2022-2023 Research & Creative Grants Awarded to 12 Faculty Members

Twelve UT Austin faculty members representing a variety of disciplines and six colleges across campus were selected as recipients of the 2022-2023 Research & Creative Grants administered by the Office of the Vice President for Research, Scholarship and Creative Endeavors.

The Research and Creative Grant (RCG) program supports specific projects of individual tenured and tenure-track faculty members. The program’s overall objectives are to promote research, outreach, and creative activities in all disciplines that will result in publications, patents, recognition, awards, or exhibitions/performances appropriate to the researcher’s discipline, and/or will improve competitiveness for external funding.

This year’s 12 awardees, who will receive up to $10,000 in support, are:

kamran scot aghaieKamran Aghaie, Associate Professor, Department of Middle Eastern Studies, College of Liberal Arts, Pious Nationalisms: An Approach to Studying Islamic Nationalism, and Religious Nationalisms Around the World

Scholarship on nationalism still struggles with how to deal with the relationship between nationalism and religion. The urgent need to improve this situation has become particularly apparent in recent years as Christian Nationalists have become increasingly active in US politics. The study of Islamic Nationalisms is instructive in finding new ways to study the complex and nuanced relationships between religion and nationalism, both in the cases of Islam in the Middle East, and other religions around the world. The approach advocated in this project allows us to better understand religious movements that work almost entirely within a national framework, and with religious doctrines, values, symbols at the core of national identity. This allows us to ask new comparative questions about when, how, and why religious nationalisms have continued to be relevant around the world, as religious people and societies grapple with new challenges posed by their diverse experiences of modernity.

jaime barnesJaime Barnes, Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, Jackson School of Geosciences, Insights into the Sulfur Cycle and Volcanic Eruptive Behavior via the Sulfur Isotope Composition of Volcanic Gases

Sulfur is a major component of volcanic gases and is continuously monitored at select volcanoes given links in degassing behavior to volcanic activity. Surprisingly, the sulfur isotope composition (δ34S) of these gases is rarely analyzed, even though major variations would be expected considering the reactive and multivalent nature of sulfur in volcanic systems. To my knowledge, there is no lab in the United States making these measurements. I propose to set up the analytical methodology to determine the δ34S value of volcanic gases. I will then analyze a time series of gas samples encompassing the 2017 eruption of Poás volcano (Costa Rica) to explore the role of sulfur in eruptive processes. These data will serve as a proof of concept for a future NSF proposal to analyze volcanic gases from Central and South America to determine the role of subducting material on the oxidization state of arc gases.

Linda DeGraffenreidLinda deGraffenried, Associate Professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences, College of Natural Sciences, Flotillin-1 and Breast Cancer

Metastatic breast cancer, which involves spread of the cancer outside the primary tumor, causes the majority of deaths from the disease, with an overall five-year survival of only 29%. Palmitate, a saturated fatty acid, is used by cells to modify the function of proteins through a process termed palmitoylation. One such target is flotillin-1 (flot-1), previously shown to increase the metastatic capability of cancer cells. Our preliminary data suggest that loss of flot-1 palmitoylation limits the invasive capabilities of breast cancer cells, and presents a highly novel target for limiting metastasis. However, before developing flotillin-1 palmitoylation as a clinical target, it must be determined if this approach is 1) toxic in non-cancer cells and 2) impacts viability and cell death in breast cancer cells. The studies proposed in this application will be used to support a larger study investigating flot-1 and breast cancer metastasis.

ayelet haimson lushkovAyelet Haimson Lushkov, Associate Professor, Department of Classics, College of Liberal Arts, “This is my native land”: Black Education and the Classics in Texas

“‘This is my native land’: Black Education and the Classics in Texas” is a combined physical and digital exhibition planned for Spring 2023 and dedicated to celebrating the life and work of classicists of color in Austin and Texas. A collaboration between multiple Austin cultural institutions – the Benson Collection at UT Austin, Huston-Tillotson University, and the Carver Museum – the exhibition will expand perceptions of what the study of Greco-Roman antiquity is, who participates in it, and its role in the civic, educational and cultural landscape of Texas. The centerpiece of the exhibition will be the work of Reuben Shannon Lovinggood, a leader in Black classical education, who taught Classics at Wiley College before becoming the first president of Sam Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University), along with figures such as L. C. Anderson, Henry Pemberton, David Abner Jr., and Harry Washington Greene. Outreach programming for local schools and communities will be available at multiple Austin cultural institutions – the Benson Collection at UT-Austin, Huston-Tillotson University, and the Carver Museum – the exhibition will expand perceptions of what the study of Greco-Roman antiquity is, who participates in it, and its role in the civic, educational and cultural landscape of Texas. The centerpiece of the exhibition will be the work of Reuben Shannon Lovinggood, a leader in Black classical education, who taught Classics at Wiley College before becoming the first president of Sam Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University), along with figures such as L. C. Anderson, Henry Pemberton, David Abner Jr., and Harry Washington Greene. Outreach programming for local schools and communities will be available.

blair johnsonBlair Johnson, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering, Mixing Processes in Stratified Turbulence

Mixing across density-stratified fluids in energetic flow environments is of importance in understanding ocean circulations, polar melting, spread of pollutants, and other environmental and industrial applications. It has been observed that density currents with low mean velocity relative to their surroundings (e.g. desalination discharges released into quiescent waterbodies) do not always diffuse to environmentally sustainable levels, unless there is sufficient ambient turbulence to encourage mixing across the density interface. Motivated by this problem, we designed laboratory experiments to explore the role of turbulence in stratified mixing. Specifically, we will use a custom-designed turbulence tank to generate flows with different energetics. We will use non-invasive quantitative imaging to quantify effects of turbulence on different types of stratifications. The results of this fundamental study will be used in validation of numerical models and in understanding the physics behind large-scale field observations to promote our understanding of mixing in dynamic environments.

tia madkinsTia Madkins, Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education, Racialized Mathematics Learning Environments Phase Two: Understanding Teachers’ Racialized Beliefs

In this mixed methods study, we examine secondary mathematics teachers’ beliefs about minoritized students and the range of teaching practices they use that can promote inclusivity and student belonging. Because of the lack of race-oriented measures of mathematics teachers’ beliefs and practices in publicly available survey data programs, we will develop, pilot, and refine the first, national, large-scale survey to examine teachers’ beliefs. We will use the online program, Qualtrics, to survey public middle and high school teachers about their beliefs related to 1) minoritized students, families, and communities and 2) inclusive teaching practices. We will also collect teachers’ background information (e.g., prior educational and professional experiences, school context, etc.) from the survey. We will complete exploratory and descriptive analysis of teachers’ racialized beliefs and practices and examine how their beliefs and practices may be associated with the racialized context of schools and of mathematics classrooms in their school.

nassos papalexandrouNassos Papalexandrou, Professor, Department of Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts, Greek Antiquities as Diplomatic Gifts in Greek-US Political Relationships after WW II

My project probes the semantic dimensions of a large group of ancient Greek artifacts used to punctuate diplomatic exchanges between Greece and US presidents or high-standing officials during the cold war. This practice started in 1949, when a delegation of the Greek parliament presented a carefully assembled group of antiquities to President Truman and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. Their aim was to formally thank the US President for the Truman Doctrine and Greece’s share of the Marshall Plan. There were multiple reiterations of this inaugural gesture during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.

My research in Washington DC and Athens Greece aims at archival research in NARA, Smithsonian Institution, and Library of Congress (DC) and the diplomatic archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Greece). I plan to access official documents that enlighten how these diplomatic gifts were carefully chosen to articulate Greece’s ideological legacy as political symbolic capital after WWII. This message was communicated in elaborately scripted ceremonies of presentation in Washington DC, the discursive dimensions of which illuminate explicit and implicit political and ideological agendas of Greece and the USA during the onset of the Cold War.

marina petersonMarina Peterson, Professor, Department of Anthropology, College of Liberal Arts, Weathering Uncertainty: Rainmaking in the American West

Weathering Uncertainty: Rainmaking in the American West investigates rainmaking as a creative practice that uses ephemeral, dynamic forms of matter and energy as its material. I attend in particular to the ways in which atmospheric forms and forces are made sensible through the techne of weather modification; how, that is, the physicality of clouds comes to be known both conceptually and experientially through their making. Research focuses on the development and implementation of two techniques for rainmaking developed and used in the American West from the 1940s through the 1970s, that of silver iodide cloud seeding and Wilhelm Reich’s cloudbuster. It addresses the inherent uncertainty of these processes, both in terms of their social and environmental implications as well as the physicality weather itself. In attending to the meteorological and elemental, it aims to investigate human/nonhuman relations in ways that decenter the human.

dalpat rajpurohitDalpat Singh Rajpurohit, Assistant Professor, Department of Asian Studies, College of Liberal Arts, Devotional Religion and Hindi Literature in the Making of Marwar

This project is a study of literary, devotional, and monastic exchanges in early modern India. Centered on the Marwar region of north-western India, it examines how the Mughal imperial formation appear in the perspectives of the religious and courtly communities that emerged far from the central Mughal axis of Lahore-Delhi-Agra. Studying the Hindi and Rajasthani published literature as well as manuscript sources of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the project focuses on the devotional community known as the Dadu Panth and its interactions with Jain monastic traditions and literary cultures of Hindu-Muslim courts. I show that the literary and religious cultures of Marwar drew on and were in dialogue with the cosmopolitan cultures of the Persianate Mughal imperium and highlight the ways in which the Mughals fostered devotional cultures of Marwar.

james slottaJames Slotta, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, College of Liberal Arts, The Analogue Life of Digital Misinformation: Communicating Health Expertise in Papua New Guinea

As in many parts of the global south, internet penetration in the Pacific Island nation of Papua New Guinea is quite limited, with about 15% of people having internet access. Yet, misinformation circulating on social media has been held responsible for the country’s low COVID-19 vaccination rate, which is among the lowest in the world at 3.5%. This project looks at how online misinformation lives on in analogue form—in sermons, sales pitches, public forums, and newspapers—influencing audiences on the other side of the digital divide. I focus particularly on the role of intermediaries—trusted sources of health expertise like pastors, journalists, and naturopathic healers—who help to bridge online and offline worlds, and in the process, help to spread health (mis)information. Ultimately, this project seeks to illuminate the role of offline institutions and social networks in furthering the spread of online misinformation in Papua New Guinea and beyond.

alex walthallDenton Walthall, Associate Professor, Department of Classics, College of Liberal Arts, The Swenson Digitization Project: Creating an Open Access Resource for UT’s Swenson Collection of Ancient Coins

This project sets out to make the University’s Swenson Collection of Ancient Coinage an accessible resource for research and pedagogy for both the UT community and wider public. The collection was given to the University in 1891 and has remained in near obscurity for much of the past 130 years, yet its contents—some 3,400 Ancient Greek and Roman coins—offer a unique (and arguably unparalleled) resource for students on the 40 Acres as well as for scholars around the world.

yan zhangY. Jessie Zhang, Professor, Department of Molecular Biosciences, College of Natural Sciences, CRISPR screening to target REST transcription factor as a novel treatment for Glioblastoma

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common yet aggressive adult brain tumor. Patients have a median survival of less than a year, with only 2% surviving for three years. The disease is particularly sinister and hard to treat because the tumor cells have complicated genetic origins. An effective strategy to eradicate heterogeneous tumor cells is to target multiple oncogenic pathways simultaneously. Here, we pursue a novel transcription pathway that drives tumor growth and develops resistance in some glioblastoma subtypes. We will identify new drug targets that control the degradation of the key protein in this pathway. The faculty development grant will allow the PI to utilize an advanced CRISPR platform developed in Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to identify new targets for glioblastoma treatment. PI will also adapt and optimize a similar platform for future uses at UT Austin to disease target identification, which will help many UT researchers.

Submissions for the 2023-2024 Research & Creative Grants will be accepted beginning in August 2023.

See more below...