Research in Action: Answering the call of the life-giving waters of Gichigami

Published in The Chronicle Journal Tuesday, February 28, 2023.


When the Thunder Bay Art Gallery opens the doors to a new building on the waterfront, visitors will be treated to an expansive exhibition space, the centrepiece of which will be pieces from more than two dozen artists inspired by the proximity to Lake Superior. Among the contributors to this large-scale series will be two Lakehead University faculty members and four sessional lecturers.

Along with being a challenge for the artist, this project will also have significance for the community, since these commissioned works will form the Art Gallery's first exhibition near the water's edge at Prince Arthur's Landing.
“It all reflects back on Lake Superior and what happens to us when we're by the shore, which greatly affects and inspires every one of us,” says Sam Shahsahabi, a Lakehead University professor.

Lakehead University associate professor Sam Shahsahabi, seen here in his studio, is one of 27 artists commissioned to provide artwork as part of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery's Madaabii series.

A multidisciplinary artist, Shahsahabi is joined by colleague Roly Martin and several former students now employed as contract lecturers.

This series is called Madaabi, an Anishnaabemowin (Ojibway language) term for “s/he/they goes down to shore.” Madaabi encompasses the themes of people, place and land.

“At the heart of this project is the truth that water is life,” says Penelope Smart, the Gallery's curator.

The project, valued at $375,000, is funded by the New Chapter Grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. A total of 27 artists have been invited to produce original works that spring from this concept of the life-giving waters of Gichigami. The lineup is diverse and includes Indigenous, non-indigenous, mid-career, young, emerging and established artists. Most of them are local but some nationally-renowned artists that have connections to the region will also contribute.

The works will explore fundamental issues, such as environmental degradation, protection of Indigenous land rights, and traditional knowledge. The methods will feature carving, basketry, ceramics, sculpture and painting.

“The range and use of media are likewise varied, expansive, and as dynamic as the waves and shores of this powerful lake,” Smart says.

Martin's sculptural installation uses thousands of steel rods that have been shaped and welded to form a life-sized boat with oversized oars reaching out and connecting to the land.

Shahsahabi has finished a two-part piece, based on water memory and how it can be preserved through sacred geometry. There are two elements to it: one is copper, with acid and enamel representing the Sleeping Giant. Copper was traditionally used by Indigenous Peoples in the Middle East as a healing alloy. The second part is a representation of the reflection of the Sleeping Giant in the lake, done in encaustic. Shining and buffing both the beeswax and copper can create a reflective surface. The effect is that viewers will see a reflection of themselves, hopefully inspiring them to also consider Indigenous peoples' attachment to this landmark and what they have witnessed throughout history.

This image is a detail shot from the top part of the diptych artwork that Sam Shahsahabi has made for Madaabii. It is done in enamel paint, acid on a copper sheet.

“It's very layered in its meaning and interpretation of what this Lake Superior means for us as a small community in Northern Ontario,” Shahsahabi says.

It also has a personal meaning. Shahsahabi was born in Iran, where he worked as an art instructor, graphic designer and cartoonist. After obtaining a master's degree from York University he embarked on a teaching career, living in Elliot Lake and Sudbury before coming to Thunder Bay in 2009. He now serves as chair of Lakehead's Visual Arts department. His multi-layered work, then, considers what this sacred body of water means to him as an immigrant -- someone with two homes and, in essence, two lives.

“The two parts of my artwork reflects back on this duality, spiritually having two homes,” he says. “The top part is reflecting the land I left behind, the bottom part is reflecting the land where I have arrived.”

Julie Cosgrove is another contributor. A graduate of the Visual Arts program, she has been a contract lecturer in the department since 2012. Her piece for Madaabii will consist of four paintings on canvas, “journeying in Northern waters,” exploring the relationship between water and the creative process. The inspiration was a reproduction of the historical map of Lake Superior and Hudson Bay created in 1814 by David Thompson, a surveyor and cartographer for the North West fur trade company.
“Having worked in the outdoor industry as a canoe guide in this region, looking at this map resonated with me, not just by the magnitude of the project but also in thinking about how some of the waterways of that map are relatively unchanged and our connection to this place is still dependant on the water,” she explains. “My intention is to try to suggest these ideas of navigation and respect of the natural environment using the same water in the process of painting.”

The project is still a few years away from public viewing. Construction on the new art gallery will get underway shortly. The $38-million facility, expected to open in 2025, will feature an event hall and outdoor art displays, as well as double the size of the exhibition spaces and provide a larger collections storage vault. The permanent collection now boasts 1,600 works from local and regional artists.

The gallery's curator hopes the new facility will be a platform to contemplate new ideas through art, and that the lake-informed perspectives of Madaabii will make Thunder Bay a major arts and culture destination in Canada.

“We’re thrilled that so many artists, including those who are part of the LU Visual Arts community, have an unparalleled opportunity to tell a story of this place through their new artworks,” Smart says. “This project also adds new and important works by many regional artists to our renowned Permanent Collection.”

Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.

Research in Action: Let's go down the rabbit hole!

Published in The Chronicle Journal Friday, March 31, 2023.


Who faked the moon landing? Who assassinated the popular politician? Who rigged the election? Faced with nine possible “suspects,” your challenge is to deduce who among a varied cast of characters (such as the Deep State, Space Aliens or the Mainstream Media) are the “real conspirators.”

That's the intriguing concept behind a board game created by a Lakehead University researcher and his international collaborators.

But along with being a game of deduction and bluffing, CLUE-ANON is also a research tool and a catalyst for what may be uncomfortable but necessary interactions with family and friends. Lakehead University associate professor Max Haiven

“We wanted to make a game to see if we could understand what made conspiracy theories so attractive,” says Dr. Max Haiven. “We're trying to understand not only if conspiracy theories are right or wrong, but what makes them appealing and why people believe them.

“The game is actually an excuse to start a conversation.”

Haiven, an associate professor who teaches in the English department and on Social Justice issues, is a cultural theorist whose focus includes conspiracies, gamification and capitalism in a digital age. He has been working with collaborators in sociology and political science to develop a tool that combines the murder-mystery of the classic board game CLUE from the angle of the QAnon conspiracy fantasy.

The idea grew from podcasts involving authors, activists and experts on conspiracy theories, as well as Haiven's own students expressing a reluctance to go home for the holidays and deal with family members talking about the dangers of coronavirus vaccines or child sex-trafficking rings operating out of pizza parlours. Board games, Haiven says, is a neutral activity where you can engage in this awkward dialogue.

“The idea is by playing it you can take on different roles, kind of understand the problem and have a conversation about it in a way that's not 'Oh, you're right! You're wrong!' ” he says. “It's actually trying to understand it from a sociological perspective: why is it that people believe in this, what forces are at work, why do we have this problem right now.”

The project hits close to home for Stella Lawson, a graduate assistant who works at Haiven’s lab. A master's student in Social Justice, Lawson was born and raised in the U.S. and saw first-hand “how dangerous collective delusions can be when aligned with the power structures of Christian dominance,” not unlike what's happening today. Lawson, who moved to Canada five years ago, has worked on social issues and became interested in Haiven's work after hearing his podcasts. What solidified this interest was when a neighbour became enmeshed in conspiratorial thinking during the COVID lockdown.

“It was a very confusing time. Many groups were falling into very binary thinking about (the pandemic) and the only people I heard talking about it with any nuance and complexity were on that podcast,” Lawson says.

Master's student Stella Lawson has been working on games-based research.“The first time Max showed me CLUE-ANON – before it even had a name -- I knew he was onto something. We played a few rounds and discussed it late into the night. That is a big part of the reason I enrolled at Lakehead,” adds Lawson, whom Haiven credits with devising the name.

Along with reviewing the literature exploring how games have been used to advance social justice, Lawson has also been play-testing it. Development of CLUE-ANON began two years ago and the game has been revised 15 times as participants (some as far-flung as the U.S., England, Denmark and Singapore) provide feedback. Is it fun? Is the game a realistic depiction of what it's like to believe in conspiracies? How does it reflect what they've encountered with acquaintances who express such “crackpot” notions?

“Not everyone is falling for the same conspiracy theories, but around the world such beliefs are very, very common,” Haiven states, adding that the goal is not to demonize those who embrace way-out-there ideas. “We're not interested in calling people who believe in conspiracies idiots or fools or misguided. We begin from the position that, actually, there are real conspiracies – that's the way the power has always worked in human societies. Smaller groups of people get together and they make plans to maintain or extend their power. That's normal.

“But there is something very dangerous about many of the conspiracy theories that circulate today, because they take the form of complete fantasy worlds and they really misunderstand how power works in a society.”

CLUE-ANON is useful to engage people who might be susceptible to falling down the proverbial rabbit hole and getting obsessed with a conspiracy theory.

“It's not a game that's going to pull anyone out if they're already convinced of their conspiracy theory,” Haiven says. "CLUE-ANON aims to prevent people falling down the ‘rabbit hole’ in the first place, rather than to rescue people. You need other techniques to rescue people from those conspiracies.”

Haiven co-directs the ReImaging Value Action Lab and is Canada Research Chair in Radical Imagination, which he defines as a way to bring people together to explore how society could be different and ponder what prevents change. During his research term in 2023, when he is not teaching in Thunder Bay, he is based in Berlin, meeting like-minded researchers and examining Germany's thriving games industry.

Participants play-test a game called CLUE-ANON, which is being developed by Lakehead University associate professor Max Haiven as a fun way to discuss conspiracy theories and why they are so appealing to people.

CLUE-ANON is an imperfect game. It's still being refined and Haiven hopes it can be released to the public in a downloadable package. He may also approach a manufacturer to develop a version with detailed artwork and solid pieces.

Games-based research is about more than having fun, Lawson says. It's a way to relate to urgent issues in society, to find a way to make social movements more compelling and effective.

“I still haven't played CLUE-ANON with that neighbour,” Lawson admits. “But I have learned that one of the best interventions into the dangers of conspiratorial thinking is to keep showing up in the relationship rather than further isolating people, which largely drives them further into communities with profoundly concerning and distorted ideas.

“I can see how game-playing is a way of maintaining the connection and how even those who largely eschew conspiracies can benefit from and even gain empathy around the seduction of group-think so we can become better at intervening.”

Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.



Participants play-test a game called CLUE-ANON, which is being developed by Lakehead University associate professor Max Haiven as a fun way to discuss conspiracy theories and why they are so appealing to people.


What's the game?

Following are highlights of CLUE-ANON board game developed by Max Haiven and colleagues:

• involves 3-4 players, across two or three “matches”

• nine possible “suspects” on cards (eg, the Deep State, Independent Journalist, Space Aliens, an Evil Corporation, Satanist, the Mainstream Media, True Believer, Troll Army)

• of these nine, three are “real conspirators”, placed under the board until the end of match

• remaining six are arranged face-down on board

• players have six turns to use in-game resources (eg, Money and Followers) to try to figure out the three hidden “real conspirators” and solve the conspiracy

• bluffing -- players can gain more money and followers if they publicly announce they believe one or more suspect is involved in the conspiracy, even if they have little or no evidence

• the twist -- a successful player’s strategy will be influenced by the character they have been randomly assigned which they keep secret until the end

• all players have the incentive to pretend to be one of the nine possible “suspects”

• at the end of the game, after all the conspiracies are solved, players can try to guess one another's characters for extra points


Tap a hidden asset -- think positive to unlock your inner strength


In the field of clinical psychology there is a tendency to dwell on disorders – the problems that make getting through the day a struggle. But everyone has some redeeming quality they can tap into to overcome these obstacles and lead a happier, more productive life.

This focus on bringing out underlying positive qualities has been the life's work of a Lakehead University researcher, who has developed a tool called the Strengths Assessment Inventory (SAI) to address behavioural challenges in children, youth and adults.

“It's unlocking the hidden potential in each of us,” Dr. Edward Rawana says of his method.

Dr. Rawana headshot

 “Most of the time as individuals we don't highlight our strengths. We sort of deal with our challenges. The whole intent of this framework is to recognize what your strengths are and to use your strengths to address and hopefully overcome your challenges.”

Rawana is a professor in Clinical Psychology, working at both Lakehead University and Northern Ontario School of Medicine University. He is also director of the Centre of Education and Research on Positive Youth Development (CERPYD). His four-decade career has been spent exploring and promoting the assessment of psychological strengths.

The concept of “strengths” involves the competencies and characteristics that reside in an individual. Competencies are skills, such as being proficient in mathematics, while characteristics relate to personality, such as having a good sense of humour.

“A strength is only a strength if that person values it,” Rawana explains.

He helped create SAI checklists for youths (ages 10-18), adults, and post-secondary students. While some of these align with Indigenous culture, they are applicable across the entire population.

Erika Puiras, a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology, has been working with Rawana since 2022 and believes the strengths-based approach works because it draws on deep-seated strengths that everyone possesses.

“People flourish when we make space for conversations about both their areas of challenge and their inherent strengths,” she says. “More awareness will lead to more opportunities for change.”

erika puirasPuiras helped put together training materials for Dilico Anishinabek Family Care. This year-long collaboration involves a whole organizational approach to embed the strength-based philosophy into the services Dilico provides. Rawana and Puiras have led multiple sessions for management and staff.

“As part of the training they are introduced to all the measures we have developed,” Rawana says. 

“They can decide when they can use the measures, depending on whether they're working with children, adolescents or adults.”

The SAI follows an interview format, with client information used to produce a strength profile, which helps frontline staff craft an intervention plan with the client. The key is: what is your strength? For example, if there are issues within a family but the client enjoys spending time with them they can use that strength to deal with the conflict.

“The most significant thing is clients typically come into service for mental health and addiction issues,” Rawana says, noting people are often inundated with messages about what's wrong with them and they need to recognize that in spite of those issues they do have some strengths they can call on.

“It's like giving them a different set of lens to look at themselves, so they can see that they're a combination of their strengths and their challenges,” he says. “Strengths are like money in the bank. If you use it wisely, if you grow it and develop it, you can use it when you have challenges. It's like a hidden asset.

“It's not a phenomenally different way of thinking,” Rawana adds. “It's just to make sure that when clients come for assessments that they have an appreciation of what their assets are. Everybody has strengths.”

Rawana has showcased his methods to school boards and community groups. He has worked with Dilico for a decade and this latest collaboration, which runs to April, has provided the agency with specialized knowledge, skills and resources, states Tina Bobinski, Dilico's director of Mental Health and Addiction Services.dilico training session

“Throughout this research partnership, we have established a sound research framework that promotes research capacity development for both the organization and university personnel,” she says. “We have learned and believe the continued research work within the Strengths-Based Assessment Inventory Study will generate valuable research and have lasting positive impacts for our organization in addition to the Indigenous community.”

For PhD candidate Puiras the work on this project fits with her aspiration to practice in a clinical setting and engage in research, at both the academic and community level.

“Working with Dr. Rawana and Dilico has been an amazing opportunity to learn first-hand about the quality of work that can be done with community partnerships founded on mutual respect,” she says.

“This opportunity has also demonstrated what role clinical psychologists can bring to the table and how the profession can be more involved in community-based work.”

The issue is even more critical these days. With the many mental health challenges people face, they may feel overwhelmed and don't recognize they also have some strengths. In the end, Rawana wants to see a cultural shift, going from a deficit model to a strength-based model.

“We need to be more aware of people's strengths in general,” Rawana concludes of this newer thinking that emphasizes positive psychology. “It's gaining a fair bit of momentum in the clinical world. Because we've been so focused on pathology we tend to forget that there's more to life than just what's wrong with you.”


Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.


Research in Action: Arts build HOPE and a bridge between science and public

Published in The Chronicle Journal Thursday, January 31, 2023.


A world-wide effort to find a lasting cure for one of the biggest epidemics of the modern age is using art to help researchers understand how their work is being perceived and to engage the public in reaching their goal. One of the community engagement leaders is an award-winning Lakehead University professor who hopes such artworks will be on display in Thunder Bay, for Lakehead’s Research and Innovation Week, to shed light on research into HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus.

“I hope the exhibit will draw attention to the urgency we need to give to HIV,” says Dr. Pauline Sameshima, a professor in Lakehead's Faculty of Education. “It's a very pressing issue globally and we need to draw attention to HIV and the stigma still associated with people living with HIV.

“The project is exciting in that we can share research using the arts. We are in the second year of this grant and we have been very successful in creating conversations and dialogues amongst the scientists, communities and the artists.”

Sameshima is involved with the HOPE Collaboratory, a San Francisco-based US$26.5-million initiative trying a “block-lock-excise” approach to HIV treatment led by primary investigator Dr. Melanie Ott. The aim is to develop therapies that will not only stop the remnant HIV in a body from reproducing, but permanently get rid of it. This group includes researchers from 16 institutions and two pharmaceutical companies. HOPE is one of 10 Martin Delaney Collaboratories funded by the National Institutes of Health. There are currently 10 collaboratories based in the United States with international collaborators across the globe.

(More information on HOPE, the “HIV Obstruction by Programmed Epigenetics” collaboratory, is available at:

Many people can manage HIV, which can lead to AIDS, by taking a pill each day to essentially put it to sleep. HIV however, remains a significant health concern where barriers to access prevail, and in some countries it is a leading cause of death.

“It's a fatal virus for many in Africa,” Sameshima states. 


A component of the HOPE Collaboratory is Community Arts Integrated Research (CAIR), which uses artworks to raise awareness of this complex endeavour and promote discussion.

Sameshima, who acts as educator and curriculum designer, leads the CAIR program, which includes interdisciplinary researchers and graduate students from Lakehead and Brazil. The team works closely with HOPE’s Community Advisory Board (advocates, ambassadors and People living with HIV) and Dr. Patricia Defechereux, HOPE’s Community Engagement Coordinator. The team’s highly collaborative structure is a key innovation that creates bridges between communities.

“We use the arts as a way to teach and learn about what the scientists are trying to figure out,” Sameshima explains. “We want to teach and involve the community in what is going on, so the community can advise the scientists, and the scientists can keep the community informed. We're using art as a communication between the two groups.”

Specifically, arts will help explain the “block-lock-excise” approach. An exhibit at Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco features sculptures and photography. Sameshima is planning an exhibit to coincide with Lakehead’s Research and Innovation Week activities in February, where local residents can see pieces that reflect the work of the collaboratory.

Tashya Orasi, a PhD candidate in Leadership & Policy in Educational Studies, is Sameshima's graduate assistant. She has presented her own art and was co-lead on an community art-making session at the HOPE annual meeting in September involving scientists and community members. Raif Derazzi, HOPE’s Community Advisory Board’s Co-Chair, interviewed scientists at this event. See the interviews here:

“As an artist, teacher and researcher, this experience working across disciplines with HIV scientists and community members, alongside Dr. Sameshima, has been invaluable to my future career as an educational researcher,” Orasi says.

As part of her graduate assistantship, Orasi is also gallery coordinator of the LAIR galleries, spaces on campus where items curated by Sameshima and guest jurors can be viewed. (More information on LAIR, the Lakehead Arts Integrated Research Galleries, is available at:

This project has been a learning experience for Sameshima. She spent 17 years as a classroom teacher before earning a PhD in curriculum studies, and working at Washington State University before joining Lakehead a decade ago.

“My focus is really on education, not science,” says Sameshima, who was recently recognized as the Ontario Art Education Association's Post-Secondary Teacher of the Year.

Along with the Lakehead University's Research and Innovation Week activities (February 27 to March 2, 2023) displays, Sameshima also hopes this summer's C2U Expo <>, which seeks to strengthen community-campus research and learning partnerships, will host a panel of HOPE participants and other researchers to discuss the multi-pronged search for HIV cures.

“There are a lot of things on the go,” Sameshima notes. “And, yes, we would like to expand and grow this project within our own community.”

Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.

Research in Action: Tool to analyze array of chemicals opens up multiple opportunities

Published in The Chronicle Journal Thursday, January 19, 2023.


Behind a heavy door at a Lakehead University research lab, a team has been developing a system that will be able to detect and analyze chemicals at a sub-microscopic level.

j. trevisnauttoThe heart of the system is an optical fiber-based probe. This system is envisioned as a multi-purpose tool that can be used for various tasks, from checking if crops are ready to harvest, to detecting pollutants in lakes and rivers, even diagnosing diseases such as cancer and COVID-19.

“It's an all-in-one production process. It's very simple, it's very cheap and it can be done quickly,” graduate student Joshua Trevisanutto says. “The idea is to have a very cost-effective, compact, easy to mass produce system that you could specialize to detect whatever minute chemical you want.”

Trevisanutto, who recently received his PhD in Chemistry and Materials Science, started working on an optical fiber probe with Dr. Gautam Das as a master's student. During the last year that project has been in the hands of PhD candidate Navneet Kaur, who has taken over from Trevisanutto in altering the design of the probe and investigating the potential of using it as a substrate for Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS), a technique to identify the unique fingerprint of chemicals using a laser.

“I found that combining SERS with optical fiber can provide a highly sensitive and specific method for detecting trace amounts of chemicals,” says Kaur, who is in the third year of her doctoral program. “This opens up exciting possibilities for remote sensing and other applications.” optic fibre
Utilizing standard optical fiber (the kind used for Internet connections), the team tapers the tip to an ultra-fine point by dipping it in acid, then coats it with tiny flecks of gold (gold nanorods) by using a process called “optical tweezing,” where a laser beam is introduced from the untapered end of the fiber. Every chemical has a unique characteristic and when light from a laser interacts with the chemical adsorbed on the gold, the composition of the chemical can be determined.

“This is a great contribution from our research group,” states Das, a professor in the department of Physics and graduate co-ordinator. “I think we are the first to report that you can use optical tweezing to get a unique distribution of the gold nanorods on the optical fiber, which could be used for the detection of chemicals at a molecular level.”

Along with Kaur and Trevisanutto, Das has written several technical papers on tapered optical fiber. Funding was provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). As well, in partnership with Wilson Analytical, Das received funding to manufacture the probe as a diagnostic tool for the detection of COVID-19.
Kaur's contribution included reviewing the literature on research in this area, developing a research plan for her PhD thesis, maintaining detailed records of research activities, collaborating with other researchers, and attending workshops and conferences. She sees an array of uses for this tool.
“For example, oil and gas companies that dispose of chemicals to water bodies, that are harmful to aquatic and human life, can be detected early on and stopped,” she says. “Another benefit is diagnosing a chemical responsible for cancer at its early stages.”

While it's typically difficult to determine the unique fingerprint of chemicals (the “Raman interaction”), the SERS technique using gold nanorods on optical fiber has increased the chances of detecting it in the smallest concentrations. Das says they have already gone beyond a microgram, a unit of one-millionth of a gram, or 1 x 10 -6 gram.

“In terms of detection limit – how far we can go – it's 10 -12 (to the power of minus-12) M,” Das says. “That's the kind of detection limit we have already achieved, which can be a good tool for detecting proteins (from saliva or a drop of blood) responsible for COVID-19 or any other proteins responsible for cancer.”

It can also be used in the food industry, to see if a chemical is being used to add colour to food or monitor chemicals from hops used to brew beer.

“The idea is to make something universal, that we can specialize the probes for every case,” Trevisanutto says.

In the meantime, Das is seeking an industrial partner to conduct tests in a secure lab using actual COVID-19 proteins as well as to commercialize the product and bring it to market.

“There are lots of things we are working on to optimize the system,” Das says. “Ultimately, we plan to use this system to detect chemicals in the agricultural sector. That is the part we are still working on.”

Gold nanorods and tapered optical fiber

das diagram
What: A tool based on optical fiber coated with gold nanorods (GNRs) manufactured using a process called Optical Tweezing to detect, identify and analyze chemicals at a molecular level
How: The Plasmonic Structure – the distribution of GNRs on the tapered fiber and their interaction with chemicals when they are excited by a laser beam
Why: “Raman” is a technique to identify the unique fingerprint of a chemical, which occurs when stimulated by a laser. The odds of a Raman interaction are very low, but when there is a Plasmonic Structure the laser interacts with the gold nanostructure on the surface of the optical fiber and enhance the scattered electromagnetic radiation (SERS)


Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.

Research in Action: Unlocking new sources of energy to keep the grid humming

Published in The Chronicle Journal Thursday, December 15, 2022


Pursuing an education in machine learning and big data analysis, coupled with a blossoming interest in smart grids, has led a Lakehead University student to develop software that is now being used by the region’s largest electricity provider to meet high-energy demands and possibly pave the way to a greener future.

jiawei dong headshotThe project to help predict peak load consumption, especially on season-changing days, was the focus of a master’s thesis by international student Jiawei Dong. Over the course of this work, he analyzed reams of data, wrote mathematical models in code, tested it, and developed algorithms for the software that has just recently been installed by Synergy North.

“From end to end, he’s the one who’s done everything,” states Dr. Abdulsalam Yassine, chair of Lakehead’s department of software engineering.

Yassine supervised the project to develop data analytics for adaptive demand response in smart grids. The work was funded by a $60,000 grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Alliance Program. Synergy North contributed a further $30,000.

“Synergy North was looking to investigate distributed energy resources and how they can be integrated with the distribution grid,” explains Andy Armitage, Synergy North vice president of customer and information services. “The experience proved invaluable as we are now expecting the proliferation of these resources in the near future.”

Armed with 10 years of data on energy consumption from among Synergy North’s 50,000 residential and 6,000 commercial customers in Thunder Bay and Kenora, Yassine and Dong used artificial intelligence to predict when demand would be highest so they could schedule the discharge of batteries into the system at optimal times. These batteries, the size of large bookcases and weighing close to 500 lbs., are in three prototype houses that use solar panels to generate up to 11 kilowatt-hours of energy, enough to run a sump pump or fridge.a yassine headshot

“In order to avoid the costs of buying energy at the peak time they would schedule batteries inside these homes to compensate for some of the energy in the grid,” Yassine says. “But they need to know exactly when to use them.”
Energy consumption fluctuates throughout the day and varies from the weekday to the weekend and on statutory holidays. As well, there is the “shoulder season,” the transition during spring and fall when temperatures can swing from a daytime high of 20-degrees Celsius to -20 C overnight.

“It makes the prediction of the peaks very difficult,” says Armitage, “because a lot of it is based on the weather.”
Over the course of two years, Yassine and Dong collected the data, developed the algorithms, tested and then deployed them at the three prototype houses.

Dong, who has had a long-time interest in AI and machine learning, also read technical papers on smart grids to try different ways to improve performance.

“We proposed a day-ahead energy forecasting system and a distributed energy resources discharging scheduling system. We also proposed some novel ideas to improve forecasting accuracy during the ‘shoulder’ season,” says Dong, who graduated with a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering.

“I think saving resources is very valuable to the community.”

For Synergy North, Yassine and Dong’s findings help them learn more about how these different resources can be used in the electricity system. The concept of “distributed energy resources” is that energy is provided by different sources and doesn’t come from one central place, for example, a hydro-electric power station.

“So you don’t have to rely on the one point of generation,” states Armitage. “If we have several distributed energy resources on the grid they can all kind of work together to make it a little more resilient and robust.”

The benefit to Synergy North is not just to reduce the cost of buying energy to meet surges in demand. By having more sources available to feed the grid, it can also defer maintenance and upgrade costs.

While the savings are not insignificant, there is another benefit.

“The potential is in scaling,” says Yassine. “That could include electric vehicles, electric buses, commercial customers, more residential customers with solar panels and batteries. That’s the potential. The solution stays the same. Now it’s for Synergy North to find more participants in this project. Instead of having three batteries, they could have, for example, 50 batteries from different houses.”

This project is at an end and funding has been confirmed for a new study that will examine the electrification of public transit. That project, which involves Synergy North, the city of Thunder Bay and Blu Wave-ai, will look at the impact of energy consumption if diesel buses are replaced with electric buses. What is the impact on the grid? Can you discharge batteries to the grid using the same system?

For Synergy North, these collaborations with Lakehead University can help unlock new ways to keep the electricity grid humming.
“We believe in the not-too-distant future these distributed energy resources will become more readily available,” Armitage says. “If we’re not part of the process of having these on the grid and using them, the full value of it doesn’t get used.”

This project is also an example of how universities and their partners are contributing to the achievement of the following UN Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Goal 13: Climate Action and Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals.

CJ copy

Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.

Research in Action: Review rates pledge to ‘leave no one behind’

Published in The Chronicle Journal Saturday, November 26, 2022


A wide-ranging examination of how the Thunder Bay region is coming along in meeting a United Nations pledge to “leave no one behind” is only the first step in what could be long-term efforts to eliminate poverty and discrimination as well as make the city a more sustainable, inclusive and healthy place to live.

The Voluntary Local Review, prepared by Lakehead University researchers and a half-dozen community partners, highlights sustainability-related work being done in various fields. The hope is that it will lead to more collaboration and action.

“This report provides a glimpse into areas where we need to be doing more and that there are groups and individuals that can step up and say, ‘I want to do more work, how can I be involved? What can I do?’,” says project director Dr. Rebecca Schiff. “Hopefully it spurs some action, whether it’s with the general public, interest groups or other organizations in the city.” headshot r. schiff

The initiative stems from the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a call for action that focuses on 17 objectives, such as: no poverty, zero hunger, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, responsible consumption and production, and peace, justice and strong institutions. Individual nations are encouraged to chart their progress and Schiff, whose research interests include health equity and sustainability, seized on an opportunity to conduct an assessment close to home.

“We saw this and thought we should be doing this in Thunder Bay,” she says. “Let’s keep track of how we’re doing on sustainability because there are a lot of sustainability initiatives happening, whether it’s EarthCare that does a lot of work around ecological issues, to the Poverty Reduction Strategy, to Community Safety and Well-being.”

The project was launched in early 2020. Schiff, who was a Professor in Lakehead's Department of Health Sciences, secured $25,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's Partnership Engage Grant as well as in-kind contributions from the school. The funding allowed her to engage two research assistants: Ashley Wilkinson and Amanda Dodaro. They compiled a list of potential indicators, liaised with community partners, identified credible sources, gathered appropriate data, chose and evaluated indicators at the local level, and then identified gaps in the data.

“Changes in indicators can guide decision-making, which then affects various populations very differently,” says Dodaro, who has completed a master’s degree in public health. “We need to first gather sufficient data related to equity, diversity and inclusion, and, second, use that data to ensure the decisions account for the health and well-being of everyone impacted.”

Wilkinson sees this research as drawing attention to the SDGs and the need to implement them locally.

“It isn’t enough to be part of the discussion at the federal level,” she says. “Municipalities should also review their progress towards meeting the targets identified by the UN.”

Wilkinson, who earned a master’s degree with specialization in Indigenous and northern health, was also research co-ordinator on the project, working with group members, contacting community organizations and contributing to the final report.

The VLR report was released Oct 31, timed to be top of mind for the newly-elected city council.

“We were hoping to advocate with a new government for additional work that we can or should be doing around sustainability,” Schiff says.

While not intended to be comprehensive, the 62-page report does attempt to highlight successes and challenges. The summary looks at a multitude of indicators, ranging from food insecurity to opioid-related issues to crime, from math scores to tree planting to climate adaptation. Among the more eye-catching stats:

  • Opioid-related deaths has gone up 360 per cent in four years
  • Proportion of the population experiencing homelessness rose 63 per cent
  • Number of community gardens increased by 190 per cent; number of school gardens up 175 per cent
  • Fatal motor vehicle collisions increased by 15 per cent
  • Crime severity index rose 24 per cent
  • Organic waste declined by 14 per cent

However, Schiff cautions, these numbers are not to be taken as absolutes. For example, recycling as measured in tonnes increased by 12 per cent from 2015-19. On the surface that might seem a worthwhile development. Or is it?

“Does that mean we’re wasting more and having to recycle more?” Schiff asks. “Ultimately we should be reducing our consumption. So there are some areas where we’re not really sure how to rate it. We put a question mark there because we need a bigger discussion around that indicator.”CJ copy

That means no firm black and white conclusions should be drawn from the data.

“We really hesitate to say how Thunder Bay is doing – whether good or bad,” states Schiff, who recently relocated to Prince George, B.C. and is Dean of the Faculty of Human and Health Sciences at the University of Northern British Columbia. “We can say Thunder Bay is doing great on some things and there are other areas where there is room for improvement. That’s the fairest way to put it.

“Because it’s the first report, it’s hard to say ‘How are we doing?’ It’s only a baseline. Hopefully we will do a follow-up report and we can say more concretely what direction we’re headed in.”

Lakehead is ranked 64th out of 1,406 universities from around the world, based on its performance in meeting the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Reference). 

Wilkinson, who is pursuing a PhD at University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), noted that there are significant gaps to be addressed. With that in mind, the VLR concludes with six recommendations to advance the work that is already being undertaken.

“This project highlights the successes of local organizations and the ways in which their work contributes to ending poverty, improving health and education, reducing inequality, facilitating economic growth and addressing climate concerns, to create a sustainable community,” Wilkinson says.

Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.

Image caption: Dr. Rebecca Schiff was lead on the Thunder Bay and the UN SDGs: A Voluntary Local Review report.

Research in Action: Finding peace through the stories of MAiD

Published in The Chronicle Journal Thursday, February 24, 2022


 As our population ages and more people who suffer complex health issues decide to depart on their own terms, more Canadians will have first-hand experience with someone requesting to end their life at their time of choosing.

With medical assistance in dying (MAiD) now a legal option in Canada, this presents new territory for society to navigate. To that end, a project undertaken by researchers at Lakehead University is shedding light on what the family and friends who accompanied someone on this journey have experienced.

kerri lynn

“Grief comes to us all and we now accept that we move forward with our grief, but people who accompany a significant person on a MAiD journey appear to have experiences to which we need to give voice, to afford them appropriate support,” says PhD graduate student Keri-Lyn Durant.


Durant was part of a team looking at the untold stories of MAiD, through the experience of family and loved ones. This work grew out of an earlier project that interviewed physicians providing palliative care. With a $65,800 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Dr. Katherine Kortes-Miller and two graduate assistants spoke to people who accompanied someone who chose MAiD at the end of their lives.

“For the most part, the people who reached out to us had a positive experience with medical assistance in dying and felt that this was the best choice for the person that they were accompanying,” says Kortes-Miller, an associate professor in Lakehead’s school of social work and director of the Centre for Education and Research on Aging & Health (CERAH).

“People did talk about some challenges, in terms of navigating the system, knowing where to start, how to access support,” she adds. “But the outcome for the participants in our study was generally positive, because the person who died using MAiD got what they wanted, what they needed in that moment, and they were able to make those choices.”

Participants who were interviewed hailed from across Ontario and ranged in age from 33 to 86. The vast majority were female, and tended to be a spouse, parent or friend. The interviews lasted from 40 minutes to 2-1/2 hours.

A total of 27 interviews were conducted over the course of 2020. That was during COVID lockdowns, which the research team found actually made it easier to reach out to people and engage them in a meaningful way.

“Participants were grieving the deaths of their people, and then were isolated,” notes Durant. “They let us into their worlds, trusted us to actively listen to their stories and shared our hope that giving voice to their experiences would be of benefit to them and to educators, medical professionals and policy makers.”

The second phase of the research involved the creation of digital stories. The research team hosted workshops and helped participants craft short videos about their experiences with MAiD.

“When we were capturing their stories our goal was to make it as autonomous as possible,” Kortes-Miller says. “The Digital Stories in our project are owned by the people who created them.”kathy k miller

These Digital Stories are intended for educational purposes, but some are publicly available through personal websites. The link is:;t=3s.

In September, Kortes-Miller and CERAH hosted an on-line symposium that attracted more than 200 people from across Canada as well as the U.S., Scotland and Australia. Many were health-care providers, hospice-palliative care workers, researchers, educators and volunteers. The aim was to bring a diverse range of people together, to share their experiences and cultivate connections.

“We still need to do a great deal of education around medical assistance in dying,” Kortes-Miller states. “We had members of the general public show up who did not necessarily have a deep understanding of what medical assistance in dying is and what it means to people. So they had the opportunity to see that. Some of the feedback we received was, ‘I didn’t know this was an option’ or ‘I misunderstood what medical assistance in dying was and this was a helpful way to learn more’.”

This study did have limitations, though. MAiD is usually accessed by people of means – those with education, well-paying jobs and a supportive social network. The researchers didn’t hear from those who had less positive experiences or who had challenges working through the system. Kortes-Miller hopes to expand the study nationally and hopefully get more diverse input.

“We’ll try to target some of the populations we may not have accessed before, different socio-economic groups, different levels of education, focusing a little more on culture,” Kortes-Miller says.

Kortes-Miller is grateful for the work of research assistants Durant and Kendra Casey, a master’s student in social work. For Durant, who is pursuing a PhD in educational studies, this work hits close to home. In 2020, her uncle passed away, giving her a unique understanding of what grieving looks like during a global pandemic. As well, it fits in with her employment as a dying, death and loss educator at Hospice Georgian Triangle in Collingwood.

“New legislation means we are still ironing out what works and what does not work, and we need to hear from people who are directly impacted by MAiD,” she says.

Canada is a leader in medical assistance in dying, Kortes-Miller says, and as legislation continues to grow and adapt it’s essential to understand what happens at the bedside from those most intimately involved.

“We need to learn from it so it influences and improves our policies,” she says. “And it expands this idea that how we die matters. Medical assistance in dying is an option for Canadians at the end of life and we need to deepen our understanding about that experience.”

Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.


Research in Action: Sustainability in the face of climate change

Published by on Saturday, March 12, 2022.


Lakehead University was approached by Camphill Communities Ontario (CCO) to partner on a research project entitled 'Fostering the Socio-Ecological Resilience of CCO’s Maple Syrup Operation in the Face of Climate Change.'

“One of their mandates is to increase engagement with the community by developing mutually beneficial partnerships,” said Principal Investigator, Dr. Gerardo Reyes, who is also Assistant Professor in the departments of Sustainability Sciences and Biology at Lakehead University.

“They want more people to be aware of the great things that they’re doing, so they reached out to us and asked if we wanted to partner with them to create research that highlights what is going on at Camphill Communities Ontario.”

CCO is a non-profit organization whose mission is to create unique and inspiring residential, vocational and learning opportunities for people with cognitive and developmental disabilities in both rural and urban settings in Simcoe County.

Dr. Reyes

Reyes is supervising Breanne Lywood, a graduate student from the Biology department at Lakehead University.

“Breanne’s main role is to try and find ways to ensure that (CCO’s) maple syrup operation will be around as climate changes. We’re looking to develop adaptation strategies that can be employed to ensure that they can maintain or even enhance the production of maple syrup,” Reyes said.

“The CCO’s maple syrup operation is a social enterprise that’s actually run by and managed for CCO companions—that’s how adults with intellectual disabilities associated with CCO are addressed," said Reyes.

"Its success is not just about generating profit and revenue to fund other CCO programming, it’s also predicated on helping individual well-being by fostering the feeling that we are all contributing members of society. It’s meaningful work as people of all abilities are working together to make the sugarbush operation run smoothly.”

While there are other components and participants involved in the Camphill project, Reyes and Lywood are working specifically with the maple syrup enterprise. Lywood is closely evaluating the Camphill operation and is comparing findings with what other local maple syrup producers’ operations are doing.

“There are several key factors that impact the production of maple syrup,” Lywood said. “So myself, an undergrad student, and a couple of the companions will be evaluating the importance of these factors within the sugarbush at Camphill and those of other regional producers. We’ll be looking at things like temperature, precipitation, snow cover, foliage health, soil conditions, and the overall health of the sugarbush.”

As this project is a social as well as an ecological venture, the team will also be asking companions about the benefits and drawbacks associated with working in the maple syrup operation.

“We’ll be determining what companions like or dislike about the various jobs and tasks available to them,” Lywood said. “We’ll work on implementing those likes into the actual adaptation strategy that we hope to create for Camphill Communities. It’s really exciting to have the different natural and social science components together in this project.”

Reyes explained that the goal is to put all the elements gathered by their research team together to create a management plan for Camphill.

“We want to provide CCO with options and adaptation strategies. For example, what if novel insect pests threaten to defoliate the entire stand? What can we do? What will happen if the ratio of maples to non-syrup producing species changes? How is the overall health of the stand impacted by climate change and how will any or all these factors ultimately impact production? How will that impact the role of companions in maple syrup production?”

The dual natural science and social science nature of this pilot study is unusual, Reyes said.

“It’s usually one or the other. If we’re successful, we’re perhaps creating a template for other research groups to follow on how to address important socio-ecological questions with involvement of researchers from multiple domains," he explained.

"Maybe this will inspire other research teams to develop an interdisciplinary approach, and thus, tackle problems in a more holistic manner and provide more opportunities to learn from each other.”

The project has two funders, to date: CCO and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Engage Grant.

The project is slated to run for two years with the hope that a partnership between Lakehead University and CCO will be ongoing.

“CCO is great to work with and has been really receptive and open to having us be a part of their community,” Reyes said. “It’s been a great partnership so far. This project is a starting point that hopefully will spur the development of other mutually beneficial, long-term joint research and education ventures.”

Research in Action: Research Partnership with mine, a win-win for all parties

Published in The Chronicle Journal Thursday, June 9, 2022


Collaborations between industry, government, and universities are nothing new. But a multimillion-dollar investment involving Impala Canada, NSERC, the province and Lakehead University is yielding benefits both in the mine and in the laboratory.

Thanks to nearly $2-million in contributions, Lakehead researchers led by Dr. Peter Hollings will be working at the Lac des Iles (LDI) mine, northeast of Thunder Bay, helping parent company Impala Canada understand more about the mineral deposits there while also giving the next generation of geoscientists invaluable hands-on training.

Peter Hollings

“I think it’s a really good model of how we can take industry funding and leverage it through government support to do some really amazing research,” says Hollings, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) Industrial Research Chair in mineral exploration. “It will help us build Lakehead University and the Geology department into a hub for mineral deposit research. We are building a large team of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the department, with the LDI group forming the core of that team.”

The industrial research chair was announced in early 2021. The province committed $690,000 from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, which was matched by Lakehead University, and $375,000 from Impala Canada, as well as matching grants from NSERC to fund Hollings' position and a research team. The industrial chair designation means Hollings can devote more time to the work at LDI mine, and other research projects in Northern Ontario.

Investing in mineral exploration and geological research at Lakehead University is an investment in Impala Canada’s future, says a senior company official.

“Dr. Hollings and his graduate students pursue relevant studies that help us better understand the formation of the Lac des Iles palladium deposits as well as the potential opportunities in the regions in which we’re operating,” states Allison Henstridge, Impala Canada’s vice-president of Technical Services and Projects. “The more we learn about these insights the better we are able to plan for a sustainable future, benefitting our employees, the communities nearby and the surrounding economies.”

In a broad sense, Hollings and the graduate students will try to understand how deposits of mostly nickel, copper and platinum group elements came to be where they are at LDI and other satellite intrusions.

“That will help the company focus and target their exploration, not only around the mine, to expand the life of the mine, but to find new deposits,” Hollings says. “LDI is predominantly a palladium deposit, but when you find palladium you find other platinum group elements.”

Generally, the researchers take samples from the field, and bring them back to the lab to study the geochemistry. They use various techniques to look at trace elements, such as sulphur isotopes, to understand the process by which metals are concentrated.

“We are also looking at some of the other deposits, which to date don’t have enough metal to make them worth mining, to understand why they’re different,” Hollings explains. “Can we come up with signatures that the company can use to very quickly say, ‘OK, this one is not going to work for us, it’s not enough metal, whereas this one maybe will and we should focus our efforts on exploring that particular area.” 

Most of the exploration is centred on the mine footprint. Located off Highway 527, about 85 kilometres from the city, LDI is an open-pit and underground operation that produces palladium, which is used as fuel cells in cars and buses, as well as in jewellery and dental fillings. The mineralization there is described as “rarely visible and unpredictable.”

The early phase of this five-year arrangement is coming to an end, with master’s student Justin Jonsson now completing his thesis. Other graduate students, as well as post-doctoral fellow Wyatt Bain, are working on different projects.wyatt bain

Hollings credits Impala Canada with allowing them onto the LDI property, particularly in light of the stringent requirements at the height of the COVID pandemic.

“Impala Canada has been an amazing partner throughout the project, they have been incredibly supportive of the research, not only with funding but also in getting students access to the mine,” he says. “Even through COVID they’ve worked really hard to ensure the research kept going. They’ve been an excellent partner in that respect.”

Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.