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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.”

$15 million to boost cancer trials collaboration

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

The NCIC Clinical Trials Group (CTG) at Queen’s University has been awarded $15 million in funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health through the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) to strengthen its work leading major cancer clinical trials in Canada. The funding allows the NCIC CTG to increase its collaborations with the U.S. NCI and its National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN).

This funding from the NCI will give Canadian cancer patients access to cutting-edge international clinical trials, potentially helping to prolong and improve the quality of life of those living with cancer. It also allows NCIC CTG to open its trials to the U.S. groups.

Earlier this month Dr. Eisenhauer greeted cyclists from the 7 Days in May event. All money raised from the ride was donated to NCIC CTG.

“This funding will really increase North American collaboration in clinical cancer research,” says Elizabeth Eisenhauer, Interim Director of NCIC CTG. “This funding means so much to cancer patients in North America. New drug testing opportunities will help us win the fight against this terrible disease.”

The NCIC CTG began collaborating with U.S.-based groups in the 1990s and has successfully obtained funding from the NCI since 1997. That initial grant was the first step in facilitating a long-lasting relationship with other American cancer clinical trials groups.

NCIC CTG is the only Canadian co-operative cancer trials group conducting the entire range of cancer trials, from early phase studies to large international randomized controlled trials across all cancer types. Its success is due not only to the expertise found in the Central Operations and Statistics Office based at Queen’s, but also to the hundreds of clinical investigators in 84 cancer centres and hospitals across Canada that are part of the NCIC CTG network. These investigators work with Queen’s faculty to generate the ideas for trials and enroll many hundreds of patients annually into NCIC CTG studies.

The NCIC Clinical Trials Group (NCIC CTG) is a cancer clinical trials cooperative group that conducts Phase I-III trials testing anti-cancer and supportive therapies across Canada and internationally. It is a national research program of the Canadian Cancer Society. The NCIC CTG's Central Operations and Statistics Office is located at Queen’s.

Caught by a hair

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Crime fighters could have a new tool at their disposal following promising research by Queen’s professor Diane Beauchemin.

Dr. Beauchemin (Chemistry) and student Lily Huang (MSc’15) have developed a cutting-edge technique to identify human hair. Their test is quicker than DNA analysis techniques currently used by law enforcement. Early sample testing at Queen’s produced a 100 per cent success rate.

Lily Huang crushes up the human hair prior to testing.

“My first paper and foray into forensic chemistry was developing a method of identifying paint that could help solve hit and run cases,” explains Dr. Beauchemin. “Last year, Lily wanted to research hair analysis, so I started working in that area.”

Blood samples are often used to identify gender and ethnicity, but blood can deteriorate quickly and can easily be contaminated. Hair, on the other hand, is very stable. Elements in hair originate from sweat secretions that alter with diet, ethnicity, gender, the environment and working conditions.

Dr. Beauchemin’s process takes 85 seconds to complete and involves grinding up the hair, burning it and then analyzing the vapour that is produced.

“Our analysis process is very robust and can be used universally,” says Ms. Huang. “One of our samples even included dyed hair and the test was 100 per cent accurate. The test was able to distinguish East Asians, Caucasians and South Asians.”

Dr. Beauchemin says she has contacted law enforcement agencies about using the new technology. She is also planning to collect more hair samples and continue her research with a goal of pinpointing where exactly in the world the hair sample is from, to look for more ethnicities and determine specific age.

The research was published in the latest edition of Chemistry World.

Examining the world's monetary problems

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

After spending seven years at Queen’s University, Amy Sun is already making a name for herself. The economics professor was recently awarded the Governor’s Award from the Bank of Canada for her research into real-world issues with monetary policy, asset distributions and wealth inequality.

“I’m absolutely honoured to win this,” says Dr. Sun, who was born and raised in China but came to Canada for her master’s and doctoral education. “My current research focuses on theoretical frameworks that allow for a serious micro-foundation for the notion of endogenous liquidity. I use these frameworks to examine real-world monetary problems, as well as conducting policy analysis.”

Amy Sun has earned the Governor's Award from the Bank of Canada.

The Governor’s Award recognizes outstanding academics at a relatively early stage in their careers who are working in areas of research critical to the Bank of Canada’s mandate of promoting the economic and financial well-being of Canada.

“The Bank is proud to support the work of Professor Sun, whose ability to make exemplary research contributions in the areas of both macro- and microeconomics would be valued by any central bank,” said Stephen S. Poloz, Governor of the Bank of Canada. “The issues she is planning on studying clearly match those at the heart of the Bank’s mandate and are of central concern to us.” Dr. Sun says it was an easy decision to join the Queen’s economics department in 2007.

“Queen’s is a prestigious university and this is a prestigious department. The whole department is very collegial so much so that my colleagues had a party to congratulate me and another colleague on winning respective research awards this year. It was moving.”

The funding award will allow Dr. Sun to continue her research into monetary theory and policy.

Finding his place in the world

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

The gift of a simple globe to a seven-year-old boy has led to a 35-year career in the geography department at Queen’s University. That storied career has led to George Lovell being recognized by the Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG) with an Award for Scholarly Distinction in Geography. Dr. Lovell was also recently elected president of the American Society for Ethnohistory (ASE).

These two honours are something that would have made his mother, who gave him that globe as a Christmas present, proud.

George Lovell's love of geography was inspired by his mother.

“She passed away 14 years ago,” says Dr. Lovell, who was constantly pushed by her to achieve great things after coming to Canada from Scotland in 1973. “I’m truly honoured by these awards, which I’m sure would have pleased my mum.”

Arriving in Canada as a graduate student, Dr. Lovell pursued his love of Latin America at the University of Alberta. He earned both his master’s and doctorate degrees at that institution before being offered a one-year, non-renewable position at Queen’s in 1979. That turned into a tenure-track position in 1986, after a few hardscrabble years. Now Dr. Lovell is a fixture in the geography department. “I’m lucky still to have the first academic job I applied for,” he adds with a laugh.

Dr. Lovell’s research focuses on colonial experiences and patterns of Indigenous survival in Central America, the fate of Mayan peoples in Guatemala in particular. Besides teaching at Queen’s, Dr. Lovell is also a visiting professor in Latin American history at Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Seville, Spain. Decades of research have led to the presidency of the ASE, an association dedicated to creating an inclusive picture of the histories of native groups in the Americas, and elsewhere.

“Things in life have a way of converging. My first experience attending a conference and presenting a paper was at an ASE conference in October 1979. Now being named president of the same organization is a fitting turn,” he says.

The award from the CAG, a body committed to the promotion of geography in education and research, acknowledges Dr. Lovell’s 35 years of contributions to the field.

With all his successes, Dr. Lovell admits that job overtures have come his way throughout the years, but he hasn’t wavered from his commitment to Queen’s.

“I’ve always felt at home here,” he says. “For me, the best thing about the job is the students. We get exceptional students who have a passion for learning. So I get to hang out with great young people. It’s fun.”

 

Uncovering an oily mystery

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Queen’s researchers are making new discoveries about Paul Kane’s paintings, an important collection of art for understanding 19th century Canada.

George Bevan (Classics) is using infrared light technology to peer underneath the oil of Kane’s paintings and see the original pencil drawings. Kane’s pencil drawings sketched in the field are the earliest depiction of 19th century Canadian and Aboriginal life. The artist took these sketches back to his Toronto studio in the 1850s and used oil paints to finish the artworks.

Ian Longo displays the camera used to look under the oil of Paul Kane's paintings.

Working with Ian Longo, Dr. Bevan examined 130 paintings in the collection. Their work forms the basis of a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum entitled The First Brush: Paul Kane and Infrared Reflectography.

“Paul Kane recorded a critical time in Canadian history. We wanted to learn how and if the paintings were adapted for the Western tastes of the time,” says Dr. Bevan.

Mr. Longo photographed the paintings with a consumer grade camera. The infrared light technology revealed pencil, charcoal and painted sketches beneath the final oil painted surface – details that could not be detected by the naked eye.

“At times it was shocking to see the difference in Kane’s initial sketch work on the canvas and his final product,” says Mr. Longo. “One of my favourites is a piece entitled ”Return of a war party” in which the river in the scene has what appears to the viewer as only two large war canoes on it. In our photograph, though, we discovered a third large canoe that Kane later decided to eliminate from the scene and painted a large rock over top instead.”

Based on the success of this project, Dr. Bevan hopes to put more collections of paintings under the lens for closer examination.

“The more we learn about paintings and painters like this, the more it helps us learn about history. We were lucky to be involved in this project.”

PhD student focused on making a difference in mining sector

 
[Anne Johnson]Anne Johnson 
By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer
 
Anne Johnson didn’t give a thought to engineering when she was considering her post-secondary education options in the 1970s. Her father was a civil engineer, but she found art history was a better fit for her interests.
 
Now, with four Queen’s degrees to her credit, Ms. Johnson is studying for her PhD and co-ordinating a certificate program in the Robert M. Buchan Department of Mining. Her doctoral research explores ways the mining industry can build mutually beneficial relationships with Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
 
“My interests were not on the agenda in the 1970s,” she says. “After the Constitution Act of 1982, though, there has been so much jurisprudence that has changed the relationship between industry, government, First Nations and stakeholders from other areas. Mining is such an interesting way to pull all of these things together, and I hope to do something important.”
 
Pursuing that passion seemed out of the question for Ms. Johnson, whose journey along the path of lifelong learning led her into art history, education and computing science. She approached Laeeque Daneshmend, the head of the mining department at the time, and he agreed to support her application.
 
Ms. Johnson was originally admitted as a PhD candidate in the cultural studies program, but she felt her desire to solve problems made her a better fit for the mining department. She took mining courses and served as a teaching assistant for courses such as Open Pit Mining and Underground Mining. Her persistence eventually paid off as she was allowed to transfer to mining. 
 
She argues in her thesis that mining engineers and professionals need to be open to worldviews held by Indigenous Peoples and other community stakeholders.
 
“Intercultural competency is not an add-on or a soft skill. It’s a critical mining engineering skill because in order to create appropriate mine designs and make effective and appropriate operational decisions, you have to know the social context you are working in because mining is so close to people.”
 
In addition to her research, Ms. Johnson co-ordinates the Graduate Certificate in Community Relations for the Extractive Industry. The program gives mining professionals the tools to engage stakeholders and assess the social impact of their company’s operations.
 
“There are some people in mining companies who are working hard to make a difference. The other piece of the puzzle is working to change legislation so that companies don’t take a financial hit when they move the social agenda forward,” she says.
 
Ms. Johnson considers Queen’s a special place having studied, taught and worked at the institution in various capacities for more than 30 years. Her husband did all three of his degrees at Queen’s and one of her daughters graduated from the institution. 
 
“I think people who come here with an open mind of what they can learn can walk away on the cusp of fulfilling their dreams,” says Ms. Johnson. “I feel really privileged because I get to work with people who are excited about their research.”
 

 

Managing your research data

Data Day: Managing Queen's University Research Data

Monday, May 26, 9 am-noon

Stauffer Library, Speaker's Corner

By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer

Technological advances have allowed researchers to capture and process more and more data. While increased information often leads to new insights and innovations, institutions, funders and individual researchers face the challenge of figuring out how to make data available to others once their project is finished.

To meet this opportunity, the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research), Queen’s Library and ITServices have partnered to offer the inaugural Data Day on May 26. The event seeks to raise awareness of the services Queen’s offers to researchers to manage their data and make it accessible and reusable by the wider research community.

“Around the world, research data management plans are being increasingly required by funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation in the U.S. and the Research Councils in the U.K.,” says Karina McInnis, Executive Director, University Research Services. “Canada’s main funding agencies are also moving in the direction of requiring data management plans in research proposals. We see this event as a way to kick-start the discussion around data preservation, dissemination and re-use.”

Managing data generated during research projects is the focus of an upcoming workshop in Stauffer Library.

The Data Day workshop will include:

• An overview of the Canadian digital scholarship landscape and infrastructure by representatives from the Library, ITServices, and Vice-Principal (Research)

• A presentation on data services offered at Queen’s by directors and managers of service units across campus

• An examination of data management and curation case studies from researchers in a variety of disciplines

“Data Day is a forum for researchers and data service providers to meet and discuss data management opportunities and challenges,” says Sharon Murphy, Head of Academic Services, Queen’s Library.

More information and a registration form are available on the Data Day website.
 

Passionate about protecting our planet

Queen’s University Communications Officer Anne Craig caught up with Warren Mabee as he prepared his presentation for the What Matters Now Kingston event on Wednesday, May 21. The event features five of Ontario’s leading researchers pitching why their research is important to a Dragon’s Den-type panel. Dr. Mabee’s research focus is renewable energy.

AC: Why are you so passionate about renewable energy?

WM: I believe that the most important thing in reducing our footprint on the planet is to shift to sustainable energy systems. This will require us to find lots of ways to conserve energy ­– we can’t possibly replace all of the fossil power out there with renewables – and will drive innovation and create new opportunities for Canadians. As a country, we have the resources to be an early adopter of these systems, and I want to see us setting the course for other countries to follow.

AC: What is the first step we need to take towards using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels?

WM: Continuing to expand the use of renewable energy without driving costs up too high will require relatively cheap biomass feedstocks. The best feedstocks we can get are those materials which are found in our waste streams. These range from the cheapest option, industrial wastes left over from processing - concentrated at factories and easy to collect - through residential, agricultural, and finally residues from forest operations, which are the most dispersed and probably most expensive. 

AC: One of your focuses is agricultural biomass. What is it and how can it be used effectively as a renewable energy source?

WM: Agricultural biomass is the stuff we don’t eat - straw from wheat or stover from corn. Right now, it is left on the field or collected for use as livestock bedding. A good amount of agricultural residue is essentially wasted; studies have shown that recovering a portion of the residue from the field can be done sustainably, providing feedstock for materials, chemicals, fuels and energy.

AC: What is the most effective way to move towards sustainable energy production and storage?

WM: We’ve already begun the shift towards more sustainable energy production.  To continue this move, we need to focus on getting the economics right. Too much renewable power requires heavy subsidy today, but we are seeing vast improvements in technology costs and process efficiencies which mean that subsidies are becoming less necessary. Existing ethanol from corn and wheat, for instance, is far more competitive today than it once was. 

AC: What are some recent renewable energy success stories?
WM: The cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically in the past few years, and continues to fall. This will make solar power more easily accessible and indeed should pave the way to rooftop solar becoming ubiquitous. In the biomass-to-energy sector, we’ve seen breakthroughs with Canadian technologies; Enerkem is completing a full-scale plant near Edmonton and will be building a second plant near Montreal. These are examples of the rapidly changing world of renewable power; what was once priced beyond the reach of society is now becoming competitive.

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