2024 Salomon Awards

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

2024 Salomon Awards winners with Provost, Francis Doyle, and Vice President for Research, Jill Pipher at the Celebration of Research. Photo by Deirdre Confar. 

The Richard B. Salomon Faculty Research Awards are competitively awarded and support excellence in scholarly work by providing funding for selected faculty research projects deemed to be of exceptional merit. Investigators may propose projects with budgets up to $15,000. Preference will be given to junior faculty who are in the process of building their research portfolio.

Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Inscribing the pyramid of king Qakare Ibi: Knowledge transfer and scribal practice in late Old Kingdom Egypt (2350–2100 BCE)
This award will contribute towards the completion of my monograph “Inscribing the pyramid of king Qakare Ibi: knowledge transfer and scribal practice in late Old Kingdom Egypt (2350–2100 BCE.)” This monument is pivotal to our understanding of the Egyptian Pyramid Texts—a 200-year-long tradition of inscribing hundreds of ritual texts on the walls in the pyramids’ subterranean chambers. Since the discovery of the latest pyramid, that of Ibi, and its publication in 1935, no further work has been undertaken on its texts, which represent the epigraphic tradition at a crucial point, between major political and religious shifts commonly associated with the collapse of the Old Kingdom. Incorporating the find of hundreds of new fragments in my archaeological fieldwork at the site of Ibi’s pyramid at Saqqara since 2015 (Mission archéologique franco-suisse de Saqqâra), and using a powerful Data Visualization platform (Zegami) to analyze the epigraphic data of the texts and their archaeological metadata, this monograph will offer a complete reassessment of this monument and its inscriptions. In this first holistic approach to these texts, I aim to emphasize their materiality and their diachronic and synchronic development, while challenging linear narratives of textual transfer and providing a more nuanced approach to understanding the interplay between text, history, and society in the late third millennium BCE.
PI: Christelle Alvarez,  Assistant Professor of Egyptology and Assyriology

Philosophizing Between Worlds: ‘Abd al-Qādir and the Non-Western Canon (1832-1883)
Abdelkader was recognized as one of ‘the foremost of the few great men’ of the 19th century by the New York Times. His legacy has since then been marginalized if not almost forgotten, especially in the Anglophone world. Known as the Sufi leader of the resistance to the French military invasion of Algeria from 1832 to 1847. My project attempts to study his life and his philosophy for a chapter of my new book project, The Sacrifice of Heaven. Abdelkader deployed a metaphysics that he embodied through his political ethics in a situation of exile, at the heart of a century of industrialization. Understanding his work requires a detailed historical analysis of the inter-imperial landscape of his life combined with a philosophical understanding of his concepts. This project brings a new light to central discussions in my fields of expertise: in Islamic and Middle East studies, in French and Francophone studies as well as in the Anthropology of Islam and the Philosophy of Religions. Comparing Abdelkader both with Western philosophers such as Hegel and more famous reformists such as 'Abduh or Al Afghani will contribute to our knowledge of Europe and Muslim worlds since the nineteenth century. The result will be innovative in an Academic context where the Maghreb is particularly marginalized. I thus hope to participate in building a Non-Western Philosophical Canon at Brown.
PI: Mohamed Amer Meziane,  Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies

Legacies of Institutionalized Discrimination: Evidence from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
In response to the surge in cross-border migration resulting from globalization, climate change, and inter/intra-state conflict, governments around the world have instituted a variety of policies to restrict immigration over time. However, the consequences of these restrictions on intergroup relations between majority populations and immigrant minorities are not well understood. Do restrictive immigration policies affect the social and political inclusion and integration of immigrant communities? How do they shape the majority's attitudes and behavior toward immigrant minorities? In this project, we study these questions through a multi-method historical approach in the United States, focusing on the case of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882---an unprecedented move by the US federal government to effectively prohibit the entry of immigrants originating from China for more than half a century. To do so, we draw on multiple sources of data, including historical censuses, existing and newly implemented surveys of Asian Americans, geocoded data on hate crimes targeting minorities, as well as in-person interviews and oral histories. The project will aim to provide rigorous evidence to document the short and long-term legacies of the Chinese Exclusion Act on the integration efforts of the immigrant communities affected, their socioeconomic well-being and standing, as well as the majority's attitudes and behaviors towards the communities targeted. Findings from this study have important implications for our understanding of the societal impact of immigration policies as well as their design and implementation.
PI: Donghyun Danny Choi, Assistant Professor of Political Science

Decolonizing Museums in Oceania: Centering Pasifika Community Knowledges toward Indigenizing Museum Spaces
My book manuscript in progress, “Decolonizing Museums in Oceania,” examines: (1) the multiple approaches that contemporary Pasifika communities are employing to reclaim and Indigenize museum spaces across Oceania and (2) how regional museums are utilizing their community location and emphasis on Pasifika arts and cultural preservation to be in alignment with ongoing movements for Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. To do so, I will conduct site visits in Guåhan (Guam), Hawai‘i, Fiji, Aotearoa New Zealand, and Kanaky (New Caledonia). During these trips, I will visit the permanent and temporary exhibitions at selected national and community museums to compare how their exhibitions present and engage Pasifika histories. I will also conduct interviews with museum directors, curators, and affiliated museum professionals to learn about their work transforming their institutions into publicly engaged educational spaces. Though these institutions vary in terms of their histories, scale, public/private status, and the size and composition of their staff, they represent the broad range of museums in Oceania today. Moreover, this work is motivated by my own positionality as the son of a Vietnamese/Cambodian mother and Bolivian father and my mother and her family’s experiences as refugees who were resettled in the United States vis-à-vis circuits of U.S. empire: the Philippines, Guåhan, and Camp Pendleton in Southern California. Relatedly, from 2020-2021, I served as the Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellow at the Guam Museum where I was fortunate to be invited to collaborate with Guampedia and the Guam Commission on Decolonization in developing an exhibition on the island’s decolonization movement.
PI: Kevin Escudero, Assistant Professor of American Studies

The Revolution Will Be Fictionalized: Postmodern Politics and Radical Literature in Putin’s Russia
In sharp contrast with an otherwise widespread and pervasive political passivity, the Putin era in Russia has witnessed a fundamental “politicization of literature.” Radical ideologies, both left- and right-wing, have become the subject matter of novels, poems, and literary debates. Reactionary phantasmagorias have been celebrated as “contemporary art,” and major highbrow publishers have come out with entire series about theories and practices of anarchism, terrorism, and revolution. Critics have debated political correctness and called each other fascists. Most recently, the invasion of Ukraine has produced a renewed state of emergency, in which writers and public intellectuals are persecuted and declared foreign agents not just for expressing themselves against the war, but for not expressing their support for it. And questions are raised, both in Russia and globally, on whether more or less canonical authors may be instrumental to Russian imperialism. Drawing on textual analysis and ethnographic research to be conducted in Germany, Latvia, and Georgia, my project investigates the meanings of this radicalization of the cultural field—which, I tentatively argue, reflects a more or less conscious desire to reevaluate ideology and cling on the possibility of political imagination in the aftermath of the neoliberal disaster of the 1990s. At the same time, this research—and the book resulting from it—will explain how politicized fiction and literary debates have served as laboratories for political narratives and have reflected, and in many ways preannounced, larger political processes in Russia and beyond. 
PI: Fabrizio Fenghi, Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies

In February 2016, controversial rapper Ye (formerly Kanye West) released The Life of Pablo with an album rollout that the press largely characterized as a disaster owing to his real-time revisions of everything from the lyrics to the final tracklist in the days following the release. Ye’s unsettling recent antics notwithstanding, I argue that his rollout offers an important glimpse into how messiness can serve as a strategy for engaging audiences directly in the dynamism of the creative process. Emerging from this line of inquiry, I am now doing preliminary research toward the development of VERSION-CONTROLLER, a public-facing “version control” prototype that allows musicians to share work in a more processual manner than is prioritized on traditional albums and streaming platforms. In software development, “version control” typically refers to a system for tracking changes to a program’s code; in the VERSION-CONTROLLER prototype users experience the life of each song as a journey along a series of pathways from the song's earliest fragments to its current form. Using funds from the Salomon Faculty Grant, I plan to hire a small research team to help develop the proof of concept through spring 2025, with the goal of launching the platform for other artists to use the following year. By making the creative process inseparable from one’s enjoyment of the art, VERSION-CONTROLLER ultimately asks us to consider how we might structure our society differently if we prioritized the ephemeral, the rhizomatic, and the messy in the tools we use to engage the art(ists) we love.
PI: Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, David S. Josephson Assistant Professor of Music

Traveling Voices from Agua de Dios
How was modernization represented by its outcasts, those banished from cities and confined into medical colonies due to fear of contagion? My project answers this question by focusing on the ways in which the voice was represented, technically reproduced and disseminated through the writings and recordings of musicians and poets confined in the Leprosarium of Agua de Dios (Colombia). Founded in 1870 to house people with Hansen’s Disease, Agua de Dios was a town synonymous with isolation while also being one of the first to have connective infrastructure like running water and a movie theatre. A town surrounded by barbed wire, where medical tests were carried out on patients, and families separated to avoid contagion, it was populated by a cosmopolitan array of banished citizens, and by artists who used the latest technologies to disseminate their work and voice their complaints. Focusing on the contact between sound reproduction and poetry will allow me to tell a different story of modernization, one that does not focus on bodily speed (transportation) or corporeal control (hygiene) as ways to render the body unnoticed. Rather, technologies enabling the voice to travel––such as the printing press, the phonograph or the radio–– allowed the creativity bred in isolation to overcome the context in which it was produced, generating unprecedented contact between outcasts, the national urban audiences and a listening public. The project explores how (un)pleasurable sounds traveled beyond the boundaries of Agua de Dios, producing a more nuanced cultural history of modernization in Colombia.
PI: Felipe Martinez-Pinzon, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies

The Guardian of the Sacred Bundle: Migrant Women’s Wisdom in the Early Modern World
In 2016 the digitizing team at the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) in Mexico City found an amazing object: a hummingbird wrapped in cloth attached to a 1715 Inquisitorial case. This is one of over two dozen cases against women accused of carrying hummingbirds on their person for luck in travel or love between 1650 and 1816. Because of the material significance of the hummingbird bundle attached as evidence to the 1715 file, the AGN included it in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. This gesture recognizes the exceptional value of the object as a token of Indigenous knowledge in colonial Mexico, and represents a commitment to preserving and learning from it. But the language used within these Inquisitorial cases to describe Indigenous women and their knowledge – calling them “witches” and “sorcerers,” and referring to their bundle-making practices as “superstition” or “trickery” – betrays the inherent bias of the archive against racialized historical actors. Fulfilling UNESCO’s call, then, requires looking at the Indigenous Mexican annals and painted histories that portray hummingbird bundles on their own terms: as guides for migrants. Within this corpus, a female figure in the Codex Azcatitlan (Ms. Mexicain 59-64, Bibliothèque nationale de France) is particularly revealing: she is a migrant mother who, having just crossed a river, now faces the open bundle of Huitzilopochtli, the tutelary hummingbird god of the Mexica, as if asking “where to now?” This project tells the story of this Guardian of the Sacred Bundle and other migrant women in the Indigenous Mexican archive as they are about to transform from wise women to “tricksters.”
PI: Iris Montero, Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies

Enhancing the Giddings/Anderson Research Archive through Oral History
This project documents Native Alaskan archaeology and history through recorded interviews with Douglas Anderson, Director Emeritus of the Laboratory of Circumpolar Studies (LCS) and Professor Emeritus of Anthropology. The interviews will create a research resource documenting Brown University's role in the growth and development of Alaskan archaeology and its relationships with Native Alaskan people. Two Brown professors, James Louis Giddings and Douglas Anderson, played a major role in training scholars in Arctic archaeology. The collections of the LCS are a unique resource for understanding the history of Arctic cultures and environments, as well as how human/environment interactions change through time. Methodologies include question-based interviews, unstructured in-depth interviews, and elicitation thorough examination of artifacts and related archival records. Interviews will be transcribed and transformed into a dynamic research resource through text markup of key words such as names, places, and dates. This project enhances an existing collaborative research project with the National Park Service on the content and history of these collections and their significance to Native Alaskan communities.
PI: Robert Preucel, James Manning Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

These Andes
Richard B. Salomon Faculty Research Award will be used to support the research and development of a work of auto-fiction tentatively titled These Andes about bi-cultural family-making in an environmentally damaged world. During my research year, I plan to gather documentary materials from two particular locations and sources: inside of our family home in Bogotá, Colombia and from the adjacent paramo, a high alpine ecosystem endemic to the Andes that acts as the country’s aquifer. As with my previous work, I plan to document (vis a vis an iterative interview practice) the lives of those people whose labor often goes unaccounted for in our official records. In this case, the women who maintain the homes of white-collar Colombians (my family included) and those who act as caretakers to the paramos (in particular the ex-guerilla combatants who have become rangers in the country's growing national park system). I am interested in the ways in which this labor makes the economic maintenance of the workers’ home-places possible while also causing a physical, emotional and environmental remove from that same space. I plan to have these interviews professionally transcribed, generating the original archive that will form the backbone of These Andes.
PI: Elizabeth Rush, Assistant Professor of the Practice of English

In the Biophonic Sounding Sphere
Humans have been listening to the animal sounds around them since the beginning of human time, to know when to hunt and when to hide, and human language arose out of this listening. The earth’s co-created acoustic blanket, made by the sounds of living creatures and geological elements, is at risk. Bioacousticians who have been paying close attention warn us that we have lost 70% of life sounds in some areas in this biophony. What can art make of this deafening silencing? How can poetry, an ancient art form that itself rose up out of attention to rhythm and sound, whose frequent goal is to make new meanings from linguistic soundings, attend to our biophony? This project will draw inspiration from several specific animals, domesticated and wild, and use professional bioacoustician as well as citizen-scientist generated field recordings from different environments and regions to create a poem cycle, which will in turn be the basis for collaboration with musicians and theater arts practitioners for an interdisciplinary Ecopoetics piece, incorporating text, sound/music, movement and design, bringing attention to this emergent area of environmental study.
PI: Eleni Sikelianos, Professor of Literary Arts

(Machine) Learning to Be: Performance Development Residency & Presentation
(Machine) Learning to Be is a participatory, devised, hybrid multimedia performance that interweaves AI systems with theatrical conventions, choreographed movement, and experimental exploration of machine learning. Rooted in visions of decolonial AI, the performance aims to challenge existing structures of control and envision more equitable futures alongside AI technology. Part of the Data Fluencies Theatre Project, this interdisciplinary initiative involves artists, researchers, and creative technologists from diverse backgrounds, including two Brown faculty members. The project’s hybrid format, combining in-person and online elements, not only expands accessibility but also transforms the internet into a platform for both performance and critical investigation. Alongside a custom-based online venue, the performance features an interactive choreographic interface that aims to engage AI as embodiment technologies and an AI character that aims to convey the multifaceted nature of AI, its dangers and possibilities. Additionally, the project seeks to engage students through data fluencies play workshops, thereby fostering an inclusive environment that encourages critical reflection on the implications of technological advancement. The funding from the Salomon Faculty Research Award will support a residency for (Machine) Learning to Be that will culminate in two campus performances and one data fluencies play workshop.
PI: Sydney Skybetter, Associate Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies

Sounding the Vernacular Sea
Ecocritical studies centering on music and sound have burgeoned since the millennium, but only a few accounts touch upon the marine environment – a gap that is disproportionate both to the wealth of sea-centered music that people create, and to the severity of our marine climate emergency. Following colleagues in the “blue humanities” this project elucidates music’s role in cultivating marine affinities, by centering on sound and society in Atlantic Canada – a region with a deep but troubled maritime heritage, where debates about resource management, cultural survival, and the natural world have intertwined for centuries. Focusing particularly on Nova Scotia, I explore four key moments where music has inflected popular notions about our relationship with the sea, ranging from 1930s-era folkloric romanticism to more recent efforts where musicians have engaged community decline, industrial fishing, environmental racism, and conflicts pitting fishers against environmentalists and ecotourism operators. I draw on archival resources, interviews, and textual analysis, following public discourse and community in each of these moments to show how nautical affinities have evolved at the intersection of folklore scholarship, labor expertise, everyday conversation, media reportage, scientific research, and traditional song. Ultimately, the resulting book project will make a significant contribution by outlining a “vernacular sea” that blends experiential wisdom with scientists’ data, and oral history with invented traditions.
PI: Joshua Tucker, Associate Professor of Music

Biological and Life Sciences

Targeting the inflammatory CHI3L1/YKL-40 signaling to rescue cognitive dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease
Neuroinflammation precipitates cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients. This proposed research focuses on CHI3L1, a prominent AD biomarker and inflammatory molecule, which we've recently found hinders neurogenesis and cognitive function. Our latest published studies highlight strong therapeutic potential and  form the foundation of this described endeavor. Importantly, this project is a result of a unique collaboration that interfaces two of Brown's forte areas: CHI3L1 biology and AD research. Brown stands as a national leader in CHI3L1 studies, supported by several active faculty members. Moreover, this initiative amplifies Brown's commitment to Alzheimer's research, elevating the stature of the newly formed Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research. Finally, the project's lead, a junior faculty in the process of building his research portfolio, has been instrumental in shaping this innovative research direction, aiming to elevate Brown's reputation in the domain.
PI: Yu-Wen Alvin Huang, GLF Translational Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry

Physical Sciences

Alignment Games
The problem of fine-tuning AI models to personalize them to match the specific (e.g., entertainment) preferences of an individual or population is sometimes called the alignment problem.  Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback (RLHF), which solicits human judgments of an AI's behavior is a promising alignment strategy.  Indeed, it has been a key ingredient in fine-tuning Large Language Models (LLMs), particularly for commercial applications. Intuitively, iterated RLHF, a dynamic process in which soliciting human feedback and retraining based on this feedback is repeated multiple times, is an even more promising alignment strategy. Our goal in this proposal is to build on the early successes of RLHF by undertaking a more rigorous mathematical analysis of the alignment problem. More specifically, we propose to develop several game-theoretic models of alignment, and to analyze and experiment with the dynamics of iterated RLHF in these games.
PI: Amy Greenwald, Professor of Computer Science

Refining the age of late Pleistocene ice sheet extent in coastal New England
The proposed project will seed a regional paleoclimate study and facilitate student research, curriculum development, scientific collaboration, and community outreach. Total ice volume and global mean sea-level changes during the Pleistocene rely on oxygen isotope records from ocean sediment and ice cores. However, such records have limitations that result in widely varying ice volume and sea-level reconstructions. Terrestrial records can therefore fill an important gap in reconstructing past ice sheet extent and sea-level history. One region of North America that contributes significant uncertainty in reconstructions of past ice sheet extent is New England. Since glacial advances tend to erase evidence of previous glaciations, the terrestrial record of ice sheet extent can be sparse. In New England, the southernmost terminal moraine deposits that stretch from Long Island to Cape Cod consist of glacio-tectonically deformed glacial sediments of unknown age. This proposal requests seed-funding to carry out optically stimulated luminescence dating of these inorganic deposits for which radiocarbon dating is infeasible. Additionally, bulk chemistry and isotopic analyses of stratified iron oxide layers within the glacial deposits will be carried out to fingerprint past sea-level changes associated with glaciation. The research activities will support ongoing curriculum development in DEEPS, undergraduate research projects, collaboration with RISD’s Nature Lab, and the Nature Conservancy on Block Island. Seed funding will help to establish a field-based and community-orientated project that is of interest to the broader scientific community and can lead to future funding opportunities.
PI: Eben Hodgin, Assistant Professor of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences (Research)

Public Health

Improving Infectious Disease Models with Real-World Data
Infectious disease is a leading cause of global morbidity and mortality. Transmission dynamic models often help guide public health response to infectious disease, projecting how potential interventions (e.g., therapeutics, vaccines) can help curtail its spread. However, they typically scale effects from small studies and may produce overly optimistic estimates of population-level intervention effectiveness. Post hoc observational studies could help address this by measuring intervention effectiveness in real-world settings. Observational causal inference approaches, including difference-in-differences and synthetic control methods, estimate the impact of an intervention based on empirical counterfactuals: comparing outcomes of interest between treated units with those of similar untreated units.  However, applying these to infectious disease is not straightforward, as they can produce misleading estimates with nonlinear outcomes.  Even where observational methods perform well, it remains challenging to transport estimates to new settings to predict the impact of future interventions. To address these issues, this project will develop architecture to synthesize transmission dynamic models with observational causal inference – employing empirical counterfactuals while accounting for complex population dynamics. We will illustrate our methods re-analyzing prior studies as well as applying them to new questions about respiratory illness control, in collaboration with partners in state and local public health institutions.
PI: Alyssa Bilinski, Peterson Family Assistant Professor of Health Policy, Assistant Professor of Health Services, Policy and Practice and Biostatistics

Spillover Effects of Private Equity Acquisitions of Physician Practices: Implications for Access to Care
Private equity investments in US health care have grown over 20-fold from $5 billion in 2000 to over $100 billion in 2018. In general, PE firms acquire a company to enhance its value and resell (exit) it within 3 to 7 years, often at a considerable profit. While prior research has shown PE acquisitions increase health care spending and change service line provision based on profitability, less is known about spillover effects of PE on health care providers that are not acquired but compete in the same geographic market. This project combines novel data on PE ownership of physician practices with longitudinal medical claims data to provide policy-relevant evidence on the spillover effects of PE with an emphasis on potential unintended effects on access to timely care. Findings will contribute policy-relevant evidence to the growing body of research on the effects of corporate consolidation in health care. In addition to peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations, we will develop a coordinated dissemination strategy to communicate findings to policymakers, advancing the research and policy priorities of the Center for Advancing Health Policy through Research at Brown University.
PI: Yashaswini Singh, Assistant Professor of Health Services, Policy and Practice