About the Internal Funding Initiatives grant program
Examples of successful proposals (HawkID required)

Current IFI Awardees
March 2017 IFI Awardees
December 2016 IFI Awardees
Arts & Humanities Initiative (AHI) Awardees
IFI Archives


The Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development is proud to present the March 2016 IFI Awardees:


Gregory Howes, Associate Professor, Physics & Astronomy
Major Project Grant
Observational Analysis of Turbulent Dissipation Using Field-Particle Correlations

For more than 50 years, space physicists have sought to discover how the atmosphere of the sun, or the solar corona, is heated to more than 1,000,000 K, while the sun's surface is a mere 6000 K. To answer this most fundamental question in space physics, NASA is investing more than $1B to send the Solar Probe Plus mission six times closer to the sun than any spacecraft before, directly measuring the charged plasma particles and electromagnetic fields within the outer edge of the solar corona. The plasma making up the solar corona is observed to be in a constant state of turbulence. Coronal heating is widely believed to be a consequence of the dissipation of this turbulence, where the energy of the turbulent plasma motions and electromagnetic fields is ultimately converted into plasma heat. Under the high-temperature and low-density conditions of the solar corona and solar wind, the dissipation of plasma turbulence occurs through collisionless interactions between the charged particles that constitute the plasma and the electromagnetic fields. A mathematical description of this process requires the application of the six-dimensional kinetic plasma theory; supported by external grant funding, PI Howes has used kinetic plasma theory to devise an innovative technique to identify the net energy transfer associated with the dissipation of plasma turbulence by applying a novel correlation of plasma particle and electromagnetic field measurements. In this project, we aim to demonstrate that this novel field-particle correlation method provides an observational identification of the net energy transfer from fields to particles that is associated with the dissipation of the turbulence. If successful, this technique will provide a powerful new approach to identify the dissipation mechanisms of turbulence in collisionless space plasmas. If, supported by a NASA Heliophysics Guest Investigator grant, subsequent testing of the method using measurements from newer spacecraft missions with higher resolution instruments is also successful, then this method has the potential to become the primary analysis tool for the Solar Probe Plus mission to determine conclusively the physical mechanism responsible for heating the solar corona, a longstanding question in space physics.

Toshihiro Kitamoto, Associate Professor, Anesthesia
Major Project Grant

Genetic study of the antiepileptic properties of propofol and non-sedative analogs using a fruit fly model of human epilepsy

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders affecting more than 2 million people in the United States. Although effective anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) have been developed since 1970’s, a significant portion of patients (~30%) still do not respond to currently available AEDs. There is thus in great need of novel therapies for refractory epilepsy. Propofol, a widely used intravenous anesthetic, has good anticonvulsant properties, suppressing various types of seizures including the most severe form, status epilepticus. However, the use of propofol as an AED is limited because of its robust anesthetic/sedative properties. Notably, recent studies suggest that some close analogs of propofol reduce seizures in mouse models of epilepsy without strong sedative effects. This finding raises the possibility that certain propofol derivatives can serve as AEDs that are effective for treating refractory epilepsy. To explore this attractive possibility, we need to evaluate the antiepileptic and sedative effects of propofol derivatives in a systematic manner and better understand the molecular mechanisms underlying their therapeutic actions. For these purposes, here we propose to obtain fundamental information on the effects and action mechanisms of propofol analogs by taking advantage of an experimental model organism, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Drosophila has become a powerful genetic model for human epilepsy and recently found to respond to propofol similarly to mammals. In Aim 1, the anticonvulsant and sedative effect of propofol-related compounds will be determined using fly models of human Dravet Syndrome (DS). We will examine the dose-response effects of propofol-related compounds on locomotor activity, sleep and heat-induced seizures that are displayed by the Drosophila mutants mimicking severe human epilepsy. In Aim 2, we seek to identify genetic components involved in the anticonvulsant and sedative effect of propofol-related compounds by performing an unbiased forward genetic screen. The outcomes of proposed experiments in Drosophila are expected to establish a solid foundation for an improved understanding of properties of propofol analogs and to lead to further investigation of these new potential AEDs in rodent models and humans.

​Kathy Lavezzo, Associate Professor, English
Arts & Humanities Standard Grant
Remappings: Christians and Jews in Early England

Remappings: Christians and Jews in Early England is a digital project that enables users to explore Jewish-Christian interaction in England during the middle ages and renaissance. Interactive maps are central to this project, which combines the accuracy of Geographic Information Systems technology with the rich aesthetics of early cartography. The main interface for the website is a map charting Jewish habitation in England before the period of resettlement in the late Seventeenth Century. Jews first inhabited England shortly after the Norman Conquest and continued to live or visit the island well after their state-sponsored expulsion in 1290. Subsequent maps of individual cities will offer more data and feature video, animation, art, historical documents and related content about key persons, places and events. The applicant, Kathy Lavezzo, is working with both staff at the University of Iowa Libraries Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio and a University of Iowa MFA candidate in painting to research, create and launch the initial version of the website, which will contain the map of England. An AHI Grant would help fund subsequent stages of the project, enabling the creation of several maps of English cities, and on-location data gathering in one or more English cities. While there exit digital projects that map Jewish habitation in individual medieval cities, only Remappings will offer a full picture of habitation throughout England. Remappings will also be the first website to create beautiful yet accurate maps that employ the new cartographic technologies of the digital age.

William Paradee, Director of Specialized Service Facilities, Medicine Administration
Core Facilities Grant

Digital Droplet PCR Instrumentation as a Cross Core Resource

We propose the purchase of digital droplet polymerase chain reaction (ddPCR) instrumentation that will be operated as a central core service. These services will be available to all U of Iowa investigators and will also be used by other core facilities that have an expanding need for this technology. The 3 participating cores are the Genomics/DNA sequencing core of the Iowa Institute of Human Genetics, the Mouse Genome Editing Core, and the Viral Vector core. They will provide the infrastructure and expertise to develop workflows that can take advantage of this new technology thus allowing individual investigators access to new experimental methods. In addition, the cores themselves will be major users of this technology; centralizing this resource will save expenses while increasing competence in its operation. The main advance ddPCR embodies is that it provides absolute quantitation of DNA while also being exquisitely sensitive and precise. It is also has a very robust workflow and not prone to many of the technical problems and nuances that plague rival methods such as RTqPCR. For instance, ddPCR provides 1) absolute quantification of viral load, 2) absolute quantification of nucleic acid standards, 3) absolute quantification of next-gen sequencing libraries, 4) absolute measurements of transcript levels, 5) copy number variation of genes within chromosomes, and 5) quantitation of rare mutations and gene editing events within a larger population of normal DNA. ddPCR has distinct advantages over RTqPCR that make it much better suited, and in some cases, uniquely suited for these applications. ddPCR works by actually counting the number of molecules in a sample to give a linear response to the number of copies present in a sample to allow for even small fold-change differences to be measured. Conversely, RTqPCR is designed measure the number of copies in a sample relative to a serial diluted standard curve or another sample. The result is a relative measurement and not the actual number of copies actually in the sample. RTqPCR assays are also susceptible to a variety of artifacts that compromise polymerase efficiency, whereas these types of artifacts do not affect ddPCR data.

​Adriana Mendez Rodenas, Professor, Spanish & Portuguese
Arts & Humanities Standard 
Mythologies of Return: Revisiting Ana Mendieta's Rupestrian Sculptures

I am soliciting an Arts & Humanities Initiative (AHI) Standard Grant to complete a visual arts/scholarly project on the art of Ana Mendieta (1948-1985), a Cuban-American artist of international repute who trained at the University of Iowa. This is a collaborative venture joining my expertise as a scholar of Caribbean literature with the artistic talents of Aurora de Armendi, a UI M.F.A graduate, currently a part-time Assistant Professor at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City. The principal aim of this project is to create a fine artist’s book based on Ana Mendieta’s Rupestrian Sculptures (1981) series originally carved at las Escaleras de Jaruco, a park outside Havana. In homage to Mendieta’s artistic legacy, our goal is to publish an art book titled Mythologies of Return: Revisiting Ana Mendieta’s Rupestrian Sculptures. Hand-printed in a run of twenty copies, the book gathers Ms. de Armendi’s photogravures of the artist’s sculptures in their present state, prefaced by a scholarly essay where I study Mendieta’s interpretation of Taíno mythology, what marked a symbolic return to the roots of Cuban culture.

Michael Sakamoto, Assistant Professor, Dance
Arts & Humanities Standard Grant

Blind Spot

Blind Spot is an interdisciplinary project in the hybrid genre of scholar-artist activism. The project consists of 1.) a multimedia dance theater solo performed by the Principal Investigator, Michael Sakamoto, in stage, gallery and alternative sites, and 2.) complementary critical and media-based elements. Blind Spot integrates ethnographic, archival, performative and photographic research into a multilateral experience. Blind Spot expands my investigation of intercultural identity and globalization in everyday life. As a scholar-artist specializing in butoh and hip-hop dance and international artist collaborations, and being married to a Thai artist, I seek greater engagement with political events in the USA and Thailand. With nationwide, socio-economic protests in the USA, and a regressive military junta controlling Thailand, both societies are dealing with invasive censorship, intellectual property regulation and corporate militarism. ACTIVITIES: 1.) Performances – I will perform a work-in-progress in Summer 2016, and a final version in Fall 2016 in Los Angeles and Summer 2017 in Bangkok. There have been three rough work-in-progress showings internationally since August 2014, three months after Thailand’s military coup. Electronic music composer Christopher Jette, a current UI Grant Wood Fellow, will complete the soundscore.  2.) Book Chapter/Conferences – Blind Spot will be the focus of a chapter in my book (contracted by Wesleyan University Press) connecting butoh dance with social theory, asserting that butoh’s concept of the hyper-socialized “body in crisis” is applicable across socio-cultural and historical contexts. Blind Spot interdisciplinarily examines how contemporary bodies in crisis (performative, racial, gendered, etc.) contend with oppressive political and socio-economic conditions in the USA and Thailand. I presented on this thesis at the CORD/SDHS 2014 international dance studies conference and will develop further presentations in 2017. 3.) Exhibits – Photo materials are being continually developed for the Blind Spot performance and will be exhibited online and in galleries as photo essays in both countries, including at RMA Institute, one of Thailand’s leading contemporary photo galleries, in Summer 2016.  IMPACT: Broad audience experience of project themes and artistic-scholarly praxis through: 1.) International stage performances and conferences. 2.) Universally-accessible web-based content. 3.) Dozens of potential gallery, festival and institutional outlets.

Christine Shea, Assistant Professor, Spanish & Portuguese
Arts & Humanities Standard Grant​

Multilingual Language Production

Cross-linguistic influence (the influence of one language system on another) has been extensively studied in adult bilinguals and has been observed across all levels of language processing and production. However, much less is known about what cross-linguistic interference means when there are more than two languages at play. Cook (1992) introduced the notion of 'multicompetence', claiming that languages in multilinguals are connected in a larger system whereby changes in one language may have an impact on a speaker's other languages. Thus, with each language acquired, the possibility of changes to the super-system and the subsystems of specific languages in the multilingual mind grows exponentially. The goal of this project is to investigate how co-existing languages affect one another in a multilingual system, that is, individuals who have learned more than two languages as adults. The primary questions addressed are: (1) How does the acquisition of a second language in adulthood compare with the acquisition of a third language in adulthood? 2) When exposed to a third language, which existing language system does a learner transfer to the third (or additional) language, and why? 3) How do languages acquired in adulthood affect existing language systems? These questions will be addressed by examining cross-linguistic interference in adults who are trilingual in Spanish, Portuguese and English. Participants will complete three tasks in each of their languages to test how cross-linguistic interference plays out in language production, pronunciation and word recognition. The study will be carried out in Uruguay (Spanish), Brazil (Portuguese) and the United States (English). The particular languages selected permit a rigorous testing of hypotheses related to how cross-linguistic interference leads to changes across linguistic systems in the trilingual speaker. We hypothesize that cross-linguistic influence may be affected by typological relatedness; that is, languages that are more closely related linguistically (e.g., Spanish-Portuguese) will demonstrate greater cross-linguistic interference than those that are not (e.g., Portuguese-English). However, it is also possible that order of acquisition plays a determining role in cross-linguistic interference, which would lead to greater interference from the second language to the third, even when they are typologically distant.

Melissa Tully, Assistant Professor, Journalism & Mass Communication
Major Project Grant

Examining the Effectiveness of Embedding News Media Literacy Messages in a News Aggregator 

This project will examine how news media literacy messages that promote critical thinking and encourage thoughtful engagement with news can be embedded in everyday media consumption online. Media literacy education promotes understanding of how the media operate, media contexts, and media effects. News media literacy focuses on news-making processes, encourages audiences to be critical news consumers, and emphasizes the importance of news to a functioning democracy. We plan to test the effectiveness of different news media literacy messages that focus on complementary yet discrete components of successful news media literacy education through exposure to public service announcement (PSA) messages in a simulated news aggregator context to mirror real-life online news consumption. News aggregators, like Google News, use algorithms to select and display news from a variety of sources. This project fills a gap in existing research by testing media literacy messages embedded in social-news contexts, where much news consumption occurs. As online platforms become dominant sources of news and information, it becomes increasingly important to understand how news media literacy can inform the news consumption habits and attitudes of users. This project will use creative experimental designs to examine the effectiveness of four news media literacy PSAs that appear in different online news environments to improve our understanding of how adults engage with news content and apply news media literacy skills to their news consumption. We will use a two-study experimental design embedded in nationally representative surveys of American adults. The experiments will allow us to precisely control and test the impacts of our news media literacy messages and the social-news conditions in which they appear on key variables: perceptions of participants’ sense of their media literacy, their critical consumption of news, and their perceptions of the value of news media literacy for democratic society. This research will have an impact on media literacy education, research, and practice, as the findings will shed light on the effectiveness of news media literacy messages embedded in online contexts to encourage critical news consumption. This study will be the first to examine and test news media literacy interventions in realistic social-news environments.

Joshua Weiner, Associate Professor, Biology
Major Project Grant

Role of Akirin2 in the formation of the cerebral cortex 

Provide a brief overview of the proposal.  Include the main procedures and activities of the project that are comprehensible to non-specialists and, if successful, the expected impact of the project. The cerebral cortex is the site of consciousness, language, memory, and perception. Disruptions in the coordinated pattern of progenitor proliferation and neuron production can result in “malformations of cortical development”, a group of disorders, including microcephaly and lissencephaly, that affect hundreds of thousands of children and adults. Improving our understanding of how changes in gene expression control corticogenesis is a major goal of neuroscience. To this end, we seek to identify roles played by Akirin2 in cortical development. Akirins are nuclear proteins known to regulate immunity and myogenesis. Converging evidence indicates that Akirin2 can bridge transcription factors and the BAF(SWI/SNF) chromatin remodeling machinery to regulate patterns of gene expression. Akirin2 is expressed in the brain, but entirely unstudied there. We propose 2 Specific Aims to test the central hypothesis that Akirin2 collaborates with transcription factors and chromatin remodeling machinery to regulate cortical development: Aim 1: Identify cellular and molecular defects in the Akirin2 knockout cortex. Preliminary data show that mice lacking Akirin2 in cortical progenitors die at birth with extreme microcephaly: near-complete absence of the cortex. In contrast, the cortex forms in mice lacking Akirin2 in postmitotic neurons; nevertheless, they also die postnatally, indicating disrupted neuronal maturation. We will analyze proliferation, apoptosis, differentiation, formation of dendrites, and synaptogenesis in the absence of Akirin2 to define its roles in cortical development. Aim 2: Identify neural genes regulated by Akirin2. Nothing is known about the genes Akirin2 regulates in the brain. Preliminary data implicate Twist, one Akirin2 transcription factor partner, in the phenotypes we find. Full understanding of the role Akirin2 plays in cortical development requires an unbiased approach to uncover gene expression patterns disrupted in its absence. We will perform RNA-Seq of Akirin2 mutants vs. controls to identify genes regulated by Akirin2 in cortical progenitors and neurons. Successful completion of these aims will confirm Akirin2 as a novel regulator of cortical development and yield critical information required to generate new hypotheses about the mechanisms by which it, and its partners, act. Support of this work will allow us to develop a full NIH R01 application on Akirin2 in the cortex. 

Jon Winet, Professor, Art & Art History
Arts & Humanities Standard Grant


“Power,” (working title) is a multimedia, interdisciplinary public digital arts and humanities project for which I am the lead designer and participation media producer. A team of contributing artists and writers will observe and document the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections, and contribute to print and electronic media organizations, social media and visual arts venues. “Power” comprises a number of linked creative research projects: A series of large scale photographic portraits of political stakeholders – from elected officials to delegates, police to social justice advocates, news reporters, librarians, newsstand operators, and average citizens – created at this summer’s Republican and Democratic National Conventions. An accompanying series of photographs from the Convention Halls and surrounding environments. The images strive to capture decisive moments of control, action and political performance. The portraits with accompanying text will be presented on one or two HD 65” monitor in gallery settings, and online. Writing and multimedia works on the theatrical spectacle of the conventions and the campaigns. Development of a central website that highlights the projects’ writing and multimedia content with links to the social media platforms mentioned directly below. The University Library’s Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio has offered the studio’s assistance on this part of the project. Research on, and development of “traditional” online social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, ) and emerging platforms. (What’s App, Snap Chat, Medium, GroupMe etc.) that have the potential to encourage Citizen Scholarship, and political and civic engagement. This part of the project will be developed in collaboration with undergraduate researchers. Publishing the work in a more fixed, tangible means of expression, as well as working with the Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio on a permanent collection as part of the University’s Digital Archive.  Promotion and public enhancement of projects through printed and digital graphics. Important to me as both an artist and American, with this project my collaborators and I hope its images and texts will make a meaningful contribution to the cultural and social dialog around the elections and democratic practice in the United States.