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Faculty Grant Profiles

Swarthmore faculty write grant proposals to support their research, their teaching and other scholarly and creative projects. When funded by external grants these activities are sponsored programs: activities faculty often engage in during their sabbatical. Some faculty members also receive on-going research grants that span multiple years.

Faculty grants often include support of summer stipends for Swarthmore student researchers, costs for outreach and dissemination of research results, and indirect costs to support the administrative infrastructure necessary for research.

Below you will find profiles of sponsored programs that are in progress at Swarthmore this fiscal year (July 1 through June 30) or that are noteworthy for a number of reasons. They tell the story of faculty innovation and pursuit of new knowledge and expression, across the liberal arts, sciences and engineering.

View the archived list of sponsored programs that ended prior to the current fiscal year.


K. Ann Renninger, Educational Studies

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

Photo of Ann Renninger

Carr Everbach, Engineering

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

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

Amanda Luby

Tristan Smith, Physics & Astronomy

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

Liliya Yatsunyk, Chemistry & Biochemistry

Deciphering the structure and dynamics of non-canonical DNA implicated in cancer

SPONSOR: National Institutes of Health
AWARD DATE: 7/20/2020

This project explores unusual DNA structures called quadruplexes and i-motifs that are involved in a significant number of cancer-related biological processes. The research will improve the selectivity and efficacy of anticancer therapies by contributing new knowledge about non-canonical nucleic acid structures, G-quadruplexes (GQ) and i-motifs, and details of their interactions with small-molecule ligands. The Yatsunyk Lab will perform comprehensive crystallographic investigation of telomeric and oncogene promoter GQs and i-motifs, both alone and in complex with novel and commercially available selective small-molecule ligands. Collectively, the proposed work will enhance our understanding of GQ and i-motif structural plasticity, supply coordinates for drug discovery platforms, shed light on the origin of ligand selectivity for a specific DNA or RNA target, and guide the design of novel anticancer therapies all while providing transformative training to Swarthmore undergraduates through an Academic Enhancement Research Award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

PROJECT PERIOD: 9/01/2020 - 08/31/2023

Liliya Yatsunyk

Daniela Fera, Chemistry & Biochemistry

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

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

SPONSOR: National Science Foundation
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

Joshua Goldwyn

Amy Graves & Cacey Bester, Physics & Astronomy

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

SPONSOR: National Science Foundation
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

Photo: Amy Graves and Cacey Bester

Brad Davidson, Biology

Signal-dependent regulation of chordate heart gene networks

SPONSOR: American Heart Association
AWARD DATE: 12/26/2019

Signaling between cells plays a key role in heart development. However, the mechanisms that mediate precise transcriptional changes downstream of these cardiogenic signals remain poorly characterized. Deciphering how cardiogenic signaling coordinates heart gene expression is essential for the diagnosis and treatment of congenital heart disorders. Our long-term goal is to gain a comprehensive understanding of cardiogenic signaling and how it impacts chordate heart gene networks. The complexity of this process in vertebrate embryos has hindered progress. We have begun to exploit the simplicity of Ciona robusta, a close evolutionary relative of the vertebrates, to investigate a conserved role for the signal dependent transcription factor, Ets, in early heart development. This AHA Institutional Research Enhancement Award (AIREA) will be tailored to promote intensive training of undergraduate researchers in the formulation and execution of independent research projects.

 Project Period: 01/01/2021 - 12/31/2021

Brad Davidson

Eva-Maria Collins, Biology

Comparative mechanistic study of developmental neurotoxicity of organophosphorus pesticides

SPONSOR: National Institutes of Health
AWARD DATE: 12/25/2019

Organophosphorus pesticides (OPs), a large and chemically diverse class, are the most commonly used and economically important insecticides worldwide, accounting for approximately 40% of recently used insecticides in the U.S. While legal OP concentrations are not acutely toxic to humans, studies suggest that chronic prenatal and infant exposures can lead to life-long neurological damage and behavioral disorders. Acute OP poisoning due to inhibition of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) is well-understood. But, despite decades of OP research, it remains debated whether and how subacute OP exposure at regulated levels that do not significantly inhibit AChE causes morphological and cognitive defects in the developing human brain. We will investigate whether phenotypic differences of OP DNT result from interactions with different molecular targets and execute a comparative screen of OP neurotoxicity using the asexual freshwater planarian Dugesia japonica, an innovative high-throughput invertebrate system pioneered by the PI. This project will train students in computational image analysis and biostatistics and engage them in hands-on research in modern toxicology.

PROJECT PERIOD: 01/01/2020 – 12/31/2022

Eva-Maria Collins in front of a blackboard

Jane Gillham, Psychology

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

Sponsor: U.S. Department of Education
Award Date: 8/25/2019

Project Period: 7/1/2019 – 6/30/2024


Jane Gillham

Christopher Graves, Chemistry & Biochemistry

Enabling New Catalytic Chemistry for Aluminum with non-Innocent and Redox-Active Ligands

SPONSOR: The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation
AWARD DATE: 7/25/2019

A pivotal challenge in chemistry is the development of catalyst systems that are both efficient and selective, and also practical and environmentally benign. Aluminum is an attractive choice for the development of new catalyst systems because it is readily available, comprising >8% of all elements in the Earth’s crust, inexpensive, less than $2/kg, and non-toxic. The development of aluminum complexes as catalysts for high-impact reactions is therefore desirable and serves as an important challenge of significance to green and sustainable chemistry. The Graves group will build on its expertise in this area to apply this knowledge to the development of new catalyst systems for the synthesis of both fine and commodity chemicals as well as novel materials. 

PROJECT PERIOD : 7/25/2019 - 7/24/2024

Christopher Graves

Dawn Carone, Biology

Functional Analysis of Locus-Specific Pericentric Satellite Expression

SPONSOR: National Institutes of Health
AWARD DATE: 9/5/2019

The goal of this project is to understand the basic structure and function of specific DNA sequences found near chromosomal centromeres – constricted regions to which spindle fibers attach, enabling duplicated chromosomes to segregate to opposite poles of a dividing cell. Tandemly repeated DNA sequences reside within these regions of chromosomes and have been historically poorly studied due to difficulties in the genomic assembly of repetitive DNA sequences. In cancer cells, these repetitive sequences are misregulated such that they become expressed, and we aim to understand both their sequence diversity and consequences of their expression. The proposed project promises to engage and train undergraduate researchers in innovative genomics, cytological and proteomics techniques, which will propel future careers in genomics and biomedical research.

PROJECT PERIOD: 9/5/2019 - 8/31/2022

Dawn Carone

Kathleen Howard, Chemistry & Biochemistry

Characterization of the interaction of M1 and M2: Influenza A proteins critical to viral assembly

SPONSOR: National Institutes of Health
AWARD DATE: 8/23/2019

The threat of future influenza pandemics, coupled with the growing resistance to current antiviral drugs, makes the development of new influenza drugs a national healthcare priority. This proposal describes experiments designed to provide an atomic-level understanding of how influenza viruses assemble and then bud from infected cells. This structural information could inform efforts to inhibit the replication of viruses, offering a significant potential for a new generation of anti-flu drugs. Undergraduate research students supported by this award will explore an issue of critical public health importance using cutting edge biophysical techniques, participate in established interdisciplinary collaborations, be co-authors on published work and be mentored by experts committed to their long-term career development.

PROJECT PERIOD: 9/1/2019 - 8/31/2022

Kathleen Howard

Tia Newhall & Kevin Webb, Computer Science

Dive into Systems - A Free Online Textbook for Introductory Computer Systems Topics

SPONSOR: Special Interest Group on Computer Science
AWARD DATE: 6/29/2019

The purpose of this collaborative project with West Point is to develop and promote a free online textbook that covers introductory computer systems, architecture and parallel computing. The expense of modern textbooks often limits their availability to students and universities that can afford them. As computational thinking and programming increasingly becomes a desired skill-set, cost-effective computing materials are needed to make computer science (CS) accessible to everyone. Our textbook covers topics that are applicable to a wide range of courses, including introductory computer systems, computer organization, C programming, and parallel computing. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first textbook that incorporates all of these concepts and introduces them at an introductory-level, assuming only a CSI background of the reader.

PROJECT PERIOD: 7/1/2019 - 6/30/2020

Tia Newhall and Kevin Webb

Tristan Smith, Physics & Astronomy

Fundamental tests of gravity across time, space, and mass

AWARD DATE: 2/12/2019

Gravity is one of the four fundamental forces in our universe. From Isaac Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation to Albert Einstein's General Relativity (GR), advances in our understanding of gravity have made an enormous impact on the development of our knowledge of the universe and technologies (including satellite and GPS systems). A current frontier in this field lies in exploring gravitational effects on large distance- and long time-scales. This proposal will open up a new window on gravitational physics by testing the deflection of light on galactic scales and across cosmological time. This work will help to fill a gap in our knowledge of gravitational physics with a direct application to gravity theories that attempt to address one of the most pressing questions in physics: the physical nature of the current epoch of accelerated expansion.

PROJECT PERIOD: 7/1/2019 - 6/30/2022

Dawn Carone, Biology

Elucidating the impact of the Npc1nmf164 mutation in the postnatal cerebellar development of a mouse mode of Niemann-Pick TypeC disease

Sponsor: Rowan University/National Institutes of Health
Award Date: 8/24/2018

Niemann-Pick type C (NPC) is an inherited lysosomal storage disease often caused by mutations in Npc1, a protein that exports cholesterol out of the lysosomes, resulting in abnormal accumulation of cholesterol and other lipids in endosomes and lysosomes.  NPC results in significant neurological symptoms, including ataxia, cognitive impairment, and dementia, that lead to premature death. Professor Carone’s preliminary research indicates cellular and structural changes in susceptible neurons and microglial cells are occurring during postnatal developmental stages and this study further explores how protein mutations related to NPC impact the cerebellum during the postnatal development stage.

Project Period: 8/1/2018 - 7/31/2021

Dawn Carone

Marc Remer, Economics

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

SPONSOR: National Science Foundation
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

Mark Remer

Megan Rose Brown, History

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

Photo of Megan Rose Brown

Daifeng He, Economics

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

SPONSor:  Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
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

Daifeng He

Joseph Nelson, Educational Studies

The Listening Project

SPOnSor:  The Spencer Foundation
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

Joseph Nelson

Victor Barranca, Mathematics & Statistics

RUI: Compressive Sensing and Neuronal Network Structure-Function Relationships

sponsor:  National Science Foundation
Award Date:  05/16/2018

Revealing the relationship between neuronal network structure and brain function is of central importance to neuroscience and applied mathematics. However, measuring the connectivity of large neuronal networks remains a challenge both experimentally and theoretically. This project formulates a novel framework for the reconstruction and characterization of neuronal connectivity by taking advantage of the widespread network sparsity found in the brain and utilizing recent advances in compressive-sensing (CS) theory.

Project Period:  06/15/2018 – 05/31/2021

Victor Barranca

Tristan Smith, Physics & Astronomy

Model-independent probes of cosmic expansion and radiation content of the universe

sponsor:  National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA)
Award Date:  05/14/2018

Estimates of the expansion history of the universe have allowed us to build the current standard cosmological model. Today, precise measurements of the cosmic microwave background and large-scale structure of the universe give us far more information, shedding light not only on the cosmic expansion history, but also the energy budget and perhaps even interactions between the different species composing the universe.  We plan to systematically characterize the power of efforts to probe the cosmic expansion history at a range of different epochs. This work may yield insight on pressing challenges for theorists today, including the physics of dark matter, neutrinos, and the nature of dark energy.  This research will be conducted in partnership with Haverford College PI Daniel Grin.

Project Period:  05/15/2018 – 05/14/2021

Photo of Tristan Smith pointing at a blackboard.

Brian Goldstein, Art History

Bond:  Race and the Modern City

SPonsor:  Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts 
Award Date:  03/29/2018

Bond: Race and the Modern City is the first book-length study of the architect J. Max Bond, Jr. Bond. The preeminent African-American architect in the postwar United States, Bond was a civil rights activist, innovative educator, and designer of major commissions across scales.  Yet his work remains little known.  Indeed, throughout his life Bond occupied a unique position as both central figure and outlier, professionally successful but always one among a tiny percentage of black American architects.  By tracing this tension across key sites in Bond's life and work, including Cambridge, Paris, Kumasi, New York, and Washington, DC, this project uses the biography of one exceptional architect to chart an alternate history of architecture and urbanism in the modern and postmodern eras.  In doing so, Bond rethinks much broader histories of the fundamental and often surprising ways that race has shaped American places.

Project Period:  06/10/2018 – 05/31/2019

Brian Goldstein

Eva-Maria Collins, Biology

Quantification of the Wnt Morphogen Gradient in Hydra and Mechanically Induced Symmetry Breaking

SPonsor:  Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Award Date:  05/09/2018

The Wnt/ß-catenin pathway plays an important role for developmental patterning and tissue homeostasis.  Misregulation in Wnt signaling has been linked to numerous diseases in humans, including cancer.  During development, Wnt proteins are secreted and form a concentration gradient that conveys positional information to cells.  This allows Wnt signaling to exert long range effects on tissue patterning and growth, controlling anterior-posterior polarity in a variety of organisms.  Recent technological advances enable us to visualize endogenous Wnt proteins.  This opens the door to quantitative studies of the Wnt gradient during development and allows us to investigate the mutual regulation of mechanically-induced morphological changes and Wnt signaling in axial patterning.  How these mechanical oscillations influence the Wnt gradients and vice versa remains an unsolved question.  We study this mutual regulation in the freshwater cnidarian Hydra and seek to quantitatively dissect the interplay of Wnt gradients and mechanical forcing during symmetry breaking regeneration in Hydra.

Project Period:  05/25/2018 – 10/31/2019

Eva-Maria Collins

Eva-Maria Collins, Biology

CAREER:  Emergence of Population Diversity from Stem Cell Decision Making in Asexual Planarians

sponsor:  National Science Foundation
Award Date:  3/28/2018

Diversity of individuals is indispensable for population survival and evolution. This project examines how phenotypic diversity can emerge from decision making of individual stem cells in a multicellular regenerative organism. Asexual freshwater planarians are famous for the regenerative capabilities that are based on a large number of adult pluripotent stem cells (ASCs). These ASCs allow them to reproduce by binary fission, thus creating a clonal population and raising the question of how this species is able to create sufficient diversity to survive on evolutionary time scales. Using tools from statistical physics, we recently demonstrated that reproduction is largely stochastic, but that reproductive patterns exist whose molecular and physical determinants remain to be investigated. This proposal aims to test the hypothesis that population diversity arises from a joint effect of the specifics of planarian reproduction mechanics and epigenetic diversity of ASCs in individual worms.

Project Period:  3/1/2018 – 6/30/2021

Eva-Maria Collins

Steve Wang, Mathematics & Statistics

RUI: Comparing age selectivity in modern extinctions and the fossil record

sponsor:  National Science Foundation
Award Date:  3/2/2018

This project will study the relationship between taxon age and extinction risk for modern taxa, and compare it to relationships in the fossil record.  Steve and his team will use fossil data from the Paleobiology Database, and modern extinction threat assessments from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.  Preliminary analyses have found no relationship between taxon age and extinction risk - a pattern similar to what has previously been seen in past mass extinctions, and dissimilar from that seen in background extinctions.  However, these preliminary analyses are not directly comparable to previous analyses on fossil data due to differences in methodology. The team will work to adapt the methodology for modern species to fossil data, and to investigate how potential biases in methodology and fossil and modern databases affect these results.

Project Period:  4/15/2018 – 3/31/2020

Photo of Steve Wang

Eva-Maria Collins, Biology

Unraveling the Role of Mechanics for Tissue Self-organization in Vivo

sponsor:  Research Corporation for Science Advancement
Award Date:  2/6/2018

This project addresses fundamental questions regarding the role of mechanical interactions for pattern formation in development. It has two aims: (1) to determine the role of mechanical properties for cell behaviors during tissue organization and body axis formation and (2) to obtain in vivo measurements of the forces individual cells experience and their connection to cell signaling during these patterning processes. Using a multiscale approach from the molecular to the organismal level, this study will provide insight into how macroscopic organism-level patterning emerges from physicochemical interactions on the microscopic scale.

Project Period:  1/1/2018 – 6/30/2020

Eva-Maria Collins

Jennifer Peck, Economics

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

sponsor:  Harvard Kennedy School
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 – 8/31/2019

Jennifer Peck

Dawn Carone, Biology

Locus-Specific regulation of pericentric satellite sequences

sponsor:  The Charles E. Kaufman Foundation
Award Date:  7/26/2017

This research project will generate a high-resolution map of specific HSATII sequences within the human genome in order to propel further functional studies to understand the consequence of locus-specific HSATII misregulation in cancer. A full characterization of the level of variation within the HSATII sequence family, an analysis both fundamental and pure, is essential to understanding the regulatory roles of pericentric satellites. This rich resource, and the tools to be developed during the scope of the project, will be of value both within the genomics community, the broader cancer research community, and in the training of our future scientists.

Project Period: 9/1/2017 - 8/31/2019

Dawn Carone

Linda Chen, Mathematics and Statistics

Equivariant and Combinatorial Algebraic Geometry

sponsor:  The Simons Foundation
Award Date:  1/30/2017

The Simons Foundation has awarded a grant to Dr. Chen to support her research on combinatorial and enumerative problems in algebraic geometry, and fruitful interactions between modern methods in algebraic geometry and new developments in combinatorics, representation theory, symplectic geometry, and other fields. Fundamentally linked to these problems are the study of moduli and parameter spaces and their cohomology theories, and the study of objects that are combinatorially rich in structure.  Her work discusses recent and ongoing work on equivariant and quantam Schubert calculus of homogeneous spaces, brill-Noether theory of curves, K-theory of degeneracy loci, affine Grassmannians, Hessenberg varieties, and generalizations of the moduli space of curves.

Project Period:  9/1/2017 - 8/31/2022

Linda Chen

Catherine Crouch, Physics & Astronomy

Do connections persist? A pilot study investigating the lasting impact of a physics course designed to facilitate connections with biology

Sponsor:  National Science Foundation
Award Date:  6/13/2017

This early-stage, exploratory research study is designed to lay the groundwork for future large-scale research studies. The study addresses two central research questions: (1) Do IPLS students demonstrate a greater ability to leverage physics later biology coursework, compared to their peers with no physics or traditional introductory physics?; and (2) Do IPLS students view physics as more connected to biology and chemistry, compared to their peers? The research team will work with biology faculty to develop a set of tasks administered to upper division biology students and conduct longitudinal case studies with life science students.

Project Period:  8/15/2017 - 7/31/2020

Catherine Crouch

Donna Jo Napoli, Linguistics

RISE (Reading Involves Shared Experience) ebooks for deaf children

SPonsor:  Donfinger-McMahon Foundation
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

Photo of Donna Jo Napoli

K. Ann Renninger, Educational Studies

Collaborative Research: Hybrid Professional Development to Enhance Teachers’ Use of Bootstrap

SPonsor:  National Science Foundation
Award Date:  8/23/2017

Bootstrap's current professional development (PD) program for math teachers is a 3-day in-person event which assumes that teachers are somewhat facile with algebraic functions. This project studies how to develop teachers' understanding of CS and strengthens their math proficiency. A total of 270 middle-school math teachers—a majority from rural areas or serving Native American or Hispanic students—will participate in Bootstrap PD under this project. Assuming typical adoption rates, these teachers should reach 6,000 students within the project period alone. Building Bootstrap content into the Math Forum exposes thousands of NCTM's teachers to the potential of integrated math/CS curricula.

Project Period:  9/1/2017 - 8/31/2020

K. Ann Renninger

Christopher Graves, Chemistry & Biochemistry

RUI: Redox Active Aluminum Nitroxide Complexes for the anti-Markovnikov Hydrofunctionalization of Alkenes

SPonSor:  National Science Foundation
Award Date:  6/16/2017

Dr. Graves’ research addresses the important chemical challenge of limitation in the advance of new aluminum complexes around which sustainable and benign catalytic systems can be developed.  The goals of this proposed research are to synthesize aluminum complexes of redox-active nitroxide ligands that exhibit reversible, multi-electron electrochemical and chemical transformations. This novel redox chemistry will be exploited to expand the reaction portfolio of aluminum complexes and will enable new catalyst systems based around this abundant element.

Project Period:  7/1/2017 – 6/30/2020

Christopher Graves

Michael Brown, Physics & Astronomy

Collaborative Research:  Analysis of wave mode content in fully turbulent, moderately collisional plasma through laboratory experiment and kinetic simulation

sponsor:  National Science Foundation and Department of Energy
Award Date:  9/15/2017

This project, a joint venture with researchers at Bryn Mawr College and the University of Maryland, College Park, aims to explore and understand the turbulent characteristics of hot, magnetically dynamic, moderately collisional laboratory plasma generated by a plasma gun launched into a flux-conserving plasma wind tunnel. Experiments of this nature will be conducted on two different plasma machines: the Swarthmore Spheromak Experiment (SSX) and a new experiment in development at Bryn Mawr College. The measurements will then be compared to kinetic simulations of the experiments using Gkeyll and Eurus developed at the University of Maryland and University of Iowa, respectively. Comparisons will focus on metrics geared to investigate the wave mode content of these plasmas, including correlation of magnetic field and density, variance anisotropy, and wavenumber spectra.

Project Dates:  8/15/2017 - 8/14/2020

Photo of Michael Brown

Liliya Yatsunyk, Chemistry & Biochemistry

Deciphering the structure and dynamics of quadruplex DNA and DNA-ligand complexes

SPonSor:  National Institutes of Health
Award Date:  3/24/2017

The proposed research will improve the selectivity and efficacy of anticancer therapies by contributing new knowledge about non-canonical G-quadruplex (GQ) DNA structure, and the interactions of GQs with small molecule ligands. GQ DNA has been firmly established as an important therapeutic target for cancer. Unfortunately, DNA-centered drug discovery programs suffer from limited structural information available for GQs, especially in the presence of ligands. To address these challenges, this research will perform comprehensive crystallographic investigations focused on telomeric and oncogene promoter G-quadruplexes. This work will be accompanied by spectroscopic and calorimetric studies of the thermodynamic parameters of ligand binding to GQ DNA (e.g., stoichiometry, affinity, selectivity, driving forces). Kinetic information can help identify the timescale of G-quadruplex formation and thus biological processes that can be affected by the presence of these structures. Collectively, the proposed work will enhance our understanding of GQ structural plasticity, supply coordinates for drug discovery platforms, shed light on the origin of ligand selectivity for a specific DNA target, and guide the design of novel highly selective anticancer therapies while providing transformative training to Swarthmore undergraduate students.

Project Period:  6/1/2017 - 5/31/2020

Liliya Yatsunyk

Brad Davidson, Biology

RUI: The role of mitotic trafficking in cell fate specification

SPonSor:  National Science Foundation
Award Date:  5/12/2017

Brad Davidson’s research focuses on understanding how cell division impacts inductive signal processing to increase understanding of how cell fate induction is impacted by intracellular trafficking of signaling components.  This grant will seek to characterize mitotic trafficking of FGFR enriched signaling domains, delineate the role of specific endocytic pathways in signaling domain redistribution, and delineate how mitotic kinases impact endocytic trafficking of FGFR enriched domains.  This research will provide fundamental insights regarding the interplay between division and signaling in both embryonic and stem cells.

Project Period:  5/15/2017 - 4/30/2021

Brad Davidson

Linda Chen, Mathematics & Statistics

Mid-Atlantic Algebra, Geometry, and Combinatorics Workshop

SPonsor:  National Science Foundation
Award Date:  2/15/2017

Linda is Co-PI on this collaborative grant to Haverford College that provides support for speakers and participants in the Mid-Atlantic Algebra, Geometry, and Combinatorics (MAAGC) workshop. MAAGC, an annual Philadelphia conference bringing together senior researchers and junior mathematicians, promotes collaborations and regional interactions, while highlighting recent developments in algebra, geometry, and combinatorics. MAAGC workshops bring mathematicians from North America together to discuss advances in algebraic combinatorics, algebraic geometry, representation theory, and other related fields.

Project Period:  3/1/2017 - 2/29/2020

Linda Chen

Catherine Crouch and Benjamin Geller, Physics & Astronomy

Collaborative Research: Community Sourcing Introductory Physics for the Life Sciences

SPonsor: National Science Foundation
Award Date: 8/31/2016

The Introductory Physics for Life Science (IPLS) Portal will enhance the education of hundreds of thousands of life science students each year by providing engaging and effective IPLS instructional materials and helping IPLS instructors use these materials. This collaborative effort of the American Association of Physics Teachers and eight colleges and universities, including a community college and a Hispanic-serving institution, will create an open-source, peer-reviewed, and innovatively structured environment for IPLS content. Initially containing materials from multiple NSF-funded research and development projects, the Portal will become a development platform for IPLS curricula. The site will serve as both an archive and a dissemination tool, including a course-building interface for faculty. Instructors will be supported in creating innovative and individualized courses, mixing and matching from multiple sources tuned to their needs, offering a flexible and low-cost alternative to traditional textbooks. 

Project Period: 9/1/2016 - 8/31/2020

Catherine Crouch and Benjamin Geller

Liliya Yatsunyk, Chemistry & Biochemistry

Deciphering the structure and dynamics of quadruplex DNA and DNA-ligand complexes

SPonSor:  The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation
Award Date:  7/29/2016

The Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award is provided to support faculty who are engaged in both outstanding research and teaching.  Research supported by this project will support the development of new and promising highly selective therapies to battle cancer.  Unusual DNA structures called G-quaduplexes (GQ) are involved in a significant number of cancer-related biological processes.  Finding ligands that bind these structures may open new insights into the development of individualized therapies against cancer.  Studying GQ DNA structures of telomeres and oncogene promoters and uncovering their interactions with small molecule ligands will provide a better understanding of cancer while also paving the way for more efficient and selective therapies.  The interdisciplinary nature of the research design and its potential to advance the quadruplex field will provide transformative training for Swarthmore undergraduates.

Project Period:  9/1/2016 – 8/31/2021

Liliya Yatsunyk

K. David Harrison, Linguistics

Collaborative Research: Plant and Fungal Diversity of Tafea Province, Vanuatu, a Threatended Hotspot

Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Award Date: 3/29/2016

Vanuatu is a group of 80 islands located in the South Pacific, situated roughly equidistant from New Caledonia, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands, all of which are globally important biodiversity hotspots. Despite its significance as a treasure trove of biodiversity, Vanuatu’s plants and fungi remain poorly documented, rendering it a “biodiversity black hole” and, thus, leaving a significant gap in our knowledge of biogeographic relationships with neighboring island countries. Along with its rich biological diversity, Vanuatu is also the most linguistically dense country in the world, with 112 languages for a total population of only 253,000; nine of these languages are found only in Tafea Province. The researchers will complete the first comprehensive survey of angiosperms, gymnosperms, ferns, lycophytes, bryophytes, endophytic and macro-fungi, and lichens ever undertaken in Tafea Province. Formal student training will also take place at the University of the South Pacific, California State University–East Bay, Swarthmore College, University of Hawai‘i, and the New York Botanical Garden. Because most land in Vanuatu is held under customary ownership, and local people are the stewards of their environments, the loss of biocultural knowledge is a serious threat to their ability to manage biodiversity resources sustainably.

Project Period: 7/1/2016 - 6/30/2021

K. David Harrison

Michael Brown, Physics & Astronomy

Plasma Accelerator on the Swarthmore Spheromak Experiment (with Bryn Mawr College)

SPonSor: U.S. Department of Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E)
Award Date: 9/23/2015

David Schaffner (Bryn Mawr) and Michael Brown will design, develop, and test two flexible, low-cost, small-scale plasma acceleration modules for the purpose of injecting energy in the form of high velocity non-axisymmetric magnetized plasma into a fusion chamber at high energy efficiency and high repetition rate. This module will be built onto the existing Swarthmore Spheromak Experiment machine. The ultimate goal of this project is to develop plasma acceleration/energy injection technology that can be used in conjunction with a variety of fusion machines. This project aims to prove the ability to provide significant energy to a fusion plasma system on a small scale, with minimum additional infrastructure.

Project Period: 9/28/2015 - 9/27/2019


Alan Baker, Philosophy

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

SponSor: National Science Foundation
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 - 7/31/2020

Alan Baker

Kevin Webb, Computer Science

Collaborative Research: Infrastructure and Development of a Computer Science Concept Inventory for CS2

SPonSor: National Science Foundation
Award Date: 6/26/2015

This collaborative project involving four institutions (University of California-San Diego; University of Illinois, Chicago; University of California-Berkeley; and Swarthmore College) will develop a Concept Inventory (CI) for the second introductory programming course (CS2) in computer science. CIs are validated assessments of course content knowledge, and can be used to compare teaching approaches, identify student misconceptions, and quantify learning gains. In physics, the Force Concept Inventory was responsible for a widespread shift in the ways that physics students are taught. The development of a CI for CS2 will have a similar impact on the way computer science will be taught across the country.

Project Period: 7/1/2015 – 6/30/2020

Kevin Webb

K. David Harrison, Linguistics

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

K. David Harrison

Jennifer Peck, Economics

Phase II:  Policy Research Engagement, Human Resources Development Fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Evidence for Policy Design, Harvard Kennedy School

sponsor: Harvard Kennedy School
Award Date: 7/14/2014

Professor Peck’s expertise is in development and labor issues in resource-rich countries, and some of her recent work focuses on the impact of Saudi labor market policies on the growth of the private sector. Her experience in these areas will help advance the aims of Phase II of this policy/research engagement between the Human Resources Development Fund (HDRF) of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) program at Harvard Kennedy School. Her contributions to this project include organizing and participating in policy research symposia to review research results and policy developments.

Project Period: 11/1/2014 - 10/31/2019

Jennifer Peck