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December 2015 Awardees
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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 March 2015 IFI Awardees:


Chi-Lien Cheng, Associate Professor, Biology
Major Project Grant

Asexual Seed Production in Agriculture

Sexually produced seeds are genetically identical to the mother plant. Though widespread in nature, this process does not occur in major crop plant such as corn, wheat, and rice. The seeds of these crop plants provide the lion’s share of food and feed for human society. Yield is increased from varieties that are hybrids, but hybrid seed production is normally very labor intensive, as hybrid seeds need to be made anew each season in order to obtain the genetic composition underlying hybrid vigor. If such hybrid plants could be induced to undergo asexual production of seeds, agricultural seed production will be revolutionized. An elite cultivar, once bred, could be perpetuated without any possibility of genetic contamination through pollination. 

A seed contains two parts: the embryo, which becomes the new plant upon seed germination, and the endosperm, which stores food for the developing embryo and germinating plant (and for human or livestock consumption). Embryo and endosperm are the products of two fertilizations, the egg by a sperm and the central cell by another sperm, respectively. This proposal addresses asexual endosperm formation. The immediate goal is a proof of concept to demonstrate that endosperm can be produced without fertilization in model plants. We propose to identify the genes that when ectopically expressed will activate the endosperm-developing pathway in the central cells so that they will develop into endosperm without fertilization. 

The long-term goal is to translate the technology into asexual seed production in corn and other crop plants. Once established, the impact on agriculture is enormous as the word-wide annual seed sales are ~$40 billion excluding the seeds produced by the farmers in the developing countries. It is foreseeable that such technology can serve a huge humanitarian cause by making high yielding seeds available to the developing countries on a nonprofit basis as exemplified by the Golden Rice Project (http://www.goldenrice.org/).

Gary Christensen, Professor, Electrical-Computer Engineering
Major Project Grant

High Resolution Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Human Cerebellum at 7 Tesla

The cerebellum (“little brain”) plays a significant role in motor function as well as higher cognitive functions such as attention, language, and emotion. However the cerebellum has been under-studied, in part due to methodological shortcomings. The tight intricate foliation pattern of the cerebellum together with its microscopic nuclei and homogeneous subunits presents a unique challenge to image the cerebellum using current magnetic resonance (MR) imaging techniques. The limited spatial resolution at clinically available field strengths have led to several conflicting findings in MR-based studies of cerebellum that also contradict postmortem findings. This has led to invalid in silico modeling of the cerebellum. In this project, we propose to develop a novel high-resolution, multi-contrast, multi-modality MRI protocol that is targeted to study the human cerebellum in sufficient detail. The newly acquired ultra-high field 7 Tesla MR scanner on campus will bring forth a significant increase in signal allowing sub-millimeter resolution images to be acquired. We plan to develop a compressed sensing based image acquisition and reconstruction framework that will enable simultaneous multi-parameter mapping at high resolution to provide the required spatial specificity and contrast to delineate cerebellar nuclei and enable tissue classification of the cerebellum. In addition, a novel diffusion-imaging scheme capable of providing simultaneously high spatial and angular resolution will be developed to study the wiring of the cerebellum within itself and outward to the rest of the brain. This novel technique will have the resolving power to de-convolve multiple axonal segments that traverse through a single voxel in different directions. The complimentary information from the multi-contrast images together with the diffusion images will enable us to develop the first high-resolution white matter atlas of the cerebellum. The quantitative measures obtained at high spatial specificity from the imaging scheme will enable accurate characterization of psychiatric and neurological disorders known to affect the cerebellum. The developed protocol will significantly enhance the imaging of an ongoing study that focuses on understanding the role of cerebellum in bipolar disorder. Towards this end, the cerebellum of 5 bipolar patients will be studied as part of the project and compared to normal subjects.

Ernesto Fuentes, Associate Professor, Biochemistry
Major Project Grant

A redox-based mechanism for regulating the SrrB/A two-component system​ 

Staphylococcus aureus infections remain a major global health problem. In particular, antibiotic resistant Staphylococcal infections remain significant health burdens to society. In the U.S. alone it is estimated that nearly five-hundred thousand cases of hospital-associated S. aureus infections occur yearly. Importantly, these infections also contribute to several diseases, including pneumonia and infective endocarditis. S. aureus infections and associated diseases result from secreted virulence factors whose production is regulated by two-component systems (TCS). Two-component systems are generally composed of a membrane-bound sensor kinase and a cytoplasmic response regulator protein. The kinase senses the extracellular environment, and under the appropriate conditions transmits a signal across the cell membrane to the response regulator that results in changes in gene expression. The SrrB/A TCS is critical for S. aureus infections and is known to globally regulate production of several virulence factors, including the toxic shock syndrome toxin (TSST). In this proposal, the PI will pursue two aims designed to reveal the regulatory mechanisms of the SrrB histidine kinase. The first aim is to determine the structure of the PAS domain of the SrrB sensor kinase and identify the mechanism by which it regulates enzyme activity. The second aim is to develop a lipid-protein “Nanodisc” system that incorporates the full-length SrrB sensor kinase in a lipid bilayer environment. This important technical advancement will be critical for experimentally addressing how extracellular signals are transmitted across the cell membrane to regulate intercellular kinase activity. Together, these studies will have important implications for the regulation of S. aureus virulence and provide essential information to aid in the design of novel therapeutics against antibiotic resistant infections. In addition, these experiments will provide the critical preliminary data for a future NIH proposal.

Sabine Golz, Associate Professor, German
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant
Documentary "The Cantor of Swabia"​ 

This request is for summer salary for work related to preparing our documentary "The Cantor of Swabia" for international distribution. This film builds on existing research on Richard Gölz. It deepens, personalizes, and makes accessible the story of a life as provocative today as it was in its day. The Cantor of Swabia promises to attract significant attention in Germany, where word about it has been spreading and has created a buzz of anticipation. Currently (spring semester 2015) the PI is working with a professional editor on the fine cut of the film. The premiere in Stuttgart is scheduled for June 5, 2015, with two additional screenings following.

This film has a built-in audience in Germany that we need to reach and develop. Following the premiere, we need to follow up intensively and immediately on whatever contacts to German venues and multipliers may open up thanks to the premiere. In addition, we also need to prepare the film for American audiences and international distribution. We need to create subtitles and credits in English (right now, the film is entirely in German), produce promotional materials, and build a bilingual website for the film. Promoting it internationally will take a concerted additional effort. We need to begin submissions to major international festivals, follow up on existing contacts with multipliers and relevant museums, and negotiate with television stations both in the US and Germany to try to place the film. 

Philip Kaaret, Professor, Physics & Astronomy
Major Project 
The First Iowa CubeSat Space Science Instrument

CubeSats are small satellites that offer a low cost path to space and enable low budget space physics and astrophysics experiments. With increasing pressures on Federal research budgets, CubeSats are increasingly important, due to their low cost. The University of Iowa (UI) has a long and highly successful history in space-based research, but has never flown a CubeSat nor CubeSat-based instrument. We are teaming with the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT) to build a radiation detector and fly it on AMSAT's Fox-1D CubeSat. This will be the first CubeSat-based instrument built at Iowa. Successful construction and operation of the instrument will greatly enhance our competitiveness in applications for external research grants.

Carol MacVey, Lecturer, Theatre Arts
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant

The Seagull: a Film

I propose to direct and produce a full-length, independent, not-for-profit film of Anton Chekhov’s seminal play The Seagull. This project will fuse theatre, film, and literature in an unusual venture for the University of Iowa. After decades researching and studying the play, presenting it in a cinematic format will allow me to continue my ongoing conversation with the script and provide a new way for audiences to experience it.  

Using mostly alumni and colleagues associated with the University of Iowa, we will shoot the film on location in Iowa in September 2015. Much of the pre-production work is in place: the screenplay, the story boarding, the casting, the locations, the organizing of production crews, design meetings, some rehearsals and a percentage of the fund-raising. 

Chekhov remains a compelling modern voice with a unique vision -- oblique and low-key on the surface, but teeming with yearnings and dreams beneath the words. My goal is to capture this delicate balance on film and share it with a new audience.

Luis Martin-Estudillo, Associate Professor, Spanish & Portuguese
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard
Spanish Culture and the Rise of Euroskepticism (1939-2014)

The sustained scrutiny of the ever-evolving idea of Europe by artists and intellectuals has helped to pave the way for the current widespread protests against the European Union. Consciously or not, they partake of a tradition of Euroskepticism. Because Euroskepticism is often associated exclusively with the discourse of political elites, its literary and artistic expressions have gone largely unnoticed. These works offer nuanced and engaging views on the affects a unified Europe generates, yet their complex contributions escape academic approaches that prioritize other types of data. I propose to address this gap in the scholarship by examining closely a variety of Euroskeptic texts from a diachronic perspective. In my book in progress, "Spanish Culture and the Rise of Euroskepticism (1939-2014)", Euroskepticism designates a constellation of attitudes and arguments that have developed in reaction to pan- and pro-European movements. Its evolving features are conditioned by culture and formed in discourse; its Spanish manifestations are both typical of “peripheral Europe” and rich in particularities. 

Without discarding insights from current philosophy, sociology, history and political science, my book asks what Euroskepticism amounts to as a longer-term historical tendency, especially in aesthetic and literary matters. My arguments are supported in a close reading of texts (mainly, but not exclusively, literary) that have so far not been studied in relation to Euroskepticism. In dialogue with pertinent contributions from the disciplines mentioned above, I analyze these texts through the lens of what S. Greenblatt calls “cultural poetics.” This approach regards aesthetic practices not just as mere representations of social and political developments, but also as consequential interventions in these developments that to a large extent configure them, adding to their complexity as they elucidate them. 

NEH reviewers considered that the book “will have a huge impact on the field, but will also be of enormous interest to scholars of European studies, European history, European literary relations, twentieth-century Spain, Spanish politics, and many others”; “has great intellectual significance and enormous value as a work of Humanities scholarship. It will be of the highest quality”.  

Lindsay Mattock, Assistant Professor, Library & Information Science
Major Project
Mapping the Independent Media Community

The availability and affordability of 16 mm film and video technology spurred production of amateur, independent, and underground film and video during the 1960s and 1970s. While histories of independent media production have centered on the efforts of individual artists, in reality the growth of independent media production throughout the mid- to late-twentieth century was supported by a network of organizations, including museums, archives, artist collectives, and equipment access centers designated as “Media Arts Centers.” Yet, scholars studying film and media history have overlooked the Media Arts Center Movement and its impact on non-commercial media production in the United States. Mapping the Independent Media Community aims to correct this problem by developing digital tools for visualizing data related to the production, distribution, exhibition, and collection of independent media in the United States and abroad.  

This first iteration of the project will build upon two archival data sources from the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: (1) the Film and Video Makers Directory, published in 1978 and 1979 and (2) the Film and Video Makers Travel Sheet, published monthly from 1973- 1987. These publications served as a social networking tool for independent film/video makers, connecting artists to the organizations willing to support their work. Together the Directory and Travel Sheet track over 1600 individuals and 600 organizations representing 47 US States/Territories and 21 countries from around the globe. 

Work will progress in three phases. Phase 1 (commenced in January 2015) centers on the digitization of the Directory and Travel Sheet. During Phase 2 the data file generated from the first phase will be used to develop a relational database, organizing the data from the Directory, Travel Sheet, and affording analysis of the data. During Phase 3 the relational database will be used to construct a web application that will generate visualizations of these data and support the ingest of additional historical datasets. The visualizations developed from the unique dataset contained within the Directory and Travel Sheet will provide insights into the development of the Media Arts Center Movement and the support mechanisms for Independent Filmmaking during the mid-to late-twentieth century.

​Syed Mubeen, Assistant Professor, Chemical & Biochemical Engineering
Major Project Grant

Combinatorial Synthesis and High-throughput Screening of Nanomaterials for Solar Fuel Production 

This proposal seeks to develop a novel combinatorial synthesis and screening activity to discover and optimize environmentally/economically sustainable nanomaterials for direct conversion of sunlight and available feedstocks (water or CO2 or organic-rich domestic wastes) to fuels and chemicals. To do so we will integrate unique strengths of our team to (i) develop low-cost, single step (parallel) combinatorial synthesis technique (Mubeen, Chemical and Biochemical Engineering) that can produce new multicomponent semiconductors from earth abundant elements in nanostructure configuration, (ii) use rapid and reliable optical screening methods (Wu, High Throughput Screening Facility) that can identify semiconductors with optimal light absorption properties, and (iii) use surface-science analytical probes (Lee, Central Microscopy Research Facility) such as Raman, X-ray and UV photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS, UPS), transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to characterize the structure and composition of the promising materials. We will investigate primarily earth abundant mixed metal sulfides and oxides (e.g. copper zinc tin iron sulfides and bismuth iron manganese oxides) as light absorbers in nanostructure configuration to enhance photocatalytic surface area. The synthetic tools and screening capabilities proposed herein will have potential for broad impact across material design and development in the field of photovoltaics and solar fuel production, as well as in more general areas of material science related to optoelectronics, nanophotonics, sensors, etc.

Marian Muste, Research Engineer, IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering
Strategic Global Initiatives Award
Capacity building for the creation of the strategic global initiative on: Decision-Support Systems for Flood Mitigation and Resilience (FLOODSS) 

At a time of unprecedented growth in the number of large floods, emergency management agencies face daunting challenges in handling the massive amounts of data produced by monitoring and modeling meteorological and hydrological processes (e.g., radars, ground-based sensor network) and ingesting them in multi-domain specialized models that forecast floods and provide ancillary information needed during floods. Assembling, integrating, and delivering this information to stakeholders require customized information and communication systems and technologies embedded in comprehensive and easy-to-use Decision-Support Systems (DSS). 

This seed strategic global initiative proposal aims to assemble a core group of international collaborators charged to set the foundation of a much-needed global partnership targeting the transfer of flood science and research products and technologies into commercial DSS focused in floods (FLOODSS). FLOODSS are aimed to empower decision-makers and local communities with the enabling technologies for timely preparation and mitigation of flood effects while retaining sustainable development and the benefits of living near waters. The proposal triangulates academic researchers from the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) and Ocean College (Zhejiang University, China) with a Chinese governmental agency (Flood and Drought Disaster Reduction Center) and an international DSS developer (Danish Hydraulics Institute, Inc.) to create a core group charged with the launching of a GI aimed at industrial production and commercialization of DSS for flood prevention and action. 

The partnership will be led by IFC and is intended to be UI- and Iowa- centric in its initial phases. The capacity building activities include: 1) creation of synthesis on the capabilities and use of FLOODSS; 2) organization and delivery of two core-group fora (in 2015 and 2016); 3) preparation of MOUs and MOAs to formalize the roles and relationships of FLOODSS partner institutions and development of a strategy to reach out to the global flood mitigation community, 4) development of a roadmap for FLOODSS economic development. The main outcomes of the project include: 

  • Synthesis on advanced tools and techniques to be assembled in FLOODSS 
  • Guidelines on the role of FLOODSS in operations 
  • An industrial-grade FLOODSS as a commercially-available product (long-term goal

Christine Ogren, Associate Professor, Educational Policy & Leadership
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant
Summers Off:  A History of American Teachers' Other Three Months

The AHI Grant will support my research for a book project on the history of American schoolteachers' activities during the summertime. The grant will fund research trips to five to seven archival collections. During the year of the grant, I will conduct archival research and write an article, book proposal, and manuscript chapters. “Summers Off: A History of American Teachers' Other Three Months” will trace teachers' summer studies, professional development, travel for personal enrichment or relaxation, and work for wages between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, with attention to gender and social-class issues. The last section of the book will interpret the multiple meanings of summer vacation since the mid-twentieth century, when the teaching force shifted from mainly single women toward married women who were mothers. Framed by considerations of how "summers off" inhibited or enhanced teachers' careers and professional standing, this project will add this overlooked quarter of the year to scholarship on the history of teaching and discussions of teacher professionalism.

Glen Penny, Professor, History
Major Project Grant

German Iowa in the Global Midwest 

German Iowa in the Global Midwest” explores Iowa’s multicultural history through one of the most significant groups of European origin to settle in the state. In addition to highlighting the longer history of multiculturalism in Iowa (and by extension, the Midwest), the project highlights themes that are of urgent contemporary relevance, such as bilingualism and anti-immigration sentiment. This interdisciplinary project involves high school, undergraduate, graduate, and faculty research; multiple departments on the UI campus; and public engagement with constituencies across the state including secondary educators, high school students, local archivists, genealogists, and history buffs. It will culminate in the Obermann Humanities symposium, an exhibit and musical programming on the University of Iowa campus, a traveling exhibit, a website, and an illustrated exhibit catalogue. The project aligns with other projects related to the “Global Midwest” theme, which have examined (and are continuing to examine) such populations as Latina/os and Native Americans.

Robert Piper, Professor, Physiology
Core Facilities/Shared Equipment for Research
Implementing CRISPR and shRNA Genome-Wide Scale Genetic Screening at Iowa

The goal of this proposal is to establish a set of integrated core-facility services and workflows that will implement genomic scale shRNA and CRISPR technology for biomedical researchers. We have assembled a team of both faculty and core-facility directors who will develop these technologies here at Iowa and adapt them into our existing core facilities. We have also garnered matching funds to invest into a set of demonstration projects that will allow us to gain expertise and experience with these new technologies and exemplify how shRNA and CRISPR technologies can be used on large-scale projects here at Iowa. Success at establishing such workflows and publishing a strong example of how well they work, will allow other investigators to use these methods for myriad genetic studies on their problem of interest as well as provide the credibility to propose such studies in extramural grant proposals.

Donna Santillan, Research Assistant Professor, Obstetrics & Gynecology
Major Project Grant

Preeclampsia Pedigree Resource

We have inherited a collection of DNA samples that were taken from women with preeclampsia as well as their family members including the father of their child, their child, their mother, and their father. However, we do not have a clear dataset for these samples including all of the pertinent information that we will need from their medical record, despite IRB approval to attain this information. We also need to inventory and organiz e these samples. The pedigrees are available, but are not in a useful format. Having this collection be in a convenient and more accessible format will allow for us and other UI researchers to make use of these samples in preeclampsia research. After we have the samples organiz ed and have performed quality analysis, we will use several of the most ideal sample sets to perform DNA sequencing. These studies, performed in conjunction with the Iowa Institute of Human Genetics will provide significant insights into the role of DNA mutations in preeclampsia and will address our hypothesis that multiple gene mutations will be identified in preeclamptics patients and their families. Candidate mutations will be analyz ed mechanistically in future work using cell culture and animal assays. After successful completion of this pilot we will have developed a useful collection of patient samples to UI researchers and our collaborators and will extend the preeclampsia research program to involve more collaborations, studies, grants, and manuscripts.

Thomas Schnell, Associate Professor, Industrial Engineering
Core Facilities/Shared Equipment for Research Grant

Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) for Diverse University Payloads

The author proposes a shared equipment request of $70,000 for a top-of-the-line electric Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) that will be operated by the Operator Performance Laboratory (OPL) and made available for payload access to the entire university user community and its external research constituents. The OPL will leverage its own resources to achieve rapid initial operational capability (IOC) and sustainability of the asset. UAS are a disruptive technology that will be a key enabler for competitiveness in external research funding in many different fields across the University of Iowa (UI) campus. The requested equipment will enable a professionally operated shared access UAS capability that will enhance UI’s competitive advantage in externally funded research.  

A thorough UAS equipment search was performed and aircraft attributes were mapped against the expected use case profiles for a variety of University customers with which the author is familiar. Customers across the university will be able to have full access to the payload capabilities of the small UAS (sUAS) without the need for operational concerns such as operator training, aircraft maintenance, regulatory compliance, airspace access applications, and flight operations, as those will be handled by the OPL.  

Through an hourly flight fee (about $225/hr), the equipment acquisition will be self-sustainable and the impact of its acquisition can be quantified in the number of flight hours generated and included in proposals. The proposed capability will lower the threshold for access to sUAS to a broader university user community while at the same time standardiz e operational concerns and minimiz e the need for multiple certificates of authoriz ation (COAs). The proposed equipment request is designed to address this regulatory concern by organiz ing the operation of the sUAS under the OPL flight test infrastructure.

Christine Shea, Assistant Professor, Spanish & Portuguese
Major Conferences/Ideation Meetings Grant

From Signal to Words in Bilingual/Second Language Acquisition

The goal of the conference ‘From Signal to Words in Bilingual/Second Language acquisition is to draw together researchers, graduate students and undergraduate students working in the field of speech perception and language development. This conference fills a need for a dedicated space in which researchers can present new ideas and research-in-progress focused on speech perception in bilinguals and adult second language learners. 

Given the growing number of children who are raised bilingually and the increasing numbers of students taking foreign languages at high school and college, understanding how these different populations acquire and process the sounds and words of their languages has assumed a critical urgency in the fields of linguistics and psychology. Currently, there is no other national or international conference that focuses exclusively on these issues. 

The target audience includes researchers, postdocs and graduate students investigating speech perception and processing in bilingual and second language learner communities. The University of Iowa is a particularly ideal location for a conference of this type, given the large and vibrant community of researchers working in the field of language development and speech perception. The conference organizers, Dr. Shea (PI, Spanish and Portuguese) and Dr. Destruel-Johnson (French and Italian) are part of the Division of World Languages, Literatures and Culture. Dr. Shea is a member of the DELTA group, which brings together researchers from across the University of Iowa interested in development and includes faculty and graduate students from Speech Science and Communications Disorders, Psychology, Education and Linguistics. Both Dr. Shea and Dr. Destruel-Johnson are currently collaborating with Dr. Thomas Farmer in the psychology department on research related to language acquisition and development. Finally, both Dr. Shea and Dr. Destruel-Johnson are active members of the PhD program in Second Language Acquisition (Foreign Language and Research in Education, FlaRE), which forms a nexus for work on bilingualism and second language acquisition on the University of Iowa campus. Thus, both conference organizers have deep ties to the language acquisition community at the University of Iowa and can rely upon these connections to guarantee the success of the conference.

Daniel Weeks, Professor, Biochemistry
Major Project Grant

Identification of function and regulation of non-pathogenic amyloids

The appearance of protein complexes called amyloids is diagnostic of devastating conditions like Alz heimer’s and Huntington’s disease. These are just two of many disease states, collectively called amyloidosis of medical importance. The biochemistry of amyloid formation has it’s underpinnings in choices made while proteins assume their three dimensional conformation. It turns out many proteins can form amyloid complexes and in some cases it’s been shown that process of assembly into amyloids versus assuming an alternative, functional (often thought of as normal) conformation regulates the activity of proteins. This alternative view of amyloid formation, as part of the natural regulatory tools available to an organism, requires a reexamination of many issues, not the least of which is whether the amyloids have a regulatory role in development. We recently have seen, for the first time, that early embryos contain a dynamic pool of amyloids. This was possible using a non-toxic amyloid specific stain that was microinjected into living embryos. These findings are at the forefront of examining naturally occurring amyloids in living systems and allow us to identify where they form, what they are composed of and how they function.

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