2017 Seed Award winners

The 2017 Seed Award winners: Front (l to r): Michelle Dawson, Illana Gareen, Ian Gonsher. Back (l to r): David Borton, Derek Merck, Brad Marston, Ian Dell’Antonio, Orestis Panagiotou, Brandon Marshall, Yuka Sasaki, Jacob Rosenstein, Brenda Rubenstein, David Savitz, Richard Locke, Carl Saab, Kristi Wharton. Not pictured: Michael Beland, Julie Boergers,  Scott Frickel, Mark Howison, Jeff Huang, John McGeary, Eric Morrow, Rebecca Nedostup, Nicole Nugent, Paul Pirraglia, Christopher Rose,  Stefanie Tellex, Lai-Sheng Wang, Karen Woolfall-Quinn.

Social Sciences

Assembling Comprehensive, Fine-scale Data on Historical Transformations in Land Use
Despite the growing availability of big data in many fields, historical data on social phenomena are often not available due to a lack of automated and scalable approaches for collecting, digitizing, and assembling them. We have developed a data-mining method for extracting tabulated, geocoded data from printed directories. In preliminary studies, we validated the method on scanned images of the annual Rhode Island Manufacturing Directory, which record nearly 60 years of industrial land use. The resulting dataset can be used for socioenvironmental analyses of industrialization and urbanization at a resolution that was not previously possible, revealing patterns of industrial churning and accumulated risk of industrial hazards. Through seed funding, we propose to scale our data collection efforts to an ideal and complementary data source for commercial and residential land use: phone books. Combining data from manufacturing directories and phone books, we will build a comprehensive dataset for land use in the Providence metropolitan area, and use it initially to test theories of land-use transformation. The successful application of our method to one metropolitan area will demonstrate the feasibility of scaling it to multiple metropolitan areas of interest across the United States. Such a data resource, encompassing nationwide land-use transformations over multiple decades, would be broadly valuable to social scientists interested in questions of urban-scale spatial processes, and will form the basis of a competitive proposal to the NSF program “Resource Implementations for Data Intensive Research in the Social Behavioral and Economic Sciences.”

PI: Scott Frickel, Associate Professor of Sociology and Environment and Society
Co-PI: Mark Howison, Director of Data Science, Computing and Information Services
Key Personnel:  David Berenbaum, Lead Data Scientist, Computing and Information Services; Ashley Lee, Data Science Associate, Computing and Information Services; Thomas Marlow, Graduate Student, Sociology
Funded: $50,000

The Field of the Chinese State: An "Archive to Article" Project
This project is a new digital platform for large-scale, descriptive, open-access information on the evolution of the Chinese government from roughly 400 years ago to today. It departs from most digital humanities endeavors in that it does not assume a “one-text, one-world” approach, but seeks to exploit the potential of digital tools and collaborative methods to solve a problem of incomplete corpora and inconsistent digitization. We envision a closed collaborative environment that will help scholars apply consistent metadata, tagging, markup, citation and other common tools to documents that range from raw archival material to idiosyncratic databases to the search output of digital corpora. The open-access end point of such work will be an ever-evolving handbook of institutions underpinning the development of modern China. This is especially important to modern Chinese studies for two reasons. First, the sources are inherently more disparate and numerous than those in pre-modern East Asian Studies, which has seen the most sophisticated digital humanities work. Meanwhile, political and logistical obstacles have hindered the rendering of modern archives digitally and publicly available. Second, intellectual siloing has reduced long-term institutional analysis of the Chinese state even as information accrues and public interest in the subject increases. We anticipate, however, that the intellectual principles and practical application of this platform will be of interest to programmers, historians, and digital scholars beyond the China field. For Brown, this project would be an opportunity to push digital scholarship in new directions and join a major growth area of Asian studies.

PI: Rebecca Nedostup, Associate Professor of History
Co-PI: Maura Dykstra, Assistant Professor, History, California Institute of Technology
Technical Advisor: Ian Matthew Miller, Assistant Professor of History, St. John's University
Funded: $25,000

Public Health

Rapid self-testing to prevent fentanyl overdose among young people who use drugs
Drug overdose is among the most pressing public health problems in the United States. Greatly exacerbating the nation’s overdose crisis has been the emergence of non-pharmaceutical fentanyl (NPF), a highly potent synthetic opioid mixed in heroin and other drugs. Multiple states in regions throughout the country are reporting an unprecedented surge of fentanyl-involved overdose deaths. In this pilot study, we will characterize the prevalence, knowledge of, and perceptions towards NPF exposure among heroin and counterfeit pill-using young adults (the age group most affected by NPF). Second, we will test the feasibility and acceptability of a “take home” fentanyl self-testing intervention to increase overdose risk reduction behaviors and improve uptake of naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote. We will recruit a community-based sample of 40 young adults aged 18 to 35 who use heroin, counterfeit prescription pills, or inject drugs. All participants will complete structured interviews and will provide urine samples to test for recent NPF exposure at baseline. Then, participants will receive 5 “take home” rapid screens, which detect NPF metabolites in urine and will be used to study participants to identify when they have been exposed to NPF. Participants will be asked to submit their results in real-time through an overdose prevention and surveillance website, www.PreventOverdoseRI.org. Data from this pilot study will lay the groundwork for the next step in intervention development—an NIH R01 efficacy trial. In sum, this research will significantly enhance public health efforts to prevent, identify, and respond to spikes in fentanyl overdose among young adults.

PI: Brandon Marshall, Manning Assistant Professor of Epidemiology
Co-Is: Traci Green, Adjunct Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and Epidemiology, and Deputy Director of the Boston Medical Center Injury Prevention Center; Josiah Rich, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, and Director of The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights; Scott Hadland, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine; Edward Bernstein, Professor of Emergency Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine
Consultant: Jane Buxton, Professor of Medicine, University of British Columbia and the Harm Reduction Lead/Physician Epidemiologist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control
Funded: $50,000

Leveraging heterogeneity across screening centers in the National Lung Screening Trial to inform screening policies
Lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) has gained prominence as a promising intervention to reduce lung cancer mortality. Although recommended as a preventive service with Medicare coverage, the high rate of false-positive findings may be a barrier to its widespread implementation. Therefore, stricter positivity thresholds are applied in clinical practice but their impact on patient-relevant outcomes (clinical utility) is unknown. Here we propose to evaluate the tradeoffs between different LDCT-positivity thresholds and screening outcomes using data on more than 50,000 participants in the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST). We will innovatively apply evidence synthesis methodology to leverage the heterogeneity in LDCT diagnostic performance and health outcomes across the 33 centers in the NLST. This evidence can inform policy decisions about the tradeoffs between benefits and harms of LDCT screening. This Seed grant will set the foundation for a high-impact Brown-based research program focused on the efficient implementation of lung cancer screening in pragmatic healthcare settings. We will build a strong network of collaborations across Brown-affiliated schools and hospitals as well as with the Intramural Program of NIH. We will capitalize on research strengths unique to Brown in health services, evidence synthesis, epidemiology and biostatistics. At the end of this grant, our team will be well positioned to propose an R21 grant to the National Cancer Institute and a Research Award to the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. Consequently, our program will make Brown a leader in research to inform national policy decisions and clinical practice guidelines for lung cancer screening.

PI: Orestis Panagiotou, Assistant Professor of Health Services, Policy and Practice (Research)
Co-PI: Ilana Gareen, Associate Professor of Epidemiology (Research)
Co-Is:  Linda Nici, Professor of Medicine (Clinical); Thomas Trikalinos, Associate Professor of Health Services, Policy and Practice, and Director of the Center for Evidence Synthesis in Health
Collaborators: Christine Berg, Senior Advisor, Office of the Director, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, NIH; Hormuzd Katki, Senior Investigator, Biostatistics Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, NIH
Funded: $30,600

Physical Sciences

Gravitational Lensing and X-ray Survey of the Local Universe
The two biggest unsolved mysteries in Cosmology concern the nature of Dark Matter and Dark Energy, two different and poorly understood substances that together make up more than 95% of the energy density of the Universe.  Studies of clusters of galaxies provide the opportunity to investigate the nature of both dark matter and dark energy. Clusters of Galaxies are the largest structures in gravitational equilibrium in the Universe.  Because they are the largest reservoirs of dark matter, clusters are a great place to investigate the nature of dark matter, and particularly dark matter-dark matter interactions.  At the same time, because clusters are so large, their formation history is sensitive to dark energy.  Technological developments of the past three years, in the form of new large-format cameras and the development of software tools to combine data from multiple telescopes,  now finally make it possible to conduct a compete study of the galaxy clusters in the nearby Universe.  Here, I request funds to support the collection and analysis of all cluster data already serendipitously acquired in the archives of the world's major observatories.  The analysis will lead to: 1) The development of a "survey-class'' proposal to the US (and possibly Canadian) national observatories, requesting 50-100 nights of telescope time over the following three years; 2) the organization of a multi-institution collaboration to analyze the results and obtain X-ray satellite observations (and funds associated with those); and 3) a major proposal to the NSF to fund the analysis of this data.

PI: Ian Dell'Antonio, Professor of Physics
Funded: $49,259.33

Automated Sleep Recommendations Over a 10 Year Sleep Study
SleepCoacher is an automated system to help you achieve that by monitoring your sleep behaviors, guiding you towards better sleep quality through self-experiments that happen while you sleep.

PI: Jeff Huang, Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Co-PIs: Julie Boergers, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and Associate Professor of Pediatrics; John McGeary, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior; Nicole Nugent, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior (Research), Associate Professor of Pediatrics (Research); Paul Pirraglia, Associate Professor of Medicine; Karen Woolfall-Quinn, Associate Professor of Medicine (Clinical)
Funded: $42,500

Communication Theory for Chemical Sensing Networks
Detecting airborne chemicals in natural environments is challenging due to the small amounts of target chemical available to the sensor, comparatively high background interference, and highly complex airflows. We propose to develop systems for distributed chemical sensing which employ communication theory to intelligently combine signals from a distributed network of low cost wireless chemical sensor nodes. Perhaps the most vivid application of such a system would be the identification of vapors from improvised explosive devices in public spaces. We will develop prototypes which allows for the evaluation of new signal processing approaches that take advantage of temporal and spatial correlations to improve the quality and variety of information that can be gleaned from distributed chemical sensors. The PIs have complementary expertise to support this project. Jacob Rosenstein develops advanced embedded electronic systems for biomedical and chemical sensory interfaces. Christopher Rose is an information theorist who has a special interest in non-traditional communications mediums. This seed will support a highly interdisciplinary project, combining elements of mathematics, electronics, chemistry, environmental science, and fluid mechanics. We feel that this project will put Brown in a very strong position to leverage all of its existing expertise in these areas, and to open up a new avenue of research.

PI: Jacob Rosenstein, Assistant Professor of Engineering
Co PI: Christopher Rose, Professor of Engineering
Funded: $50,000

Walkerbot: Mobility and Connection for an Aging Population
Both maintaining connections to loved ones and maintaining a level of physical activity present challenges to the elderly. The Walkerbot is a robot which rises to those challenges. Starting as a traditional telepresence robot, the Walkerbot can be driven or navigate semi-autonomously to an elderly person. It then can transform into a power assisted walker, while keeping the screen visible. This enables the elderly person to continue the conversation while walking with the robot. This could have potential both in institutional care settings but also in medical facilities to help with patient transport and rehabilitation exercise. The Walkerbot would also improve mobility by incorporating obstacle detection and fall detection. Additional medical sensors, blood pressure, oxygen levels etc could be attached in rehabilitation settings.

PI: Stefanie Tellex, Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Co-PI: Ian Gonsher, Adjunct Lecturer in Engineering
Collaborator: Elizabeth Phillips, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences
Funded: $25,000

Biological and Life Sciences

Using Single Cell Biophysics and Shear Wave Ultrasound Elastography to Measure Cancer Mechanics Across Multiple Scales
In vitro studies have shown that physical properties of the extracellular matrix can be used to control stem cell differentiation, cancer progression, and tissue regeneration. In these studies, immortalized cell lines were often cultured on synthetic matrices with mechanical properties that mimic biological tissues. These controlled studies elegantly demonstrate the importance of matrix stiffness in inducing malignant cell phenotype. The Dawson lab also showed epithelial-mesenchymal transition in breast cancer cells was sufficient to alter cytoskeletal mechanics and increase cell-exerted traction forces. We assume that these biophysical changes in cancer cells, which were associated with increased motility, proliferation, and chemoresistance, will be predictive of more invasive disease; however, this finding has never been demonstrated in patient-derived cells. The proposed studies will use biophysical tools to characterize the mechanical phenotype of cells isolated directly from tissues that have undergone pathological stiffening. Shear wave ultrasound elastography, a non-invasive imaging technique that uses acoustic radiation forces to map tissue elasticity at mm length scales, will be used to characterize tissue stiffness prior to biopsy. Quantitative single cell biophysical analysis will then be used to characterize the mechanical phenotype of cells isolated from biopsy samples. With this approach we should be able to determine if changes in the mechanical phenotype of cancer cells are associated with local tissue stiffening and cancer progression. The goals of this collaborative proposal are aligned with NCI goals for the Physical Sciences in Oncology Program; seed grant funding will allow us to collect essential data for PS-ON submission.

PI: Michelle Dawson, Assistant Professor of Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biotechnology
Co-PIs: Michael Beland, Associate Professor of Diagnostic Imaging; Derek Merck, Assistant Professor of Diagnostic Imaging (Research) and Assistant Professor of Engineering (Research)
Funded: $50,000

Mechanisms in mitochondrial metabolism in brain development and health
We have discovered mutations in a mitochondrial enzyme, glutamate pyruvate transaminase 2 (GPT2) that are associated with a novel neurological disorder. In our recent paper, using both metabolomics and direct isotope labelling methods, we identify metabolic defects in brains from a Gpt2 mutant mouse model. In this proposal, we will generate important preliminary data in a Gpt2 mouse mutant. These studies are innovative, as neurometabolism has scarcely been investigated in the context of brain development. This research is strongly in line with the OVPR Research Seed funding mechanism as we will generate data for new research proposals. We will also develop important collaborations for this research: at Brown, with Dr. Phyllis Dennery’s laboratory; and at UT Southwestern/HHMI, with Dr. Ralph DeBerardinis’ laboratory. Overall, this research has the potential for substantial impact on: (1) the discovery of linkages between mechanisms in mitochondrial metabolism and postnatal brain development with broad relevance to mechanisms in brain diseases; and (2) the development of new approaches to screening and prevention of disease.

PI: Eric Morrow, Associate Professor of Biology and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior
Collaborator: Phyllis Dennery, Sylvia Kay Hassenfeld Professor and Chair of Pediatrics and Professor of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry
Funded: $50,000

The role of sleep in visual plasticity
The purpose of the current proposal is to collect a preliminary data with which to write an NIH R01 competitive renewal proposal to advance the understanding of visual plasticity. A prevailing view is that the role of sleep in plasticity is to merely enhance plasticity states already triggered by training. However, we challenge this prevailing view and propose the alternative possibility that even without prior training, plasticity states occur in early visual areas specifically during sleep stage N3. To test this hypothesis, using magnetic resonance spectroscopy during sleep, we will measure an excitatory-inhibitory (EI) ratio, which is defined by the ratio of excitatory/inhibitory neurotransmitters, in early visual areas. An EI ratio is correlated with the degree of plasticity in early visual areas. Thus, by measuring EI ratios during sleep, we can examine the degree of plasticity states without measuring performance improvement. If preliminary data supports the hypothesis, this will suggest that there is sleep-based plasticity independently from training-based plasticity and significantly increase the probability of having the R01 competitive renewal funded. In that event, the Brown’s reputation in the field of in sleep and visual plasticity would be greatly enhanced.

PI:  Yuka Sasaki, Associate Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences (Research)
Collaborator: Takeo Watanabe, Fred M. Seed Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences
Funded: $50,000

Developing a model to assess the effect of compromised BMP4 signaling and smoke exposure on craniofacial development
Three percent of all newborns have a birth defect yet we know the cause of these defects in less than 20% of cases.  It is now evident that developmental anomalies likely arise from the interaction of multiple factors, i.e., a single gene dysfunction may be enhanced by an environmental insult or an additional gene mutation.  Population level epidemiological studies have identified environmental risk factors for various conditions and diseases, but the identification of discrete gene-by-environment interactions has been difficult.  Large-scale studies in Drosophila have been successful in identifying specific gene-environment interactions, but few have been done in mammals. Fewer still have focused on gene-environment induced birth defects and most have not focused on mechanism. The BMP cell signaling pathway is known to be involved in craniofacial development and a specific mutation hBMP4-R612Q has been associated with cleft lip/palate, the most common birth defect worldwide. We hypothesize that the efficacy of BMP signaling is compromised by exposure to tobacco smoke. We found that BMP4 signaling output is reduced when cells in culture are exposed to cigarette smoke extract (CSE) and that hBMP4-R612Q activity is further compromised by CSE.  Our overall objective is to extend these findings to an in vivo system to reveal the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying palate outgrowth and closure, as well as to develop a sensitized system to assess maternal smoke exposure. We intend this project to lay the groundwork for future identification of factors to reduce or eliminate the number of birth defects.

PI: Kristi Wharton, Professor of Biology
Funded: $24,950

Physical Sciences

Unraveling Actinide Structure in the Environment: An Integrated Theoretical, Computational, and Spectroscopic Approach*
One of the enduring legacies of the nuclear age is the tons of nuclear waste that have been released into the environment. Removing these largely actinide-containing wastes requires a thorough understanding of what actinide (U, Pu, Np, etc.) complexes form in different chemical settings. Because of the complexities posed by 5f-electron chemistry/physics, predicting the structure, energetics, and reactivity of the actinides remains one of the foremost challenges in all of quantum theory. In this proposal, we seek to combine previously independent actinide research on Brown’s campus into one directed effort aimed at elucidating the energetics and structure of uranium complexes. As part of this effort, we will develop and refine two new computational/theoretical tools - a hybrid DFT/impurity model method and a relativistic Auxiliary Field Quantum Monte Carlo - and test the energetic predictions of these techniques against cutting-edge Electrospray Ionization Photoelectron Spectroscopy (ESI-PES) experiments. The computational/theoretical tools to arise from this effort, which can handle both strong correlation and relativistic effects, will be among the most accurate available and furthermore will be able to scale up to larger problems such as the adsorption of actinides on colloidal surfaces. ESI-PES is moveover capable of sequentially building up a complex from its constituent ligands, giving researchers unprecedented access to complicated energetics one ligand at a time. By supporting this work, Brown will be fostering a mini-center among the actinide experts on campus that will place Brown researchers in a strong position to apply for center funding in the future.

PI: Brenda Rubenstein, Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Co-PIs: John Bradley Marston, Professor of Physics; Lai-Sheng Wang, Jesse H. and Louisa D. Sharp Metcalf Professor of Chemistry
Funded: $95,452

Biological and Life Sciences

Toward a unified model of spatiotemporal coding in the spine-brain continuum*
Chronic pain affects ~7% of the U.S. population, fueling an opioid epidemic in the face of suboptimal therapies and lack of objective diagnostics. Here, we focus on a non-opioid neuromodulation-based therapy for the management of intractable pain, for example spinal cord stimulation (SCS). Our longterm five-year plan is to enhance our understanding of the basic mechanisms and pathways mediating pain transmission in the central nervous system as gateway for designing more effective neuromodulation therapies. In this application, we propose a one-year plan to conduct feasibility studies in support of our longterm project. Specific aims herein describe experiments: 1) to record neural data from spinal cord and brain structures specialized in the processing of pain signals in awake rodent models; and 2) to develop and validate a computational model of sensory processing in the spine-brain continuum towards testing novel therapies. Results obtained from these experiments will provide necessary preliminary data that would be critical for our team to compete for outside funding. Thus, this application details a carefully constructed plan for research synergy between two labs with overlapping research interests and complementary expertise. It is also a logical continuation of recently published data, patents and partnerships of both labs with government agencies and biotech companies. We believe the results from this study will provide a strong foundation for external, more sustainable research support.

PI: David Borton, Assistant Professor of Engineering
Co-PI: Carl Saab, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery (Research), Associate Professor of Neuroscience (Research)
Funded: $97,500

*Multidisciplinary Research Seed Award for a team of two or more PI’s from distinctly different disciplines who are initiating a new collaboration with the goal to establish an ongoing, long-term connection across disciplines that is expected to lead to substantial external research funding through multi-investigator or center types of grants.


2017 Salomon Award winners

The 2017 Salomon Award winners: Front (l to r): Jayanti Owens, Itohan Osayimwese, JiJi Fan. Back (l to r): Eric Darling, Jerome Robinson, Paul Nahme, Efstratios Papaioannou, Tim Hebert, Mamiko Yajima, Kym Moore, David Savitz, Richard Locke, Scott AnderBois. Not pictured: Andrea Flores, Andrew Peterson, James Tompkin.

Biological and Life Sciences

Scott AnderBois
Assistant Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences

Multi-purpose corpora for modern Mayan languages
Organized collections of annotated written and spoken language use from various genres (corpora) are important tools for linguistic research of various kinds. For languages where primary materials are lacking, corpus building can only take place along with the development of these materials. We propose a novel approach to corpus-building in such languages, making use of modern database and user interface computing to create a collections of spoken and written language that can be displayed in different ways depending on the needs of researchers, educators, and other kinds of users. The project develops this idea through the construction of a user interface along with pilot corpora in two modern Mayan languages: a smaller corpus of spoken Kaqchikel and a larger corpus of written Yucatec Maya. Mayan languages represent an ideal test case since they are relatively research-rich compared to most endangered languages, both in terms of prior linguistic documentation and in terms of the amount of native speakers who have interest and training in linguistics (including two collaborators on the project). In the long term, then, the extensible and flexible nature of proposed infrastructure will promote the crowd-sourcing of corpus construction for Mayan languages, meeting the needs of both researchers and language users.

Eric Darling
Associate Professor of Medical Science, Associate Professor of Engineering, Associate Professor of Orthopaedics


Visualizing gene expression in MRI
Gene expression is used extensively to describe cellular characteristics and behaviors; however, most assessment methods are unsuitable for living samples, requiring destructive processes such as fixation or lysis. Recently, nucleotide-based molecular beacons have become a viable tool for live-cell imaging of gene expression/mRNA. Unfortunately, standard, fluorescence-based beacons are severely limited for in vivo imaging due to light penetration issues. The current proposal seeks to synthesize and apply a novel, magnetically resonant molecular beacon to detect specific mRNA molecules via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We have already developed a biologically compatible synthesis scheme to create a first-generation beacon using fluorine-19 resonance as a reporter that can be broadened, or turned “off,” via paramagnetic relaxation enhancement (PRE) from a nitroxide radical spin label. This beacon is “on” when thermally denatured or hybridized to its complementary nucleotide sequence. Signal intensity scales with concentration, allowing detection of mRNA abundance. The proposed project involves synthesis and optimization of a beacon containing three-times the number of fluorine reporters, which will substantially increase the signal-to-noise ratio of the beacon. Preliminary experiments using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) have shown the functionality of prototype beacons, but translation to a more practical format (e.g., MRI) requires a scale-up of material synthesis and funded time in Brown’s imaging core facilities. The ultimate goal of this project is to obtain data showing feasibility for detecting mRNA molecules in MRI. Experiments will begin with solution-based tests, then progress to in-cell measurements, and ultimately to whole animal evaluations.

Mamiko Yajima
Assistant Professor (Research) of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry

Optogenetic approach to control sub-cellular localization of developmental regulators
Regulating protein functions with spatio-temporal precision is an essential biological strategy for many cells to accurately control their functions and fate determinations during animal development. “Localized translation on the mitotic spindle” serves as one of such mechanisms: Proteins are synthesized and function immediately on site for mitotic regulation and/or for delivery to daughter cells with high fidelity. This mechanism is important in embryonic cells and in cancer cells, both of which proliferate quickly. Mechanisms of this biological event have been, however, opaque due to limited analyses of sub-cellular manipulations. The proposed research develops an optogenetic approach to manipulate sub-cellular localization of an essential regulator in development: Vasa, an RNA helicase. The PI’s group previously identified that Vasa is present on the spindle of every blastomere during mitosis, and is involved in a majority (~80%) of general protein synthesis during embryogenesis. A similar dynamics are seen in selected cancer cells. Further, its expression at the plasma membrane facilitates ectopic mRNA translation, causing developmental failure in the resulting embryo. Based on these observations, the PI hypothesizes that Vasa on the spindle may regulate localized mRNA translation during mitosis, assisting sufficient protein synthesis during rapid embryonic/cancer cell divisions. To test this hypothesis directly, the proposed research will develop a method to dissect the functions of Vasa at each sub-cellular region and identify if/how its sub-cellular level of activities contributes to cell regulation. This approach should then be widely useful for many other regulators and cell types to understand cellular compartments more effectively.

Physical Sciences

Jiji Fan
Assistant Professor of Physics


Applying astrophysical data to test the complexity of the dark world
Eighty-five percent of the total matter in cosmos is made up of some invisible substance, which we know very little of and thus refer to as "dark matter." The existence of dark matter is one of the biggest mysteries in the universe and any progress towards unveiling its identity will enhance human knowledge deeply. The usual response to dark matter in the science community is to turn to the minimal models of a single cold, collisionless particle. Still, confronted with the richness and complexity of the visible world around us, it is tantalizing to imagine that the dark world could be similarly complex, full of structures, forces, and matter that are invisible to us. One might hope that a whole sector of the dark universe as rich as our own exists just out of sight. The project will demonstrate that this imaginative idea should be taken seriously as a testable hypothesis. Fan aims at developing non-minimal models with non-trivial dark matter dynamics such as dissipation and collective phenomena, which could lead to complex structures in the dark world, e.g, a dark disk and dark stars; and applying Gaia satellite data, which will be released in 2017, to test these theories. The project will serve as the first step toward exploring a plethora of new possibilities for dark matter dynamics. It will also help bridge all the local dark matter scientific efforts at Brown to make a global impact.

Timothy Herbert
Henry L. Doherty Professor of Oceanography, Professor of Environmental Studies, Professor of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences


Investigating ocean-climate interactions through novel isotopic measurements
Reconstructing the past cycling of water on the planet's surface is a challenging, but essential goal of paleoclimatology.  We propose to ground-truth the application of a new method to this problem, based on the stable isotope ratios of Deuterium to Hydrogen (D/H) in organic molecules ("alkenones") synthesized by marine algae.  We take advantage of analytical and environmental expertise developed at Brown over the last decade related to the use of alkenones in paleoclimatology.  We request funds to cover analytical costs of stable isotope analyses at Brown that will verify that alkenone D/H faithfully reflects modern environmental water D/H patterns in the ocean.  Once this study has been completed and published, Brown will be in a unique position to grab one of the "brass rings" in our field- one with applications to understanding controls on past sea levels, glacier stability, variations in river run-off to the ocean, and more.

Andrew Peterson
Assistant Professor of Engineering


Coupling surface reactivity with bulk oxidation to catalytically reform biomolecules
Renewable fuels face a scalability limitation, and most estimates suggest that the US could sustainably replace only about a third of current transportation fuel demand with carbon-neutral alternatives using today's technologies. This project aims to develop solar-enriched biofuels that can augment the energy content in unconventional biomass resources to produce a fuel with a net energy content 2-3 times greater than those made with traditional biofuel reforming processes, thus offering a solution to the scalability issue. Our approach takes advantage of oxidizable metals which can serve as both an oxygen sink and a reactive surface for bio-molecule deoxygenation; this chemical reduction process increases the energy carrying capacity of the fuel. The reactive metal is subsequently regenerated with an external thermo(-electric) energy source, such as solar thermal or nuclear, which serves as secondary carbon-neutral energy input, thus allowing a greater total fuel yield. In this project, we will examine the theoretical underpinnings of this process, ultimately correlating surface reactivity of these materials with their bulk oxidation energy. This will allow us to develop design principles for the advancement of this technology, and by coupling technological relevance with hypothesis-driven science, will advantage our group for external funding opportunities.

Jerome Robinson
Assistant Professor of Chemistry


Water- and Acid- Tolerant Lanthanide/Transition-Metal Bimetallic Systems as Catalysts for Oxygen Reduction
In Nature, the use of oxygen as a controlled chemical oxidant is accomplished by metalloenzyme active sites composed of abundant first-row transition metals such as Mn, Fe, and Cu; however, the development of biomimetic systems which display comparable or enhanced reactivity profiles remain a significant challenge. Lanthanide and rare-earth metals are exceptionally strong Lewis-acids, and have recently been shown to increase the rate of oxygen reduction by seven orders of magnitude. Unfortunately, these applications have required the stoichiometric addition of these elements, rendering their application unsustainable and impractical for areas like the efficient generation of carbon-neutral energy carriers (chemical energy storage) for intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

The objective of our study is to develop modular water- and acid-tolerant lanthanide/transition-metal bimetallic systems for catalytic oxygen reduction. We expect these systems will enable oxygen reactivity tunable through appropriate choice of tether and metal binding pockets. Furthermore, the modular nature of these systems and mechanistic-driven reaction optimization will enable guiding design principles for bimetallic oxygen reactivity and provide fundamental understanding of reactive lanthanide oxygen species. Systems demonstrating desired reactivity will be further explored as primary components in chemical energy storage systems and novel green oxidants.

James Tompkin
Assistant Professor of Computer Science


Interactive Light Field Inpainting
Light field imaging uses camera arrays or microlens arrays to capture a scene from many different angles. As such, it is arguably the only viable medium for realistic photo and video presentation for virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR). With the forthcoming introduction of professional light field cameras, and with the emergence of camera arrays on smartphones, light field imagery is likely to be prominent within the next 5 years. However, being a nascent format, one problem is that the medium has very few tools for editing. While some works attempt to extend existing 2D metaphors for light field editing, they neglect the opportunity to directly manipulate scenes in light field space. For intuitive and high quality editing of light field imagery, new advances are needed in light field segmentation, matting, and inpainting---these must exploit the inherent underlying structure in the light field data. Further, user tests assessing the usability of manipulation tools for light fields are needed. The proposed research aims to use state-of-the-art hardware devices to display captured light field imagery, and with this develop new software to both process light fields into more easily editable forms, and to devise and test with users new interaction techniques and metaphors for simple editing of complex light field data, e.g., removing or repositioning scene objects without noticeable artifacts in the edited imagery.

Arts, Humanities, & Social Sciences

Andrea Flores
Assistant Professor of Education


Citizen Scholars: Civic Belonging and Latino Students' College Experiences in Tennessee
This project investigates the link between belonging in higher education and civic belonging for Latino students. Scholars have demonstrated the impact of K-12 schooling on diverse youth’s sense of civic belonging; yet, little research examines higher education or the perspectives of young adults. Additionally, while quantitative research demonstrates that diversity and inclusion programming is correlated with positive academic outcomes for diverse youth, we do not know either the experiential mechanisms through which that happens or the effect these experiences have beyond classrooms. This project’s ethnographic focus provides a person-centered understanding of that programming’s ramifications for youth’s broader lives. This pilot research supports a larger project for which the PI will seek external funding. In this stage, using semi-structured interviews and participant observation, the investigator will compare the experiences of two cohorts of Latino students enrolled in private colleges in Nashville, Tennessee. Data collected will elucidate how differences in institutional inclusionary practices are felt by students and potentially affect their sense of civic belonging.  The project is methodologically innovative within educational studies’ approaches to higher education and theoretically original regarding social scientific understandings of how civic belonging is forged. Brown will benefit in three ways: 1) the project may lead to external funding; 2) the research has the potential to inform inclusion efforts on college campuses; 3) the advancement of the PI’s career will enhance the position of the units with which she is affiliated (Education; Population Studies and Training Center; Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies).

Kym Moore
Associate Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies


Time's Up!
Time's Up! is an original multimedia performance I have been devising in collaboration with Professor Todd Winkler since June 2013. The piece explores the relationship between "perception" and "reality" by incorporating interactive media to explore the hidden dimensions of cross-cultural, gender normative, and human relationships.  Professor Winkler is planning to write a paper about our early research, and is no longer directly involved with the project.  The funds I am requesting are meant to pay for the production team to attend the SIBU International Theater Festival in Romania next June 2018. Festival organizers have extended an invitation to attend the festival, but are unable to provide round trip airfare for the production team. Once in Romania all expenses will be paid by the festival.  Attending the festival will be the culminating event in a research process that has been developing over the past four years.  As you will see in the proposal outline, there have been multiple iterations of the piece and this final revision is confirmation that it is ready for public release.  The benefit to Brown is recognition of the university's commitment to academic and creative innovation. Festival organizers were especially interested in presenting this piece as a way of introducing this approach to multimedia performance to the European community. Such wide spread exposure is also likely to make an impact in the field at large because of the way in which this work foregrounds a whole new approach to incorporating interactive media in live performance.

Paul Nahme
Dorot Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies


A Minor Secularity: The German Jews of Weimar Between Race and Religion
This project aims to identify the interrelationship between racializing discourse—the institutions, epistemologies, and scientific regimes that produce and manage racial difference—and the religious beliefs, practices, and identities managed by state secularism. By turning to the historical experience of Jews living in Weimar Germany as a period of social and political crisis now commonly invoked in comparison to our own as a time of irredentist identitarianism, essentialism, and scientific justifications for racism, I suggest that Weimar evokes more than just a convenient analogy. The Jews also represent a case study of what can happen to minorities trying to negotiate the institutionalization of racialized and religiously exclusivist language and norms when such belief structures triumph over rationalizing liberal discourse. But I suggest that this particular history also serves as a resource for theorizing new ways of understanding the relationship between religious and racial identities in a world of resurgent nationalisms. This research project therefore not only aims to advance research in the field of Jewish thought and culture, but also to serve as a critical intervention into one of the most vexed and politically significant conversations facing the global humanities: the relationship between race, religion, and politics.

Itohan Osayimwese
Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture


Ruins and Remittances: Contemporary Architectures in the Anglo-Caribbean
This project investigates the emergence of a contemporary built environment characterized by incompleteness--a landscape of ruins--in the English-speaking Caribbean. It interprets this development in relation to 1) historical and contemporary patterns of emigration, return migration, and flows of capital associated with these movements; 2) the tourism industry and its volatile economic system; 3) patterns of land tenure and ownership that have their roots in the rigidly stratified plantation societies of the past. The project is significant because it focuses attention on a region that has been almost completely ignored in Euro-American architectural history scholarship. Furthermore, the project builds on recent attempts to explore architecture's relationship to modes of production, finance, and regulation. This project will renew and extend an earlier Caribbean research focus in Brown's History of Art & Architecture Department and make it one of three major research programs in Caribbean architectural history in the United States.

Jayanti Owens
Mary Tefft and John Hazen White, Sr. Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs and Sociology


Exclusionary Discipline: Racial Disparities in How Teachers Evaluate and Sanction Misbehavior
School suspension and expulsion predict school dropout, juvenile detention, adult incarceration, and recidivism. Male students and non-white students face more exclusionary discipline: by grade 12, 20% of Black boys are suspended out-of-school, compared to 12% of Black girls, 9% of Hispanic boys, and 6% of White boys.

Neither a higher incidence of misbehavior among Black boys nor their lower responsiveness to non-exclusionary sanctions, like tutoring and counseling, fully accounts for this gap. Scholars have proposed teacher bias as a possible explanation: teachers might sanction Black boys, and other students, more readily and more severely for the same behaviors. This hypothesis has received little empirical attention.

This project investigates teacher bias in both evaluations of and reactions to misbehavior using a video vignette experiment that involves different kinds of students committing identical infractions. A diverse national sample of teachers view randomly assigned, videotaped infractions, then rate the behavior and report their likely reaction. Responses are analyzed by the characteristics of the students and the teachers. Finally, the proposed experiment also tests an intervention for reducing bias.

This project sheds light on: (a) whether teacher bias helps explain disciplinary disparities; (b) the mechanisms that lead to harsher sanctioning of some students (i.e., perceptions of the same behaviors); and (c) the factors magnifying bias, like student--teacher race and gender pairings or school disciplinary policies, and (d) the contexts most conducive to a promising new discipline intervention that involves promoting an empathetic mindset. Results will help guide teacher training and school disciplinary policy.

Stratis Papaioannou
Associate Professor of Classics


Critical Edition of an Eleventh-Century Byzantine Collection of Letters
The collection of ca. 520 private letters that Michael Psellos sent to a network of friends and patrons is a landmark of personal literature from the Middle Ages. A professional public speaker, ingenious teacher, and influential courtier in eleventh-century Constantinople (Byzantine Empire), Psellos has been regarded as one of the most important Byzantine authors. His letter-collection stands at the peak of a long tradition of Greek letter-writing as an exquisite literary form in which writers displayed their learning, expressed personal emotions, and narrated autobiographical stories. Letters were also used as tools for social advancement. As such, apart from its literary value, Psellos’ letters are a major source for the social history of Constantinople at a time that this grand city was a vibrant center of power, economy, and culture in the wider Mediterranean world. Finally, the collection is a major document for the history of gender and interpersonal relations, as Psellos often constructs highly intricate images of friendship, affection, and love. The project that will be funded by the Salomon Award is devoted to the completion of the critical edition of this collection, based on ca. 40 Byzantine and post-Byzantine manuscripts. The work which will be published in two volumes by De Gruyter (Berlin and Boston).