Humanities and Social Sciences Biological and Life Sciences | Biological, Life, and Physical Sciences | Physical Sciences | Public Health

Humanities and Social Sciences

Fela's Queens: Performance, Play and Punishment in an African Music Subculture
The unlikely combination of Nigeria’s postcolonial military complex, restrictive postcolonial gender norms and postwar youth disaffection inspired the birth of an insurgent group of female singers and dancers in the 1970s. Scarcely educated and from poor and working-class backgrounds, the “Afrobeat Queens” (as this group of artists became known) carved out a distinct space of female rebellion in Nigeria’s popular music industry. Quite predictably, the Queens’ eroticized stage performances and their support of a musical genre that propagated anti-establishment sentiments elicited the contempt of Nigeria’s elite class. Powerful social actors consequently enacted state-sanctioned violence against the Queens, while also fomenting their erasure from scholarly and popular histories of Afrobeat music or African popular culture. In this study, Ayobade combines oral historical and archival methods to reconstruct the Queens’ sustained use of popular performance as tool and platform for social critique and self-affirmation in the face of intersecting gendered constraints. In what would become the first book-length study of this iconic group of women, Ayobade pursues a feminist reading of the Queen’s craft as critical punctuations of a male-dominated cultural scene that was being consolidated in the wake of colonialism.
PI: Dotun Ayobade, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
Funded: $11,500

Un-Documented - Undoing Imperial Plunder
This film project (a trilogy) studies and compares two trajectories of migration, which are thought as unrelated and are often studied separately by scholars from different disciplines in the humanities, art and social sciences. The first migration is that of objects that generated professional care, scrupulous documentation, generous hospitality in museums and archives, and occasional public display. The second is the migration of people, who do not have, never had, or are unable to obtain the documents without which they are banned from access to most kinds of care and hospitality, and from rebuilding their homes and worlds. The publication last year of the Sarr-Savoy report on the objects plundered by the French empire and held in French public collections, testifies to the timely trait of this project of Un-Documented, that brings to this global conversation about restitution a unique point of view that connect together the objects in questions and people (in their place of origins and diaspora). This project has emerged out of years of research and a book project, published this November by Verso. The trilogy is based on the idea that artifacts preserved in Western type museums can no longer be treated only as exemplary masterpieces but can serve as site for renewed rights. This year I completed the first part of this trilogy, that is being shown now in The Fundació Tàpies. This award will enable work on the second and third parts of the trilogy.
PI: Ariella Azoulay, Professor of Comparative Literature and Modern Culture and Media
Funded: $14,860

Working Waterfronts and Warming Waters: Climate Change and the Future of Work in the Gulf of Maine
Today, fisheries across New England are collapsing as once plentiful species—lobsters most significant among them—are moving to colder northern waters.  The lobster fisheries of Connecticut and Rhode Island are now almost totally depleted, and scientists see their fate as a sign of things to come for lobster fisheries in Maine.  Focused on Maine, this project asks how, in order to preserve the “working waterfronts” of the coast, lobster fishers’ unions have been reinvigorated. Militating against the impression that their industry is doomed, lobster fishers are fighting against policies that favor seaweed and other forms of aquaculture over traditional forms of fishing and harvesting.  At the same time, lobster fishers see themselves as scapegoats in federal conservation policies designed to protect endangered species such as the North Atlantic right whale. My project examines how lobster fishers mobilize science and a commonly held sense of local heritage to make claims as both rural working-class activists and environmental stewards. This project joins a growing anthropological conversation on how the “green economy” takes material and social form.  This award will allow me to diversify my research agenda, taking insights from my ongoing work on labor, the environment, and capitalism in India to a US context. In addition, it will allow me to develop new skills in the study of maritime life and labor. In this way, this project would expand Brown Anthropology’s unique strengths in environmental inquiry and the ethnography of contemporary North America.
PI: Sarah Besky, Charles Evans Hughes Assistant Professor of Anthropology and International and Public Affairs
Funded: $15,000

The Epistemic Politics of Social Movements
This award will advance an ongoing study investigating the growing participation of scientific, medical, legal and agronomic experts in the grassroots movement against glyphosate pesticide use in Argentina’s soy-producing regions. The movement holds great political significance, not just in Argentina, but globally, as farmworkers and agricultural communities around the world protest the skyrocketing use of glyphosate pesticides and the frightening impacts of long-term exposure to these dangerous chemicals. The study, which promises to shed light on the epistemic structure and dynamics of social movements, represents an international collaboration undertaken with Professor Florencia Arancibia, a political sociologist at Universidad Nacional de San Martín (UNSAM) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and is supported by a two-year National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Award that began in September 2019. We are using the NSF award primarily to pay Dr. Arancibia’s salary and research and travel expenses during the data collection phase, which will extend through May 2020. I am seeking funding during a sabbatical leave that will allow me to make a month-long research trip to Buenos Aires in Fall 2020 to work directly with Professor Arancibia to develop a book prospectus, draft several manuscript chapters of a coauthored book, and convene a workshop to disseminate study results.
PI: Scott Frickel, Professor of Environment and Society and Sociology
Funded: $8,132

To Feel the Earth Move: "Einstein on the Beach" and Us
The Salomon award will support preliminary research for my second book project, “To Feel the Earth Move: Einstein on the Beach and Us.” This book will focus on a singular work from the history of 20th-century performance: Einstein on the Beach, the 4-hour-long experimental opera created by theatre director Robert Wilson, composer Philip Glass, and choreographer Lucinda Childs that was first performed in 1976. Rather than attempting to offer a comprehensive history of the work’s development, formal structure, or cultural impact, this book takes its cue from the formally innovative, radically conceived structure of the opera itself. In so doing, the book demonstrates how a single work of art can challenge audiences and scholars of performance to cultivate modes of critical attunement that open outward into broader, collectively shared histories and cultural inheritances. Einstein on the Beach constellates Cold War-era anxieties about technology and the threat of nuclear annihilation; the unfulfilled promise of the African American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s; avant-garde musical and theatrical techniques including seriality, minimalism, durational performance, and a range of non-Western cultural forms; and the complex role of artistic “outsiders” and the “amateurs” within the historically fraught negotiation between experimental and commercial models of artistic production. By strategically narrowing its critical aperture to a singular—if inexhaustibly complex—work of collaboratively realized performance, this book will help me advance Brown’s position in the field of theatre and performance studies by elaborating novel methods of “doing” performance criticism.
PI: Leon Hilton, Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies
Funded: $12,900

Of Poetry and Power: Robert Frost in Khrushchev's Russia and the Emergence of a Cold War Consensus
My research focuses on a 12-day trip that the American poet Robert Frost took to the USSR in the late summer of 1962. The idea for the trip was hatched by the Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Dobrynin, and JFK’s Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall. The Kennedy administration endorsed the trip and the US State Department helped to organize it. In the USSR, leaders of the Writers’ Union welcomed Frost and introduced him to literary luminaries in Moscow and Leningrad. Frost also met directly with the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and shared his vision of a “friendly competition” in “sports, science, art, and democracy.” Udall met with Khrushchev separately. Frost, Udall, and Khrushchev seemed to agree that soft power was as important as hard power. Khrushchev apparently left his meeting with Frost determined to deepen the process of de-Stalinization in Soviet society. At the same time, the potential for the rivalry to turn violent was not far from the surface. As Khrushchev chatted with Frost and Udall, he was also coordinating the shipment of nuclear missiles to Cuba. Studying this episode has the potential to re-balance our understanding of the Cold War by juxtaposing poetry with politics, cultural exchange with high-level personal diplomacy, and non-violent competition with brinkmanship. This award will fund research trips to relevant repositories in the United States (National Archives, Frost’s papers at Dartmouth, Stewart Udall’s papers in Arizona) and in Russia (the State, Party, Literature, and Foreign Policy Archives.)
PI: Ethan Pollock, Associate Professor of History, Associate Professor of Slavic Studies
Funded: $14,825

The Intergenerational Transmission of Educational Advantage? The Case of Latinx College Students from Mixed-Educated Households
This mixed methods research will examine the relationship between parents' educational attainment and students' post-secondary educational outcomes in Latinx families. The intergenerational transmission of educational advantage posits that all students with college-educated parents equally benefit from their parent's educational attainment. Yet research has long demonstrated differential returns to education across and race and ethnicity. Using data from theELS:2002 and looking at dual-headed households, the proposed quantitative study examines how Latinx student outcomes vary when both parents are college-educated, when neither parent is college-educated, and when one parent is college educated, but the other is not. Qualitatively, I propose an interview study that illuminates how Latinx college students from mixed-educated households navigate college settings at both selective and-selective campuses. Situated in cultural capital theory, this analysis contributes theoretical insights to understanding who and to what extent educational advantage is “passed on” from parent to child with a focus on the Latinx experience. This project innovates by problematizing the idea that having college-educated parents portends academic success, which may only be true for particular groups of students. Research has failed to consider important heterogeneity in student outcomes for those from mixed-educated families. This project contributes to the extant literature by bringing important attention to a group of students that are considered “advantaged” based on research and policy definitions, but whose outcomes may present a different picture. The focus on Latinx families and the theoretical insights derived from the study extend Brown's excellence in educational research with attention on an understudied population.
PI: David Rangel, Assistant Professor of Education
Funded: $8,800

Imperial Transitions in the Upper Amazon Basin: Forced Resettlement, Diet and Political Subjectivity at Purun Llaqta del Maino, Peru
This award will support archaeological research on the effects of imperial forced resettlement on native Peruvian households, through the study of materials excavated from the site of Purun Llaqta del Maino (PLM). The region in which PLM is located, Chachapoyas, was home to a series of loosely confederated ethnic groups who built their homes in thousands of hilltop sites between 1100 and 1470CE, before the area was violently incorporated into the Inka empire (1470-1535CE). According to written sources, Inka officials radically reconfigured the regional landscape following its conquest, intensifying maize production and resettling tens of thousands of people into new towns. Then, following the Spanish invasion of 1532-35CE, clergy and administrators again reorganized local communities with the goal of reshaping their political subjectivities and directing their labor towards Spanish colonial projects. This history makes Chachapoyas an ideal context for studying how political subjects are shaped through distinct imperial discourses and how households respond to imperial challenges. My previous research at PLM indicates that the site was occupied from at least 1100-1600CE and includes a pre-Inka hilltop village, an Inka imperial feasting hall (kallanka), and a Spanish colonial planned town (reducción). Study of materials excavated in 2019 – plant and animal remains from houses, human remains from burials, and soils from adjacent abandoned fields – will enable us to assess how native households living at this site responded to two successive movements of imperial expansion and resettlement. Results will be incorporated into VanValkenburgh’s second book project, articles, and external funding applications.
PI: Parker VanValkenburgh, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Funded: $14,600

Musical Simulacra: Holding Up Cultural Mirrors Through Sound and Image
A combination of exoticism, Western cultural prestige, and deeply-rooted inferiority has led to the re-creation of European-style villages built as exact copies outside major cities in China. The hope of using reproductions of European architecture and urban styles to revive and attract new settlements doesn’t always turn out well in reality. But it contributes to a direct clash of unrelated civilizations and cultures – a “new world” in denial of its own past seeking out different “old worlds.” Inspired by this cultural simulacra, I composed Transplant, Transpose for chamber ensemble with two renowned improvisors. The work was premiered at my American Academy in Berlin Portrait concert last spring. I’ve been thinking about ways to create a fuller version to more thoroughly express the ideas of the work. To enrich the sonic environment, I will extend the current version and add field recordings, common propaganda slogan announcements, excerpted interviews, and processed and distorted sounds as varied as Venetian gondola songs, Korean pop music, nighttime urban soundscapes from Paris and Shanghai, laughter and merriment celebrating western holidays, alphorns, car horns in traffic, local Chinese opera, etc. A visual component will consist of still photos. The Salomon award will aid in the studio recording and documentation of the final version of Transplant, Transpose. It will strongly represent Brown’s versatility and commitment towards the contemporary arts, and support a composer widely praised for her ability to comment on and synthesize the complexities and misconceptions of cultural exchange and modern life in her music.
PI: Lu Wang, David S. Josephson Assistant Professor of Music
Funded: $12,800​


Biological and Life Sciences

Promoting Immunity Against Ovarian Cancer by Stimulating Intratumoral Pathogen-Specific Resident Memory T Cells
Despite significant advances in surgical and chemotherapy-based treatments, ovarian cancer remains the most lethal gynecologic malignancy. The overall 5-year survival rate still remains dismally low at 45% as most patients develop drug resistance and relapse. There is a significant medical need to develop second line of therapies. Recent progress in immunotherapeutic approaches based on using patients’ own immune system to fight against cancers have proven effective against multiple tumor types. Studies in animal models and humans clearly show that cytotoxic CD8 T lymphocytes are effective against ovarian tumor. But often the CD8 T cell numbers are low and their quality is negatively impacted by the highly immunosuppressive ovarian tumor microenvironment. Our proposal relies on a newly recognized subset of memory T cells called, resident memory CD8 T cells in the ovarian tumor microenvironment. Resident memory T cells are primarily described in infectious disease settings where they maintain heightened cytotoxicity and also produce copious amounts of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines after stimulation. We want to leverage these T cells’ immunostimulatory properties to generate a broad antitumor reaction. Using a mouse orthotopic ovarian cancer model we will evaluate the effect of local resident memory T cell stimulation on activation of other immune cells present in the tumor stroma. We expect a broad activation will convert the suppressive tumor microenvironment to an immunostimulatory milieu and will enable potent synergistic antitumor action by multiple immune cell type. When combined with existing first line therapies this approach has the potential to enable durable cure.
PI: Lalit Beura, Assistant Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
Funded: $15,000

The Role of Extracellular Vesicles in JCPyV-induced Brain Pathogenesis
The human polyomavirus JC (JCPyV) infects a significant proportion of the general population worldwide. Initial infection is asymptomatic, and the virus is thought to establish a life-long persistent infection in the kidney of healthy individuals. Under conditions of immune suppression, JCPyV can reactivate and cause progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), an often fatal demyelinating disease of the brain. The mechanism by which JCPyV evades the barriers that protect the brain and then destroys glial cells is currently unknown. We recently discovered that primary choroid plexus epithelial cells (CPE), the cells that create the blood-cerebrospinal fluid barrier, are susceptible to virus infection. In addition, infected CPE produce abundant amounts of extracellular vesicles (EV) containing virus that can infect naïve glial cells, the target cells of PML, providing a pathway for the virus to travel from the periphery to the brain. Here, we hypothesize that EV derived from JCPyV-infected human CPE contain specific microRNAs (miRNAs) and proteins that mediate cell–cell communication and promote viral pathogenesis in recipient glial cells.  We will test this hypothesis by first comparing the contents of infected vs. uninfected CPE-derived EV, then by functional analysis of these components in our viral infection system. The results of this study should lead to a greater understanding of JCPyV-induced brain disease and to the identification of biomarkers to better predict which patients are at risk for developing PML.
PI: Sheila Haley, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry (Research)
Funded: $15,000

Biological, Life, and Physical Sciences

Non-equilibrium molecular dynamics simulations of protein diffusiophoresis for biomedicine
Investigating the conformational and global dynamics of proteins using molecular dynamics (MD) simulations is a critical focus area in computational biology. However, most MD simulations of proteins are currently performed under equilibrium conditions, whereas biological proteins typically exist in the presence of chemical concentration gradients, which affect protein dynamics through electrokinetic and steric interactions. Non-equilibrium MD simulations are impractical with most standard simulation packages, because the wide-spread use of periodic boundary conditions drives the dynamics toward equilibrium, and non-equilibrium phenomena of interest often occur on long time scales. In this project, we propose to overcome these challenges by implementing novel force models in the boundary regions of MD simulations to drive the dynamics toward predictable non-equilibrium states. We will use these tools to simulate the protein dynamics in solute concentration gradients and characterize the role of protein/solute interactions on the conformational and global dynamics of proteins. Ultimately, the development of these methods and tools will facilitate new investigations into the non-equilibrium global and conformational dynamics of single- and multi-protein systems, with potential applications to protein phase separation and the formation of membraneless organelles. The tools and research proposed here have broad applications to quantitative and computational biology, especially towards advancing our understanding of the role of non-equilibrium processes on protein dynamics and aggregation that critically contribute towards cell physiology and disease. Furthermore, this research will facilitate the development of new biomedical technologies and applications involving the selective control and measurement of multi-protein systems, such as protein detection, sorting, and pre-concentration.
PI: Jesse Ault, Assistant Professor of Engineering
Funded: $15,000

High-Resolution 3-D Access to the Brain through Multi-Site Complex Probe Architectures
The goal of this project is to address key challenges for contemporary chronically implanted neurotechnologies through innovative design and use of complex, integrated 3-D probe architectures enabling enhanced, scalable spatial access to the brain while limiting implant size and invasiveness. In contrast to traditional approaches obtaining at best, two-dimensional access to neural signals from the cortex, we aim to engineer in this project, a cortical probe platform enabling high-density and high-resolution, three-dimensional access to large cortical volumes.  We propose to leverage advanced microfabrication techniques to directly integrate 3-D “microneedle” probes with high-performance, integrated electronic chips for measuring and modulating neural activity, thereby eliminating the need for tedious and failure-prone interconnects. Additionally, we plan to customize these probes at a micrometer-scale resolution to yield multi-site constructs which may be used to investigate a novel concept of spatially-compressive, columnar- composite neural sensing as a mechanism to enrich the information content for high-performance neural decoding in the context of Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs). Key advancements from the proposed technological platform are anticipated to produce a significantly enhanced brain implant, appropriate for real-time neural interface applications. Brown University has been a long-standing pioneer in the fields of Neuroengineering and BCIs, and this endeavor will continue to solidify its conceptual and engineering leadership in this community.
PI: Farah Laiwalla, Assistant Professor of Engineering (Research)
Funded: $15,000

Physical Sciences

Tailoring Taylor Dispersion for Microfluidic Applications
The proposed research focuses on the spreading of chemicals and particles in small-scale fluid flows for a range of applications. As fluid moves down a pipe or channel, it is known that the combined effects of fluid transport and molecular diffusion lead to an enhanced spreading of an initial concentration of a solute, an effect now known as “Taylor Dispersion.” For many applications this enhanced spreading leads to a rapid dilution of a chemical compound which is undesirable. In the first two sub-projects of the proposed work, novel methods will be investigated for reducing or otherwise controlling dispersion in microchannels through surface modification and mechanical deformation of the channel walls. These methods are readily transferable to standard microfluidic manufacturing processes and thus have the potential for immediate impact on technology. In the the third sub-project, we will investigate the dispersion of elongated nano-scale particles, specifically self-assembled “nanorods,” directly relevant to promising new technologies for targeted drug delivery. The outputs of these projects will contribute to numerous related scientific and technological fields and facilitate future projects and collaborations.
PI: Daniel Harris, Assistant Professor of Engineering
Funded: $12,000

Towards GDPR Compliance by Construction through Better System Design
Comprehensive data protection laws such as the European Union's recent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) better protect citizens' sensitive data, but impose a high cost for compliance on organizations that operate digital services. The expense comes partly because retrofitting compliance onto current computer systems is difficult, manual, and time-consuming. In this project, we seek to understand where current software abstractions and common practices come into conflict with laws like the GDPR, and to develop new computer systems designs that address these problems and make data protection a primary design concern. One example will restructure the databases that web services use today as federations of per-user micro-databases. Users can add or remove their personal micro-database at any time, and all data related to them are stored in their personal micro-database. Applications combine users' information by computing derived views over these micro-databases, and update them as the underlying set of subscribed micro-databases changes. We hope to build a Brown-based research group that turns this idea into a real system, and to build collaborations both with industry and non-CS academics interested in data protection. Brown currently has isolated centers of interest in data protection legislation and its impact, including in Computer Science, the Watson Institute, the STS program, the Policy Lab and others. This project will bring these groups together, introduce industry and off-campus perspectives, establish Brown as a household name in this emerging field of research, foster interdisciplinary thinking in the Brown spirit, and seek to create new technology that makes data protection a primary design goal.
PI: Malte Schwarzkopf, Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Funded: $13,000

Bio-inspired Novel Hydrogel Architecture for Energy Harvesting
Nature builds functionality using soft hydrogel like materials and relies on linear or complex hierarchical assemblies to scale-up forces and energy in an efficient manner. An integrated computational and experimental research is proposed to scientifically develop an energy-harvesting hydrogel-based hierarchical material structure that draws inspiration from naturally occurring biological materials, structures and mechanisms. The proposed research could enable the design of hydrogel-based hierarchical assemblies that continuously convert chemical energy into mechanical energy by exploiting the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction. This research aims to identify molecular architectural concepts that enhance the power density obtained from self-oscillating hydrogels using the BZ reaction, and develop hierarchical soft materials based structures which can scale-up mechanical energy. Molecular dynamics simulations will be conducted to develop a fundamental understanding of the role of polymer molecular architecture in oscillating energy density output from the BZ reaction. Experiments informed by electric eels micro compartment design and a coupled multi-physics continuum model will be developed to obtain a hierarchical hydrogel structure for energy harvesting and scale-up. The scientific understanding relating molecular structure and swelling-deswelling response of hydrogels and hierarchical self-oscillating energy harvesting hydrogel structure developed as part of this research will be a fundamental advancement in basic energy sciences frontier material research.
PI: Vikas Srivastava, Assistant Professor of Engineering
Funded: $13,300

Public Health

Patient Profiles and Settings of Care Following Opioid Use Disorder Related Hospitalizations in Medicare
Increasing opioid-related hospitalizations and emergency department visits among adults ≥65 years of age have been reported. Recent major federal efforts aim to improve the screening and management of opioid use disorder (OUD) in Medicare. The objective of this study is to understand the context of these hospitalizations with respect to the attributes of the patients, hospital admission, and the settings of care following opioid-related acute care use. We emphasize the skilled nursing facility (SNF) setting because it is a prominent care transition following hospitalization, and yet it is unclear if SNFs have the willingness, ability and/or capacity to manage OUD. The need for better integration of addiction treatment with both geriatric and post-acute medical care serves as the rationale of this study. To achieve the study goals, we will analyze administrative claims for 100% Medicare beneficiaries linked to nursing home assessments, and the Residential History File. The proposed research will provide data to promote awareness of OUD in SNFs, and among older adults, which can lead to improvements in clinical practice and policy to ensure appropriate monitoring and interventions are provided. Establishing and/or enhancing the capacity of SNFs to manage OUDs could improve resident quality of life and health outcomes while also contributing to national efforts to improve the management of OUD across different settings.
PI: Patience Moyo, Assistant Professor of Health Services, Policy and Practice
Funded: $13,454