2018-2019 VPR Research & Creative Grants Awardees

Charles O. Anderson, Associate Professor, Department of Theater and Dance
(Re)current Unrest

(Re)current Unrest is an evening length immersive performance installation ‘ritual’ built upon the sonic foundation of Steve Reich’s three earliest works: “It’s Gonna Rain” (parts 1 and 2), “Come Out” and “Pendulum.” The piece is an investigation of legacy, authorship, and the history of black art and protest through the lens of the erasure of the Africanist presence inside of Reich’s compositions. Inspired by Baldwin’s Fire Next Time and Coates’ Between the World and Me, (Re)current Unrest is an open movement letter from a member of Generation X to the millennial generation saying ‘stay woke’.

Sarah K. Bearman, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Psychology
Promoting Positive Parenting for High-Risk Families in Primary Care Settings

Positive parenting practices protect children and families from a host of adverse outcomes, but interventions that foster these practices are often unavailable to those most in need. This study will test the effectiveness of a brief, preventive e-health intervention targeting positive parenting practices in a randomized trial with a high-risk population. The intervention, developed with end-user feedback in order to increase ecological validity, will be made available during well-child visits offered at no cost to families in three primary care clinics serving low-income and minority patients. The use of a population-based prevention intervention, paired with behavioral health workforce training in parenting interventions, will increase the value of care by addressing common correlates of physical health within the context of a routine visit. Outcomes of interest include child behavioral and physical health outcomes, caregiver stress, mental health referrals, and indicators of child maltreatment.

Sarah Brayne, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
Policing Data: Surveillance and Prediction in the Digital Age

This project is motivated by the intersection of two structural forces: the growth of the United States’ criminal justice system and the rise of big data. Police use of big data is the subject of contentious debate in policy, media, legal, regulatory, and academic circles. However, advances in data analytics and surveillance technologies far outpace empirical research on the new surveillant landscape. Consequently, we know very little about how big data is used by the law enforcement, and to what consequence. How do the police use predictive algorithms and new surveillance technologies to deploy resources, identify suspects, and conduct investigations? What are the consequences for crime, law, and social inequality? To shed light on these questions, I conducted a three-year ethnographic and interview-based study of one of the most technologically advanced law enforcement agencies in the world, the Los Angeles Police Department.

Daniel Breecker, Associate Professor, Department of Geological Sciences
Preliminary Assessment of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels During an Ancient Global Warming Event

The effects of human carbon emissions on Earth’s climate and environment are the subject of intensive research and wide public interest. The study of ancient global warming events advances our understanding of carbon dioxide-climate relationships and thus helps assess the effects of various future carbon emissions scenarios. This proposal seeks funding to determine the magnitude of change in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels during the ancient global warming event that geologists recognize as the best analog for the modern. To determine ancient CO2 levels, I propose to use a new approach that combines two existing approaches, thereby addressing their respective weaknesses. The data acquired as part of this project will be used as proof-of-concept to seek external funding from the National Science Foundation for a more thorough and detailed study. The requested funding will also help UT Ph.D. student Evan Ramos begin his dissertation research.

John R. Clarke, Professor, Department of Art and Art History
Web Publication of 3-D Model and Database of an Ancient Roman Villa

Oplontis Villa A (Torre Annunziata, Italy) is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site and an important exemplar of ancient Roman life on the Bay of Naples. The aim of this project is to advance digital humanistic scholarship by creating a web-based, integrated resource consisting of a navigable 3D model of this enormous Villa and its gardens, linked to a comprehensive archaeological database. This approach has not been implemented to date but represents the future of archaeological study, research, and data management. Although one can visit the Villa, it is not easy to understand how it functioned in antiquity because many of its artifacts are in storage, and access to the rooms is limited. The Oplontis model and database, once available to the public via the Web, will provide a unique opportunity for exploration and study; it will be a powerful tool for current and future research worldwide.

Michael Drew, Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience
Hippocampal Mechanisms of Fear Extinction and Relapse

Extinction training—a procedure involving exposure to a fearful stimulus in the absence of threat—is commonly used to suppress maladaptive learned fear. Because fear often relapses after extinction, it is believed that extinction does not erase the original fear memory but, instead, creates a new memory that suppresses fear. To better understand why fear relapse occurs and how to prevent it, we are investigating the neural bases of fear and extinction memories. This proposal builds on our recent discovery that fear and extinction learning activate distinct neural ensembles in the hippocampus, a region required for these and other forms of memory. Under this proposal, we will use cutting edge genetic and imaging approaches in mice to test the hypothesis that these hippocampal ensembles modulate expression of fear after extinction and control fear relapse. This work will answer longstanding basic science questions and reveal strategies for suppressing maladaptive fear and preventing relapse.

Paola Passalacqua, Associate Professor, Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering
Quantifying Sediment Connectivity to Inform Coastal Restoration

River deltas form where a river transporting sediment meets a standing body of water. Examples of this type of landforms are the Mississippi River Delta in coastal Louisiana and many others along the Texas coast. More than 500 million people live on deltas. Yet, these landscapes and their inhabitants are at increasing risk of flooding due to a combination of factors including reduced sediment load, sea-level rise, and sediment compaction due to natural and anthropogenic factors. Key to the sustainability of our coasts is quantifying the sediment incoming discharge and whether it is capable of maintaining the system over time. The purpose of this project is to quantify via field observations the amount of sediment that reaches the wetlands of the Wax Lake Delta in coastal Louisiana, a system that serves as prototype for coastal restoration via river diversions.

David G. Quinto-Pozos, Associate Professor, Department of Linguistics
Pilot Study of Bilingual Vocabulary & Reading Development in Deaf Children

Deaf and hard-of-hearing children who use signed language for communication learn to read in a second language, often with little to no access to speech. These children are best described as developing bilinguals, although there is much variation in this population with respect to their skills in the two languages. Researchers have studied signed language acquisition and the development of literacy, but generally not how the two processes relate to each other. This study takes a novel approach of examining deaf children’s signed language vocabulary knowledge and determining whether it influences vocabulary development in their written language. The focus is on American Sign Language (ASL) and English development for second- and fourth-grade students. Data from below-average performers will also be scrutinized in order to examine potential disorders of language and reading within this population, with the future goal of developing language intervention for these children.

Michael J. Ryan, Professor, Department of Integrative Biology
The Creative Role of Dopamine in the Evolution of Sexual Beauty

Much of the beauty we see in animals has evolved in the service of sex, specifically to enhance sexual attractiveness. Mate attraction is often motivated by aesthetic senses; females of many species are attracted to males’ spectacular displays, songs, colors, and odors because these traits match female perceptual biases. Thus, males can evolve traits to exploit hidden preferences in females.

We understand the neural bases of perceptual biases, but perceiving a signal is not the same as desiring it. How do we go from perception to desire? The dopamine reward system causes an animal not only to like, but to want. Despite the fact that sex is often wrapped up in desire we know little about how the reward system contributes to the evolution of sexual beauty. This study will contribute to our understanding as to how we, humans and other animals, acquire our taste for the beautiful.

Marissa Nichole Rylander, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Development and Utilization of a Vascularized In Vitro Skin Platform for Dynamic Characterization of Bacteria and Immune Cell Migration to Recapitulate Acute Wound Contamination

Human skin consists of multiple cell layers and vascular networks to create a barrier against environmental factors. Existing in vitro skin platforms for studying bacterial infection do not mimic physiological full thickness skin or possess a fully functional vasculature which is key for studying wound progression and immune response. We will create the first physiologically representative multilayer in vitro human skin equivalent (HSE) with functional endothelialized vasculature. This HSE will be capable of dynamic and spatial imaging and characterization of cell behavior and immune response to bacterial colonization. The physiological fidelity of the HSE will be evaluated and properties tuned to mimic in vivo pig skin and the dynamics of bacterial colonization determined. The outcome of this proposal will be novel HSE, enabling dynamic and high throughput study of skin infection for diagnosis of wound severity and therapeutic strategies before proceeding with in vivo models and clinical trials.

Harold Zakon, Professor, Department of Neuroscience
Evolution of a Temperature-sensitive Ion Channel in Antarctic “Icefish”

Global warming will have massive effects on our planet. To predict how this might affect biological communities, we need to understand how animals perceive those temperature changes and their capacity to respond to them. The polar regions are experiencing disproportionate effects of warming, yet we do not even understand how cold-blooded polar animals sense temperature. We propose to study possible molecular adaptations of a temperature-sensing molecule, TRPV1, in Antarctic “icefishes” that thrive in a narrow temperature range from -2oC to 1oC, and are distressed or die at higher temperatures (>2oC). We identified amino acid substitutions in the TRPV1 protein of these fish and suggest that, while this molecule detects noxious heat in mammals (>40oC), it has evolved to sense lower temperatures (>1oC) that are noxious to these Antarctic fish. We are requesting funds for an accurate, computer-controlled temperature controller in order to carry out these experiments.

Yan Zhang, Associate Professor, School of Information
Promoting Quality Evaluation of Health Information in Online Searches through Nudging: Design and Evaluation of PageGraph Interface

The majority of the U.S. adults search online for health information. Most of them do not consistently evaluate the quality of the information they find. Inaccurate, incomplete, or biased information negatively impacts consumers’ health beliefs and therefore health outcomes. Existing interventions mainly train consumers to evaluate information quality using preexisting checklists or automatically re-rank search results based on criteria that are usually not disclosed. These approaches produce some positive impacts, but also suffer from serious limitations, including lack of ecological validity and lack of transparency. Guided by behavioral theories and empirical research, this project proposes to design and evaluate PageGraph, an interface that displays major quality indicators of health webpages, to nudge people to evaluate information during online searches. The results will enhance the current understanding of consumer online health information behavior and inform the design of interventions that can effectively promote access to quality online health information.

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