Provost Research Awards fund an array of faculty inquiry

Recipients of the 2016 Provost Research Awards will be celebrated and their research will be showcased in an event Sept. 15. 

The Provost’s Innovations in Research Grants were launched in the spring of 2015 to support and enhance teaching and research excellence. Research award recipients spent the past year engaged in early stage research, interdisciplinary research, and projects that had the potential of attracting future funding from outside sources. Thursday's event, "Provost Research Awards: A Celebration of Scholarly Inquiry," will feature posters, videos, demonstrations, and short "lightning talks" from recipients. It will be held in the International Lounge in Usdan Student Center from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Here is a look at the award recipients who are presenting and their research: 

Andrea Acevedo, Heller School

"Inequalities in Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment"

Findings from recent studies show that minority adolescents in need of treatment for substance use disorders are less likely to access treatment than White adolescents, and those who do access treatment are less likely to complete it. This qualitative study obtains treatment providers perspectives on factors that may be underlying these disparities and what can be done to address them. For this study, I interview 8-10 adolescent substance abuse treatment program providers in Massachusetts.

Casey Wade, Chemistry

"Designing chemically and thermally stable MOFs as supports for heterogeneous catalysis"

Catalyst design will play an important role in developing renewable energy sources and in future drug development. Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are an emerging class of porous materials that offer opportunity for the design of versatile heterogeneous catalysts. One challenge associated with implementing these materials is maintaining the porous framework under harsh catalytic conditions. This project has been focused on developing chemically and thermally robust MOFs as supports for heterogeneous catalysis. We have established procedures for the postsynthetic modification of zirconium-based MOFs with phosphine donor groups. Phosphines are ubiquitous as ligands in homogeneous transition metal catalysis, and our new phosphine-containing MOFs will serve as a versatile heterogeneous platform for catalytic studies. We have also investigated the synthesis of MOFs containing functionalized pyrazolate linkers. Despite showing excellent thermal and chemical stability, pyrazolate-based MOFs have been less studied than materials containing other types of organic linkers. Our results in this area have paved the way for postsynthetic modification and catalytic studies.

Christine Thomas, Chemistry

"Bimetallic Complexes as Single Molecule Magnets"

It has recently become apparent that some molecules have high barriers to magnetic relaxation, allowing them to retain their magnetization after removal of an applied field. As a result of the smaller size of these "single-molecule magnets" (SMMs) compared to bulk magnetic materials, these compounds have exciting potential applications in high density information storage and quantum computing. We evaluate the magnetic behavior of bimetallic iron and cobalt complexes as possible SMMs.

In this relatively new research area, current challenges include fast relaxation times and the low temperatures required to observe SMM behavior (< 10 K). To improve upon the state-of-the-art, higher relaxation barriers are required, which will be achieved by maximizing two parameters: spin (# of unpaired electrons) and zero-field splitting. Our hypothesis is that bimetallic complexes of iron and/or cobalt will increase both of these parameters and lead to more practical SMMs. We use a technique called SQUID magnetometry to evaluate the magnetic properties of a series of bimetallic complexes in search of SMM behavior.

ChaeRan Freeze, Near Eastern and Judaic Studies

"An Eye for an Eye: Jewish Terrorism and Romance in the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Movement"

This project explores Jewish vengeance and violence through their roles in the leadership and terrorist Combat Organization of the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Party in the early twentieth century. Based on archival sources, it examines motivations for joining the party and participating in terrorism, relationships with non-Jewish revolutionaries (intense friendships and romances), state violence (imprisonment, and exile), betrayal and spies, and narratives of family members left behind.

Charles Golden, Anthropology

"Preliminary Investigations of the Ancient Maya Capital of Sak T'zi'"

In June 2014, a landowner took my colleagues and me to his farm in the Santo Domingo valley, Chiapas, Mexico where there is an undocumented Classic period (AD 250 – 900) Maya capital city with numerous inscribed stone monuments. From 6/1 to 6/30/15 I conducted research as local permissions allowed. There are four intended outcomes: 1) long-term working relationships with landowners in the Santo Domingo valley, 2) a photographic catalog of monuments on-site and in the possession of the site's landowner, 3) a map of architectural remains at the site, and 4) photographic and drawn documentation of architectural construction sequences visible in looters' trenches.

Cynthia Cohen, Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts

"Social Transformation through the Arts: Interdisciplinary and Cross-cultural Perspectives"

This project addresses why and how the arts contribute to social transformation. Questions include: How can evaluation be designed to improve contributions of the arts and culture to community resilience? How can knowledge from sources as diverse as neuroscience and African traditional cultures advance inclusive and effective practice? My assistant, David Briand, and I, will share a pilot episode of a podcast series entitled Arts for Life: African Voices.

Dan Oprian, Biochemistry

"Optogenetic Tools for Control of Cyclic Nucleotides in the CNS"

The principle of optogenetic control was first established in pioneering studies by Gero Miesenöck, who introduced a visual pigment from the fly retina into other neurons of the central nervous system and showed that he could control the behavior of the animals remotely by exposing the modified neurons to light. This spatial/temporal control of behavior in an intact animal was revolutionary but did not catch on widely because of the complexity of the visual pigment signaling pathway required for the photoreceptive protein in target neurons. Optogentics underwent explosive growth following the discovery of a light-gated ion channel protein, channelrhodopsin, from the phototactic algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Once expressed in the plasma membrane of target neuron, channelrhodopsin can control the electrical activities of the cells directly through light-dependent opening and closing of the ion-conducting pore of the protein.

More recently, Avelar et al. (2014) published a striking paper in which they identified a new protein (rho-GC) from the phototactic fungus Blastocladiella emersonii. Rho-GC is a unique fusion protein in which a microbial rhodopsin domain, similar to that found in channelrhodopsin, is fused to a guanylyl cyclase domain to form a light-activated enzyme controlling the synthesis of the important signaling molecule cGMP. My laboratory obtained the gene for rho-GC as well as the gene for a rhodopsin-cGMP phosphodiesterase fusion protein identified through a data mining trail, and began experiments to heterologously express the proteins for biochemical characterization in vitro. We have now successfully expressed the proteins in a human embryonic kidney cell line and have been able to purify both to homogeneity. Our goal now is to characterize the proteins with the intent of using them in optogenetics experiments in collaboration with the laboratories of Piali Sengupta and Leslie Griffith here at Brandeis.

Debarshi K. Nandy, International Business School

Cracking the Economics of Fracking

Fracking is a drilling technique that has led to a significant increase in US oil and gas production since 2003. However, in addition to environmental concerns, questions have recently been raised regarding the geologic effects of fracking which may lead to increased incidence of future earthquakes. Thus, to properly evaluate the current economic value added for fracking we account for the present value of these long term costs and explore regulation and policy that minimizes such costs.

We also estimate the positive effects on the local economy and employment due to fracking, using census data. The net present value of such activities is estimated. Given that the large negative effects of fracking on local economic activities may only show up decades later as the magnitudes of earthquakes gradually increase, it is important to try and quantify these now so as to facilitate regulation and policy.

Gregory Childs, History

"‘A Series of Noteworthy Things': Translating a Journal Confiscated"

Our project is a translation of a journal that was confiscated from the leader of a plot to rebel against colonialism, slavery, and racism in 1798 Brazil. The journal contained poetry and philosophical reflections and the rebellious plot, known as the Tailor's Conspiracy, is regarded by Brazilian historians as one of the earliest movements for national independence. Our translation thus contributes to nineteenth century Latin American history and literature.

Ilana Szobel, Near Eastern and Judaic Studies

"Flesh of My Flesh: Sexual Violence in Hebrew Literature and Israeli Culture"

This book project will be the first comprehensive study of the literary history of sexual assault in Hebrew literature and Israeli culture. It situates the rhetoric of gender-based aggression in the Jewish world of the twentieth century within the context of gender, disability, ethnicity, race, Zionism, and national identity. Such analysis uncovers the complex ideologies, anxieties, and bias entwined in the constructions of Hebrew cultural imagination.

Jane Ebert, International Business School

"Effects of schedule predictability and interruption on exercise intentions

Health interventions are difficult for working midlife adults, who experience decreased well- being alongside substantial responsibilities and role conflict. We identify times that enhance intervention effectiveness, by: comparing the impact on exercise intentions and actions, in midlife working parents of school children, of an experimental manipulation (making schedule predictability OR interruptions salient), applied at a time followed by an interrupted OR an uninterrupted school schedule. An important benefit of our research would be tailoring intervention timing to many individuals at once, rather than one individual at a time.

Janet Boguslaw, Heller School

"Outsourced at Home: The impacts for Job Quality, Public Resources"

In 2009, approximately 90 female immigrant workers were unexpectedly fired from their housekeeping positions at three Boston area Hyatt Hotels; they were replaced by contract workers hired to do the same jobs for less money, no benefits, and in poorer working conditions. Interviews with fired Hyatt workers will build understanding of the impacts of domestic outsourcing—as contrasted to offshore outsourcing—on job quality and benefits, public resources, family mobility and inequality.

This project improves understanding of labor market impact and the trend towards fragmented and fissured work, by examining how displacement affects family well-being (assets and wealth, socio-economic status, work quality, personal and institutional networks) and shifts costs between sectors—from private to public—impacting the broader society.

Jon A. Chilingerian, Heller School

"Being Better Than Average is Not Good Enough: Benchmarking Physician and Hospital Quality and Efficiency"

The current economic and political environment is increasingly focused on containing the rising costs of health care. At the state level, the Commonwealth in Massachusetts passed a law in 2012 establishing a formal commission to set annual benchmarks on health care cost growth that are tied to the state’s overall economic trends, and to monitor progress in achieving these targets. Moreover, at the Federal level, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have initiated several pilot programs around new payment and delivery models, including accountable care organizations and bundled payments, aimed at reducing the amount paid for health services while improving the quality of care. In the private sector, many private insurance companies have developed similar initiatives.

We believe, however, that many of the current measures of efficiency and quality available to hospitals are ill equipped for these purposes. The statistical and parametric-based approaches underlying most current measures of efficiency and quality rely on simple averages to convey information about relative performance. Average performance, however, may not correlate with best performance.

Kristin Parker, Rose Art Museum 

"Cultural First Aid"

We’ve all heard of the extensive and deliberate destruction of heritage by Daesh (ISIS). This tactic, the erasure of an enemy via the elimination of its culture, is not new - indeed it has a long history. To annihilate connections to history has always been one of the most effective ways to disorient, demoralize and finally suppress a people.

In the face of this age-old but expanding and shape-shifting threat, we must assert our right to access and affirm cultural heritage, wherever it may be. The disappearance of identity; the insidious violence of gentrification; the exacerbating effects of climate change; the volatility of conflict zones - all of these issues are entwined, one impacting the other.

My research, through theoretical and practical work, allowed me to hone in on the following questions. What does cultural first aid entail? Is it possible to safeguard cultural heritage while humanitarian aid and security operations are underway? How can heritage professionals ensure that cultural recovery becomes a force for stabilization and building back better?

Karen V. Hansen, Sociology

"Mentoring for Leadership: Teachers and Students at a Working-Class High School"

This project focuses on a working-class, racially mixed high school that overcame a history of racial conflict through the strategic efforts of educators and students. It investigates race and class tensions from 1964-1976. It inquires about the mix of resources, vision, commitment, and creativity that enabled the school community to quell violent outbreaks, re-frame misundertandings, foster student leadership, create social and economic opportunities, and dialogue across difference.

Kerry A. Chase, Politics; International and Global Studies

"Regulating Trade in Products that Afflict, Harm, or Kill People"

International trade is freer than ever before, easing commerce in products with the potential to injure, sicken, or even kill. Global regulation seeks to control potentially harmful trade on a worldwide scale to alleviate human suffering. Yet this emerging trend remains uneven. Why has global regulation been realized—in some areas where trade endangers lives—but not in others? Why have certain countries committed to global regulation and adhered to these commitments, while others have not?

Maureen Stewart, Heller School

"Rethinking mental health care management from a population perspective"

The quality of behavioral health care has substantial room for improvement. Systems level care management may be one way to improve quality. Recently, a large multi-specialty group practice implemented a novel population management mental health care model. The staggered implementation of the care management model (CMM) offers researchers the opportunity to take advantage of a resulting natural experiment and examine the impact of the CMM on behavioral health outcomes and downstream medical costs. This project aims to explore the implementation challenges of this new care model, establish baseline data and develop hypotheses to include in a future grant proposal.

Nancy J Scott, Fine Arts; Romance Studies

"Collecting J.M.W. Turner in America: Auctions and Audiences"

My project is to write a book on Turner's Slave Ship, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and to demonstrate its powerful legacy for the collecting of Turner’s work by later American generations. My project depends on auction catalogue data, the detail of provenance histories of specific Turner paintings, and the collectors' archives of Turner works that entered American collections. This research in archives, museums, and libraries allows a closer assessment of the evidence of art market and public reception to Turner’s work among American collectors.

Pu Wang, German, Russian and Asian Languages and Literature; East Asian Studies

“Marx Enters the Temple of Confucius: Literary Representations of National Antiquity in Revolutionary China”

This project examines the often-overlooked literary representations of ancient Chinese history in revolutionary China. The long Chinese Revolution is famous for its anti-traditional tendency, but during this supposedly anti-historical era, many important modern Chinese writers were actually obsessed with ancient Chinese history in their writings. My project is a comprehensive study of this significant yet forgotten convergence of literary modernity and national antiquity.

Raphael Schoenle, Economics

"Can Subjective Life Expectancies Explain Life-Cycle Puzzles?"

Subjective mortality beliefs influence individual discount rates, affecting savings rates pre- and post-retirement. New survey evidence indicates that the salience of cohort-specific causes-of- death causes younger individuals to overestimate mortality, and elderly individuals to overestimate survival probabilities. These distorted mortality beliefs correlate with savings behavior, even controlling for cognitive and socioeconomic factors. We embed an estimated survival belief function into a canonical life-cycle model. Relative to a benchmark model using actuarial transition probabilities, the young under-save (31% lower retirement savings), and retirees draw down their assets more slowly (14% lower retirement consumption), reconciling contradictory savings puzzles at opposite ends of the life-cycle.

Sara Shostak, Sociology, Health: Science, Society and Policy; Heller, and Environmental Studies

"Developing Outcome Measures for Urban Agriculture in MA"

There is a lack of data on the economic, environmental, social, and health consequences of urban farming and gardening in MA. Using in-depth interviews with stakeholders—including farmers/gardeners, funders, and city and state policy makers—this project assesses how urban agriculture groups in MA define their goals and objectives, what metrics they currently use, and what additional measurement strategies would be helpful and feasible for them.

Stephen D. Van Hooser, Biology

"Dense electrode arrays for studying neural networks"

A major goal of neuroscience is to understand how the billions of neurons in the brain work together in networks to mediate perception and behavior. Over the past 100 years, most studies have examined cells one at a time. Recently, due to advances in 3-D printing and carbon fibers, a small focused lab could now build arrays with 100-200 fibers that can sample the activity of hundreds of nearby neurons in a single network, shedding considerable light on the operating principles of these networks.

Sophia A. Malamud, Language and Linguistics; Anthropology; Computer Science

"Developing a community resource: Corpus of Bilingual Russian Child Speech (BiRCh)"

The purpose of this project is to create an online, freely available database of language produced by children acquiring Russian in monolingual and bilingual contexts. Though the language of immigrant communities is often stigmatized and deprecated (even by its speakers), it is of central importance to the cultural identity and practices of these communities, and its study is crucial to understanding the fundamental properties of linguistic knowledge, language acquisition and maintenance.

So far, we have collected over 115 hours of recording; we fully transcribed, checked, annotated for disfluencies, and pseudonymised an estimated 35,000 words. These transcripts are being used for annotation experiments, to develop guidelines for parsing – adding grammatical information to – this data.

Our corpus will enable replicable results, statistical comparisons between émigré adults, heritage children, and monolingual children and adults, and investigations of frequency effects, allowing a new level of insight into grammar development in heritage and émigré speakers and thereby into the fundamental properties of language knowledge, acquisition, and attrition. It will also supply the necessary information for educators developing language materials for heritage learners, for parents raising bilingual children, and for policy makers drafting appropriate rules and procedures.

Tatjana Meschede, Heller School

“Homeless Families: Can Targeted Workforce Development Improve Employment and Housing Outcomes?”

With family homelessness on the rise, the need for effective interventions is pressing. Rigorous research on this transient population is rare and challenging but necessary to provide evidence for best practices. This research project builds on data collected from a current evaluation project and includes data collected by the state. The project tests the feasibility of using required homeless data to construct control groups, to position us to apply for state/federal funding for future work.

Timothy J. Hickey, Computer Science; Robert Sekuler, Psychology/Neuroscience

“Engaged learning and research with interactive video games”

The project refines, deploys and tests a video game designed to serve four objectives: (i) to assess learning and decision making under time pressure; (ii) to gauge individual differences in capacity to control effects of potential distractions; (iii) to use electroencephalographic (EEG) signals to identify brain states related to players’ performance; and (iv) to identify video game features which optimize players’ learning, engagement and enjoyment.

Michael Marr, Biology/Molecular; Cell Biology

“Single cell analysis of stress inducible transcription”

Transition metal homeostasis is an important aspect of cellular function. The cell must maintain the concentration of essential metals in a window that supports efficient metabolic function but must also protect against the damaging effects of high concentrations of these metals. In addition, non-essential transition metals such as cadmium, that play no metabolic role, must be kept in check to prevent cellular toxicity. An important component of this regulation occurs at the level of transcription of the metallothionein (MT) genes. Therefore, a detailed understanding of the mechanisms of this control is an important goal. One way a cell regulates metal homeostasis is by tightly and specifically regulating expression of genes involved in metal mobilization and storage such as the MTs. The long-term objective of our studies is to understand how a cell, in response to diverse metals, differentially regulates the appropriate metal responsive genes to control metal homeostasis. 

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