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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.”

$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.”


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