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Science Rendezvous receives funding boost

Dr. Lynda Colgan.

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

Lynda Colgan thinks about her grant money in terms of popsicle sticks, straws and other supplies for her experiments at Science Rendezvous.

That’s what her $20,000 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) PromoScience award went to fund this year and will fund at next year’s event.

“It’s a real privilege and honour to win the NSERC PromoScience grant,” says Dr. Colgan, Science Rendezvous’ lead organizer. “Receiving these funds is a wonderful way to know that we can continue to do new and innovative things at Science Rendezvous.”

Science Rendezvous 2014, held this past May, saw 3,700 children and their parents visit the Rogers K-Rock Centre where students from the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and the Faculty of Education were hosting experiment stations to get children excited about science, technology and engineering.

Their station, the “Widget Workshop” –combined small mechanical devices created by engineering students with lesson plans created by education students – was the station that won Dr. Colgan’s team the grant money.

“Widgets are simple objects that illustrate or illuminate an important science, engineering or technology concept that children could build at Science Rendezvous and bring home with them to play and continue to experiment with,” says Dr. Colgan.

Teams of first-year engineers and teacher candidates developed these widgets and tested them with children at the Boys and Girls Club in Kingston. The widgets, such as hovercrafts made from balloons, CDs and plastic bottle tops, were then taken home by the children.

“The best part was seeing the kids explain to their parents what they had made,” says Dr. Colgan. “Having kids get excited talking about science is the best I could have hoped for.”

More information on the NSERC PromoScience program can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Policy Studies attracts Ontario's chief economist

By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer

Ontario’s chief economist Patrick Deutscher is set to join Queen’s School of Policy Studies this fall as the Ontario Public Service (OPS) Amethyst Fellow.

Patrick Deutscher will share his public policy and economics expertise with Queen's School of Policy Studies faculty and students beginning this fall.

“Dr. Deutscher brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the position that will make him an invaluable resource for faculty and students,” says Kim Nossal, Director, Queen’s School of Policy Studies. “His linkages to economic and policy networks are a tremendous asset that will support the school’s engagement with external professional public policy communities.”

Dr. Deutscher has served in his current role since 2006. He is also the assistant deputy minister in the Office of Economic Policy at the Ministry of Finance. He is responsible for industrial and finance policy, labour and demographic analysis, and macroeconomic and revenue forecasting and analysis.

"Ontario faces big economic and social challenges. There are also tremendous opportunities. I am looking forward to working with students who will be tackling these challenges and helping us seize these opportunities in their future careers," Dr. Deutscher says.

During his more than 30-year career at the federal and provincial levels, Dr. Deutscher has developed considerable expertise in the fields of economics and public policy. He holds an MA in economics from York University and a PhD in economics from the University of Toronto. He has taught macroeconomics at the university level and authored the first full study of R.G. Hawtrey, an influential figure in the development of macroeconomics in the 20th century.

The OPS Amethyst Fellowship, established in 2003, provides support for a senior OPS official to spend up to one year at Queen's School of Policy Studies. During that time, the Amethyst Fellow works with future policy leaders and raises the profile of the OPS as a centre of public policy excellence. The Amethyst Fellow teaches a course, participates as a guest speaker, and helps organize the annual Queen’s Master of Public Administration Capital Briefings program in Toronto, among other activities.

Dr. Deutscher will take over from current OPS Amethyst Fellow Nancy Austin in September.
 

Power walking

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Imagine having the ability to charge your cellphone while hiking in the far reaches of Ontario. Queen’s researcher Qingguo Li (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) and PhD student Michael Shepertycky have created a portable device that can be used anywhere and at any time to produce power on the go. 

Bill Ostrom, of Ostrom Outdoors in Thunder Bay, has created a new company around the device called Go Kin Packs.  Mr. Ostrom has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund further product development efforts to bring the device to market.

Michael Shepertycky demonstrates the Go Kin.

“I believe this technology provides a better way to power portable devices, which will create a social and environment impact,” says Dr. Li. “From the application point of view, I’m expecting the technology could quickly get to marketplace to provide portable power to those who need it.”

The device fits in the GO KIN backpack or fanny pack and two cords extend from the bottom of the pack and attach to the user’s ankles. The walking motion generates energy that is stored in the battery pack located in the backpack or fanny pack.

A brisk five-minute walk produces about 25 minutes of cellphone talk time. The Go Kin pack has two USB ports and can also power other electronic devices such as tablets and GPS devices. The device currently weighs just 2.6 pounds.  With additional product development effort, the device could weigh less than a pound.

Dr. Li believes recreation enthusiasts and the military will have a strong interest in the Go Kin packs. He adds the packs could be useful in areas where traditional power sources are unavailable, such as developing countries and areas affected by natural disasters.

Ramzi Asfour, Commercial Development Manager at PARTEQ Innovations, connected with Mr. Ostrom who agreed to license the technology from Queen’s and develop it into a commercial product.   

“Bill saw this as a unique opportunity and was enthusiastic about it right away,” says Mr. Asfour. “In discussing ways to fund the project, we suggested crowdfunding as an option. In addition to our logistical support, Bill has been working with the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre to get the campaign up and running.  His goal is $30,000 to help pay for further product development.” 

For information visit the Go Kin Kickstarter page.

Building materials may impact Arctic tundra

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Virginia Walker (Biology) and her research team have revealed how common additives in building materials (nanoparticles) could possibly disrupt populations of microorganisms found in Arctic soils.

These commonly used building materials include paint that’s resistant to mold and mildew, insulating materials, longer lasting concrete and windows that reduce heat loss. The addition of these nanoparticles to the soil can affect seasonal change in fungi and bacteria.

Virginia Walker removes soil samples from the Arctic tundra.

“Through this research we have seen that four different measures of soil analysis point to the same result: the addition of nanosilver interferes with normal seasonal change in the Arctic tundra,” says Dr. Walker.

Dr. Walker travelled to the Tundra Research Station in Daring Lake, Northwest Territories with Queen’s researcher Paul Grogan to collect soil samples for the research. Nanoparticles were then added to the soils in her Queen’s lab and the temperature was altered over a period of three months in order to mimic a change in seasons from winter (-20 C) to summer (15 C) in the Arctic.

The contribution of research and development expertise from the biological instrument company Qubit Systems, located in Kingston, allowed the monitoring of soil respiration during these temperature shifts.

Once the summer conditions were over, the researchers examined the biochemical properties of the organisms, including DNA sequences. What the researchers found was significant.

Bacteria were generally more susceptible than fungi to the engineered nanoparticles, and the population of some beneficial plant-associating bacteria suffered. In contrast, some fungi were quite resistant to

Virgina Walker

nanosilver, including those known for their antioxidant properties. Such information can help the scientific community understand how nanoparticles impact living organisms.

“Having visited the Arctic, I knew the vast, stark beauty of the landscape and it became important to try to protect it,” says Dr. Walker. “We already know that traces of flame retardants have found their way to the Arctic. This research is critical to the Arctic ecosystem.”

Joining Dr. Walker on the research team were Niraj Kumar (Queen’s), Vishal Shah (Dowling College) and Gerry Palmer (Qubit Systems).

These findings were published in the most recent issue of PLOS One.

Public policy prof to lead national group

Kathy Brock, a professor in the School of Policy Studies and the Department of Political Studies, was recently elected the first female president of the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration (CAPPA), the leading national organization representing the schools of public administration, policy and management across Canada and academics engaged in research and teaching on all facets of government.

In addition to her CAPPA commitments, Dr. Brock has also been working on her own research and commenting in the media about the recent provincial election. She took some time out from her busy schedule to discuss her appointment and the importance of public policy research with Senior Communications Officer Mark Kerr.

MK: Why did you want to serve as president of CAPPA?

Kathy Brock was interested in serving as president of the Canadian Association of Progams in Public Administration because the organization has evolved in recent years and become more involved in reaching out to all of the public policy schools in Canada.

KB: A number of public administration departments and schools have come online in the past few years. It’s a changing field. I was interested in the position because CAPPA has become a much more dynamic organization in the last five years and more involved in reaching out to all of the public policy schools across Canada.

CAPPA is looking at developing an accreditation process for schools, and I really believe in that. I think if we have an accreditation process, we will be more consistent with international standards. Accreditation increases both the acceptance of our research and work within government. It also says to the public policy and public administration community that our students are going to be strong whether they get placed at the national, provincial, Aboriginal level or internationally.

And it’s a great opportunity for the Queen’s School of Policy Studies. We are seen to be a leader in the field and this is taking that leadership very responsibly and working with others in a more collective way. Plus, the researchers, teachers and thinkers I am working with are excellent. They are a lot of fun to work with.

MK: What do you want to accomplish as president?

KB: Accreditation, for sure, as well as working with others to develop a number of national courses that all schools could implement. Those courses would ensure Canadian students have core competencies.
More generally, I would like to focus on the promotion of academic research in the public sector. I think we can harness the schools to do that. I am involved in a national survey and one of the things we have been seeing is that governments are not as inclined to turn to university researchers as they were in the past. They are more likely to go to the private sector – consulting firms, NGOs and non-profits.

MK: Why has there been a shift away from the use of academic research in the public sector?

KB: Honestly, I think it’s because we don’t do the translation of research well. When consultants or non-profits go in, they put research in a very practical context. Often they don’t do the theoretical and conceptual research as well as the academic community does, but they know how to present their results much more effectively and target it to the audience.

Governments are talking about evidence-based research all the time, and that’s one of the reasons we have to be a player in the field. Academic communities are where you get balanced, evidence-based research that can meet those needs.

The interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

Design team competes on 'Mars'

By Andrew Stokes, Communications Officer

A group of Queen’s students got to experience Mars last week without leaving Earth.

After working for a year to build a functioning space rover, the Queen’s Space Engineering Team (QSET) flew to the Mars Desert Research Station in Hanksville, Utah, to pit their rover robot against opponents from around the globe.

QSET competed in four separate events against 22 teams during the University Rover Challenge. Facing stiff competition from veteran groups, the Queen’s team placed 13th.

“As a first year team we feel we did really well,” says Emily Wong (Sc’14), captain of QSET. “A lot of the teams have been improving their designs for many years, so we’re really happy about our results.”

The team faced challenges well before the competition started, as flight delays and overbookings left the students stranded in an airport and arriving to the competition just in time to compete. Their first task of traversing the desert terrain didn’t go as well as expected, but the team excelled in round two. An admitted mixture of skill and luck had their rover exceed expectations during a mock equipment servicing mission. They pushed their rover too hard in the third challenge, though, and repairs didn’t last for the final task of assisting a stranded astronaut.

Invigorated by the competition, the team is already making plans for next year. “There’s a lot of talk about going back,” says Ms. Wong. “You want something to build off of for your designs, so we have a lot of hope for progress.”

Adam Hall (Sc’14), Vice-President of Operations, QSET, appreciates the learning opportunity provided by the engineering team.

“Designing robots like we do is a great chance to supplement what’s taught in the classroom. You can follow the textbook word for word to build your power system, but it won’t teach you what brand of wiring to use, or what to do when something suddenly catches fire,” he says.

The student leaders were both happy and proud of their team, who spent the weekend running on a tight schedule with little sleep. “Everyone did great out there,” says Mr. Hall. “The team really came together out in the desert.”

QSET is partially funded by the Alma Mater Society and the Shell Experiential Learning Fund.

Kingston lauded as 'intelligent community'

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Nominated alongside six other world-leading communities, Kingston had a strong showing at the recent Intelligent Community Forum held in New York City. After placing in the top seven out of over 400 applicants, the Limestone City competed for the title of Intelligent Community of the Year against Columbus, Ohio, Arlington County, Virginia, Hsinchu City, Taiwan, New Taipei City, Taiwan, Toronto and Winnipeg.

Innovation drivers such as the High Performance Computing Virtual Laboratory, Innovation Park at Queen’s, GreenCentre Canada and the leadership of the city in launching Sustainable Kingston were all featured in the application.

“Queen’s and Kingston both benefit tremendously from one another, and that relationship is reflected in the Intelligent Community application,” says Principal Daniel Woolf. “To see Kingston do so well and be recognized on the world stage is extremely gratifying for everyone involved.”

Nominated communities were judged according to their potential in the broadband economy, considering categories such as digital inclusion, knowledge workforce and innovation. This year’s theme, Community as Canvas, placed special focus on the communities’ cultural output.

The city was also cited for its high number of green- and clean-tech businesses, several of which have developed from Queen’s research. The organization also recognized Kingston’s reliable Internet infrastructure and strong local culture.

“I’m very pleased Kingston made it to the Top seven out of more than 400 applicants,” says Kingston Mayor Mark Gerretsen. “Making it this far in the competition speaks volumes about quality of life in the city. Our commitment to technology also makes us an attractive place to do business.”

Although Kingston didn’t finish in the top spot – that honour went to Toronto – the experience provided a valuable opportunity to showcase Queen’s and Kingston to the world.

“The summit was a great opportunity to network and share ideas with the other nominees as well as past winners,” says Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research), who was in New York City representing Queen's and also participating in a panel on brain drain. “We connected to people with excellent global perspectives on innovation and Kingston and Queen’s will be able to benefit from these success stories. Placing in the top seven was a positive experience for Queen’s – and for Kingston.”

The title is awarded by the Intelligent Community Forum, a New York-based think tank that studies the economic and social development of modern communities. 

New tuberculosis test goes more than skin deep

A new blood test for tuberculosis could mean less unnecessary treatment for inmates in correctional facilities. Credit: University Communications. 

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

A new screening process for tuberculosis (TB) infections in Canadian prisons could mean that more than 50 per cent of those screened won’t undergo unnecessary treatment due to false positives.

According to research by Wendy Wobeser and medical resident Ilan Schwartz, a test for TB using interferon-gamma release assays (IGRA) will detect a pre-existing TB infection, or latent TB, that might not present itself for many years, or until the body becomes weakened by another source.

“It’s fairly uncommon that latent TB will reactivate – only about a 10 per cent chance,” says Dr. Wobeser, the study’s lead author and an infectious diseases expert at Queen’s. “That said, given the crowding in corrections facilities, the mass exposure of inmates to TB could be disastrous.”

The IGRA test was developed in the last 10-15 years and diagnoses a latent TB infection. The body’s immune system is provoked with a small amount of protein from the TB virus and if the body has previously been infected then a reaction will occur and the patient’s blood will test positive for TB.

The pre-existing tuberculosis skin test (TST) for TB has been used for over 100 years but comes with two main limitations.

·   The current test requires two visits to determine the results: one to perform the test and then another visit a couple of days later to read the results. ·   Depending on the patient’s exposure to other mycobacteria or the BCG vaccine, the current TB test can give many false positives.

The study group included representation from Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Public Health Ontario (PHO), Correctional Services Canada (CSC) and the local public health agency. Inmates were tested at a Canadian intake institution before moving on to different corrections facilities. Ninety-six inmates tested positive for TB via the TST test. Only 31 of these inmates were confirmed as true latent TB infection when using the IGRA test.

Ilan Schwartz and research collaborator Paxton Bach beside their tuberculosis research poster. 

“What I found surprising was just how much discordance there was between the TST and IGRA tests,” says Dr. Schwartz, who was a medical resident at Queen’s when he started this research. “Historically, all of those who tested TB-positive by the TST test would have been subjected to 12 months of drug treatments that can have considerable side effects.”

IGRA tests can’t prove that latent TB infections will progress into active TB until the patient begins to show symptoms. Better tools to predict who will go on to develop active (and potentially infectious) TB are being actively pursued.

"It's such a slow disease progression that it's hard for us to say with certainty who will actually go on to develop TB," says Dr. Wobeser. "I hope that this test will eventually be used in corrections and is able to reduce people who might otherwise be treated unnecessarily for latent TB."

Physicist sifts through sandy shrapnel

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Once the site of the Second World War’s bloodiest battles, the beaches of Normandy are now a mecca of sunbathing and swimming. Lurking in the sand, though, is a time capsule of those battles.

Kevin Robbie (Physics) is examining the shrapnel-containing sand on the Normandy beaches by using microscopic imaging to take photographs that are both scientific and artistic. He is working with professional photographer Donald Weber, in a project that combines landscape photography of the beaches with Dr. Robbie’s microscopic photographs of the sand.

Optical microscope image of several pieces of steel shrapnel, showing rust (orange), and salt (white) on the surface.

“Several aspects inspired me to work on this project: the historical importance of the D-Day invasion as a geopolitical event, the artistic juxtaposition of the peaceful appearance of the beaches in the landscape photography with the rough and violent-seeming appearance of the microscopic photographs of the shrapnel grains in the sand,” says Dr. Robbie.

“The shrapnel and sand provides an environmental commentary about the inconspicuous evidence that man-made products of war will remain in these sands for centuries, and the remarkable fact that solidified bubbles of molten iron form nearly-identical spherical particles in the explosions of both artillery shells and meteorites.”

Kevin Robbie

Among the ordinary grains of sand, Dr. Robbie found rounded spheres of iron (called microspherules)   no larger than a period on a printed page. Although these microspherules are sometimes produced from meteorites exploding in the upper atmosphere, they can also occur with bomb and artillery explosions.

The next phase of Dr. Robbie’s research will be a more thorough analysis of the microspherules he observed – quantifying the number of particles per kilogram of sand and distinguishing man-made vs. meteorite origin conclusively.

“In my work, I’m always looking at small things that I don’t see other than through the electron microscope so it’s neat for me to see a piece of history,” says Dr. Robbie. “The remnants of this battle over 60 years ago are still sitting around in the sand.”

The research was published in Canadian Geographic Compass blog.

Downtown diagnostic

By Andrew Stokes, Communications Officer

A quick and easy solution to Kingston’s downtown troubles is unlikely, says David Gordon, Director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning.

“Maintaining a healthy downtown in a medium-sized city is an extremely difficult task,” he says. “Most medium-sized cities are really struggling right now.”

Photo by University Communications

Dr. Gordon’s comments follow a report delivered in May to the Downtown Kingston Management Board that outlined some of the major challenges facing Kingston’s downtown sector. The list included empty storefronts, vacant land and future economic uncertainty.

Unlike large cities such as Toronto and Montreal, which typically have strong downtowns, and small cities that are often looking to attract big box retail stores, Kingston stands somewhere in the middle, Dr. Gordon says. He argues that it is difficult for a city like Kingston to maintain commerce happening downtown when big box stores, cinemas and schools exist on the city’s edges.

Compared to other cities its size, though, Kingston is faring well, Dr. Gordon says. He cites the renovation of the Grand Theatre, the K-Rock Centre and Springer Market Square as positive developments.“With Kingston, the glass is half full, but it requires a lot of hard work to keep downtown strong,” he says. Queen’s plays an important role in fostering a vibrant downtown, Dr. Gordon says.

“Many students, staff and faculty live and shop in downtown neighborhoods, and there are excellent opportunities for co-operation between Queen’s and the city. That the two are working together on the Campus Master Plan is a major step forward.”

Confederation Place Hotel, which had high vacancy for much of the winter months, has since been partially used for graduate student housing space. “That was a brilliant idea,” says Dr. Gordon. “The part hotel, part student residence is a great example of town-gown co-operation.”

Despite setbacks like continued construction, Dr. Gordon believes downtown can bounce back. He says projects like the conversion of the Masonic Lodge at Johnson and Wellington into a daycare and the creation of affordable housing in the new Anna Lane complex are first steps towards downtown revitalization.

“There’s reason to feel optimistic,” he says, “I’m hopeful.”

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