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

Humanities and Social Sciences

Good Measure: Poetic Form, Popular Politics, and Questions of Meter in Modern Arabic Poetry
This book project will offer a new history of modernity in the Middle East, examining how large-scale changes in political leadership, social organization, and economic relations were reflected on the level of poetry and poetic form. I focus in particular on the period extending from the early twentieth century or "Arab Renaissance" (Nahda) to the anti-colonial fervor of the nineteen-sixties. During this period, I argue, the language of poetic form was a metonymic one: poetry and its critical paratexts became the spaces where Arab intellectuals worked through questions of Arab identity, technological modernity, gender relations, religion, secularism, and interactions with the West. When Arab writers discussed topics like "freedom," "constraint," "unity," and "originality" in poetry, they were talking about much more than meters, strophes, and rhymes. Given the centrality of poetry to Arab cultural identity, these literary debates also documented the societal crises brought on by colonial modernity. Cultural production is often neglected in Western scholarly conversations about the Middle East, which tend to focus instead on political management, economic development, and religious fundamentalism. Good Measure will illuminate how Arabic poetry has always intervened in these topics. The book will ultimately move against the grain of conventional literary criticism to trace not only how social and historical circumstances shaped modern Arabic poetry, but also how poetry—with its emphasis on language as a sensual, affective, felt medium—shaped the politics of everyday life.
PI: Emily Drumsta, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature

The Migrant's Spirit. Industrial Revolution in the German Lands
It is a commonplace today that empire was integral to the making of the industrial revolution in Great Britain. But the connection is far less obvious in other parts of Europe. In German central Europe especially, the history of industrialization continues to be told as a tale of technological prowess, coal and steel, and cultural particularity—the vaunted Weberian ‘Protestant’ work-ethic. The Migrant’s Spirit offers a much-needed corrective to such economic nationalism. While innovation, steel, and industriousness were undoubtedly key to Germany’s development in its later stages, in this book I argue that their role has been overstated in service of a history that downplays the region’s profound connections to and dependence upon violent colonial settler projects in the Americas. Between the 1810s and 1890s, some five million Germans emigrated to the ‘new world.’ Using a narrative approach that reconstructs the dynamics within extended families who lived scattered across Europe and North America, the book reveals how ordinary emigrants, rather than mere victims of an extant industrialization process, became an inadvertent driving force behind that very process. By reconstructing the transatlantic lives of working families, the book sheds new light on longstanding puzzles in the literature on industrial revolution, including questions about sudden shifts in norms governing work and domesticity that helped to mobilize an agrarian society for an industrial production regime. As such, my research compels us to re-imagine the geography of industrialization in Europe as one intricately tied to, and indeed determined by, the geography of mass migration overseas.
PI: Benjamin Hein, Assistant Professor of History

"Soutenez moi, li max d'amours m'ocit" [Sustain me, for lovesickness is killing me]: A Translation and Critical Edition of Li Romanz de la poire
One of the most important Medieval French literary texts is the Roman de la Rose, an allegorical dream vision that narrates the development of love and the dreamer’s attempts to gain his lady’s affection. This text was wildly popular, frequently imitated, and highly controversial, with many important literary debates on its merits and faults arising after its publication, and enduring over many centuries. A relatively unknown work that also engages with the formative tradition of courtly love, directly cites the Rose, and recounts a similar story—though its intrigue swirls around a pear instead of a rose—is the Medieval courtly romance Li Romanz de la Poire [The Romance of the Pear]. The Poire reflects the principal allegorical tropes of Medieval love literature, while deftly managing various intertextual strands from Classical and Troubadouric traditions. In particular, the Poire is highly metaliterary, and stages many scenes in which the exemplarity of other texts is discussed and weighed. Given its capacious treatment of various literary traditions, discussion of traditional representations of love in art, literature, and music, and its vibrant illustrations, Li Romanz de la Poire is a crucial document for better understanding Medieval literature and culture. I am proposing the first English translation and critical edition of the Poire to make it accessible for scholars and students. My translation, along with annotated commentary on the original and critical essays, would offer a significant contribution to Medieval scholarship at Brown by directing attention to a pivotal, but heretofore inaccessible and understudied text.
PI: Alani Hicks-Bartlett, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and French Studies

The Routledge Critical Adoption Studies Reader
The Routledge Critical Adoption Studies Reader collects perspectives on adoption in the humanities in a single volume for researchers discovering the field or those wanting a convenient collection of foundational scholarly materials for teaching or reference. Its humanities perspective sets it apart from the recent Routledge Handbook to Adoption whose focus is psychology and sociology, and makes it the first of its kind to collect scholarly chapters, essays, and excerpts arranged around the central questions humanities scholars ask about representations of adoption, as a complex practice of family-making, in art, philosophy, the law, history, literature, political science, and other humanities disciplines. As a key tool in supporting and fostering a new generation of critical adoption scholars, The Reader includes foundational work by critics and theorists such as Judith Butler, Dorothy Roberts, Margaret Jacobs, Arissa Oh, Marianne Novy, and Kori Graves, and will find audiences here and abroad among professional academic researchers and graduate students (recent graduates include Kira Donnell [Berkeley], Emily Bartz [Texas A/M], and Mette Kim-Larsen [Columbia]), and in undergraduate humanities programs where such courses are routinely taught, as at Princeton (Marina Fedosik), MIT (Sally Haslanger), Yale (Margaret Homans), and now here at Brown. This project will advance Brown's growing position at the center of this field, furthered with my hire: I edit the journal of record, edit the field's book series at The Ohio State University Press, sit on the executive board of the field's central organization, and am planning a symposium and conference at Brown as well.
PI: Emily Hipchen, Senior Lecturer in English

Tito Princilliano Achong: Race and Radicalism in the Ebb of Empire
This study, the first of its kind, aims to critically explore the life of Tito P. Achong, Mayor of Port of Spain, Trinidad, from 1941-1943, anti-colonial theoretician and agitator and inveterate champion of public health reform, who has been sidelined in modern histories of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. I hope to unravel and understand the complicated intersections in his career, including the impact of his time studying at Tennessee’s all Black Knoxville College, the influence of revolutionary Chinese politics on his formation and his relationship to radical anti-colonial trends and personalities in Trinidad. Among the questions I pose are: what drove him from poverty in rural Trinidad to the heights of academic success in the USA, then back home, where he eventually became Mayor of Port of Spain? How did he assimilate and reconfigure the ideas of Marx, Garvey, Dubois and Sun Yat Sen among others, to his own purposes? How did his philosophy conform and contrast with others in a country and period that produced globally significant scholar-activists such as CLR James, George Padmore, Claudia Jones and Eric Williams? What was the impact of his unrelenting political engagement on his family and how might we use Achong’s life to engage with patriarchy and gender inequality in the first half of the century? Finally, how can we think about the silences and exclusions in Caribbean and African Diaspora history to explain how he faded from both national life and the scholarly gaze in the decades since then?
PI: Brian Meeks, Professor of Africana Studies

Moral Depths: Making Antiquity in a Medieval Chinese Cemetery
Moral Depths focuses on the extraordinary recent discovery of the tomb of the forefather of Chinese archaeology, Lü Dalin (d. 1093), in what is to date the largest and most complete medieval family cemetery ever uncovered in China. Tracing the ways in which Lü and his family excavated, documented, and reburied ancient vessels with their dead, and the ways in which contemporary archaeologists are now re-excavating these same vessels in pursuit of the origins of their discipline, the project stages an ethical debate between past and present ways of seeking the past in things. It mobilizes this debate both as an intervention into contemporary scholarship on muzang yishu (burial art), and, more generally, as an opportunity to reflect on our collective moral obligations to the distant dead. The grant will support my ongoing participation in an international research and exhibition project on the cemetery, and will facilitate remote and on-site investigation of a related site—the Forest of Steles (Beilin). Established as a resource for scholars by Lü Dalin and his brothers in the eleventh century, the “Forest” features thousands of inscribed steles gathered from sites across the country in what is, arguably, China’s oldest “museum.” Integrating this site will elaborate the museological implications of the project’s dialogue between past and present pasts, and thereby culminate the final chapter of my second book project—Moral Depths: Making Antiquity in a Medieval Chinese Cemetery.
PI: Jeffrey Moser, Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture

The Past and Future of Chika Sagawa, Japanese Modernist Poet
This born-digital publication developed under the auspices of the University's Mellon Foundation-supported Digital Publications Initiative, brings together American and Japanese scholars and artists to reexamine the legacy of one of Japan’s most influential poets, Chika Sagawa (1911–1936), largely ignored by critics and known within the Japanese poetry community as “everyone’s favorite unknown poet.” The first extensive study of any female modernist poet in Japan, the digital publication widens and deepens our understanding of literary developments in Japan in the 1920s via a necessarily “anti-orientalist” reading of literary culture. The importance and impact of this project, however, extends beyond a re-presentation of Japanese literature through the lens of global modernism. As a cross-disciplinary, multimodal digital publication, The Past and Future of Chika Sagawa forges connections between contemporary arts communities (poets, visual artists, and sound artists) that are actively engaged with Sagawa’s poetry. Enhancing the multidisciplinary dimension of the project, a video recording of a specially organized taidan, or formal conversation, provides dynamic content to sit alongside Sagawa’s poetry, accompanying interpretive texts by US-based scholars, and newly commissioned electro-acoustic and visual works. Moreover, as a bilingual university press publication, The Past and Future of Chika Sagawa will foster critical exchanges between American and Japanese scholars and artists and will be beneficial to both Anglophone and Japanese audiences. As such, the digital publication has the potential to significantly elevate the stature and historical importance of Sagawa’s poetry in the widest possible context.
PI: Sawako Nakayasu, Assistant Professor of Literary Arts

Biological and Life Sciences

Targeting Transcription-Repair Couping Factors for Development of an Anti-Evolution Drug
Due to the increased use and misuse of antibiotics in the last decades, many pathogenic strains have developed resistance to these agents, which has led to a global public health crisis. This can only amplify, particularly in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, which often results in secondary bacterial infections that need to be treated. Unfortunately, our current arsenal of antibiotics is failing. We therefore propose to develop an inhibitor of molecular evolution, which administered in combination with existing, well-characterized antibiotics could extend the time window of their efficacy, would help curb the development of resistance and would help combat infections to a variety of pathogens. To this end, we will target the pro-mutagenic processes mediated by the transcription-repair coupling factor Mfd for inhibition, and will employ a combination of in silico screening for inhibitory small-molecules and their testing in vitro and in vivo using orthogonal functional assays. Our proposal puts forth a novel, innovative angle of attack of the problem of antimicrobial resistance, and opens the avenue to the development of a broad-spectrum agent to effectively combat the pressing public health issue of antimicrobial resistance.
PI: Alexandra Deaconescu, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry

The role of grammar and descriptions in referent identification
The ability to identify and track the physical objects discussed in a conversation is critical for humans at all stages of development, from children’s learning of new words and concepts, to adults’ abilities to sustain communication with each other. Despite the pivotal role this ability plays in multiple domains of cognition, core research areas within cognitive science do not align in how they think this process of “referent identification” works, or what auxiliary capacities it involves. Moreover, because different theories are siloed in different fields, their incompatibility has gone unnoticed and their differential predictions remain untested. In this project, we compare the two leading perspectives on referent identification—one from developmental psychology and the other from linguistic semantics—in terms of their predictions for children’s behavior. We develop a novel experimental paradigm, the “referent-transformation task”, which will probe the divergent predictions of these theories in both child and adult populations. Findings from this study will inform the scientific understanding of the development of referential communication. The project promises to advance Brown’s position in multiple fields of study – linguistics and psychology – by synthesizing theories and phenomena across fields for the first time, using an innovative empirical method.
PI: Roman Feiman, Assistant Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences

Mapping the Molecular Determinants of Long-range Allostery and Altered Specificity in CRISPR-Cas9
Gene regulatory mechanisms are critical for proper cellular and protein function, and numerous pathologies have been linked to dysregulation of these processes. CRISPR-Cas9 has potential to modify disease-causing genes, but is prone to off-target alterations due to poor temporal control of its expression. It is therefore desirable to develop a "controllable" Cas9 that elicits no function unless activated, circumventing this limitation. Cas9 is reliant on conformational dynamics for allosteric function, but prior studies offer little mechanistic insight, necessitating new approaches such as solution NMR and molecular simulations to generate atomistic maps of dynamic networks within the protein. We recently identified a pathway of millisecond timescale protein motions spanning several domains of Cas9 that computational results suggest is a portion of a larger allosteric network that controls Cas9 function. My laboratory aims to illuminate regions of allosteric crosstalk that may become functional handles for enhanced spatial and temporal resolution of Cas9 with an integrated approach of solution structural biology, in silico biophysics, and in vivo biochemistry. We will (1) establish the mechanism of inter-domain signaling between multiple subdomains of Cas9 and (2) characterize allosteric mutants of Cas9 that are known to alter its specificity. This project will probe multi-timescale conformational dynamics in Cas9, revealing specific amino acids responsible for transmitting biological information throughout its structure. Understanding the way in which the spatially distinct domains of Cas9 are functionally coupled has exciting potential for precision medicine and bioengineering applications.
PI: George Lisi, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry

Physical Sciences

Towards a theory of deep learning
Deep learning has revolutionized modern technology and is one of the most exciting areas of research. Despite its grand technological impact, the foundational principles that govern learning and generalization of deep neural networks (DNN) are not understood. With traditional mathematically rigorous techniques failing to provide new insights, we propose to view DNNs as stochastic interacting systems compliant with the laws of non-equilibrium statistical mechanics. We will develop new theoretical techniques, that cannot be directly borrowed from physics and will have to be built from the ground up, and experimental protocols that will determine the validity of the theory empirically both in toy and realistic DNNs, that result in a practical theory of deep learning. The DNNs will be viewed through the lens of condensed matter physics as a kind of material, whose properties we would like to predict.The proposed research will help to establish a group of physicists (faculty and students) interested in using their background to impact modern technology as well as in applying deep learning to physics problems as a tool. We hope to foster cross-department collaborations as our group grows. We are interested in adapting research direction to the important problems facing engineers and computer scientists. We also hope to take inspiration from the neurobiology research at CIBS.Natural science angle at deep learning is a very recent branch of research and its impact is hard to predict. Early investment in this research area will put Brown in the leading position in the years to come.
PI: Andrey Gromov, Assistant Professor of Physics

Computational modeling of hypercoagulability in COVID-19
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has infected more than 100 million people worldwide and claimed millions of lives. While the leading cause of mortality in COVID-19 patients is the hypoxic respiratory failure from acute respiratory distress syndrome, emerging evidence suggested that people with COVID-19 are prone to experience thrombotic events, such as venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and arterial thrombosis, and develop cardiovascular complications. These findings raise attention about appropriate disease management to prevent or treat thrombosis for COVID-19 patients. Clinical data indicated that all the three factors of Virchow’s triad, namely stasis, endothelial injury and  hypercoagulable state, are likely to contribute to the increased risk for thrombosis in COVID-19. Here, we propose to develop a novel computational framework to simulate the undesired thrombosis in microcirculation, a prominent clinical feature of COVID-19. This new framework will integrate seamlessly the four key components in the process of clotting in hemostasis, including hemodynamics, transport of coagulation factors and coagulation kinetics, blood cell mechanics and platelet adhesive dynamics, such that we can dissect the complicated process of pathological thrombus formation in COVID-19 and investigate its underlying mechanism. Our simulation results can help to improve our understanding of the pathogenesis of hypercoagulability, identify the key factor that triggers thrombus formation and provide insights to explore new therapeutic approaches for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19-associated thrombosis.
PI: He Li, Assistant Professor of Applied Mathematics (Research)

Unraveling the mystery of superconducting magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene
The recent discovery of magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene (tBLG) has opened a new chapter for material engineering and quantum science researches. It is demonstrated that a flat superlattice miniband emerges when two sheets of graphene are rotated by a so-called “magic angle”, giving rise to numerous novel emergent phenomena in the quantum limit, such as correlated insulators, superconductivity and intrinsic magnetism. These discoveries have set off a “gold rush” in studying quantum phenomena in magic-angle tBLG for the following reasons: (i) the fact that a potentially unconventional superconducting phase is stabilized by a simple “twist” in graphene offers renewed hope that experimental study could provide a full understanding of unconventional superconductivity, which will potentially revolutionize our approach to building a quantum computer; (ii) rotational alignment between 2-dimensional layered materials provide a new method to engineer material properties, introducing an unexplored landscape for future research; (iii) twisted 2D materials feature novel magnetic properties with versatile experimental controls, which holds the promise of unlocking new generations of computational technologies. The PI’s group at Brown University has recently developed a new device structure and demonstrated the capability of directly probing and controlling electron correlation within twisted 2D materials. In this proposal, the PI plans to utilize the same device structure to examine the pairing symmetry of the superconducting phase in magic-angle tBLG. The proposed project will provide important constraints for theoretical models aiming to accurately describe superconductivity in magic-angle tBLG.
PI: Jia Leo Li, Assistant Professor of Physics

Privacy-Preserving Exposure Notification
Exposure notification technology allows a public health app running on a personal device to discover that it had been in contact with an individual who later tested positive for an infectious disease, and notify its user of the prior exposure. Existing approaches were designed with privacy and security in mind, however their privacy and security features can still be significantly improved. This project is about incorporating state-of-the art cryptographic approaches for privacy-preserving authentication into exposure notification schemes.
PI: Anna Lysyanskaya, Professor of Computer Science

Using deep learning to model spatiotemporal gene regulation in single-cells
The availability of single-cell measurements provides a fine-grained heterogeneous cell landscape revealing developmental trajectories across time for diverse cell types. Studying these cell development trajectories gives us a better understanding of gene misregulation, leading to a diseased state in the cell. However, due to technical limitations, researchers can only observe this development at specific time-points or stages. We propose to use deep-learning models to fill this information gap by generating realistic in silico gene expression measurements. These measurements will be produced for missing time-points to augment the single-cell trajectory data, allowing improved downstream biological analyses. Recently, due to the generation of a large number of datasets, cutting-edge advancements in deep learning have been applied to the single-cell domain. However, the existing methods fail to factor in the temporal structure (time-point information) in the data - an important signal for observing cell development in single-cells. We will model the temporal information in the single-cell gene expression experiments using auto-encoders and Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs). We will also extend our framework to use the existing chromatin accessibility experiments to integrate spatial information (related to active and inactive regions in the DNA) in single cells. We hypothesize that the accurate modeling of the underlying biology will produce high-quality measurements for unobserved time-points. Understanding how genes are regulated across space and time is an important question for researchers in the field (including at Brown). We aim to leverage the existing information using data-driven deep learning methods to help answer it for single-cell development.
PI: Ritambhara Singh, Assistant Professor of Computer Science

Public Health

Postpartum health care receipt among immigrant women in the United States
In the United States, nearly one quarter of women giving birth were born outside of the United States, and an estimated one out of every 16 births in the country is to an undocumented immigrant mother. While most low-income women are eligible for Medicaid during and after pregnancy, in many states low-income undocumented and recent immigrants are not eligible for pregnancy Medicaid and are covered instead by less generous programs which often do not cover postpartum care. This project will begin by documenting state public insurance coverage policies for pregnant and postpartum immigrant women and by generating a novel dataset that links population representative survey data from postpartum moms with maternal place of birth as documented on birth certificate records. Using these resources, we will examine whether postpartum outcomes vary between foreign-born and US-born low-income women and will examine the relationship between state public coverage policies for pregnant and postpartum immigrant women and disparities in postpartum care between foreign and US-born women. The results of this study will provide information to public health practitioners and policy makers about whether there are disparities in health care use after pregnancy between immigrant women and women born in the United States. Further, this study will contribute to our understanding of the relationship between state insurance coverage policies for pregnant and postpartum immigrant women and postpartum health care use.
PI: Maria Steenland, Assistant Professor of Population Studies (Research)