2018 RESEARCH SEED AWARDS

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Social Sciences

Making Decisions with Manipulated Data: Applications to Credit Scoring in Developing Economies
Many decisions that were once made by humans are now made by computers. Prominent examples include the algorithms used to determine loan eligibility, to target promotions, and more recently, to inform bail and sentencing decisions. These systems typically build a predictive model that maps observed aspects of an individual’s behavior (e.g., past credit card transactions) to a predictive score that is then used to make a decision (e.g., whether or not to offer a loan). However, these models assume that once the system is in place, individuals will continue to behave in the same ways. If individuals strategically manipulate their behavior in order to improve their personal outcomes, the systems can become ineffective. This project seeks to launch a new research agenda to create algorithms that perform well in settings where the decision rule is transparent and individuals attempt to strategically manipulate their behavior. We will combine machine learning and mechanism design with practical calibration through lab-based testing and behavioral economic experiments. This agenda will advance Brown’s position in two directions: first, in the intersection between economics and computer science, particularly in big data and machine learning. Second, in development economics, for which the application of digital credit is important and in which Brown has been an early leader (Bjorkegren & Grissen, 2015).

PI:  Daniel Bjorkegren, Assistant Professor of Economics
Funded: $49,954

Database of Indigenous Slavery in the Americas
This project proposes to create the Database of Indigenous Slavery in the Americas (DISA), an easy-to-use, powerful, crowd-sourced database of indigenous slaves in the Americas. At its core will be an interface that registered users can access to enter biographical data they have on indigenous slaves. Once entered, this information would be added to a growing database that anyone could access directly by browsing through the entries and/or searching using various parameters. DISA will allow researchers to lift names off of the pages of obscure manuscripts and put them out into the wider online world where thousands of historians, researchers, students, tribal members, and families can use the information to reconstruct histories, chart networks, and make connections in ways that have never before been possible. It has the potential to transform the burgeoning humanities field of indigenous slavery scholarship.

PI:  Linford Fisher, Associate Professor of History
Core team members: Elli Mylonas, Director, Center for Digital Scholarship; Brooke Grasberger, Ph.D. student (History); Marley-Vincent Lindsey, Ph.D. student (History); Juan Bettancourt-Garcia, Ph.D. student (History); Samuel Skinner, B.A. student (History); Paarul Sukanya Arulappa, M.A. student (Computer Science)
Funded: $34,500

Biological and Life Sciences

Combined EEG and Pupillometry Measures of Language Processing as Markers for Early Detection of Alzheimer's Disease
Elderly individuals can display pathological changes preceding the onset of clinical Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by over a decade, and the ability to detect presymptomatic individuals at greatest risk for progressing to AD will be critical for the effective application of therapeutic strategies. This proposal exploits recent advances in cognitive neuroscience to develop novel probes that are sensitive to both the earliest cognitive changes in AD and the compensatory processes moderating these changes, and that can be utilized as a neurocognitive “stress test” for early detection of AD. The proposed research will systematically assess the dynamics of automatic and controlled language processing in cognitively normal elderly with high or low biomarker risk of AD, using a novel combination of electrophysiological (EEG) and pupillometry measures. EEG allows for on-line measurement of automatic and controlled components of natural language processing, while pupillometry allows for the simultaneous assessment of the cognitive effort or arousal needed for task performance. This research should not only help improve identification of individuals at risk for developing AD, but should also contribute to the general understanding of changes in the arousal and cognitive control systems in healthy and pathological aging. 

PI: William Heindel, Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences
Key Personnel: Nicole Amichetti, Visiting Scholar in Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences; Brian Ott, Professor of Neurology; Elena Festa, Lecturer in Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences
Funded: $40,400

Instrumentation for Specimen Vitrification for Electron Cryo-Microscopy at Brown University
Due to recent developments in both hardware and software, electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM) has become a remarkably versatile and powerful structure determination technique that can be applied to diverse macromolecular species and assemblies. On one hand, imaging under the electron microscope can be combined with powerful algorithms for averaging and classification, which essentially constitute a process of purification in silico, thus enabling structural analysis of complex and heterogeneous species that would not be otherwise amenable to structure determination by traditional techniques, such as crystallography or NMR. On the other, increased beam coherence, stability and automation as well as new detectors and strategies for correcting for beam-induced motion of specimens have revolutionized the practice of electron microscopy, extending its resolution limit close to what is typically attained using X-ray diffraction. Specimen preparation, however, remains the rate-limiting step, and a key element of this process is the vitrification of the macromolecule of interest at low temperatures. Here we propose the acquisition of a high-performance Vitrobot plunge-freezing instrument that is absolutely necessary for initiating the EM structure determination workflow on site and with minimal delays or disruptions to the macromolecular specimen under investigation. We anticipate interest from a large number of investigators, with expertise in diverse areas of biology, but with a common, strong interest in using structural information to answer mechanistic questions in biology.

PI: Alexandra Deaconescu, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry
Co-PI: Gerwald Jogl, Associate Professor of Biology
Funded: $50,000

Role of Matrix Metalloproteases in Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is thought to result from low-level deficits in synaptic function during early brain development that can cascade into higher order cognitive deficits. The link between synaptic dysfunction and complex behavior is not well understood. We employ a multidisciplinary approach to study the development of neural circuits at multiple levels of analysis, ranging from synapses to behavior, using the development of Xenopus laevis tadpole visual system as a model. We recently found that tadpoles exposed to valproic acid (VPA), an antiepileptic drug associated with increased incidence of autism when exposed prenatally, during early development, results in hyperconnected neural circuitry that leads to behavioral phenotypes consistent with hyperexcitability. Although the action of VPA is strongly conserved across vertebrates, its mechanism of action is unknown. VPA is a histone deacetylase inhibitor known to misregulate gene expression. Using a genetic screen, we identified matrix metalloprotease nine (MMP9) as a gene strongly upregulated after VPA exposure. MMP9 regulates extracellular matrix function and is strongly implicated in neural development. The experiments in this proposal will integrate experimental techniques ranging from electrophysiology, functional imaging, and behavioral analysis to test the hypothesis that early exposure to VPA results in abnormal neural circuit development due to upregulation of MMP9 expression. Such a comprehensive analysis of MMP9 function in multiple aspects of brain development has not been conducted and would significantly increase our fundamental understanding of MMP9 and other metalloproteases in brain development, providing fundamental insights into the etiology of ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

PI: Carlos Aizenman, Professor of Neuroscience
Funded: $50,000

Role of intestinal epithelium specific retinoic acid signaling in regulating host-microbe interactions.
Intestinal epithelium and mucus layer form a physico-chemical barrier crucial for gut homeostasis. Impaired gut barrier function is a hallmark of inflammatory bowel disease. Intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) are at the frontline of host-microbe interactions in the gut, yet how their biology is regulated by dietary cues is poorly understood. Vitamin A and its key metabolite retinoic acid (RA), are crucial regulators of gut immune homeostasis. Using a mouse model that expresses a dominant negative retinoic acid receptor exclusively in IECs (dnRARVillin-Cre) we establish a novel role for RA signaling in regulating the mucus barrier. We observe that the absence of RA signaling in colonic epithelium resulted in significant increase in mucus layer thickness and more goblet cells. This indicates a crucial role for RA in regulating goblet cell function. Furthermore, we show that dnRARVillin-Cre mice have a diminished sensitivity to chemically induced colitis. Quantitative analysis uncovered that transcription and protein activation of key pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-18 was severely impaired in epithelium of dnRARVillin-Cre mice. IL-18 has previously been shown to act as a negative regulator of goblet cell function in the intestine. I hypothesize that dietary vitamin A is a key regulator of goblet cell function and host-microbe interactions in the gut.  The aim of this study is to delineate the mechanistic link between RA signaling and IL-18 in the intestinal epithelium and its implications for gut barrier integrity. In alignment with Brown’s vision of translational research, this study could provide clues for dietary and pharmacological interventions for IBD.

PI: Shipra Vaishnava, Assistant Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
Co-PI: Namrata Iyer, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
Funded: $50,000

Mechanistic insights into the role of cellular senescence in neonatal hyperoxic lung injury
Premature infants are often exposed to high concentrations of oxygen as a lifesaving measure.  Unfortunately, this can result in lung injury that persists into adolescence and adulthood.  This injury is replicable in neonatal mice exposed to hyperoxia.  We have shown that neonatal mice (>12 hours old) exposed to hyperoxia for 3 days have markedly increased numbers of senescent cells compared to air exposed controls.  After recovery from hyperoxia in room air for up to 60 days, the lung alveolar epithelium became simplified, however, the number of senescent cells were significantly reduced vs. air controls. This suggests that the senescent cells originally observed were targeted for immune clearance. If senescence targets lung progenitor cells, this could prevent normal lung recovery. Metabolic shifts from glycolysis to oxidative phosphorylation play important roles in cellular senescence, and p53 signaling pathways regulate these shifts. Whether this is involved in hyperoxia-mediated senescence in the neonatal lung is unknown. We hypothesize that hyperoxia causes metabolic shifts, leading to lung epithelial cell senescence and simplified alveolarization.  Our specific aims are 1) to uncover the impact of hyperoxia on markers of cellular senescence in the neonatal lung and 2) to determine whether metabolic shifts dictate hyperoxia-mediated senescence in the neonatal lung. These studies should allow us to understand how hyperoxia regulates senescence and how this impacts later lung injury and repair. These studies will also allow us to devise therapeutic interventions that could prevent neonatal hyperoxia-mediated lung disease in neonates by targeting metabolism.

PI: Phyllis Dennery, Sylvia Kay Hassenfeld Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry
Co-PI: Jill Kreiling, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry (Research)
Funded: $50,000

Regulation of neural stem cells by the BMP co-receptor MuSK
The brain harbors neural stem cells (NSCs) that generate neurons and glial cells throughout life.  These adult-born neurons are important for normal brain function and plasticity and are also being explored as a means to repair the brain.  A key unknown is the mechanism mediating NSC fate.  BMPs (Bone Morphogenic Proteins) regulate two critical NSC decision points: 1) quiescence, where proliferating stem cells exit the cell cycle and return to a replenish a reserve pool that can supply fresh stem cells; and 2) differentiation into mature progeny - oligodendrocytes, astrocytes or neurons.  The goal of this proposal is to test the role of the newly discovered BMP co-receptor MuSK in these NSC cell fate decisions using both cell culture and in vivo systems. The Webb lab is expert at NSC biology and has generated extensive tools and data on BMP-regulated quiescence and differentiation.  The Fallon lab recently discovered that MuSK is a BMP co-receptor that quantitatively and qualitatively regulates BMP-mediated transcription in myogenic cells.  The Fallon lab has generated mouse lines expressing MuSK lacking the domain required for high affinity BMP binding (‘MuSK-Ig3-/-’).  Working together the Co-PIs have already established that freshly isolated adult NSCs express MuSK RNA and protein. On a larger scale, this collaboration is designed as a catalyst to bring together several labs at Brown with shared interests in BMP/TGFß signaling.

PI: Ashley Webb, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry
and Neurology
Co-PI: Justin Fallon, Professor of Medical Science and Psychiatry and Human Behavior
Funded: $80,000

Using machine vision to automate behavioral analysis of C. elegans
Here, we combine our expertise in computer-vision and behavioral genetics to move forward with development of a high-content, computer-vision system for analysis of C. elegans behavior. The automated analysis system will be generally applicable to any small animal moving in a one-dimensional plane, will yield novel insights into behavior in C. elegans ALS models and sleep, and will provide critical preliminary results for NIH applications under review or planned by the co-investigators. The project is based on synergy from very different fields. Dr. Thomas Serre (Brown CLPS) and Dr. Anne Hart (Brown Neuroscience). Dr. Serre is a leading expert in the development of high-content, computer-vision systems. He worked with his student to develop the prototype analysis system used to generate preliminary results herein. Dr. Hart is a leading expert in C. elegans behavior. She worked with her students to obtain C. elegans behavioral data and validate the results of the preliminary computer-vision analysis. Our long-term goals are to 1) develop the versatile open-source, computer-vision behavioral analysis system proposed here 2) optimize the system to allow real-time, accurate scoring of behaviors, without manual intervention or annotation and 3) to establish an online resource/database at Brown University that will allow any researcher to easily reuse and repurpose videos, images and analysis results. This will dramatically raise the stature of Brown University in the field. 

PI: Anne Hart, Professor of Neuroscience
Co-PI: Thomas Serre, Associate Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences
Funded: $45,196

Physical Sciences

Making an Impact: Dynamic Free-Surface Interactions
When small objects are gently deposited onto an air-water interface, their weight can be supported by the effects of surface tension. Bench-top demonstrations of this effect are simple to realize and are often one of the first experiments by which a student is introduced to the remarkable influence of surface tension at small scales. Recently, considerable work has been devoted to the statics of small particles supported at interfaces. However, less attention has been given to the dynamics of such particles at fluid interfaces, despite the broad relevance to numerous natural, scientific, and industrial systems. As an initial step towards advancing the current understanding of such dynamic interactions, we plan to conduct a detailed exploration of the impact of hydrophobic spheres onto an air-water interface. The proposed research direction includes both an experimental component conducted at Brown, and a complementary theoretical component developed with international collaborators at the University of Bath.  This foundational work will facilitate future work in our lab aimed at gaining a more general understanding of the interactions of solid structures with liquid interfaces in scenarios where surface tension effects are dominant.  

PI: Daniel Harris, Assistant Professor of Engineering
Funded: $50,000

Development of Materials with Designed Meso-scale Architectures for Dynamic Loading
We propose to develop a research program on developing new high-performance structural materials with designed meso-architectures that will have much higher resistance to the dynamic failure mode of adiabatic shear localization (ASL). Structures and materials subjected to dynamic loading often fail by ASL, which is a thermomechanical instability. Most of the existing work to-date on the dynamics of ASL treats the material as a homogeneous continuum with effective mechanical and thermal properties. However, it is known that alloys with nominally same composition but different microstructures can result in different resistance to failure by ASL; so, clearly and unsurprisingly, the material meso-architecture plays a crucial role in determining the resistance to ASL. However, there have been no studies on understanding the dynamics of the interaction between a propagating ASL and the material’s meso-scale architecture; primarily because of experimental difficulties associated with measuring strain fields at high-spatial (~ microns) and high-temporal resolutions (micro-second) simultaneously. By using a new and unique experimental capability developed in the PI’s lab that fills this gap in experimental diagnostics, we propose a systematic, combined experimental-theoretical study that aims to (i) understand the basic physics and mechanics of interaction between a propagating ASL and model meso-architectures; (ii) design, fabricate and demonstrate the superior performance “periodic layer” meso-architectures. The proposed research program, along with the newly developed experimental and computational capabilities place Brown researchers in a strong position among their peers to attract external grant support to grow the program.

PI: Pradeep Guduru, Professor of Engineering
Co-PI: Haneesh Kesari, Assistant Professor of Engineering
Funded: $41,595

Gravitational waves -- the new window to the universe
The spectacular discovery of gravitational waves (ripples in spacetime) less than 2 years ago opened a completely new window to the universe. This proposal will build upon preliminary work by the PI and explore how gravitational waves can be used to help understand the formation of baryonic structure in the universe as well as probe fundamental physics problems in cosmology. 

PI: Savvas Koushiappas, Associate Professor of Physics
Funded: $33,893.50

Green Chemistry Synthesis of PBO-Type Rigid Polymers
Poly(p-phenylene-2,6-benzoxazole) (PBO) represents a class of well-known rigid polymers that have both excellent thermal stability and remarkable tensile strength and modulus (1.6 times that of Kelvar). These exceptional properties place PBOs among the strongest organic polymers for a wide number of applications such as ballistic fiber materials, smart electronic textiles, and flame resistance materials. However, the conventional approach to PBO synthesis via polymerization of diaminobenzenediol and terephthalic acid requires polyphosphoric acid (PPA) as the catalyst. As a result, the final PBO product inevitably contains traces of PPA that can also catalyze the hydrolysis of the benzoxazole ring in PBO in a humid environment. This, combined with the effect of UV-irradiation, is known to lead to rapid polymer degradation, causing the uncontrolled loss of mechanic strength and serious mechanical failures of the PBO materials. Combining three PI’s expertise in nanoparticle catalysis, organic reactions, and mechanical property studies, this joint proposal intends to develop a green chemistry approach to PBOs with a controlled degree of polymerization, enhanced chemical stability against hydrolysis and/or UV-irradiation, and robust mechanical strength under various humidity conditions. With the OVPR seed support, the three PIs’ efforts will evolve into a new multi-disciplinary research direction with chemistry, materials, mechanics and computations involved. The research will help to leverage both chemistry and mechanical engineering profiles in catalysis and materials research. 

PI: Shouheng Sun, Vernon K. Krieble Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Engineering
Co-PI: Christopher Seto, Associate Professor of Chemistry
Co-PI: Pradeep Guduru, Professor of Engineering
Funded: $75,000

Public Health

Health Effects of Electronic Cigarettes for Harm Reduction in Smokers with HIV
Cigarette smoking is more prevalent in persons living with HIV (PLWH), when compared with the general population, and is linked to increased morbidity and mortality. HIV-infected smokers have increased rates of cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, and lung cancers. While most HIV-infected smokers report a strong desire to quit, they are significantly less likely to quit when compared to general population smokers. Many choose a goal that includes occasional or controlled tobacco use, perhaps a reflection of the harm reduction model that is emphasized in many substance use and HIV risk reduction programs. Electronic cigarettes (EC), may reduce harms related to combustible cigarette (CC) smoking, and may provide HIV-infected smokers with a needed alternative. However, little is known about the health effects of EC in PLWH. Our specific aims are to examine:  1) the feasibility and acceptability of EC distribution in PLWH; 2) the effect of EC use on smoking behaviors; and 3) the change in cardiopulmonary symptoms and biomarkers in smokers who transition from CC to EC use. We will enroll 12 HIV-infected smokers and will provide free EC for 8-weeks. At weekly visits, we will assess EC and CC use, cardiac/respiratory symptoms, and perceived safety/harm of EC use. At BL and week 8, we will measure inflammatory biomarkers and markers of tobacco toxicant exposure. At week 12, we will assess change in EC or CC use, quit line contact, and quit attempts. This study will be the first to examine the health effects of EC on HIV-infected smokers.

PI: Patricia Cioe, Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences
Co-Investigators: Christopher Kahler, Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences; Jennifer Tidey, Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and Behavioral and Social Sciences (Research)
Funded: $50,000

Immunomethylomics of Head and Neck Cancer Survivorship
Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinomas (HNSCCs) are devastating upper airway tumors that are associated with an immunosuppressive network impacting the tumor microenvironment, bone marrow and the peripheral blood compartments. The development of novel biomarkers of cancer immunity have not kept pace with breakthroughs in our understanding of cancer-associated inflammation and its relationship with abnormal hematopoiesis and the production of immunosuppressive leukocyte populations. This proposal, targeting pilot funding, aims to fund the acquisition of additional pilot data.  In the parent application we address the gap in clinically applicable immune biomarkers by first developing unique immuno-methylomic tools to identify aberrant peripheral immune cell populations, followed by the application of such tools for studying HNSCC survivorship as well as to explore the application of these biomarkers in ongoing clinical immunotherapy trials. The proposed R01 will draw from one large cohort of HNSCC patients recruited over separate, consecutive 5- year grant cycles cases whose tumors have been extensively characterized using cutting edge molecular analyses. As new immunotherapies are developed for HNSCC, it is crucial to mediate the effects of the host’s compromised immune system. The generation of additional data will further demonstrate to reviewers that epigenetic techniques for immune profiling will provide biomarkers that are useful both in assessing immune status and in addressing mechanisms of immune modifiers.

PI: Karl Kelsey, Professor of Epidemiology and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Funded: $49,360

"Right-sizing" opioid prescription post- cesarean delivery and hysterectomy: Balancing excess medication and patient pain control
Opioids are mainstay treatment for acute pain after surgery, including cesarean delivery (CD) and hysterectomy. Approximately 1.8 million women have a CD or hysterectomy each year; Most consume a fraction of opioids prescribed and do not dispose of unused opioids properly. This project addresses the critical need to decrease prescription opioids available for misuse using a collaborative approach between interdisciplinary investigators with complementary expertise to create and evaluate a multilevel, theory-based intervention (physician and patient-targeted) designed to facilitate the provision of “right-size” prescriptions (reduce left-over opioids while maintaining pain control) following CD or hysterectomy. The specific aims are 1:  To conduct formative research with prescribing physicians, nurses, and patients; 2: To use this information to create two web-based interventions; a) for prescribers encouraging right-size opioid prescribing and b) for CD and hysterectomy patients to encourage appropriate use and excess medication disposal; 3: To pilot test the new interventions a) To assess implementation; b) To estimate efficacy by comparing (pre- vs. post-intervention) amount of 1) opioids prescribed, 2) prescribed opioids not consumed; 3) pain scores; and 4) appropriate patient disposal of excess medications; 4: To prepare and submit an NIDA/NIH application based on these data. An effective intervention to promote “right-size” opioid prescriptions after CD and hysterectomy has the potential for extrapolation to other surgical settings to widely address optimal opioid prescribing post-operatively, which would advance Brown University’s position as a center of excellence in addressing the opioid epidemic.

PI: Patricia Risica, Associate Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences
Associate Professor of Epidemiology
Co-PI: Kristen Matteson, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Co-Investigators: Brandon Marshall, Associate Professor of Epidemiology; Theresa Shireman, Professor of Health Services, Policy and Practice
Funded: $95,000

2018 SALOMON AWARDS

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Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

Bathsheba Demuth
Assistant Professor of History and Environment and Society
$10,700

Where Ideology and Ecology Meet: Telling Russian and American Environmental History at the Bering Strait
At the Bering Strait, northeast Russia and northwest Alaska share a common ecology: rolling tundra and icy mountains divided by the narrow ocean. Every living thing exists without plentiful solar energy, curtailing the productivity evident in temperate climates. Yet between 1848 and 1988, Russians and Americans alike were drawn north by Beringia’s potential riches, particularly the biotic energy resources available on the region’s lands and seas—its whales, walrus, and reindeer in particular. These outsiders stayed to make converts, fortunes, and states. Europeans began by harvesting whales, moved to hunting walrus on coasts, attempted to farm reindeer on land, sought gold underground, and finally returned to hunting whales. Organized around these spaces, this research project traces a narrative from the stateless meetings of indigenous Yupik, Inupiat, and Chukchi with commercial hunters, to the inception of national borders and ideas of citizenship on opposite sides of the Strait, through to the region’s division along ideological lines. This proposal seeks funds to complete the book manuscript “Beringian Dreams: People, Nature, and the Quest for Arctic Energy 1848-1988” that chronicles these environmental, political, economic, and cultural revolutions. The research includes archival visits to Alaska, Hawaii, and New Bedford, to add new collections – particularly those featuring indigenous perspectives – to the manuscript. It also includes research and funding to work with a cartographer to create maps, and with a research assistant to locate images. Brown is becoming one of the strongest environmental history programs in the country; this book will contribute to that growing profile.

Kevin Escudero
Assistant Professor of American Studies
$11,040

Not 1 More Deportation: Movement Lawyering and Grassroots Community Partnerships in the Immigrant Rights Movement
Attorneys working closely with social movements activists are oftentimes viewed as occupying a dual role: as an advocate in the justice system and ally of movement participants. While some may argue that this dual role may prevent challenges for attorneys whose interests align with the movements they are assisting, increasing numbers of attorneys have worked to bridge this divide by developing innovative models for collaboration including movement lawyering, public interest lawyering and rebellious lawyering. These models place significant emphasis on how lawyers engage social movement participants. In this project, however, I make the case that further attention must be paid to examining the bi-directional nature of activist-lawyer partnerships. Utilizing a case study of undocumented immigrant organizing in Chicago, Illinois, a city in which activists have partnered with attorneys in fighting the deportations of local community members, I aim to demonstrate how activists display a high level of legal knowledge and influence attorneys’ approaches to litigation and defense of the undocumented community. To gain a clearer and most holistic understanding of how this process takes place, I will conduct ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews with movement attorneys, activists and individuals fighting their cases. From this research I will develop two research articles: 1) an article examining the relationship between activists and attorneys in the immigrant rights movement and 2) a methodological reflection on ethical considerations when working as a researcher and ally of undocumented community members.

Margot Jackson
Associate Professor of Sociology
$15,000

Public Investments, Private Investments and Class Gaps in Children's Academic Achievement
Recent research identifies significant class gaps in parental investments, defined by expenditures and time with children, as well as in children’s academic achievement.  Parents with more income and education are disproportionately likely to invest resources and developmentally targeted time toward their children, and these investments influence cognitive and academic development.  Public investments in children and families, though increasingly under threat, have the potential to reduce class gaps in child investments by freeing low-income parents to alter expenditures and time use.  The combination of public investment and equalization in private investment then has the potential to reduce class inequality in child development. Indeed, cross-national evidence reveals wider class gaps in academic achievement in the United States than in countries where public investments in children and families are larger. However, evidence on how public and private investments interact to impact family and child inequality is quite limited.  The purpose of this project is to examine how public investments in children and families affect class inequality in child investments and academic achievement.  The research has three aims: 1) Collect state-by-state data on local, state and federal spending on major programs affecting children and families.  2) Examine whether class gaps in: a) parental investments, and b) children’s academic achievement are smaller or larger in states with higher child and family spending.  3) Examine whether parental investments play a weaker role in explaining class gaps in child achievement in states with higher spending?  

Felipe Martinez-Pinzon
Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies
$14,938

Producing the People: Sketches of Manners and Liberal Reform in Latin America (1820-1870)
How did post-independence elites in Latin America fabricate national folk out of wildly diverse colonial populations with equally diverse identities? My book “Producing the People: Sketches of Manners and Liberal Reform in Latin America (1820-1870)” answers this question through the analysis of one particular literary genre: cuadros de costumbres or the sketch of types and manners. This short, illustrated genre frequently appeared in popular periodicals across Europe in the early to mid-19th century where it both described and satirized the mores of peoples by producing them as types —the dandy, the spinster, the pickpocket, and so on. So popular was the genre that many of these individual portraits would be compiled later into collections that produced a panorama of a city or a nation through the compilation of its most salient types. Paradoxically enough, this European genre traveled to Latin America and was used as a nationalizing tool by post-Independence elites seeking to organize what they saw as the ethnic and social chaos of the newly founded republics. “Producing the People” investigates the aesthetic and political choices that shaped the production of national folk, exploring the patrician sensibility of Latin America’s post-war ascending classes’ and the role they played in imagining the people as disciplined subalterns infused with local color.

Eric Nathan
Assistant Professor of Music
$15,000

Recording Project - Portrait Album Release
My proposal focuses on the publication of my musical compositions in recorded form. In the field of music, documentation of a work through sound recording is critical to the work’s recognition. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), recognized as the leading American orchestra dedicated to performing and recording contemporary music, proposes to release a portrait album of my music on the BMOP Sound Label, featuring premiere recordings of five compositions for large ensemble (for both orchestral and large ensemble forces). In these works, written between 2011 and 2016, I engage with ideas of why old places (of both historical and personal significance) matter and how a sense of shared continuity with the past can help us better understand our present. I experiment with performance techniques in creating both asynchronous and unified textures that highlight the power of the individual within a larger collective.

Tara Nummedal
Associate Professor of History and Italian Studies
$15,000

Furnace and Fugue: A Digital Edition of Michael Maier's Atalanta fugiens (1618) with Scholarly Commentary
This project, co-edited with Donna Bilak (Columbia University) in collaboration with the Mellon-funded Digital Publishing Initiative, is simultaneously an exploration of an extraordinary seventeenth-century multimedia book, the German alchemist Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens (1618), and an experiment in digital publishing today. Atalanta fugiens reinterpreted Ovid’s myth of Atalanta as an alchemical allegory via a series of fifty emblems, each of which contains text, image, and a musical fugue for 3 voices. By linking intellect, sight, and sound with the theory and laboratory practice of transmutational alchemy, Maier offered his readers a complex epistemological tool and an argument about the proper balance of intellectual and sensory work in exploring nature’s secrets. We are constructing a multimedia digital edition that will enable modern readers to read, see, and hear and manipulate Atalanta fugiens the way Maier’s readers would have, as well as to engage with new scholarly interpretations of Maier’s book and its context. At the same time, as part of the Digital Publishing Initiative, the project is part of Brown’s efforts to rethink the scholarly monograph in a new digital age. From the outset, we have envisioned our edition and scholarly essays as an exploration of the possibilities and processes involved in producing rigorous and accessible digital scholarship. This award will support a crucial piece of this project that the Mellon grant is not able to fund, namely recordings of the fifty fugues in Atalanta fugiens.

Josh Pacewicz
Assistant Professor of Sociology and Urban Studies
$14,384

The War for the States: Advocates and Bureaucrats in Polarized Times
In the contemporary United States, many advocacy campaigns focus on states and, under conditions of polarized and deadlocked federal politics, there is reason to expect state policies to diverge. This dynamic challenges the conceptual tools of political science and sociology, which focus disproportionately on federal over state politics, legislative activity over executive and street-level rule-making, and publicly-oriented movements over coalitions consisting of political insiders. The project investigates the politics of state policy divergence via a mixed methods study of Rhode Island, a state currently under unilateral GOP control, and New Hampshire, currently under GOP control. I focus on five policy domains—budgeting, voting rights, environmental regulations, school and municipal finance, and Medicaid-funded services—and draw on archival tracking of policy, observation of legislative and administrative hearings, and interviews with advocates, legislators, and bureaucrats to map the range of progressive and conservative advocacy strategies. Unlike traditional social movements, contemporary advocates build backstage coalitions with sympathetic agency leaders and legislators to selectively implement the law, derail it, or repurpose state and federal policy. The project develops new conceptual tools for the study of policy change and speaks to timely public issues.   

Biological and Life Sciences

Christine Montross
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior & Medical Science
$15,000

Acquainted with the Night: Mental Illness in America's Prisons
This award will support the writing of "Acquainted with the Night," a literary nonfiction book about the confluence of mental illness and the criminal justice system. In my work as a psychiatrist, I frequently treat people who have served time in our nation’s correctional facilities.  Their stories reveal a broken justice system plagued by inhumanity. "Acquainted with the Night" will thematically explore the realities of the American correctional system.  Chapters entitled “On Isolation,” “On Evil,” “On Revenge,” “On Fear,” and “On Madness” will blend neuroscience and social science research with lyrical accounts of my work in prisons and psychiatric hospitals, and of my visits to a diverse collection of correctional facilities.  These include Chicago’s Cook County Jail, ingloriously dubbed the nation’s largest psychiatric hospital; Northern Correctional Facility, a supermaximum prison whose inmates are held in solitary confinement; and Norway’s Halden Prison, where maximum security detainees cook with knives, go on overnight passes, and take art classes with chisels and hammers. Since the inception of the Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME), Brown has formally positioned itself as an institution that values the concurrent studies of medicine and the liberal arts—and as an advocate for the mutual enrichment of both fields which results from such endeavors. Support for "Acquainted with the Night," which has already been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Nonfiction and is under contract for publication with The Penguin Press, will provide a nationally visible example of current work at Brown which embodies this interdisciplinary spirit. 

Timothy Whitfeld
Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (Research)
$14,996

Succession and tropical forest dynamics in unstable terrain
Ecological succession describes the change in species composition in natural communities following disturbance. Although general patterns are understood, there is little documentation of the very earliest stages of succession, immediately following disturbance. This is especially true for the lowland forests of New Guinea, a tropical area prone to natural disturbance from landslides. This proposal tests the hypothesis that New Guinea experiences higher than average rates of natural disturbance compared to other tropical areas. Furthermore, the proposal investigates seed and seedling dynamics immediately following disturbance to document baseline changes in patterns of tree species composition. The proposal takes advantage of high resolution satellite imagery to locate and map forest disturbance across the northern lowlands of New Guinea. It also establishes a network of small plots for tracking the very earliest stages of ecological succession in a tropical rainforest. This will be the first large-scale, empirical documentation of natural disturbance on the understudied island of New Guinea. As such, the project is an important contribution to global models of carbon sequestration since New Guinea contains the world’s third largest area of tropical wilderness.

Physical Sciences

Theophilus Benson
Assistant Professor of Computer Science
$15,000

Democratizing Web Performance: Principled Measurements and Optimizations for Performance in Developing Regions
Mobile devices have become the primary mode of Internet access in both developed and developing countries. Yet, in developing regions, driven by their low cost, mobile devices are often equipped with small memory sizes and slow CPUs. For example, according to a recent study of mobile devices in Pakistan, 90% of devices were equipped with at most 1024MB of RAM, and 89% had 1GHz or slower processors. Despite the prevalence of such low-end devices in these markets, there are few systematic studies of the differences between web performance on low-end and high-end smartphones. Additionally, we lack principled techniques to analyze and improve performance on these low-end phones. The goal of this proposal is to fill this vital gap.  First, using low-end smartphones prevalent in developing regions, we will conduct a large-scale measurement study to identify bottleneck resources (e.g., CPU, memory, and network) in the page load process and analyze how these bottlenecks may change over time based on device characteristics, network connectivity, server configuration and page structure. The insights from this study will help in understanding the effectiveness of various infrastructure design choices (e.g., the role of CDNs), operating system principles (e.g., Android One) and page load optimization techniques (e.g., Polaris) for developing regions.  Second, we will develop a set of data-driven optimizations that enables, both large providers, e.g., Facebook, and small and local startups, to leverage our insights and improve end-user performance. In designing these optimizations, we will explore various architectural design choices to enable efficient continuous analysis of large data sets while providing fine-grained control over end-user connection characteristics. 

George Konidaris
Assistant Professor of Computer Science
$14,911

Machine Learning for Solar Tracking
Solar panel tracking improves the solar panel energy production by pointing them towards the sun throughout the day. Existing tracking algorithms compute the location of the sun in the sky via astronomical calculations, and move solar panels to match that angle. However, these calculations do not account for reflective and diffuse radiance or weather conditions that impact the efficiency of tracking algorithms. We reframe the problem of collecting energy from the sun as a contextual bandit problem, where the solar panel is controlled by a learning program attempting to maximize the "reward" (i.e. energy) it collects. A small working group of graduate and undergraduate students at Brown has performed extensive simulated experiments in a variety of scenarios, indicating that in many locations on the Earth contextual bandit approaches outperform existing baselines. The group has also constructed a small, low-cost prototype of a single-axis solar tracking system, leading to preliminary results and publications accepted to RLDM, EnviroInfo, and IAAI conferences. Moving forward, our proposed goals are threefold: (1) construct a larger, more reliable dual-axis tracker to validate our approach over longer timescales (2) develop advanced algorithmic solutions for contextual bandit problems, with sustainability as a motivating application and (3) expand our computational sustainability working group within the AI/robotics research labs at Brown. We aim to place Brown at the forefront of computational sustainability research, combining our existing focus on socially-conscious robotics with computational efforts to ameliorate environmental problems facing modern society.

Kemp Plumb
Assistant Professor of Physics
$15,000

Investigating a new class of spin-orbit entangled quantum materials
Quantum materials are solids with macroscopic properties that are manifestly quantum mechanical. The most extreme example is a quantum spin liquid, a state of matter where the spins of localized electrons in a solid material become entangled and continue to fluctuate even at zero temperature. Low energy defects in this quantum entangled state behave as strange quantum-mechanical “quasi-particles.” For example, energetic defects in the Kitaev spin liquid that may be found in insulating honeycomb lattice magnets have the properties of Majorana fermions, these are particles that are their own antiparticle.  Pairs of such defects may be created and measured in laboratory experiments and their controlled manipulation could enable future technologies which encode information in their quantum state. Thus, the search for quantum spin liquids is motivated both by fundamental physics, because they enable the exploration of new realms of many-body quantum phenomena, and from a technological perspective, because of the promise of solid-state quantum information technologies. The objective of this project is to synthesize and characterize a new class of heavy transition metal-based quantum materials where the crystal lattice geometry, strong electronic correlations, and strong spin-orbit coupling conspire to promote quantum fluctuations. The many body quantum states of newly synthesized model materials will be explored using neutron and x-ray scattering. This work will support a growing effort in quantum materials research at Brown and form the foundation of a broader program to uncover the fundamental principles underlying collective quantum phenomena in strongly correlated materials.

Jonathan Pober
Assistant Professor of Physics
$15,000

Demonstrating the Impact of New Analysis Techniques for Neutral Hydrogen Cosmology
Neutral hydrogen cosmology is a powerful new probe of our universe. These observations are hindered, however, by the presence of numerous, bright, interfering signals. The research proposed here focuses on the development of a new analysis technique that uses advanced statistical methods to separate the cosmological emission from contaminants. Brown is a partner institution of the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA), a new experiment currently under construction, looking to measure this neutral hydrogen signal. HERA has the potential to transform our knowledge of the universe, but advanced techniques, such as the one proposed here, will be necessary for extracting this information from these measurements. This award will be used to support computing hardware to enable the operation and development of this new analysis in-house at Brown. This investment would put the university at the forefront of this field, ready to make an impact as soon as data from new experiments like HERA arrive, as well as in prime position to compete for future investment from funding agencies. 

Public Health

Elizabeth Aston
Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences (Research)
$15,000

Marijuana Vaporization: An Ecological Momentary Assessment Pilot Study
Vaporization of marijuana, or “vaping,” is rapidly becoming a prevalent mode of administration in the wake of legal and political shifts surrounding marijuana. Vaping prevalence is expected to continue to rise as device availability and popularity grows, and the market profitability will be prioritized without consideration of public health implications, as seen with electronic cigarettes. Unfortunately, several basic questions about vaping remain unanswered including: when, where, and why do individuals vape, how much do they consume, and for whom is vaping most problematic? This pilot study aims to utilize novel ecological momentary assessment methodologies to examine vaping in “real time” from users in their natural environment during a 30-day monitoring period. The study will use an observational within-subjects design of 15 frequent marijuana users who have experience vaping marijuana oil. Participants will be provided with a cutting-edge, handheld vaporizer that wirelessly records vaping consumption data in real-time that syncs with a mobile-application that can capture what happens in-the-moment when individuals vape. The following primary specific aims are proposed: (1) Examine frequency of marijuana vaping within- and across-days; (2) Examine quantity of marijuana consumption while vaping; (3) Examine where vaping occurs; and (4) Examine precipitants to use, including situational, cognitive, and emotional factors. An exploratory aim is to examine individual differences that influence vaping, including age, medical user status, and presence of psychopathology. This funding will facilitate innovative and significant research and will provide the necessary pilot data for an NIH R01 grant.

Jon Steingrimsson
Assistant Professor of Biostatistics
$12,746

Deep Learning for Incomplete Data: Individualized Treatment Decisions for Breast Cancer Patients
Standard models predicting risk for breast cancer patients commonly only use a few clinical markers and a few hormone receptor statuses. Recently assembled databases on breast cancer patients often include high dimensional biomarkers such as genetic or molecular variables. There is need for models which can utilize these high dimensional data structures and capture the potentially complex and non-linear effects these markers have on survival. Prediction models built using deep learning have had enormous success when trained on high dimensional databases. One major obstacle to using deep learning to analyze health data is that the outcome of interest is commonly only partially observed, due to dropout from studies or participants not experiencing the event of interest before the end of the study. This proposal uses semi-parametric efficiency theory to develop methods to appropriately deal with such incomplete outcomes when building risk prediction models using deep learning. The developed methodology will be applied to predicting risk for breast cancer patients.