2023 SALOMON AWARDS
Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences | Biological and Life Sciences | Physical Sciences | Public Health
Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Recent Experiments in American Fiction
In spring 2017, five days after the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, I began teaching a university course titled “Recent Experiments in American Fiction.” The literary works on the reading list were chosen with a rationale that was spelled out in the syllabus description: twenty-first-century American literature, I had written, was “undergoing a renaissance, the defining quality of which is its exploration of a conceptual space located ‘on the very edge of fiction.’” The quotation was by one of the writers I would assign, the poet and novelist Ben Lerner. This book project uses the pedagogical experience of that course as a critical entry point to the autobiographical turn in the work of contemporary fiction writers in the United States. Whereas in the past such practices could be marginalized as exceptional or experimental, consigned to the work of specific writers or boutique literary movements, their recent prevalence across a range of disciplines and fields requires that we think this development as historical, rather than as ephemeral or subjective. Artists, filmmakers, philosophers, and literary critics now skirt the conceptual divide between fiction and nonfiction so routinely that the unsettled nature of the boundary seems to be a condition of enunciation. In order to grasp this development more completely and more directly than has been done in literary criticism to date, my project adopts an experimental register, treading a delicate line between scholarly and fictional discourses as a way to establish a relation of maximal closeness with its object.
PI: Timothy Bewes, Professor of English
Giamaica is a book-length poem about the complex relations between Jamaican popular culture and Italian cinema. The project’s symbolic figure is Perry Henzell, a Jamaican filmmaker who suffered mental and financial breakdown after co-writing and directing a landmark of world cinema and the island’s first feature, 1972’s The Harder They Come. It is fairly well known that THTC was a major vehicle for reggae’s global spread, due to its soundtrack, its setting in the world of Jamaican music, and its star: singer/songwriter Jimmy Cliff. Less well known is the toll the film’s production took on its director and the ontological relationships between THTC and distinct strands of Italian cinema—neorealist dramas and so-called spaghetti westerns. Henzell, who was white, was highly complex—an atheist who believed in Rastafari; a communist who came out of bankruptcy as owner of a small hotel; and a promoter of black separatists. I knew Henzell very well. Giamaica crossexamines my memory of him, his movie, works based on it, including a novel and two musicals. There is a clear trajectory between this project and my forthcoming collection Console ( Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023), which was completed with the support of a 2019 Salomon. In both works the interdisciplinary and experimental are subsumed into the intellect of sound. As a newly promoted associate professor in a department with a history of close engagement with diverse artistic practices and legacies of Europe, I stand to complicate, expand and reshape a tradition with this work.
PI: Colin Channer, Associate Professor of Literary Arts
"How We Go Missing" A New Play Development Residency and Performance
This proposal seeks funding from the Salomon Faculty Research Award to support a new play development residency that will conclude with a public performance presentation on campus. How We Go Missing, is a new play by Indigenous playwrights Tomantha Sylvester, of the Anishinaabe Theatre Exchange and Dr. Carolyn Dunn, Assistant Professor of Theatre at Cal State LA. The proposed week-long residency and performance presentation will bring together four artist collaborators from the Anishinaabe Theatre Exchange and the playwrights. How We Go Missing orients Theatrical Performance as Intervention. Pressing socio-political concerns impacting contemporary Indigenous women and communities remain largely invisible in mainstream narratives. How We Go Missing unearths potent concerns and polyvocal truths. The storytelling gives rise to humanistic inquiry, and ultimately invites healing through the tradition of oral storytelling. Support from the Solomon Faculty Research Award will increase the canon of new Indigenous works and advance greater visibility of Indigenous Theatre Performance. New Indigenous play development and a public presentation on campus can situate Brown as a significant site of Indigenous Theatremaking and amplify commitments to collaborative public humanities other commitments to campus initiatives.
PI: Sarah dAngelo, Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies
Environmental Disputes: International Cooperation and Conflict over Air Pollution at the India-Pakistan Border
Air pollution from crop residue burning is a leading cause of respiratory diseases and mortality in developing countries. Notwithstanding legislation preventing it, this practice remains widespread in South Asia, where affected areas have levels of airborne particulate 20 times higher than the safety threshold established by the WHO. We study the political causes of environmental laws enforcement by focusing on polluting behavior at one of the most conflictual borders, that separating India and Pakistan. First, we develop a strategy to identify the contribution of each country to air pollution using detailed spatial data on fires occurrence and a meteorological model predicting the spread of PM particles in the air. Second, we study the political incentives to stop or allow polluting behavior by leveraging shifts in wind direction causing a fire in the same location to generate pollution externalities for its country or for the neighboring country. Finally, we explore variation in political incentives to curb polluting behavior in areas with a history of violent territorial disputes, and where religious sites of the other confession might induce moderating behavior. Our study highlights the environment as a fundamental dimension of border disputes in international relations. Findings from this study have important implications for the reduction of environmental degradation and of the additional health costs paid by individuals living in conflictual areas due to pollution wars.
PI: Gemma Dipoppa, Assistant Professor of Political Science
The Salomon Award would support the creation of Ghost Room, an installation of fifteen 30 x 40 lenticular prints. Ghost Room builds on the ideas and methods of Paper Empires, a series of large collages based on photographs of trompe l'oeil fantasies from Pompeii. The images for the lenticulars will be based on videos of Vesuvius' crater, intermixed with architectural details from Pompeii. Throughout the history of European art and architecture, Greco Roman decorative details have been deployed to invoke myths of the stability of “Western Civilization”. In contrast, this piece is a meditation on the impermanence of architecture, the self, and institutions. My intention is to use Pompeii as a foil to consider other worlds that have disappeared. The ghostly presentation of architectural forms that appear and disappear on rock faces suggests enough about ruins, loss, and impermanence without requiring a specific affinity for or interest in Roman architecture. As one moves through the room, panels will flicker between images of rock faces and trompe l’oeil architectural forms. I have worked in both video and still images. Lenticulars (interlaced still photographic images overlaid with linear lensing material to create the illusion of movement) hover between these media, suggesting the 4th dimension. The installation will be open to the public. Audiences will include the Providence art community, people interested in decorative arts, architecture and spacial politics.
PI: Theresa Ganz, Associate Professor of Visual Art
Border Assemblages: Re-collecting Moria
This project supports and supplements the born-digital monograph Border Assemblages: Recollecting Moria, part of the University’s Digital Monographs Initiative. The monograph is an archaeological ethnography of the largest refugee camp of Europe, the camp of Moria on the island of Lesvos (Greece), which was destroyed by fire in 2020. Based on fieldwork between 2016 and 2022, the monograph explores how materiality and temporality (and the interplay between the two) shaped life and experience in the camp for the hundreds of thousands of people-on-the-move who passed through it. It also narrates how, through various material interventions, the camp inhabitants engaged in their own practices of resistance and reshaped life in the camp, especially when top-down policies and practices were failing. This materially grounded history can inform global discussions on bordering practices and on the new kinds of border infrastructure currently in operation around the world. It can also constitute an important theoretical contribution on transient materiality, and on difficult or “dark” material heritage. As part of this grant, collected objects will be curated, a database will be created, and a public website/photographic diary will be designed, telling the visual story of this camp, a resource of important archival value which will also enhance the digital monograph. This project will support a flagship Brown University initiative on digital publishing, it will strengthen further migration studies at Brown, and will contribute to the rescuing of the material memory of the mass journey from the Global South to the Global North.
PI: Yannis Hamilakis, Joukowsky Family Professor of Archaeology and Professor of Modern Greek Studies
Walled Media, Mediating Walls
As global media networks promise boundless access, we are facing increasing layers of walls: the computer firewalls, the Facebook Wall, China’s Great Firewall, and the virtual walls in the virtual reality (VR) technologies…. The existence of these walls shatters the myth of an open space of flow and highlights the significant function of the walled enclosure as a prevalent media apparatus in managing, structuring, and framing information, knowledge, and experience. This project studies the technological and socio-cultural history of walls in digital media by examining the formation of the “wall” as simultaneously a material object and a structural metaphor. Combining media studies, architecture studies, and history of science and technology, the book analyzes the mediating function and controlling mechanism of the above-mentioned four types of digital walls, presenting both an archeology of the wall as a technological artifact and a genealogy of the wall as a discursive formation. The project asks: Where do these walls come from for what purposes? How are they designed and operated? It analyzes the wall as an asymmetrical and contradictory structure that is both a blocking barrier and a displaying surface. Shifting from the metaphor of “window” to that of “wall,” the book calls for a theoretical reconsideration of modern media, changing the focus from visual representation to environmental management that is marked by distinction, demarcation and discrimination. The project contributes to Brown’s prominent scholarship in the interdisciplinary fields of digital and environmental media studies as well as the critical studies of science and technology.
PI: Jinying Li, Assistant Professor of Modern Culture and Media
The Poetics of Elsewhere: Itineraries of Japanese-Chinese Resonant Verse
Compiled by the virtuosic Fujiwara no Kintō in the early eleventh century, The Collection of Japanese-Chinese Resonant Verse (Wakan rōeishū, 1010s) is an understudied monument of classical Japanese literature. It is also a site from which to survey the vantages and grounds of literary comparison in our latter day. Hewing to a quirky encyclopedic order, the bilingual anthology juxtaposes fragments of poetry and prose written in Chinese (kanshibun)—the scripta franca of prenational East Asia—with local “songs” (uta) of thirty-one syllables in the local Japanese vernacular. Vividly recognizable as a kind comparative literature avant la lettre, the recombinatory collection throws radically different poetries into a relation of mutual estrangement and resonance. Meanwhile, it discloses a “geopoetic” imagination of the wider world with its manifold locales: Japan and China, yes, but also westerly Persia, mythical Penglai, bygone Parhae, and elsewhere. Poetics of Elsewhere explores itineraries departing from The Collection of Resonant Verse and moving through unattended terrains of its millennium-long afterlife. In so doing, the project considers how a premodern, nonwestern text might equip us with approaches to the study of remote times and cultures today. Already in progress, Poetics of Elsewhere will result in a new critical translation of the anthology and a scholarly monograph assessing the work outside constrictive binaries (Japan/China, premodern/modern, East/West, etc.) and spatialities (the “area” of area studies, the “nation” of national philology, etc.). The grant will facilitate long-delayed visits to archives and libraries and collaboration with researchers in Japan, where borders have recently reopened.
PI: Jeffrey Niedermaier, Mulberry Essence Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies
Hidden Money: School-Supporting Non-Profit Funds and Persistent Inequality
Five decades of school finance reforms have increased equality of state funding, providing more money for low-income districts. Yet the achievement gap between high- and low-income students grew by 40% since 1970, driven by faster growth in high-income areas. One explanation for growing inequality despite more equal funding could be hidden money from school-supporting non-profits, including parent-teacher associations (PTAs) and booster clubs. Non-profit funds are a hidden source of inequality because they do not appear in district budgets, but can cover expenses that free district funds for instructional spending. This project creates the National Longitudinal Database of School-Supporting Non-Profits 1995-2020 based on millions of non-profit tax return records from the Internal Revenue Service. Non-profits are geocoded and linked to district-level data on finances, student composition, and performance to examine how much non-profit funds differ by student income and race and how they relate to student outcomes. Preliminary analyses indicate highly unequal non-profit funds. Seed funds would allow testing and adjustment of the non-profit coding process to provide proof of concept for future grant proposals.
PI: Emily Rauscher, Associate Professor of Sociology
Links Between State Policy and Dementia in the United States
This project will explore links between state policy and dementia, a devastating neurodegenerative syndrome that is among the most pressing population health issues of the century. While dementia prevalence is known to vary geographically in the U.S., the contextual factors underlying these patterns are poorly understood. This project focuses on state policy as a potential contextual correlate of dementia, one that may contribute to observed geographic variation. Prior research shows that places with more liberal policies or policy orientations—more generous income supports and social services, stronger protections for marginalized groups, and stricter economic and public health regulations—evince longer life expectancies and lower disability than more conservative contexts. The proposed research will therefore study the relationship between state policy orientation and dementia. Funds will enable the assembly of longitudinal state policy data spanning several decades, and linkage with individual-level data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative panel survey of older U.S. adults. This project will contribute to an emerging body of literature on the macrosocial and multilevel factors driving large and growing geographic disparities in health. It will also provide preliminary evidence to be used in the development of a proposal for external funding. It will advance Brown University’s position by facilitating the development of new expertise in gerontology—a field for which Brown is already internationally recognized—from a social scientific perspective and with an emphasis on social determinants of health, life course processes, and health disparities.
PI: Meghan Zacher, Assistant Professor of Population Studies (Research)
Biological and Life Sciences
Effects of anthropogenic disturbances on development and behavior
Anthropogenic disturbances pose a serious threat to animals and their ecosystems. Aquatic ecosystems have been identified as particularly vulnerable to the impacts of human activity due to their isolation and fragmentation; biodiversity is also at risk because endemic aquatic species cannot relocate or adapt fast enough to rapidly evolving new conditions. In this collaborative student-centered research project, we will assess the combined effects of climate change and chemical pollution on behavioral, neurodevelopmental, and genetic endpoints using a zebrafish model system. Specifically, studies will focus on the interaction of heat waves and exposure to forever chemicals including PCBs, PFAS and microplastics and to common agricultural pesticides including chlorpyrifos, paraquat and ziram. The significance of increasing temperature on freshwater biota has long been recognized but there is relatively sparse information about the effects of exposure to more extreme weather events such as heat waves in combination with chemical pollutants on biological systems. This project addresses that knowledge gap. Our research also resonates with Brown’s strategic plan as it falls under the topic of Sustaining Life on Earth and is founded on an integrated plan of scholarship and education that partners a faculty member with undergraduate students using an evidence-based approach that promotes STEM retention and STEM diversification and allows students to flourish as independent researchers making authentic research contributions to problems with significant societal impact.
PI: Ruth Colwill, Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences
Molecules for Need and Want
Why do we crave alcohol and not apples? We are innately wired to seek and respond to rewards, but addictive substances can overwhelm our natural reward pathways required for memory formation and impulse control. In recent years our knowledge of molecular genetics has exploded, and has influenced the field of neuroscience so much that we have an exponentially greater understanding of how our genes and molecules impact addiction. Recent scientific research from animal models suggests that drugs and alcohol can alter the way that DNA is tightly wound, the way DNA get transcribed into RNA, the way RNA gets translated into proteins and the function of these proteins. Furthermore, new research is emerging showing how we can change our own brain gene expression through lifestyle and pharmacology. However, this level of understanding has yet to reach the level of physicians, educators, government and the general public. It is essential to clearly communicate this new science, and bridge the gap between science, education and policy because it can have major impacts on treatment for alcohol and substance use disorder.
PI: Karla Kaun, Associate Professor of Neuroscience
Advanced methods for digestion and isotope analyses of meteorite samples
Meteorites are fragments of planetesimals left over from the earliest stages of planet formation and, therefore, investigating their chemical and isotopic compositions can provide direct insights into the nature and timescales of processes in the nascent Solar System (about 4.5 billion years ago). A uniquely powerful tool in this respect are nucleosynthetic isotope anomalies, which are mass-independent isotope variations resulting from the heterogeneous distribution of presolar grains that condensed in previous stellar environments. Such analyses, for example, aid in constraining (i) the stellar environments that contributed material to the Solar System, (ii) how this material was transported and processed in its early stages, and (iii) how planetesimals accreted and eventually grew to planets. However, current cosmochemical research and progress is severely hampered by analytical issues regarding the incomplete dissolution of presolar grains during sample digestion and the inability to obtain certain types of isotope data on the very same sample material. This work aims to overcome these limitations by establishing new procedures for complete sample digestion utilizing laser-assisted melting and for combined isotope analyses of oxygen and ‘heavy’ elements. Combined, these capabilities have great potential for providing unprecedented insights into currently uninvestigated processes and powerful new means for revisiting our understanding of the early dynamical evolution of the Solar System, the genetic relationships among meteoritic and planetary materials, as well as the processes of planet formation, including the origin of Earth’s building materials and habitability.
PI: Gerrit Budde, Assistant Professor of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences
When the Antarctic was warm
This project will develop proof of concept data directly relevant to the long-term stability of the Antarctic ice cap. Graduate student Jared Nirenberg, working with Prof. Herbert, has discovered that a marine sediment core lying off the Antarctic coast likely contains unique clues both to the temperature of the ocean and continental climate over the period ~17-14 million years ago, the last time in earth history that the Antarctic was largely deglaciated. Ground-truthing of geochemical measurements will be essential to buttress a proposal to be submitted to the NSF Marine Geology and Geophysics program. These initial measurements will broadly capture ocean temperatures off Antarctica and also recover evidence of plant material washed or blown from the continent during the period of warmer climate. Given the importance of Antarctic ice volume to global sea level, successful completion of the project should result in high impact publications that would strengthen EEPS strong reputation in the study of past climates, and the research group of Prof. Herbert, which is becoming known as a leading center for the study of past warm climates.
PI: Timothy Herbert, Henry L. Doherty Professor of Oceanography, Professor of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences, Professor of Environment and Society
Learning Implicit Structured Neural Network Representation by Watching and Listening to Astronaut Spacewalk Videos
Structured and compositional concept learning is essential for principled generalization in Artificial Intelligence, such as deploying a robot to a novel environment. Existing approaches (e.g. neuro-symbolic learning) assume that the structured concepts are to be constructed explicitly, for example by detecting individual objects and their attributes in a scene. In this proposal, we ask the research question: can we learn implicit structured representations in a generic, multi-task, and end-to-end trained neural network? Our hope is that the implicit representation achieves similar compositional generalization behavior as the explicitly structured concepts. Solving this question would enable us to apply a flexible and unified neural network to jointly perform perception, reasoning, and planning, all of which are crucial for robotics manipulation. We hypothesize that recent advances in self-supervised and multimodal learning from visual and audio data provide promising solutions to learn the implicit structured representation, via dynamic concept binding in deep neural networks. To demonstrate the effectiveness of our proposed learning framework, we propose to collect a new multimodal video-language dataset of astronaut spacewalks in collaboration with professors working on robotics, language understanding, and computer vision in the Computer Science department.
PI: Chen Sun, Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Project PACS: Evaluating the Feasibility and Acceptability of a Psilocybin-Aided Smoking Cessation Study (PACS) for People with HIV who Smoke
Cigarette smoking is more prevalent in people with HIV (PWH), when compared with the general population, and is linked to increased morbidity and mortality. PWH who smoke have increased rates of cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, and lung cancers. While most PWH report a strong desire to quit, they are less likely to quit when compared to the general population. PWH often respond poorly to traditional smoking cessation treatments, which may be partly due to their difficulty managing anxiety and depressive symptoms. Psilocybin, a classic psychedelic, has been shown to have potential as a therapeutic treatment for psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, and substance use disorders, including tobacco dependence. Our specific aims are to: 1) explore, using qualitative methods, perceptions of psychedelic treatment: perceived benefits and harms, barriers, preferences, and likelihood of engaging in psilocybin-based treatment for smoking cessation; and, 2) examine the acceptability of psilocybin-based treatment for smoking cessation among PWH who smoke. We will enroll 40-60 PWH who smoke cigarettes and will conduct 60-minute in-depth qualitative interviews. The results from this project will provide the foundation for an application to the National Cancer Institute to conduct a pilot randomized clinical trial. Anxiety and depression can be broad barriers to any behavior change. Administering a cutting-edge treatment, such as psilocybin, to reduce anxiety/depression may help PWH who smoke make a healthy behavior change. This study will be the first to examine the feasibility and acceptability of utilizing psilocybin to improve smoking cessation outcomes among PWH who smoke.
PI: Patricia Cioe, Associate Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences