About the Internal Funding Initiatives grant program
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Current IFI Awardees
December 2015 Awardees
September 2015 Awardees
Arts & Humanities Initiative (AHI) Awardees
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The Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development is proud to present the December 2014 IFI Awardees:


Chris Cheatum, Associate Professor, Chemistry
Major Project Grant

Demonstration and Application of Two-Dimensional Infrared Microscopy

We propose to develop the world;s first two-dimensional infrared (2D IR) spectroscopic microscope. This new method will build on the success of label-free vibrational imaging methods, but will open entirely new applications and will improve critical imaging features like selectivity, sensitivity, and contrast by an order of magnitude or more. We will use our existing 2D IR apparatus and incorporate an infrared reflective objective and a digital micro mirror device to measure the spectroscopic image data using an approach known as compressive sensing, which can significantly reduce measurement time while retaining image fidelity. In this case it will enable 2D IR imaging , which has not been possible using more conventional imaging methods. We propose to construct and characterize the first 2D IR spectroscopic microscope and to demonstrate this technique using simple applications such as tissue imaging and 2D IR spectroscopy in spatially heterogeneous samples. These proof-of-concept experiments will provide the necessary preliminary results to characterize this method and allow us to pursue more sophisticated applications such as cancer detection or characterizing the composition of atmospheric aerosols. Ultimately, this new technique could have an enormous range of potential applications making the proposed work quite significant. 

Carrie Figdor, Associate Professor, Philosophy
Arts & Humanities Standard Grant

Mechanisms of dehumanization by cognitively impaired subjects in virtual Milgram conditions

We propose to study mechanisms of dehumanization among patients with specific brain lesions and well-characterized cognitive and emotion-related deficits associated with these lesions. Dehumanization involves characterizing humans as less than human, often for purposes of justifying inhumane treatment. What dehumanized others lack are often cognitive and emotional capacities (e.g., they don't have the ability to reason or the capacity to feel pain). We plan to test two specific lesion patient populations that are known to be impaired in critically assessing the assertions or commands of authority figures and in feeling basic emotions or ascribing them to others. These capacities appear compromised in normal people when they are put in contexts where they are supposed to obey authority, as Stanley Milgram showed in the 1960s. Within the requisite ethical constraints (detailed in our proposal), we plan to develop virtual Milgrim environments -- videos with actors pretending to feel increasing amounts of pain -- and assess these patients' responses as they are instructed to push a button when the actor in the film has made an error. (This will only advance the video footage.) We will also have a confederate in the room who will characterize the actor periodically with dehumanizing descriptions. We will measure three things: the degree of apparent pain patients are willing to administer; physiological responses, such as skin conductance; and their characterizations of the actors as they continue through the experiment. We expect to find greater willingness to inflict pain and greater dehumanization of the actors by both patient populations compared to ordinary (control) subjects. This would show the relevance of the specific deficits and brain lesions to both anti-social behavior towards and dehumanization of targeted others, and thus to specific capacities that are involved in humane treatment and characterization and parts of the neural networks underlying them. This would be the first study of dehumanization using lesion patients, whose deficits demonstrate the necessity of specific brain areas for specific cognitive functions (which neuroimaging studies do not). This would help unravel the mechanisms of dehumanization in ordinary people (including in normal aging), about which little is known.

Laura Frey Law, Associate Professor, Physical Therapy
Major Project Grant

The relationship of pain biomarkers to physical activity and pain 

This project will challenge theories of pain generation in people with chronic pain, i.e., fibromyalgia. Three distinct and competing theories have been proposed to explain chronic pain: 1) Alterations in central nervous system excitability; 2) Alterations in peripheral nervous system innervation; and 3) Enhanced systemic inflammation (i.e., elevated cytokine response). However, only portions of individuals with chronic pain manifest each of these alterations. We propose an alternate theory: differences in central excitability, peripheral innervation pattern and cytokine profiles previously attributed to chronic pain, are rather a result of physical inactivity. That is, regularly physically active women will exhibit similar central excitability phenotypes, peripheral innervation patterns, and cytokine release profiles, whether they have fibromyalgia (chronic pain condition) or not. Conversely sedentary women will exhibit similar levels of elevated central sensitivity, small fiber neuropathy, and increased inflammatory cytokines, with and without fibromyalgia. Whether these central, peripheral and immune system changes are more closely associated with lifestyle physical activity or with chronic pain could help direct future therapeutic interventions as well as be informative in the search for valid chronic pain biomarkers. To test our hypothesis, we will address the following three specific aims all using the same cohort of four subgroups consisting of sedentary and physically active women, with and without fibromyalgia: Specific Aim 1 will perform quantitative sensory testing (QST) to profile central excitability and central inhibition. Specific Aim 2 will examine cutaneous sensory and sympathetic innervation to profile peripheral markers. Specific Aim 3 will examine evoked cytokine release from monocytes and serum cytokine profiles to examine for systemic inflammation. The results of this study will advance our current knowledge on the potential interaction of chronic pain and active versus sedentary lifestyle considering peripheral, central, and immune system assessments. We will either provide evidence that changes in these measures, often observed with chronic pain, are associated with the underlying pathology of the chronic pain condition (i.e., occur in both active and sedentary people with pain), or challenge these assumptions by providing new evidence suggesting that sedentary behavior may be responsible (i.e., changes occur predominantly in sedentary women, regardless of pain status).

​Lokesh Gakhar, Director, Protein Crystallography Facility
Core Facilities/Shared Equipment Grant
An integrated high-throughput workflow for analyzing and manipulating protein stability 

We want to establish a high-throughput thermal shift analysis workflow to determine small molecule binding to target proteins for drug discovery and protein stabilization that will be used campus-wide. This is a joint effort between the Protein Crystallography Facility (CCOM) and the High Throughput Screening Facility (OVPR&ED). We have the expertise in place and we can adapt some existing instrumentation for this effort. To complete this workflow we need funds to purchase a suitable liquid handler, which is the subject of this proposal. The requested liquid handler would be the final component of the workflow needed to offer this as a new high-throughput service. We anticipate developing a 3-hr start-to-end workflow that will include preparing small-molecule/stability screens, 96- or 384-plate set-up, experiment run and data analysis. A high-throughput workflow will enable an order-of-magnitude increase in efficiency over the current process by reducing error-prone manual pipetting and fully realize the potential of the thermal shift screening technique.


Christine Getz, Professor, Music
Arts & Humanities Standard Grant

Virtual Travel in Filippo Lomazzo’s Music Prints

 The advent of the internet was not the first time that technological innovations revolutionized the way humans approached the art of travel. The evolution of the printing press in sixteenth-century Europe made possible the dissemination of guidebooks, encyclopedias, and histories aimed at individuals seeking educational enrichment and social advancement through travel. These books were intended to provide the reader with as much information about a location as possible, thereby enriching his physical travel to a particular destination or facilitating a virtual visit to it via the imagination. As Stagl (1995) and Delbeke and Morel (2012) have shown, the compilers of such volumes took a comprehensive empirical approach to the collection of the data contained, which often included information on government, politics, city planning, architectural monuments, and local culture. They then categorized and hierarchically organized it according to geographical, spatial, and conceptual place markers. Travelers who kept diaries often modeled their own writing on the printed volumes authored by their humanist counterparts, thus demonstrating the travel book’s profound influence on how individuals imagined and conceptualized the travel experience. Similar modes of organizing content can be detected in early seventeenth-century music prints, but, to my knowledge, none of the current scholarship on music printing has explored the impact of travel writing on them. Using archival resources and early printed books housed in the Archivio di Stato, Archivio Storico Diocesano, Archivio della Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, Biblioteca Ambrosiana and the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense in Milan, this project explores the impact of early modern travel writing on the conceptualization and organization of two representative collections of sacred music published by Filippo Lomazzo, a bibliophile and music printer active in Milan between 1603 and 1630.

​Paloma Giangrande, Associate Professor, Internal Medicine
Major Project Grant

Targeting Extracellular Histones to Prevent Multiple Organ Dysfunction Syndrome

A challenging medical problem often observed in critically ill patients is that following severe injury or illness, even those organs not directly affected by the original problem subsequently become dysfunctional. For example, patients with severe infection will develop problems with their breathing requiring a ventilator, the kidneys will stop working requiring dialysis, the liver will not function normally, and they will bleed from every orifice. This condition, known as multiple organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS) may be reversible, but there is no treatment to prevent it from happening and of those that develop MODS, the risk of death is 40%. Other causes of MODS include smoke inhalation, burns, and major trauma. Only recently have investigators recognized that these subsequent complications are precipitated by the damaged tissues releasing histones into the circulation. Histones normally reside in the nucleus and partner with DNA. When extracellular, histones have toxic effects to the lungs and other organs. For example, when injected, a high dose of histones kill mice within a few minutes, whereas lower doses kill mice within a few hours. The goal of this proposal is to develop a therapeutic to inactivate circulating histones and prevent the morbidity and mortality associated with MODS. To accomplish this goal, an innovative technology will identify bio-reagents (RNA aptamers) that bind to those histones known to cause MODS but not bind to other circulating proteins or cells. Aptamers will be evaluated in human cultured cells and in mice for their ability to prevent histone-mediated toxicity. In preliminary data, we show that selected RNA aptamers can effectively inhibit histone-mediated cell activation and provide strong evidence supporting the success of the proposed studies. Since histones are highly conserved across species from yeast to humans, the histone aptamers can be tested in preclinical animal models and human clinical trials. If successful, this work will generate strong preliminary data for additional funding to test their protective effect in more sophisticated injury models, including infection, smoke inhalation, blood transfusion-related acute lung injury and blast wave injury. Future studies will also evaluate the possibility of aerosolizing the aptamers to enable respiratory delivery via inhalers.

Amanda Haes, Associate Professor, Chemistry
Major Project Grant

Development of Real-Time Sensitive and Selective Radiological Sensors

Real-time sensors for radiological and other environmental contaminants in complex matrices are limited. For instance, actinides, are a major source of anthropogenic and naturally-occurring radioactivity, mobile in environmental systems under oxidizing conditions, and represent a significant risk to human and ecosystem health when found in natural waters. Monitoring actinides in environmental systems is an important first step in the prevention and remediation of these radioactive species. In general, actinide elements can be detected with alpha spectrometry at trace levels, which require labor intensive separations procedures and long data collection times. Direct actinide detection in aqueous media is difficult due to emitted alpha particle attenuation; therefore, novel techniques must be developed for trace-level, real-time detection in natural water samples via field deployable environmental sensors. As a result, the overall objective of this proposal is to develop and apply an integrated, nanosensor for the pre-concentration and in situ surface enhanced Raman scattering detection of uranium in acidified samples. Three collaborative research tasks are proposed including: (1) investigate ideal mat functionalization schemes for selective uranium preconcentration, (2) develop formation and characterization strategies for uniform growth and/or integration of metal nanoparticles into mats, and (3) evaluate trace uranium detection limits and uranium speciation using surface enhanced Raman scattering. Functional sensors capable of isolating uranium from complex aquatic matrices neither exist nor are formulated for surface enhanced Raman scattering detection. Furthermore, we argue that sensor performance will depend on a selective sorbent material (electrospun polymer fiber mats, expertise of Cwiertny) for uranium (expertise of Forbes) preconcentration and on metal nanomaterial density, quality, and integration for detection signal enhancement as well detection reproducibility (expertise of Haes). All in all, we are confident that via innovations in functionalized materials and their integration into a composite nanosensor platform, technological challenges currently limiting the development of real-time uranium sensors can be overcome. 

Vincent Magnotta, Associate Professor, Radiology
Major Project Grant

Development of a New Huntington's Disease Biomarker and Treatment

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder with no effective treatments. To discover and develop therapies, methods are needed to assess disease progression and to evaluate potential therapies. Recently our group identified a novel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) biomarker, T1rho, that detects HD pathophysiology prior to onset of HD symptoms in humans. T1rho is highly sensitive to brain pH and glucose levels, which have both been suggested to be abnormal in HD and to precede irreversible brain damage. Thus, T1rho may serve as an invaluable tool for screening new HD treatments to prevent or delay disease progression. To further investigate this, we performed a pilot study that suggests T1rho also detects HD pathophysiology in a commonly-used mouse model of HD, BAC-HD mice. For this project, we plan to expand these studies to more definitively determine the time course and sensitivity of T1rho to HD pathophysiology in mice and explore its utility as a biomarker for therapeutic intervention. We have partnered with colleagues who are developing novel neuroprotective agents for degenerative diseases, which may prevent or slow HD progression in mouse HD models. 30 BAC-HD mice and 30 matched control mice without the HD-causing gene will be studied from 4 to 36 weeks of age. Half of these mice will be given a novel neuroprotective agent. T1rho changes will be imaged five times at 8-week intervals using a small animal MRI system. Progression of HD symptoms will be monitored, and histology will be performed to determine the extent of disease progression. We hypothesize that (1) T1rho abnormalities will be detectable before onset of HD symptoms and worsen over time, and (2) the neuroprotective agent will prevent or slow the onset of HD symptoms. If successful, we anticipate this project will lead to additional studies and funding to investigate HD pathophysiology and treatment mechanisms, further develop biomarkers and treatments, and translate findings to human studies. These studies have significant implications for public health, economic development, and research capabilities at the University of Iowa.

Julia Oliver Rajan, Lecturer, Spanish & Portuguese
Arts & Humanities Standard Grant

Mobility and Language Change in the Coffee Zone of Puerto Rico: The Impact of Globalization in Isolated Communities

Historically, coffee farming has been closely associated with the social, cultural and economic stability of the western mountainous zone of Puerto Rico. The island’s coffee industry was thriving until the eighties. But due to high production costs, lack of international marketing and dwindling availability of manual labor Puerto Rico’s coffee industry is on the wane. People from the coffee zone are moving to other coastal areas either to work in factories or to study in urban universities to earn professional degrees, leaving behind their community and their traditional way of life. The physical and social mobility happening in the coffee zone is endangering the cultural patrimony of a dialect that was preserved and sheltered by geographical isolation and the coffee industry for centuries. Now it is imperative to document this dialect in order to preserve what is left. With the help of the AHI Standard grant, a comprehensive digital archive of the oral history, culture and phonological characteristics of this Spanish dialect can be created before the coffee industry is obsolete in Puerto Rico and with it, the dialect of this area. This collection can serve as a template for other researchers who are documenting similar endangered languages or dialects in other parts of the world. 

John Prineas, Professor, Physics & Astronomy
Major Project Grant

Selective Area Growth of Nanowires on Templated Substrates 

Advances in the ability to structure semiconductors in one dimension (i.e. layers) at the nanoscale have heralded breakthroughs in fundamental understanding and new technologies. Most recently, researchers are attempting to structure and layer semiconductors in all three direction with semiconductor nanowires. A very promising approach is so-called “selective area growth” of semiconductors in a molecular beam epitaxy machine: a semiconductor wafer is first coated with a dielectric layer such as silicon nitride (SiN), and small holes are patterned through the layer. Atoms are then deposited on the surface in a molecular beam epitaxy chamber, where atoms selectively stick in the holes, and wires grow up. The nanowire, so-called due to its very small dimensions, can then be coated with other semiconductor materials (“core-shell nanowire”), or the nanowire can be extended with segments of other materials (“axial nanowire heterostructure”). The ability to structure nanowires in all three dimensions is expected to lead to profound advances in fundamental understanding and new technologies.  

Phillip Round, Professor, English/AINS
Arts & Humanities Standard Grant

“Cultural Shorthand: Early Native Writing and the Practice of Sovereignty"

“Cultural Shorthand” begins with an introduction that outlines the historical and geographic parameters of the study and explains why we must view Native American vernacular writing as a material practice, deeply engaged with indigenous social relationships and non-alphabetic sign systems. The body of the book is divided into three parts, each of which contains case studies of vernacular language textual production in three of the major Native language groups in North America. In each set of studies, alphabetic and syllabary literacy is shown to go hand in hand with indigenous nation building. The first, Kahiatónhsera, examines Iroquois alphabetic writing (imported by missionaries in the 17th century and used by Iroquois in the 18th and 19th centuries) and its intertwined relationship with the pre-contact graphic communication system of wampum. The next, Wowapi, explores Dakota vernacular writing from the development of a missionary alphabet at Laq Qui Parle, Minnesota Territory in 1834, to Lakota language writing from Pine Ridge, South Dakota at the turn of the century. The third section of my study, Muzzenegan, turns its attention to Ojibwa vernacular texts and linguistically related dialects like Meskwaki, whose Iowa speakers developed a syllabary in the 1880s.  

“Cultural Shorthand” thus re-imagines the social roles of alphabets, orthographies and fonts as material practices that helped Native communities forge new political economies and social orders. By examining state-formation in Indian Country from the point of view of vernacular and English language literacy practices, I hope to illuminate the curious interdependence of Euro-Americans and Native peoples, language and politics, in the pursuit of nationhood during the period.

Omar Valerio-Jimenez, Associate Professor, History
Arts & Humanities Standard Grant

Collective Memories of the U.S.-Mexican War 

The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-48) is known as America’s “forgotten war” because few Americans know the causes or consequences of the conflict that transformed the U.S. into a continental power. Yet, the war is central to Mexicans’ collective memory because it created the first generation of Mexican Americans and influenced the identity of subsequent generations. By further contrast, in Mexico it is remembered for the nation’s vast territorial loss and for defining relations with the U.S. for decades. My study compares each nation’s official war memories along with Mexican Americans’ depictions of events in order to illuminate alternative histories and to explore how events are remembered, transmitted, and analyzed. It focuses on the role of collective memory in processing the trauma of war, and in fomenting social transformation through political involvement or disengagement. Using a transnational approach, this project examines the political and social uses of memories of war in Mexico and in the United States. It contributes to Mexican American history, American cultural history, Mexican history, and memory studies.

This study’s primary sources are found in publications, microfilms, and archival depositories in Mexico and the United States. Some primary sources are in nineteenth-century English and Spanish, in which I have extensive research experience. For U.S. and Mexican government commemorations and official dedications of monuments, I will rely on national and state government documents and newspapers from each country. Accounts from elite Mexican Americans can be found in memoirs, novels, and letters, while information on non-elites can be garnered from songs and folklore. For information on rebellions, acts of civil disobedience, and civil rights struggles, I will examine newspapers, tourism brochures, and civic organization newsletters. These documents will shed light on Mexican Americans’ participation in or exclusion from war commemorations, the transmissions of memories, and twentieth-century civil rights struggles.

Darrel Wanzer-Serrano, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies
Arts & Humanities Standard Grant

Possession: Crafting Americanity in Congressional Debates over Puerto Rico, 1897-1917

This project (tentatively titled "Possession: Crafting Americanity in Congressional Debates over Puerto Rico") focuses on the cultivation of American national identity surrounding Congressional debates over Puerto Rico's status from 1897 to 1917. Unlike existing scholarship that tends to focus on Presidential rhetoric and Supreme Court decisions—both with attention paid primarily to the implications for Puerto Rican politics and culture—this project examines the ways in which Puerto Rico figures into national policy debates and alters the ways in which constitutional limits of citizenship and national belonging are imagined. Where other Puerto Rican studies scholars focus on what happens in Puerto Rico when the US takes possession of the island after the Spanish-Cuban-American War, I ask a distinct yet complementary question: What happens in the United States when the US embraces a logic and rhetoric of "possession" vis-a-vis Puerto Rico? To answer this question, I examine the Congressional and news media discourses surrounding four key policies: the Treaty of Paris (1898), the Foraker Act (1900), the Olmsted Amendment (1909), and the Jones Act (1917), which together constitute the focused moments of Congressional debate over Puerto Rico in its first twenty years of entanglement with the US. Engaging textual evidence from news media, the texts of committee testimonies and reports, speeches/debates on the floors of the House and Senate, and archival materials surrounding the people and policies at the center of these deliberative disputes, my aim is to elucidate the evolving contours of Americanity—an ideology built on the articulations of racism, capitalism, coloniality, and constitutionalism. An AHI Grant would support archival research at the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections, which will provide me with the resources to accomplish two tasks. First, I will complete an initial journal article based on the Foraker Act chapter of the book, but focused largely on Senator Albert Beveridge’s advocacy for the legislation. Second, I will use the archival materials to support fellowship applications to the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Previous Awardees

Please note the revised comprehensive program above incorporates the Arts & Humanities Initiative and the Digital Studio for the Public Humanities programs and replaces the Biological Sciences Funding Program (BSFP), Math & Physical Sciences Funding Program (MPSFP), and the Social Sciences Funding Program (SSFP) shown below. 

Arts & Humanities Initiative

2013-2014 Award Recipients 
2010-2012 Award Recipients

Biological Sciences Funding Program

2013-2014 Award Recipients 
2010-2012 Award Recipients

Digital Studio for the Public Humanities

2013-2014 Award Recipients
2012-2013 Award Recipients

Math & Physical Sciences Funding Program

2013-2014 Award Recipients 
2010-2012 Award Recipients

Social Sciences Funding Program

2013-2014 Award Recipients 
2010-2012 Award Recipients