offer.

“Data Day allows us to highlight the ways the library, University Research Services (URS), and Information Technology Services (ITS) have partnered to raise awareness and advance the services Queen’s offers to researchers to manage their data and make it accessible and reusable by the wider research community for years to come,” says Heather McMullen, Associate University Librarian, Queen's University Library.

Full program details and registration are available on the library website. A light lunch will be provided.

Data Day is hosted by: Queen's University Library, Office of Vice-Principal (Research), Centre for Advanced Computing, Information Technology Services (ITS).

Queen’s University Research Development Day (hosted by URS) will be held the day after Data Day in the same location. For more information, see the URS website.

Ahmed Hassan receives E.W.R. Steacie award

Professor in the School of Computing is one of only 10 Queen's faculty members to be honoured with this prestigious fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

[Ahmed Hassan with Minister Kirsty Duncan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau]
Ahmed Hassan (School of Computing), back row centre, stands between Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Kirsty Duncan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with other recipients of the 2018 E.W.R Steacie Memorial Fellowship, following a meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy the Prime Minister's Office/Adam Scotti)

Canadian leader in software engineering, Queen’s University professor Ahmed Hassan was honored with the 2018 E.W.R Steacie Memorial Fellowship. He is only the 10th Queen’s faculty member to receive this prestigious honour, since the award’s creation in 1965.

The award is presented annually to up to six researchers nationwide by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to enhance the career development of outstanding faculty members who have earned a strong international reputation for their original research. Fellows receive a research grant of $250,000 over two years and are relieved of teaching and administrative duties during this period.

The Gazette recently interviewed Dr. Hassan, who holds the NSERC/BlackBerry Industrial Research Chair in Software Engineering and the Canada Research Chair in Software Analytics at the School of Computing, about this prestigious research award.

What does the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship mean to you and your research?

Before I talk about what it means, let me briefly tell you about what I do. My research uses machine learning and data analytics to dig into the rich, yet rarely explored, stores of information associated with software systems. We analyze not only the computer code of these systems, but every piece of information gathered during their development and operation: design notes, prior code changes, user reviews, debugging histories, online discussions, and logs. By mining through these rich yet rarely-leveraged information sources, we can intelligently guide and support the evolution of these complex systems. For example, we can figure out that a system is not performing as expected even though no one ever documented the expected behaviour, or truly knows it (such is the case for most complex large-scale systems nowadays). We can also foretell future troubles long before they impact users. This line of work is called Mining Software Repositories (MSR), a field of research that I co-founded around 15 years ago.

[Ahmed Hassan]
Ahmed Hassan always tells his students to never underestimate their ability to change the world. (Photo courtesy NSERC)

The Steacie Fellowship is a huge honour and an incredible acknowledgment of not only my team’s work but also of the whole MSR field. Each year NSERC awards six Steacie Fellowships across all science and engineering fields nationwide. In the past 50-plus years, only 13 computing researchers ever received this great honour. Hence, the fellowship is a great recognition of the impact of our work and the importance of the MSR field on software systems and society in general. The award is also a huge vote of confidence for other Canadian researchers in the MSR field, given Canada’s commanding position in this field.

I am very grateful for the wonderful support from everyone at the School of Computing and many others throughout Queen’s. It feels great to have Queen’s at the podium.

As one of the top software engineering researchers in Canada, what is your most important contribution so far and what was its impact?

Research results in any engineering discipline are best judged by their impact on practice, a good amount of my team’s innovations are already adopted in practice and are in use on a daily basis. However, over the years I have come to the realization that people are really what shapes a field more than our greatest ideas. I am very grateful to the continuous support and hard work of my team.  

The work I am most proud of is growing and nurturing a very vibrant and top-notch team of international leaders. Over the years, I strived to ensure the diversity of my team, the Software Analysis and Intelligence Lab (SAIL), with members coming from all over the world – Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, just to name a few. It is truly an amazing experience seeing such diverse backgrounds working together and exceling on the world stage.

Today, many of them are leaders at very successful companies in Canada, including IBM, BlackBerry, and Amazon. Being a professor, myself, I am particularly proud of the ones who became professors. Seventeen of my prior lab members are now tenured or tenure-track professors at research-intensive universities on every continent except South America. To put things in perspective, over the past five years, half of all new software engineering faculty positions in Canada (eight out of 16) and Australia (three out of six) are from SAIL at Queen’s. These researchers continue to have a strong and demonstrable impact on software research and practice worldwide through their own trainees and by serving important leadership roles in some of computing’s top conferences and journals.

What goals are you setting for yourself in regards to research?

My goals remain the same – doing top research with a strong and measurable impact on practice. That said, the Steacie Fellowship gives me the freedom to think of the next big step and to take much higher risks than I would usually take so we can ensure that Canada maintains its leadership in software engineering research and practice worldwide.

What advice do you have for students starting their careers in computer science?

Never underestimate your ability to change the world. Computing is a young and very welcoming field. Your chances of meeting and interacting with the researchers from your textbooks are high, and these people are friendly, supportive, and quite often willing to take great chances and risks on you. I co-founded MSR as a PhD student and I became Canada’s youngest Industrial Research Chair with support from NSERC and BlackBerry, thanks to people who are willing to take big risks on a younger me.

Anyone can produce world-leading research as long as they are committed and are not afraid to tackle the hard problems. Canada is a software engineering powerhouse and a leader in computing. We are shaping and enabling many of today’s innovations (from deep learning to mobile email). There are many amazing opportunities and tons of hard problems waiting for you, so come join us as we shape the future of our world.

Queen’s professor honoured for three pillars of academia

John Smol earns award for his passion for teaching and dedication to his students.

Queen’s University professor John Smol has earned some of the highest research honours in Canada and internationally, but the Lee Lorch Award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) might be one of the most significant based on what it represents to him – acknowledgment of his work as a teacher and a mentor to students, as well as the public-at-large.

The CAUT reserves the annual Lee Lorch Award for members whose teaching, research, and service have contributed significantly to the lives of students, to their institution, to their field of study, and to the community.

“Frankly, it feels odd to receive a reward for doing something that I love,” says Dr. Smol, a professor in the Department of Biology and the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change. “I have always believed that it is a privilege to be a professor. I love universities because they are keepers and interpreters of our past collective knowledge. I love universities because they are also the place where we create new knowledge; knowledge that can be used to make our lives better.”

Dr. Smol’s research focuses on Arctic and alpine ecosystems, water pollution, and climate change and he is the founder and co-director of the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory (PEARL) based at Queen’s.

Winning the Lee Lorch award brings Dr. Smol’s teaching and mentoring award total to 13 – something he’s incredibly proud of.

“A large part of our jobs as professors is to take our knowledge creation and communicate the products of that knowledge,” he says. “Academic institutions remind me about how important it is for our society to have well-informed, articulate, socially active, and especially thoughtful graduates to meet the challenges ahead. This is partly what we do – or at least try to do – in universities.  Namely, mentoring graduates who are ready to tackle the problems that the world has created.”

Brian Cumming, Head of the Department of Biology and former student of Dr. Smol, nominated him for the award.

“The Department of Biology is extremely proud that Dr. Smol will be the recipient of the 2018 CAUT Lee Lorch Award,” says Dr. Cumming. “It recognizes his extraordinary contributions to all aspects of being a professor including: being a leading researcher; teacher and communicator; and his administrative responsibilities. He is especially engaged in explaining how science works, and the contributions that science can make to public policy and decision making, and why we all need to communicate the significance of our findings.”

Dr. Smol received his award on Saturday, April 18 in Ottawa.

Bringing researchers together

Inaugural Research Development Day to help faculty build research programs and partnerships.

While all disciplines have unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to research, there are many that faculty face across the board, particularly in developing their research programs.

University Research Services (URS) and the Office of Partnerships and Innovation are collaborating to address these shared challenges. The inaugural Research Development Day on Thursday, May 3 will bring faculty members of all disciplines together for a day of panel presentations and open discussion. The goal of the day is to assist all researchers in strategizing their funding goals and building their research programs.

Faculty listening to panelists at Faculy Writing Retreat at the Donald Gordon Centre.
Queen's faculty listen to a panel discussion at the December 2016 Faculty Writing Retreat, hosted by the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research) at the Donald Gordon Centre.

“Events like Research Development Day help foster the supportive research community here at Queen’s,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “The event will bring together researchers from across disciplines to discuss challenges facing the research community as well as promote collaborations with non-academic partners and discuss the importance of research impact outside of academia.”

This event will feature four panel presentations that build upon other forms of support that URS provides for applications to specific funding agencies throughout the year. The panel presentations intend to help develop faculty members’ research programs, and each panel will be followed by an open discussion, allowing researchers to connect with one another on topics brought up by the panelists.

Another unique aspect of this event is its focus on partnerships. With many funding agencies looking toward partnerships as a way to boost the impact of research, this event has two panel presentations focusing on helping researchers find and support partners. In order to address the different types of potential partnerships, one session will focus on private sector partners, and the other will focus on non-private sector partners.

The panel presentations are titled: “A Research Plan for Funding Success,” “Dynamic Partnerships with Government and Non-Government Organizations,” “Dynamic Partnerships with Industry,” and “Tell Me Why This Matters - Enhancing Research Impact Through Effective Knowledge Translation.” Speakers are faculty from diverse disciplines and career stages who have offered to share their insight and experiences in developing a successful research program.

The event will take place from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm in the 1966 Reading Room, Douglas Library. A light lunch will be provided.

Please visit the Research Development Day website to register and find out more information about the event.


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