EUC professor’s book pioneers psychoanalytic examination of crisis-prone capitalism

Earth marble wrapped in bandages and overheating on black backdrop

“Why is it that, despite the fact that we live in an ‘information economy,’ despite the fact that we are well aware of sweatshop labour, increasing inequalities and climate crisis,” Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change Professor Ilan Kapoor ponders, “we continue to be so invested in our global capitalist system?”

Ilan Kapoor closeup portrait
Ilan Kapoor

In his latest book, Global Libidinal Economy (Suny Press, 2023), Kapoor – along with co-authors Gavin Fridell, Chair of Global Development Studies and research professor at Saint Mary’s University; Maureen Sioh, associate professor in the Department of Geography at DePaul University; and Pieter de Vries, international development research liaison for Wageningen University and Universidad de Antioquia – supplants traditional economic wisdom and emphasizes the often overlooked role that unconscious human desire plays in driving overconsumption and – by extension – environmental and humanitarian crises.

“Conventional political economy assumes the individual as an autonomous, rational, self-interested and advantage-maximizing subject. Neoclassical economics, for example, is based on the idea of a self-regulating market that operates under the ‘invisible hand’ of supply and demand,” Kapoor explains.

Widespread though this understanding of market forces may be, however, Kapoor asserts that such a perspective is ultimately limited, failing to describe how so-called rational actors can understand the regrettable consequences of unmitigated consumption, while simultaneously participating in such destructive, and eventually self-destructive, behaviours. In order to explain this contradiction, Kapoor and his peers introduce the concept of “the ‘libidinal,’ [which] plays a critical role,” as a primary motivator of consumption, rather than a negligible, haphazard influence.

“Libidinal economy is founded on the notion of a desiring subject, who obeys the logic not of good sense, rationality and self-interest, but rather excess and irrationality,” Kapoor says. “Desire, as it is conceptualized in psychoanalytic theory, is insatiable, which is what helps explain the relentlessness of capital accumulation and profit maximization. So, it is the irrationality and excess of desire that we think can help us understand such phenomena as overconsumption, excessive waste and environmental destruction to the point of imperiling not only accumulation but life itself.

Global Libidinal Economy (2023)
Global Libidinal Economy (2023)

“My co-authors and I claim in this book that it is because late capitalism fundamentally seduces us with such things as cars, iPhones, fast food, and media spectacle … as a result of which we end up fetishizing capitalism, loving it, in spite of knowing about the many socioeconomic and environmental problems associated with it,” he adds.

As a teacher of global environmental politics and international development studies, Kapoor approaches these subjects through the lenses of psychology and critical theoretic philosophy, encouraging his students and peers to debate trends in global development in terms of race, gender, class and unconscious bias.

“I am interested in those elements of our lives that are either hidden away – what psychoanalysis calls ‘repression’ – or are in plain sight but unacknowledged – that is, ‘disavowal,’” he says. “My last three books have focused on this repressive and disavowed role played by unconscious desire in global politics and development. Our [new] book builds on that project by examining the significant part played by unconscious desire in political economy.”

Officially published on May 15, Global Libidinal Economy will make it’s ceremonial debut at Authors meet Critics as a part of the 2023 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at York University on May 30.

Though intimately familiar to Kapoor and his co-authors, the conception of libidinal economy introduced in the book is now making waves in environmentalist and economist circles, being praised in early reviews as innovative and expansive, yet broadly accessible and concise.

To purchase a copy or see more information and reviews on Global Libidinal Economy, visit the publisher’s website.

Click here for details on the launch of Global Libidinal Economy and the Authors meet Critics event.

Centre for Bee Ecology, Evolution and Conservation hosts garden party for World Bee Day

Macro photo of green metallic sweat bee perched on a yellow flower

The Centre for Bee Ecology, Evolution and Conservation (BEEc) will once again mark the annual United Nations World Bee Day with new events designed to promote the health of local pollinators.

This year, for the first time, BEEc and the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) welcome all members of the University community to the EUC Native Plant Garden party on May 16 from 2:30 to 5 p.m.

World Bee Day, led internationally by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is dedicated to acknowledging and spreading awareness of the plethora of vital environmental processes that depend on the often underappreciated work of Earth’s busy bees.

“Bees are one of the most important groups of pollinators in the world, yet most people are unaware that we have at least 350 species in the GTA alone,” explains BEEc Coordinator Victoria MacPhail. “The EUC Native Plant Garden is an oasis for them on a campus full of concrete and buildings, providing food, shelter and nesting sites throughout the year.”

Observed around the world on Saturday, May 20, this year World Bee Day will arrive early at York in order to allow for the participation of as many interested community members as possible.

“We’re excited to celebrate World Bee Day a few days early with the whole York University community, to take this opportunity to share our love and knowledge of bees with others,” MacPhail says. “We have a wealth of free resources and are happy to chat with people about what they can do to help pollinators, from planting native flowers to advocating for increased protections.”

A lush planter box full of a variety of species of wild flowers
One of the EUC native species planter boxes to be maintained for World Bee Day

The featured garden party event is sponsored in part by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada and is open to all staff, students and faculty, as well as members of the public from outside of the University. Attendees will learn from York’s expert mellitologists, as well as free handouts, pinned insect displays, example bee nests and more, about the highly diverse bee species indigenous to Toronto and Southern Ontario at large, as well as the local flora that they depend on for sustenance. As a part of this hands-on learning experience, guests will be able to contribute to the University’s floral biodiversity by planting new native species in the EUC garden and removing invasive species that are less conducive to the health of local pollinators.

“We’re so thrilled to invigorate our relationship and stewardship of this wonderful garden started by [Professors] Gerde Werkerle and Leesa Fawcett, among others, with the partnership of BEEc. Hundreds of students pass by or attend summer classes in this rooftop garden sitting atop lecture halls and we want them to come to know this lively oasis of over 40 species – some of them edible. May 16 will be a great start to what we anticipate will be an amazing season,” says Phyllis Novak, director of the EUC Maloca Community and Native Plant Gardens.

York community members who intend to join in the gardening are asked to RSVP here by Friday, May 12. Members of the public are encouraged to drop in to this event and are not required to register. No prior experience or personal equipment is required to join in the gardening. Participants are encouraged to dress for the elements as this event will run rain or shine.

MacPhail says gardening volunteers can expect to “see examples of bee species – from tiny, smooth, black solitary bees that are only a few millimeters long and can be mistaken for flies or ants, to the large, fuzzy bumblebees that can be up to a couple centimeters in size, and whose queens are easily seen this time of year.

“Toronto’s official bee, the green metallic sweat bee – or Agapostemon virescens – has already been seen nesting in the garden, and we are confident that the upcoming garden party will help to improve the habitat for it and many other wildlife species,” she adds.

Additional BEEc-hosted events will run following the garden party and in the lead up to the official World Bee Day, including a cocktail fundraiser to help endow a fund for EUC graduate students studying bees on May 17 in Markham, as well as a Scholars’ Hub virtual seminar on May 18 detailing the leading-edge research on bees being carried out at York.

For more information on these supplemental Bee Day events, contact or see the BEEc news and social media page.

Lassonde professors working toward healthier planet

View of the Earth from space

Researchers from across Lassonde departments are demonstrating collective research efforts aimed towards creating a healthier planet across areas including smart materials, renewable energy, climate change, and water and sustainability.

Kamelia Atefi-Monfared, assistant professor – Department of Civil Engineering

Focusing on geomechanics, Atefi-Monfared is working to improve understanding of coupled processes in porous media, such as soils and geological reservoirs, including geothermal reservoirs. Her research establishes fundamental knowledge used to tackle global challenges involving energy, water and climate change through various projects.

Kamelia Atefi-Monfared

Specifically, Atefi-Monfared is applying her research to the advanced development and design of models for environmentally friendly ground improvement techniques, resilient infrastructure and sustainable production/storage of energy and water. One of her current projects involves the development of a novel framework to stabilize mine tailings and gravel roads using microbial-induced carbonate precipitation (MICP) – an eco-friendly technique for ground improvement that uses bacteria to produce bio-cement.

This work helps solve the problem of chemical and cement-based grouting materials that emit carbon dioxide and contaminate soil and groundwater.

Paul O’Brien, associate professor – Department of Mechanical Engineering

O’Brien leads research on the design, fabrication and application of materials that control, absorb and harvest electromagnetic radiation. These materials are used to develop and advance sustainable technologies, such as solar energy storage systems for the electrification of buildings.

Paul O’Brien

Through the development and improvement of sustainable technologies, O’Brien aims to contribute to the decarbonization of the building sector, which accounts for one-third of global energy consumption and almost 40 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. Through assessment and evaluation, his work also explores how energy systems and processes can be used to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

O’Brien’s research team is currently working on numerous projects, including the development of optical cavities to improve the performance of thermophotovoltaic systems, which convert radiant energy from heat sources to electric power.

Hany E. F. Farag, associate professor – Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

As a visionary leader in smart and sustainable energy, Farag has worked on countless projects that address Canada’s urgent need for clean and sustainable energy and transportation systems. Specifically, Farag develops modelling and control techniques to support the integration of low-carbon solutions into energy and transportation sectors.

Hany E. F. Farag

These low-carbon solutions include the production of renewable hydrogen, electrification of transportation and improvement of distributed energy resource (DER) capacity.

In a notable partnership with Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), Alectra inc., Metrolinx and the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CURTIC), Farag was the first researcher to investigate the integration of electrified bus fleets into power grids in Canada, resulting in research findings that influenced company policies and provided planning tools.

Mark Gordon, associate professor – Department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering

Gordon focuses his research on understanding what happens to pollutants after they are released into the atmosphere from different emission sources. This research produces information about the activity of pollutants, which can be used in climate and air quality models to improve the representation of real-world environments.

Mark Gordon

These models help stakeholder companies make informed decisions about the environment, such as implementing design strategies to reduce air pollution from a newly built highway.

Examples of Gordon’s research include the investigation and measurement of greenhouse gas emissions from traffic in urban areas, as well as the deposition rate of pollutants from oil sands and production facilities to the Boreal Forest in Northern Alberta.

York’s Ecological Footprint Initiative to host national footprint, biocapacity data launch

Glass planet in the sunshine

Canada’s ecological footprint declined during COVID-19, but is it back to pre-pandemic levels? York University’s Ecological Footprint Initiative (EFI) will release data showing changes up to 2022.

What is the size of Canada’s ecological footprint, and that of the rest of the world, and how did that change during the global pandemic?

Viewers from across the University community and beyond are invited to join the online launch Thursday, April 20, from 1 to 2 p.m, when researchers at York will release the Ecological Footprint of Canada, and 200 other countries, from 1961 to 2022.

Popularized roughly 30 years ago, the term “ecological footprint” was a way of measuring humanity’s appropriation of Earth’s carrying capacity. Since then, it has evolved to include a comprehensive system of national and international accounts. These accounts provide valuable insights about humanity’s use of lands and waters. The accounts help countries and communities to engage with sustainability and to make informed decisions about the future.

In practice, ecological footprints track the area of land and water used to grow food and renewable materials, plus the area occupied by settlements and infrastructure, as well as the area of forests needed to soak up carbon emissions.

In the last few years, York has become a global hub for producing ecological footprint accounts, and for researching ways to make them even more comprehensive.

Eric Miller
Eric Miller

“Canada reports on GDP with a lag of just a few months, yet its environmental data lags by years. We filled in gaps and lags to make it easier to assess environmental performance in Canada and around the world,” says EFI Director Eric Miller, from the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change. “Time is ticking. Each year of action or inaction matters for the future of humanity. For this reason, our data reports on Ecological Footprint up to the end of 2022.”

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, humanity’s ecological footprint has been in overshoot of the planet’s capacity to sustain it. Since 1961 humanity’s footprint has tripled.

“For each country we calculate the footprint of what was produced and what was consumed. The difference comes from the footprint embodied within the goods imported to the country, and the footprint of the goods exported by the country,” says Miller.

“Canada, for example, produces more wood products than it consumes, with the difference as exports,” he adds. “We generate this data for all countries, to reveal the ecological dimensions of global supply chains and the extent to which countries effectively offload their ecological requirements onto others.”

Miller says that to continue advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, University researchers depend on data that can be scaled nationally, as well as locally and globally – EFI provides this crucial data so that it remains timely, scalable and accessible.

This is the fifth anniversary of York producing data about ecological footprint and biocapacity, and supplying that data on an open-source basis to researchers around the world.

This year’s data will also include a more robust look at the footprint of fish harvests, including unreported catch. “In Canada, fish harvests were significantly underreported up to the point of the cod collapse. By including underreports, we can help researchers see these trends much more easily,” says Katie Kish, EFI research associate.

Mike Layton
Mike Layton

York’s new Chief Sustainability Officer Mike Layton will kick off the event, followed by updates to the 2023 accounts from Miller, along with EFI data analysts Sila Basturk Agiroglu and Peri Dworatzek.

Kish will talk about research futures and the growing international research network for the global footprint family, with a direct focus on better public-facing data and data for communities.

Mathis Wackernagel, co-founder and president of the Global Footprint Network, will discuss the state of the footprint and a look towards the future. One example he will draw on is the Kunming/Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework with 23 targets agreed upon at the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. These targets include the ecological footprint as a measurement tool.

Learn more at News @ York.

Lassonde professor’s research helps turn sunlight into fuel

sunshine hand

With society’s increasing demand for clean and renewable energy, the conversion of sunlight to fuel is a particularly useful application of solar energy. A research collaboration between York University Professor Thomas Cooper and a Switzerland-based company, Synhelion, is finding ways to produce sustainable solar fuel that is compatible with existing global fuel infrastructure.

According to the 2020 Statistical Review of the World Energy by BP, 84.3 per cent of the world’s energy consumption is from fossil fuels, a non-renewable and hazardous source. When fossil fuels are burned, they release harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), causing detrimental effects to the environment.

Simplified equation of Synhelion’s solar fuel production process
Simplified equation of Synhelion’s solar fuel production process

Working to help eliminate fossil fuels, Cooper, from the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Lassonde School of Engineering, has partnered with Synhelion, which has developed clean, renewable and sustainable solar fuel to power transportation technologies. Instead of releasing new and harmful gases into the atmosphere, this fuel is produced by recycling existing greenhouse gases from the air, specifically carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O). To initiate this process, solar radiation is reflected by a mirror field and generated into high-temperature solar process heat using Synhelion’s solar receiver. This solar process heat provides thermal energy to a reactor that drives the conversion of carbon dioxide and water to syngas (synthesis gas). Synthesis gas is then processed by standard liquid-gas technology into usable solar fuels such as gasoline or jet fuel.

To support the extreme heat conditions required to produce solar fuel (up to 1500C), Cooper is developing, improving and testing durable materials for Synhelion’s solar receiver. These materials are comprised of a ceramic substrate and a metal oxide coating which enhances solar absorption. In addition, Cooper is researching and developing aerogels – porous materials that can be used as thermal insulators for heat retention. Using various apparatus and testing conditions, the developed materials are also analyzed for their solar absorption properties as well as their ability to withstand high-intensity light and heat.

Ceramic materials developed in Professor Cooper’s lab
Ceramic materials developed in Cooper’s lab
Synhelion’s solar receiver
Synhelion’s solar receiver

“The heart of our lab is solar-thermal,” says Cooper. “We want to convert sunlight into something beneficial by using a thermal pathway. The target is to create systems that are viable everywhere and anywhere.”

In ongoing support of this project as well as other work in his lab, Cooper demonstrates innovative approaches to solar energy research – including the conversion of solar energy to heat, electricity and clean water. He is currently implementing a solar simulator in his lab, which can simultaneously emit high-intensity heat and light, creating realistic testing conditions for materials. He also continues to explore solutions for the persistent obstacle that is faced when working with solar energy; it tends to escape.

“It can be difficult to keep all of the solar energy that we harness, and it’s normal for us to lose energy and efficiency in the beginning of a project,” says Cooper. “Sometimes new materials have to be created; other times, we have to develop insulation.”

Through his collaboration with Synhelion, Cooper continues to work towards building a more sustainable world for all by creating accessible and renewable energy systems. This project will contribute to the development of a cleaner transportation sector by replacing fossil fuels with solar fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Film on York research looks at past to chart future of climate change

lake ice climate change

As contemporary climate change literature continues to develop, Sapna Sharma, an associate professor of biology at York University, glimpses 700 years into the past to better predict the future.

On March 20, as a part of Climate Change Research Month, the 58th CENTRAL Canadian Symposium on Water Quality Research and the One WATER World Water Day Conference, York University will host a screening of Omiwatari – a documentary on Sharma’s study of ice coverage of Japanese lakes throughout history to reveal pre- and post-industrial climate trends.

Sapna Sharma
Sapna Sharma

Historically, when Lake Suwa – the largest lake in Nagano, Japan – froze over in the winter, a rare phenomenon called omiwatari, or God’s crossing, took place. Sharp changes in temperature throughout balmy days and frigid nights caused the lake’s frozen surface to expand and contract, carving out cracks of ice that spanned the entire lake. Local legend stated that the cracks formed when unseeable gods, living on opposite ends of Lake Suwa, ran to meet each other on the ice each winter – an auspicious event that brought good fortune to Nagano. Centuries ago, omiwatari was observed in regular intervals, today it is an increasingly rare occurrence.

Sharma’s research focuses on the impacts of climate change on freshwater lakes, she has been documenting the ice coverage of Lake Suwa with the help of Kiyoshi Miyasaka, chief priest of the Tenaga Jinga shrine since 2012.

Miyasaka’s shrine has kept continuous records of Nagano’s lakes since 1443, with some observations recorded millenia earlier. Maintained by 15 generations of Shinto priests, the shrine’s lake records are amongst the longest record of meteorological observations anywhere on Earth. These ice records began well before the Industrial Revolution and have helped Sharma and her team understand how the climate is changing, even since before the advent of weather stations.

Filmmaker and multimedia artist Zeesy Powers was attending a Royal Canadian Institute for Science lecture when she first heard about Sharma’s research on omiwatari. Three years later, Sharma agreed to take part in a documentary on her work. Sharma provided the initial funding to get to Nagano. One year later, Powers was able to secure funding from the Canada Council for the Arts to complete it.

Powers travelled to Nagano at the end of Winter 2020 to capture Lake Suwa in a year without omiwatari – in fact, the lake remained absent of ice coverage entirely.

“We hope by sharing this story and our scientific understanding from this almost 700-year long ice record, we are able to convey how fast climate is changing and the urgency in which action is required to collectively begin reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” Sharma said.

Powers remarked that in making the film, she had unwittingly travelled across the world mere days before the first widespread lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic to document a less apparent, but potentially more destructive, global catastrophe.

“I was only in Japan for a month, and there was a slowly dawning sense that things were really going sideways,” Powers said. “We were so focused on this story that the pandemic was just an ominous background. It’s hard to feel like the present is of any significance when you’re holding [centuries-old artifacts] in your hands while talking about the permanent end to winter…

“The climate catastrophe is overwhelming and it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of it,” she added. “Presenting this tragedy highlights the immediacy of these losses, but also the hope that we are capable of adapting.”

The Omiwatari screening begins at 4 p.m. in the Second Student Centre and is followed by a Q-and-A with Sharma and Powers. All York community members are welcome, registration is not required. To learn more about Omiwatari, click here.

York, Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce partner to create positive change

York University and the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to create positive change for Black-owned businesses and social enterprises by reducing barriers to commerce and driving inclusive economic growth

York University has taken steps to create positive change for Black-owned businesses and social enterprises through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC).

The agreement, signed March 13, is a first between York and the CBCC and recognizes the important work the chamber does in supporting Black-owned businesses – creating a pathway for CBCC members to fast track their applications in York’s first-of-its-kind Social Procurement Vendor Portal. The new agreement also commits both organizations to share knowledge and best practices to break down barriers.

Social procurement seeks to increase community benefit by being intentional about how an organization buys its goods and services. Recognizing the way the University purchases goods and services can foster inclusive economic growth and has a positive impact on surrounding communities, York was one of Canada’s first universities to establish a comprehensive Social Procurement Policy.

Following the MOU signing, York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton moderated a discussion about inclusive economic recovery featuring panelists, Doug Minter (centre), Mgt Consultant/Elevate Program Manager, Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce, Olu Villasa (right), Manager, Black Entrepreneurship Alliance, Black Creek Community Health Centre, as well as Anne Jamieson, Senior Manager, Inclusive Employment, United Way Greater Toronto, and Carol McAulay, Vice-President, Finance and Administration, York University.
Following the MOU signing, York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton moderated a discussion about inclusive economic recovery featuring panelists: Doug Minter, Mgt Consultant/Elevate program manager, Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce; Olu Villasa, manager, Black Entrepreneurship Alliance, Black Creek Community Health Centre; as well as Anne Jamieson, senior manager, Inclusive Employment, United Way Greater Toronto; and Carol McAulay, vice-president, finance and administration, York University

“York is a leader in creating positive change toward a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable future and we recognize the importance of academia in convening people and ideas for meaningful action,” says York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “As an anchor institution, we have an opportunity and an obligation to lead by example and maximize our economic and social impact on the communities around us. I want to congratulate York’s social procurement team and the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce on this milestone agreement aimed at leveling the playing field for Black-owned businesses and social enterprises.”

By keeping community economic development as a core principle, social procurement helps create more sustainable and prosperous communities. The premise is simple: as York grows, local communities should share in the success.

“CBCC is excited to sign the MOU with our natural partner York University,” says Jamila Aman, executive director, Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce. “At CBCC we actively seek to promote, improve trade and commerce as well as the economic, civic and social welfare of Black and Afro-Canadians. We develop programs aimed at creating a high level of economic awareness at all community, educational, and political levels for the benefit of our members.”

In 2022, York launched its Social Procurement Vendor Portal, becoming the first university in Ontario – and one of the first in Canada – to open its procurement process to non-third party certified diverse vendors and social enterprises. By actively identifying and contracting with diverse-owned businesses and social enterprises, and others who disproportionately experience unemployment or underemployment and discrimination, York has prioritized vendor diversity through both its Social Procurement Policy and its Social Procurement Vendor Portal.

>>Find out how diverse-owned businesses and social enterprises can choose one of two paths to register on York’s Social Procurement Vendor Portal

This innovative drive to change how the University buys goods and services, is highlighted in how York is building its new 10-storey, 400,000-square-foot Markham Campus, set to open in Spring 2024. Through the new policy, vendors are being drawn from across the community and so far, $5.8 million has been spent at businesses headquartered and operated in York Region in fields like concrete, building supplies and technical consultations. And in response to the Social Procurement Policy, York’s construction partner Stuart Olson and their subcontractors have hired 15 equity-deserving apprentices.

Learn more at News @ York.

York researchers invited to share, collaborate at global health workshop

FEATURED Global Health

Call for presenters: The Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research invites the York University community to join the ongoing discussion on critical social science perspectives in global health research.

Critical research often involves the use of critical theory with social justice aims. Critical social science perspectives in global health (CPGH) are transdisciplinary, participatory, experimental or experiential analyses that seek greater effectiveness, equity and excellence in global health. This means engaging directly with global public health actors, structures and systems to transform global public health while remaining committed to social science theory and methodology. For more information, visit the CPGH project page.

There is an open call to York researchers to consider presenting at the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research’s fourth annual, Workshop on Critical Social Science Perspectives in Global Health Research on March 29. The registration deadline for new research ideas presentations is March 20. Participants will engage with the research community at York University from a variety of disciplines to create new insights, foster collaboration and discuss research opportunities. The workshop will be an in-person event at the Dahdaleh Institute with continental breakfast and lunch. All are welcome to attend.

Critical Perspectives in Global Health Research Workshop Wednesday, March 29

Who can present?
York faculty and researchers (with the support of a York faculty member) are invited to deliver presentations.

What is the format of the presentations?
Interested participants are asked to prepare a brief five-minute, two-slide presentation on any research project, current or planned, which takes a critical social science approach to global health.

Seed grants
Following the workshop, the Dahdaleh Institute will launch the 2023 Critical Perspectives in Global Health Seed Grant program and award five research seed grants of up to $5,000 each. The seed grants will support critical global health research that contributes to the themes of the Dahdaleh Institute, which are planetary health, global health and humanitarianism, as well as global health foresighting.

For more information on these research themes, visit the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research website. For the event’s full agenda, visit the event page.

New and renewed Canada Research Chairs at forefront of important, future-defining research

Hand holding light bulb with illustration on blurred background

York University has gained four new and three renewed Canada Research Chairs (CRC). Professors Antony Chum, Arash Habibi Lashkari, Kohitij Kar and Liya Ma received new CRC appointments and Professors Christopher Caputo, Raymond W.M. Kwong and Regina Rini had their CRCs renewed.

Antony Chum is assistant professor in the School of Kinesiology in the Faculty of Health and CRC Tier II in Population Health Data Science. Deaths and diseases of despair are those that are preventable, and they include substance-use disorders, suicides and overdose deaths. In 2019, they accounted for approximately 30 per cent of deaths for Canadians aged 15 to 49 years. Research into the causes of despair and strategies to reduce it may lead to substantial improvements in quality of life and life expectancy.

Chum is establishing a national hub that will use population health data science to study the causes of – and solutions for – deaths and diseases of despair. He and his research team are investigating the epidemiology of deaths and diseases of despair as a unified phenomenon. They are also examining the role of follow-up care in preventing suicides, overdoses and substance-use disorders as well as evaluating how public policies can reduce these self-inflicted deaths and diseases.

Arash Habibi Lashkari is CRC Tier II in Cybersecurity and an associate professor in the School of Information Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS). Cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving and hackers are discovering new ways to disguise themselves. Detecting these threats requires new tools that can capture behavioural patterns and alert developers. Lashkari, aims to develop the tools that can do this.

Working with his research team, they are creating an anomaly detection model for cybersecurity. The model is based on the analysis of benign users’ common behavioural patterns, which are then contrasted with those of known threats. The team is also developing a platform to increase awareness and general knowledge of cybersecurity. Ultimately, by providing the technical solutions needed to detect anomalous behaviours and encourage better cybersecurity practices, their research will improve the security of our computer systems.

Kohitij Kar is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology in the Faculty of Science and CRC Tier II in Visual Neuroscience. His research lab is a core part of the Vision: Science to Technology Application (VISTA) Program and the Centre for Vision Research at York University. As humans, we can seamlessly interact with the world around us thanks to our remarkably sophisticated visual system. These interactions depend on our brain’s ability to translate the images we see. But understanding the brain’s sophisticated computations has been a challenge. As Canada Research Chair in Visual Neuroscience, Kar is uncovering the inner workings of the primate visual system.

Kar and his research team are performing detailed circuit-level neural measurements in non-human primates and relating them to specific visual behaviours. They are using their findings to develop artificial intelligence (AI) systems that mimic the primate brain in hopes of coming up with treatment strategies for mental health disorders that could improve cognitive behavioral therapies. Ultimately, Kar’s research could help millions of individuals suffering from neurological disorders by providing new knowledge about brain function.

Liya Ma is CRC Tier II in Cognitive Neurophysiology and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Health. Human brains are generally flexible enough to adapt to changes in the world around us. But, reduced flexibility in thinking and behaviour is common among patients who suffer from certain neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia or autism.

Ma and her research team are investigating how neurons in the brain enable flexibility in decision-making. The research team is exploring how neural communications can support cognitive flexibility in non-human primates. To do this, they are monitoring primates’ neuronal activities during tasks and manipulating the neurons’ activities to identify the roles that specific brain regions play in terms of cognitive and behavioural flexibility. Ma and her team are also using experimental data to design mathematical models for cognitive flexibility and identifying the pathological changes that lead to brain damage. Their research could shed light on new ways to treat neuropsychiatric disorders.

Renewed Canada Research Chairs

Christopher Caputo is CRC Tier II (renewed) in Main-Group Catalysis and Sustainable Chemistry and an assistant professor of chemistry in the Faculty of Science. Chemicals provide the building blocks of many of the products we rely on every day, from pharmaceuticals to agrochemicals for growing food to dyes for cosmetics. But producing chemicals is an energy-intensive and polluting process, so it is critical that we discover far more sustainable approaches. Caputo is tackling this problem using a two-pronged approach.

First, he and his research team are developing greener catalysts to create chemicals (a catalyst lowers the barriers to a chemical reaction). These catalysts are produced using less energy and without the need for precious metals, which are rare, expensive and unsustainable. Secondly, the team is working on an innovative platform technology from renewable feedstocks with the goal of revolutionizing personal care by producing ultra-long lasting sun protection.

Raymond (Wai Man) Kwong is CRC Tier II (renewed) in Environmental Toxicology and an associate professor in the Department of Biology in the Faculty of Science. Human activities such as overfishing, plastic dumping, oils and gas spills, and the production of agricultural and industrial waste, lead to the deaths of trillions of aquatic animals every year. Kwong is advancing our understanding of how these environmental stressors affect the function of aquatic animals’ nervous systems.

Kwong and his research team are using molecular neurophysiology and functional genetics tools to study the toxicity of metals and bisphenol compounds in the early stages of aquatic animals’ lives. Their aim is to identify the mechanisms behind their toxic response or tolerance and to shed light on the relationship between environmental toxins and geno- and phenotypes. Ultimately, their findings will support the development of better strategies to regulate water quality and protect aquatic life and biodiversity.

Regina Rini is assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, LA&PS and CRC Tier II (renewed) in Social Reasoning. In today’s political climate, social media is intensifying divisions and artificial intelligence is being used to target political messaging in new and effective ways. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have undermined our existing social norms around sharing information. (A social norm is a widely shared expectation about how members of a society should conduct themselves.) Rini’s research seeks to understand how best to manage the social disruptions caused by rapid technological changes while also protecting the ability of individuals to make moral decisions.

Rini and her research team are using moral philosophy and social science tools to examine how modern, diverse societies, like Canada’s, can manage disagreement and create shared social space. They are focusing on the social norms that are affected by shifts in technology and determining how new norms around truth and sincerity might protect democracies from the harms caused by these shifts.

The announcement of the Canada Research Chair appointments was made by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne, during his announcement Nov. 22 of an investment of more than $139 million to support 176 new and renewed Canada Research Chairs across 46 institutions in Canada.

York occupational health and safety students build, curate multimedia research repository

Workers clad in hardhats and safety gear inspecting documents

Assistant Professor Duygu Biricik Gulseren’s Fall 2022 Occupational Health & Safety (HRM 3400) class created The OHS Project, which comprises case studies, news and academic articles, and podcast episodes, as a part of a semester-long experiential education effort dedicated to advancing workplace safety.

Professor Duygu Biricik Gulseren close-up photo
Duygu Biricik Gulseren

The newly launched project aims to become an informational touchstone not just for future occupational health and safety (OHS) students at York’s School of Human Resources Management (HRM), but for OHS researchers and educators around the world as well.

In accordance with prevailing open education principles, all research materials offered by The OHS Project are provided without redaction or subscription. Currently the website is home to 23 case studies, 21 articles and six podcast episodes, all published by students. As Gulseren welcomes new cohorts into her courses, and into the project, the breadth of the research materials on display will continue to grow and continue to be shared with students in other OHS courses, as well as with professionals in the field.

“[The project has] great resources for OHS professionals. I liked the cases and podcasts, they are very informative and make you think about company specific OHS procedures,” said Yasemin Mensah, general manager of safety and quality at Wartsila Energy Storage.

“I really appreciate the effort to create a website and share it with us,” said Yisheng Peng, assistant professor of organizational science and communication at George Washington University. “To continue building our future portfolio for occupational health and safety education, I will also encourage my students to engage in these similar activities, i.e. case interviews and analyses.”

Experiential education advantages

Naturally, the benefits of Gulseren’s diverse grading methods, and novel approach to promoting research opportunities, were felt first and foremost by the students who founded the project under her direction.

First-year human resources student Ugur Erdal hosted his own podcast episode which focused on occupational health psychology and the concerns of researchers within that burgeoning field of study.

“The podcast [provides] perspectives related to different academic backgrounds [adjacent to] occupational health and safety,” Erdal said. “The podcast provided me with [access] to international information transfer systems and [readily available] academic information. Even though international meetings and interactions seem hard [to coordinate,] podcasts present excellent opportunities for both students and professors [to engage experts abroad.]”

“The OHS Project offers a wealth of learning opportunities. It allows students to obtain certification in research ethics (CORE-2022), hone interviewing and transcription skills, apply foundational occupational health and safety principles, and offers the opportunity to network… with practitioners in the field,” wrote Jason Molnar, who authored a case study for the project. “Plus, writing the case study narrative was fun. I highly recommend this project for anyone interested in experiential learning.”

In the future, Gulseren plans for the program to not only increase in the quantity of research materials it contains, but to also evolve in how it prepares students for the workplace. There are also plans to expand the podcasting opportunities to graduate and PhD students.

“In the current term, we are also adding a training component to the project,” Gulseren said. “Students from this course, along with Ayesha Tabassum, a PhD candidate in HRM, and I are designing a brief, evidence-based ‘techno-stress’ training [module] for employees working from home. We will evaluate the effectiveness of the training using data from employees working from home.”