The Maryland Catalyst Fund


The University of Maryland Catalyst Fund (Click link for a PDF of program guidelines and details found on this page.)

The Maryland Catalyst Fund program – formerly known as the Faculty Incentive Program – is the University of Maryland’s internal faculty research support program and a key resource in the university’s overall effort to expand its research activity, visibility and impact. The program is designed to enable innovative research, incentivize the pursuit of large, complex, and high-impact research initiatives, and prepare UMD faculty to be more competitive for extramural research awards.

The Maryland Catalyst Fund consists of five funding categories (detailed in MCF table below). 

MCF Table

Maryland Catalyst Funds program is overseen by the Vice President for Research (VPR) and managed by the VPR’s Research Development Office, in coordination with UMD academic units and the Provost. All awards are supported by Designated Research Initiative Fund.

(“DRIF”) contributions from both faculty organizational unit(s) and central resources from the VPR and the Provost, and all award decisions are made subject to the availability of funds.

Only tenured/tenure-track and professional track faculty (at the rank of assistant research scientist or higher) whose full-time, home position is at UMD, are eligible to be the Principal Investigator of any Maryland Catalyst Funds award. Visiting, adjunct, and affiliate faculty are not eligible to apply; postdoctoral fellows are also ineligible.

Detailed Program Guidance
The remainder of this document includes detailed guidance for each of the five categories of Maryland Catalyst Funds. All questions should be directed to Associate Vice President for Research Eric Chapman at

NOTE: All Maryland Catalyst Fund Awards are subject to availability of funds.


New Directions Fund Award Details

The inaugural competition for campus-wide New Directions Fund awards yielded seven awards, with work beginning in January 2019. There are two competition tracks (learn more):

Track A: Proof of Concept awards support researchers pursuing a new line of research or collaborative partnership to help them be competitive for external funding.

Track B: Limited External Grant Opportunity (LEGO) awards support particularly innovative research, writing, and/or creative work in fields where external funding is scarce.

Brief abstracts for all awardees are below. Details and abstracts from the New Directions Fund predecessor "Tier 1" program can be found ,here.


New Directions Proof of Concept awardees:

The Next Chapter Project: Exploring Parenting + Mental Health Intervention among Trauma-Affected Young Families

Elizabeth Aparicio,SPHL-Behavioral & Community Health

Approximately 3.5 million children a year are officially reported to child protective services authorities as having been abused and neglected in the U.S., yet this public health problem can be greatly reduced through attuned evidence-based prevention services to families most at risk. Effective prevention among our youngest, most vulnerable children, including infants and toddlers with young, trauma-affected parents who have their own history of child maltreatment (i.e., maltreated young parents), is of key importance to public health by bolstering resilience and giving children and families a strong start. This New Directions Fund proof of concept formative pilot study has three aims. Aim 1: Establish community site partnerships in Maryland and Washington a context for the current community-engaged proof of concept research study and future community-engaged clinical trials. Aim 2: Develop a theory of the process and experience of accessing and receiving parenting support and mental health support among young mothers with their own history of child maltreatment, grounded in the experience of community members’ experiences (N=30 young maltreated parents, caregivers of young maltreated parents, and social service professionals serving young maltreated parents). Aim 3: Explore community receptivity to participation and develop strategies for engagement and retention in clinical trials. The future trials would test parenting plus mental health interventions as a mechanism for reducing risk of intergenerational transmission of child abuse and neglect among young families.

Whereas my previous work has been focused on understanding this population more generally, the current New Directions Fund study will position me to begin to select and test specific interventions to prevent the intergenerational transmission of child abuse and neglect via improving parenting and mental health support to young maltreated parents.


Metasurfaces as a Replacement for Gems: New Strategies to Nonlinear Optics Materials

Oded Rabin, ENGR-Materials Science & Engineering

The incorporation of nonlinear optics materials into miniaturized integrated photonic devices, for use in communication, quantum optics, or sensing, is challenging. Typical materials are polished crystals that cannot be miniaturized or grown by standard microelectronic and nanooptics foundry tools. This project will investigate engineered plasmonic metamaterials that offer a unique, and previously unexplored method to artificially produce a nonlinear response using conventional metals and dielectrics that could be easily incorporated into photonic platforms. The demonstration of a plasmon-enhanced artificial nonlinearity that rivals or exceeds that of bulk materials would be a revolutionary and high-impact result, with fundamental implications and commercial applications. In the long term, the research may find applications in photo-therapies and medical imaging – where the need is for a mechanism that generates locally high-energy photons within a medium that is not transparent to that radiation.

This “New Directions” proposal will enable a new collaborative research effort leveraging on the work of Prof. Rabin in Plasmonics and the work of Prof. Murphy in Nonlinear Optics.


An Investigation of Perinatal Stress in Low-Income African American Women and Their Young Infants

Brenda Jones Harden, EDUC-Human Development and Quantitative Methodology

This project is motivated by evidence suggesting that efforts to reduce racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities would benefit from deeper understanding of the biological impacts of toxic stress observable in infants and postpartum mothers. Thus, the overarching goal of this project is to examine the biological and behavioral consequences of perinatal stress among a sample of low-income African American women and their 3–6 month old infants (n=50).

This pilot study will extend an existing study of low-income African American women through which we have obtained information about the mother’s social environment and experiences during the perinatal period. The specific aims of the current project are to investigate: 1) the relation between prenatal maternal chronic stress exposure and infant physiological stress reactivity via cortisol; 2) the association between prenatal maternal chronic stress exposure and telomere length in mothers and infants; 3) the relation between prenatal and postnatal maternal depression and infant physiological and behavioral stress regulation; and 4) the correlation between telomere length and cortisol reactivity to stress in mothers and infants.

This represents a new direction for my applied empirical work on high-risk families in two ways: the inclusion of physiologic questions and data; and a focus on the perinatal period.


New Directions LEGO awardees

The Search for German Uranium

Timothy Koeth, CMNS-Institute for Research in Electronics & Applied Physics (IREAP)
Miriam Hiebert, ENGR-Materials Science & Engineering

At the end of World War II, an intelligence mission, code named ALSOS, was commissioned with the goal of assessing the state of the German nuclear program. When they arrived in Haigerloch Germany they found the remains of Werner Heisneberg’s attempt at building a nuclear reactor in the form of 664 small uranium cubes. The majority of these cubes have since mostly been lost to history, but we are currently aware that at least some ended up in private and university collections. We have also determined that an additional 400 cubes were stored in another location in Germany and after the war made their way through the black market in Europe. Had these cubes instead been used in the reactor experiment in Haigerloch, they would have resulted in a functioning reactor – a feat that until now has been understood to have been far out of the reach of German scientists. This project seeks to fill in the gaps; explore the role of these cubes in the failure of the German nuclear program, and investigate how many cubes still remain, where they are now, and what stories they might reveal along the way.


Arctic Circle Residency

John Ruppert, ARHU-Art

This LEGO Fund request will support PI participation in The Arctic Circle Residency, Summer Solstice Expedition. This two-week expeditionary residency takes place on a specially outfitted sailing vessel, which departs from Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway. This unique and timely residency provides an opportunity for an international group of artists and scientists to explore the high-Arctic Svalbard Archipelago and Arctic Ocean and experience the changing landscape and conditions.

PI participation in this Residency is an extension of his long-standing interest in natural phenomena and humanity’s interaction with the environment. While on the residency the PI will be capturing encounters through a variety of media: video, sound, photography, and drawing. Afterwards, he will produce a new body of work in direct response to his experiences there, building on his existing body of work and be the culmination of his oeuvre to date.


Justice, Friendship, and Happiness: the Argument of Plato's Republic

Rachel Singpurwalla, ARHU-Philosophy

Plato’s masterpiece, the Republic, launches a complex argument for the claim that being a just person is crucial for happiness. While the Republic is a perennial source of inspiration for philosophers, psychologists, and political scientists who are interested in virtue and its role in human flourishing, the exact nature of Plato’s argument remains obscure. My project, Justice, Friendship, and Happiness: the Argument of Plato’s Republic, argues for a new interpretation of Plato’s defense of justice. My distinctive contribution is to bring to the fore two neglected themes in Plato’s influential work: civic friendship and happiness. While both themes are crucial for understanding the argument of the text, neither has been sufficiently highlighted and analyzed, nor has their role in the main argument of the Republic been appreciated. I argue that (i) Plato’s conception of civic friendship – his account of the bonds that exist between the members of a well-run society – contains a rich account of moral motivation and thus greatly informs how we understand his conception of the just person and his or her motivation to act, and (ii) his claim that justice is fine and admirable provides the resources to show that there is an important relationship between justice and happiness. The result of my investigation, then, is a new interpretation of Plato’s Republic, one that advances our understanding of both the text itself and the nature of justice and happiness and the relation between them.


Exploring the Psychology of Environmental Senescence through fMRI

Jeremy Wells, ARCH-Historic Preservation Program
Erica Molinario, BSOS-Psychology
Stephanie Preston, University of Michigan - Psychology, Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience Area

This pilot study proposes to perform functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of people’s brains to understand how “historic” versus “non-historic” places activate or do not activate certain parts of the brain with the aim of making historic preservation practice more responsive to people’s needs. Historic environments, or places defined by their physical age, are a significant part of the human environment. However, the study of the relationship between humans and historical environments is understudied from a psychological perspective. This study proposes a fundamental contribution to the nascent field of the psychology of historic environments (i.e., senescent environments), providing a preliminary data-driven understanding of the brain responses to an environment with evident signs of advancing physical age (i.e., with decay and/or patina). We believe that by showing the legitimacy of answering questions about how laypeople perceive and are emotionally affected by “historic” or older places, we can make a much stronger case for additional research in the area, especially by linking it to changes needed to make historic preservation practice more human-centered.


social iconstwitterlinkedinrssYouTube
Division of Research
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742-1541

© Copyright 2017 University of Maryland

Did You Know

UMD is ranked among the top ten best values in the nation by Kiplinger's 100 Best Values in Public Colleges.