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.


Smart Machine Translation with Social Sensitivity: Facilitating Workplace Inclusion Through Socio-technical Solutions
Marine Carpuat, CMNS-Computer Science
Ge Gao, INFO-Information Studies

Inclusion across language boundaries is a crucial challenge in today’s organizations. The United States has 27.4 millions of migrant domestic workers and 42.3 millions of worldwide employees at offshore multinational organizations. Workplace communication often involves multiple languages, which can exclude people who do not speak a language in use, lead to social fragmentation between language groups, and hurt information sharing.

This project brings together a unique combination of expertise in machine translation (MT) and computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) to develop a smart machine translator with social sensitivity and promote inclusion across languages. The smart translator will process conversations in foreign languages and provide translations at different levels of specificity depending on in-situ needs. The New Directions funds support a proof-of-concept Wizard-of-Oz study to validate that speakers value MT specificity in these settings. The project represents a new research direction for both PIs. It pushes the boundary of research in MT by establishing a human-centered evaluation matrix for machine translation. It also informs new directions of research in CSCW by exploring how human speakers and MT can navigate through workplace interactions as a joint system.


Glacial Now
Cy Keener, ARHU-Art

Glacial Now, a New Directions Fund Proof of Concept award proposal by Cy Keener, Assistant Professor of the Department of Art, seeks support to build a virtual reality application that will enable users to experience the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland in past, present, and future scenarios based on a mix of historical data, digital capture, real-time environmental sensing, and video game engine software. The project will use the immersive tools of virtual reality, art, and technology in an effort to expand perception and awareness of climate change at this pivotal moment by connecting VR headset wearers with a real remote mountain environment that is undergoing change at a massive scale. The project represents a new research direction for the PI: it builds on his previous experience using technology to interpret and represent the environment, but incorporates the new medium of virtual reality, enabling Prof. Keener to reach a significant new audience outside of the gallery and museum systems.


Environmental Inequalities in Neurocognitive Development
Richard Prather, EDUC-Human Development and Quantitative Methodology
Devon Payne-Sturges, SPHL-Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH)

The goal of this project is to investigate how disparities in day-to-day exposure to air pollution impacts children’s cognitive functioning and performance on educational tasks. Though there is a clear connection between air pollution exposure and children’s developmental outcomes, much of this work focus on long-term exposure measured at stationary locations and broad outcomes, such as IQ and performance on standardized tests. We bring a fine grain analysis of neurocognitive processes that underlie children’s abilities in the classroom and minute-by-minute variation in personal air pollution exposure. Our proposed study addresses the connection between complex effects of daily exposures to combustion related air pollutants, and the dynamic changes in children’s neurocognitive functioning as relevant to performance in educational settings. We will assess children’s exposures over multiple time periods and evaluate the effects on the cognitive processes necessary for math learning. Children’s early numerical skills are useful to focus on as they predict later mathematical performance, general academic performance and even employment outcomes.

This collaboration represents new direction for both principal researchers. Each researcher brings specific expertise that is necessary for this project. Dr. Prather has expertise in the development of children’s early math skills. Dr. Payne-Sturges has expertise in racial and economic disparities in environmental contaminant exposures, health impacts of air pollution and environmental health policy.


Improving measures of marriage in sub-Saharan Africa to address women’s and children’s health outcomes
Kirsten Stoebenau, SPHL-Behavioral & Community Health
Sangeetha Madhavan, BSOS-African American Studies
Gregory R. Hancock, EDUC-Human Development and Quantitative Methodology

Sub-Saharan African countries continue to have some of the worst outcomes in maternal and child health. Evidence demonstrates that a woman’s union status (e.g., married, cohabiting, divorced) has an impact on these outcomes. Yet, many countries are undergoing rapid social transformation in the marriage process. Measures of union status have not kept up with this change. For this pilot study, we will develop a new measure of union formalization that can be used to focus intervention efforts on women whose union status places their own and their children's health at increased risk. The study will take place in Nairobi, Kenya, and will be conducted by a multi-disciplinary team of investigators from the School of Public Health (PI, Dr. Kirsten Stoebenau), the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences (Co-investigator, Dr. Sangeetha Madhavan) and the College of Education (Dr. Gregory Hancock). This pilot study will demonstrate the feasibility of improved measures of marriage that can be adapted for other contexts in the region. This study represents a new area of research for PI Stoebenau whose work to date has largely focused on the social determinants of HIV risk for women engaged in the sexual economy.

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, ARHU-Philosophy
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.


Digital Urban History in Colonial Mexico
Juan Burke, ARCH-Architecture Program

The project entitled “Digital Urban History in Colonial Mexico” seeks to produce urban and architectural documentation for the Mexican colonial city of Puebla, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, utilizing a combination of digital technologies, such as GIS data and architectural modeling software, with traditional historiographical research, particularly archival material such as city ordinances, official city decrees, city council minutes, and census data. The product will be a catalog of urban maps that document the city’s growth, demographics, resources management (water, agricultural plots, etc.), as well as three-dimensional models of architectural landmarks that seeks to visualize and better understand the city’s urban environments and historical character. The proposed documentation would fill a gap, given that the city lacks a significant number of historical maps, and other traditional sources of urban visual material, such as engravings, topographical surveys, or even written descriptions of the city that would help document the city’s urban history, are either scant or non-existent for the colonial period.

The societal relevance of this project lies on the fact that today Latin American cities are plagued by issues such as social segregation, environmental degradation, uncontrolled urban development, and others. Better understanding Latin America’s urban past and its mechanisms will help bridge the past with the present, and hopefully help to find solutions for the future.


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