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Faculty Grant Profiles

Swarthmore faculty receive external grants to support their research, their teaching and other scholarly and creative projects, and their sabbatical activities.

Faculty grants, which may span multiple years, often include funding for student researchers, outreach and dissemination of research results, and the administrative infrastructure necessary for research.

The featured projects below tell the story of faculty innovation and pursuit of new knowledge and expression, across the liberal arts, sciences and engineering. A comprehensive list of sponsored research can be found on this page.

If you are a faculty member with a current individual fellowship that you would like to be featured, please email


Humanities Faculty
Brian Goldstein

Brian Goldstein, Art & Art History

Sunset Over Sunset: Exploring the Street-Level View of Postwar Urban Redevelopment Using Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles Photography

SPONSOR:  National Endowment for the Humanities
AWARD DATE:  12/14/2020

The artist Ed Ruscha’s 1966 photographic book, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, depicted a continuous view of both sides of the famed street, shot from his truck. Less well-known are the images he created by repeating this drive every few years across Sunset. Sunset over Sunset is a collaborative project that will spatially organize and interpret the vast and unparalleled archive of Ruscha's Sunset Boulevard photographs, recently digitized by the Getty Research Institute, to gain new perspectives into the histories of urban development, photography, architecture, and planning. The project advances the digital humanities by building a replicable, open-source model for making street-level photographs and other address-based data sets broadly accessible as primary sources and by joining visual and non-visual evidence to create a novel resource for place-based research by scholars and the general public. This is a collaborative project with Francesca Ammon (University of Pennsylvania) and Garrett Dash Nelson (Leventhal Map & Education Center).

PROJECT PERIOD:  01/01/2021 – 12/31/2022

Alan Baker, Philosophy

Alan Baker

RUI: STS: Standard Research Grant: Mathematical Explanation in Science

AWARD DATE: 8/10/2015

This project will analyze case studies of mathematical explanation in evolutionary biology to inform the philosophical debate about the nature of mathematical explanation in science. It will take place over three consecutive summers, and will make essential use of undergraduate researchers in philosophy, mathematics, and biology; specifically, it will integrate research and education by involving advanced undergraduate students in the project. Doing so will serve to broaden the scope of participation in science by exposing students in mathematics and in philosophy to a collaborative style of research that is often lacking in these disciplines; it will provide a model for institutional interdisciplinarity, fostering intellectual and logistical connections between the natural sciences and the humanities.

PROJECT PERIOD: 8/15/2015 - 7/31/2021

Luciano Martínez, Spanish

Luciano Martinez
Radical Desires: Homosexuality and Revolution in Latin America

SPONSOR:  U.S. Department of Education
Award Date:  3/29/2018

This library travel research grant, administered by the University of Florida and funded through the Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center program, will support travel for Dr. Martínez to explore the vast holdings of the university’s Latin American and Caribbean Collection (LACC). This research project focuses on sexual liberation and political revolution movements in Latin America. Working at the intersection of literary criticism, cultural studies, and gender studies, the resulting book will map and analyze cultural and literary representations of Latin American homosexuality in relation to the political agendas of the revolutionary left and the sexual liberation movement of the 1970s.

Project Period:  4/1/2018 – 7/31/2018



Natural Sciences and Engineering Faculty

Daniela Fera, Chemistry & Biochemistry

Daniela Fera

Dissecting the interactions and conformations of protein kinases to understand biochemical signaling

SPONSOR: Research Corporation for Science Advancement
AWARD DATE: 2/19/2021

Protein kinases act as molecular on/off switches in the cell. They are important for intracellular communication and their functions vary from controlling cell growth and metabolism to controlling cell death. With funding from the Cottrell Scholars program, the proposed research will focus on a protein kinase, called Lyn, which is a critical regulator of the immune response. Researchers in both the Fera lab and in Prof. Fera’s biochemistry lab course will perform a molecular “dissection” of Lyn and its regulatory modules using approaches from structural biology, biochemistry, and biophysics, to understand what keeps Lyn “off” until triggered to turn “on”. This is important for understanding how the immune system acts against the correct targets, i.e. outside “invaders”, and how to modulate the pathways in cases in which they are deregulated and might cause autoimmune disease. The approaches used in these analyses will also provide a proof-of-concept for studying other dynamic molecules and how they interact with other macromolecules to get a wider view of signaling inside a cell. Through this work, students will engage in authentic research experiences, gain skills that will help them in future scientific endeavors, and make important contributions to science.

PROJECT PERIOD: 7/1/2021 - 6/30/2024

Hillary Smith, Physics & Astronomy

Hillary Smith in the lab

Heat Capacity and Enthalpy of Amorphous Materials

AWARD DATE: 10/28/2020

Glasses are solids, like crystals, but isotropic and without long-range order, like liquids.  When an amorphous solid is heated, before crystallization occurs, the material softens, becoming a viscous liquid that is deeply undercooled below its usual melting temperature. Significant heat is absorbed in this “glass transition,” raising the entropy of the material with respect to its crystalline structure. Dr. Smith will lead an investigation of the heat capacity and enthalpy, together with the free energy and entropy, of glasses with diverse physical properties.  This project will use experimental tools to obtain a complete thermodynamic description of several glasses in their amorphous, crystalline, and supercooled liquid states.

PROJECT PERIOD: 9/1/2021 – 8/31/2023

Brad Davidson, Biology

Brad Davidson

EAGER: Exploration of evolutionary mechanisms across multiple scales

SPONSOR: National Science Foundation

AWARD DATE: 1/10/2021

This research project, funded by NSF’s Early-Concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER) and in collaboration with the University of Florida and the University of Georgia, will address questions of evolution and embryonic development through the comparative study of two sea squirts (a group of marine organisms closely related to humans and other vertebrates). In particular, this research will focus on a very poorly characterized group of sea squirts called the doliolids. Doliolids have acquired a number of highly divergent traits including the ability to produce four distinct body types specifically designed for feeding, dispersal, aesexual reproduction or sexual reproduction. The relative simplicity of sea squirt genomes and the low number of cells in sea squirt embryos will facilitate rigorous analysis of the evolutionary acquisition of new traits across multiple biological scales. This project will also provide a diverse group of trainees, including those that identify with groups underrepresented in the biological sciences, the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research spanning computational, molecular, cellular, developmental, ecological and evolutionary biology.

Project Period: 1/15/2021 - 12/31/2022

Liliya Yatsunyk, Chemistry & Biochemistry

Liliya Yatsunyk

Mitochondrial G-quadruplex structures in health and disease

SPONSOR: National Institutes of Health
AWARD DATE: 10/13/2020

The mitochondrial genome has been implicated as a paradigm for G-quadruplex structure formation, but the function of these structures in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is unknown. This study, led by Dr. Brett Kaufman at the University of Pittsburgh, will establish the location, regulation, response and resolution of G-quadruplex structures the mitochondrial genome and will lay the groundwork for using sequence-specific formation of G-quadruplexes to treat disease. Dr. Yatsunyk will use various methods to perform biophysical screening of a large number of mtDNA derived sequences. The objective is to determine the G4 forming potential of mtDNA derived sequences.

PROJECT PERIOD: 08/01/2020  - 06/30/2024

Carr Everbach, Engineering

Image of Carr Everbach

Scar Detection and Treatment with Droplet Activation

SPONSOR: National Institutes of Health
AWARD DATE: 7/28/2020

The application of microbubbles to diagnostic and therapeutic modalities has been vast from tumor imaging to drug delivery to sonothrombolysis. The main limitations of microbubbles is their stability after venous administration as well as their size, which constrains them to the intravascular compartment. Recent development of phase-change agents (PCAs) has led to expanded applications of ultrasound contrast and movement into the extravascular space. In collaboration with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Professor Everbach will provide cavitation monitoring and quantification for in-vitro studies of the effect of ultrasound on perfluorocarbon liquid droplets in a model (non-living) system.

PROJECT PERIOD: 4/1/2020 – 3/31/2024

Amanda Luby, Mathematics & Statistics

Image of Amanda Luby

Implementation of Item Response Theory to improve forensic proficiency testing

SPONSOR: National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST)
AWARD DATE: 7/10/2020

Fingerprints have been used as evidence in criminal cases for decades, and their probative value has been reaffirmed in countless legal decisions. Yet, in recent decades, questions have arisen about the accuracy with which an examiner can identify the source of a blurry, partial print, and about the probability of observing a match between two prints made by different fingers. One way to assess examiner performance in real criminal cases is through tests of examiner performance, e.g., proficiency tests or error rate studies. Although proficiency tests are widely used in forensic science for training and  procedural purposes, they are not being utilized to their full potential. This project proposes an industry-wide adoption of Item Response Theory (IRT), which is well-established in the field of educational testing, to improve forensic proficiency testing. This is a collaboration with the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence (CSAFE).

PROJECT PERIOD: 06/01/2020 - 05/31/2025

Tristan Smith, Physics & Astronomy

Tristan Smith at blackboard

RUI: Looking beyond LCDM—observational consequences of models that ease the Hubble tension

SPONSOR: National Science Foundation
AWARD DATE: 7/22/2020

Over the past twenty years, greater precision in cosmological measurements have revealed intriguing tensions that challenge the standard cosmological model. The most pressing of these is a disagreement between two distinct ways scientists estimate the current expansion rate of the universe (known as the Hubble constant). One estimate is based on direct measurement that uses observations of supernovae; the other is based on indirect measurement that uses observations of the afterglow of the big bang. Whereas the data from these two estimates used to agree, advances in measurement precision now yield values for the Hubble constant that are statistically different. This “Hubble tension” may be pointing scientists to new and unexpected physics not included in the standard cosmological model. This Research at Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) project will advance the field of cosmology by refining what this tension may signify about new and unanticipated physical processes and in doing so has the potential to enhance our understanding of the origin and evolution of the universe.

PROJECT PERIOD: 9/1/2020 - 8/31/2023

Daniela Fera, Chemistry & Biochemistry

Daniela Fera

Analysis of the Initiation of an HIV Broadly Neutralizing Antibody Lineage in a Single Host

SPONSOR: National Institutes of Health
AWARD DATE: 3/23/2020

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a rapidly evolving pathogen that escapes immune defenses provided by most vaccine-induced antibodies. Proposed strategies to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) by vaccination require a deeper understanding of evolution of the immune response to infection, since these protective antibodies typically take ~4-5 years to develop. In HIV-infected individuals, viruses and antibody producing B-cells evolve together, creating a virus-antibody “arms race,” with populations of viruses and antibodies present throughout infection. This research will analyze critical early time-points of the arms race in a donor who developed antibodies of significant breadth, to guide immunogen design. Undergraduate research students supported by this Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) will explore an issue of critical public health importance using cutting-edge techniques, be co-authors on published work and be mentored by experts committed to their long-term career development.

PROJECT PERIOD: 4/01/2020 – 3/31/2023

Joshua Goldwyn, Mathematics & Statistics

Joshua Goldwyn

RUI: Structural and Dynamical Specializations of Axons that Enhance Neural Coincidence Detection

AWARD DATE: 3/11/2020

Mathematical research has led to essential insights into the dynamics of neurons and function of the brain. The long-term goals of our work are to create new mathematical methods that describe auditory centers in the brain and advance knowledge of the auditory system and hearing. In this Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) project, we will study neurons in the auditory brainstem of mammals and birds that are essential components of how animals determine the locations of sound sources. We will develop mathematical theory to explain the biophysical and dynamical specializations of these coincidence detector neurons and also consider how hearing loss may degrade neural coincidence detection.  A central component of the project is the training of undergraduate students in computational neuroscience, a fast-growing field at the interface of mathematics and neuroscience.   

PROJECT PERIOD: 6/01/2020 - 5/31/2023

Amy Graves & Cacey Bester, Physics & Astronomy

Amy Graves and Cacey Bester

Collaborative Research: RUI: Jammed granular matter within networks of pins: Structure, elasticity, plasticity and rheology under shear

AWARD DATE: 11/25/2019

This study aims to engage computational and experimental studies in the active, modern fields of jamming and clogging, employing a novel strategy of imposing controlled pinning sites. Such a study will not only elucidate these transitions, but provide a step towards applications in which pinning sites may be used to broadly control the rheology of a granular sample, with likely extensions to related areas of soft condensed matter, physics of life, and the engineering of novel materials. In this Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) project, an experimentalist and theorist at each institution (Bucknell University and Swarthmore College) will work collaboratively, both within and between institutions. Fifteen summer undergraduate research associates and roughly half that many students supported during the academic year will be actively involved in all facets of the proposed work, including direct collaboration across two institutions on both experiments and simulations. 

PROJECT PERIOD: 12/01/2019 - 11/30/2022


Social Sciences Faculty

K. Ann Renninger, Educational Studies

Ann Renninger

Mathematical Thinkers Like Me

SPONSOR: EF+Math Program of the NewSchools Venture Fund
AWARD DATE: 8/27/2020

Swarthmore College is a subaward partner institution in this collaboration with the EF+Math and The 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education. Dorwin P. Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action K. Ann Renninger will study the development of conceptual understanding, equity, and executive functions in math education, in particular for students of color, through online collaborative problem solving and student story-telling and sharing of their evolving identities as mathematical thinkers. In addition, she will work closely with and serve as a mentor for a research technician and undergraduate research students who are assisting with project data collection, reduction, and analysis.

PROJECT PERIOD: 8/1/2020 – 7/31/2023

Jane Gillham, Psychology

Jane Gillham

Adolescent Mood Project: Efficacy of Counselor-Implemented IPT-AST

AWARD DATE: 8/25/2019

PROJECT PERIOD: 7/1/2019 – 6/30/2024

K. David Harrison, Linguistics

K. David Harrison

REU Site Proposal Building dictionaries to support endangered languages and preserve environmental knowledge in Mexico, Micronesia, and Navajo Nation

Co-PI's: Brook Lillehaugen, Ted Fernald, & Jamie Thomas
sponsor: National Science Foundation
Award Date: 12/5/2014

The project builds bridges between indigenous linguists in the US academic community, Mexico, Micronesia, and the Navajo Nation, with collaborative research that benefits all parties. It helps uncover deep connections between languages and landscapes by documenting the knowledge base about the natural world found in endangered languages. The resulting linguistic materials support local communities' language revitalization efforts. They will also be a resource to the broader scientific community seeking to understand language complexity, diversity and universals. The project begins with a two-week intensive, hands-on training session on current best practice for recording languages (or areas of grammar within languages) that have not yet been adequately documented. Students learn directly from professional linguists and indigenous language experts how endangered languages are being modernized, digitized, and expanded into new technological domains. In weeks three and four, students participate in a two-week field practicum. Working in teams led by indigenous language experts, students help record basic and specialized lexica, folk taxonomies, toponyms, and ethno-biological nomenclature. They explore and help document the rich knowledge base in each language that uniquely encodes the natural environment (flora, fauna, weather, geography, etc.). They also learn current best practices in sustaining indigenous languages and supporting global language diversity.

Project Period: 5/1/2015 - 6/30/2021

Marc Remer, Economics

Marc Remer

Collaborative Research: Empirical Models of Supracompetitive Pricing in Differentiated Products Markets

AWARD DATE: 8/17/2018

This project is a collaboration with Georgetown University and the Ohio State University to improve the understanding of market power in differentiated product markets. The researchers will study supra-competitive pricing using a model of price leadership that fits the U.S. beer market, exploring why prices rose more than predicted by current modeling after the Miller/Coors joint venture, why price increases were limited to Anheuser-Busch/Inbev and MillerCoors, and the impact of multi-market contact. The research team will also examine ways to test and quantify cartel collusion by studying evidence from recent price fixing cases within the canned tuna industry.

PROJECT PERIOD: 9/15/2018 - 8/31/2020

Megan Rose Brown, History

Megan Brown

Empires on the Move:  Teaching and Researching Colonization and Mobility

Sponsor: Alliance to Advance Liberal Arts Colleges
Award Date: 7/19/2018

“Empire on the Move” will explore the intersections of academic work and pedagogy of a group of interdisciplinary scholars whose interests align with the themes of empire and mobility.  New works in history, literature, and anthropology, among other disciplines, demonstrate the significance of this topic, particularly because their visual, literary, and cartographic analyses lend themselves to digital learning initiatives.  By encouraging participants to think through teaching and research together the workshop will invite scholars to embrace this field as a way of enhancing cross-disciplinary endeavors and to return to their respective campuses with new ideas about the state of the field.

Project Period:  7/19/2019 - 6/30/2020

Daifeng He, Economics

Daifeng He

Direct and spillover effects of Medicare payment changes on nursing home quality and volume

AWARD DATE:  7/31/2018

Daifeng He will work with research partners at the College of William & Mary to study the causal effects of Medicare payment rates on Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) volume and quality.  This project will provide evidence about how these subsequent changes will affect SNFs and lay the groundwork for informing policymakers about the effects of the ACA’s productivity adjustments for hospitals and other healthcare facilities.  Importantly, the results will inform legislative debates about state certificate of need laws, state Medicaid payment policy, and federal antitrust regulations.

PROJECT PERIOD:  8/1/2018 – 7/31/2019

Joseph Nelson, Educational Studies

Joseph Nelson

The Listening Project

AWARD DATE:  4/11/2018

"The Listening Project" is a collaboration with New York University that will offer a new direction in research for a solution to the “crisis of connection" in today’s schools.  This research will specifically focus on the pivotal context of middle schools where this crisis starts to emerge. This work is rooted in our shared capacity to listen to one another so that we may understand, be understood, see, be seen, and care and cooperate across and within communities.  The team will train a sample of NYC middle school teachers and 7th grade students of color in the practice of "transformative interviewing" to enhance listening skills, build relationships between and among students and teachers, and foster learning, satisfaction, and a sense of a common humanity.

PROJECT PERIOD:  9/1/2017 - 8/31/2019

Jennifer Peck, Economics

Jennifer Peck

Exploring Fixed Costs in Female Hiring:  The Role of Adjustment Costs and Cultural Barriers to Women’s Employment

AWARD DATE:  08/22/2017

Saudi Arabia’s Nitaqat program has sharply increased female employment in the private sector.  However, hiring was not spread evenly across firms. Some have shown rapid growth in female employment; others have continued to employ only male workers.  This study will begin studying if this may be due to fixed costs. While hiring female workers may be attractive to firms trying to meet nationalization quotas, firms must first invest in the capacity to hire women. Workplace adjustments may also be needed to comply with cultural norms.  This pilot will gather information on firms’ assessments of these constraints through a combination of administrative data analysis, interviews, and a firm survey. While the focus will be on fixed costs, the evidence gathered as part of this study will likely shed light on the perceived barriers to hiring women, providing crucial evidence for future work on female labor force participation in the region.

PROJECT PERIOD:  6/1/2017 – 12/31/2020

Donna Jo Napoli, Linguistics

Donna Jo Napoli

RISE (Reading Involves Shared Experience) ebooks for deaf children

AWARD DATE:  6/13/2017

RISE ebooks are a product of collaboration between Gallaudet University and Swarthmore College since 2013. Students from both institutions collaborate with children from the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf to create new RISE books. Our ebooks help deaf children—a group that, by and large, has been left out of the joys of reading—step into the world of books. We hope to secure the future sustainability of this initiative by helping produce the next generation of sign storytellers for bilingual-bimodal books.

PROJECT PERIOD:  7/1/2017 - 6/30/2020



Watch: Linguist K. David Harrison describes his field work documenting endangered languages for the Talking Dictionary. Learn more about his grant-funded work with Tri-Co faculty.

Performance of Chopin without Piano

Barbara Milewski and Allen Kuharski brought the North American premiere of Chopin Without Piano to Swarthmore with a grant from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Crouch and Geller at circuit board

NSF Grant Will Measure Impact of Physics Course Built for Life Science Majors. Learn about the course taught by Catherine Crouch and Benjamin Geller.

Professor Art McGarity, Lang Center Scholar-in-Residence Arto Woodley, Jonathan Cohen ’17, and Alexandra Philyaw ’17

From Scrub, New Growth. Read about Professor Art McGarity's grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lead water projects for Philadelphia’s storm-water runoff.

Watch: Linguist K. David Harrison describes his field work documenting endangered languages for the Talking Dictionary. Learn more about his grant-funded work with Tri-Co faculty.

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