Junior Fellows Projects 2010-2011
Project Title: Recovering the Naturalist Impulse in Charles Bukowski's Prose
Description: Though a cult following and underground mystique has emerged surrounding Charles Bukowski's prose and poetry since his passing, the scope of his contribution to the greater traditions of American literature has not been mapped or considered in earnest by academics or independent scholars. In fact, many of these arbiters of intellectual merit dismiss his works outright. My project will forward the thesis that Bukowski's prose (a project of this size cannot also address the poetry in any meaningful way) engages and develops many of themes and conflicts central to the movement known as American Literary Naturalism, a subset of American Realism that flourished around the turn of the 20th century. I will address the fact that American Literary Naturalism, as an intellectual tradition, was subject to debate and conflicting interpretation at the hands of scholars--both at the time of its apogee and in the following decades; thus, I will explore the possibility that the period of Bukowski's literary apex, roughly the 1970s, coincided with a period when literary scholars were not particularly disposed to seek out Naturalist impulses in contemporary writing (it is, by many scholars, considered to be a dated genre). I will also address, if only in passing, whether Bukowski's exclusion from the academy and circles of political correctness--an exclusion informed heavily by his personal positioning rather than by his writing--contributed to increasingly cursory approaches to his text--approaches that would have led to a misreading or a misidentification of literary impulse. My research will contain both primary and secondary materials, including manuscripts from the Bukowski Archive at the Huntington Library, published and unpublished correspondence, personal interviews with Bukowski's contemporaries and acquaintances, and novels considered to be exemplars of Literary Naturalism--works by Norris, Crane, etc.
Faculty Adviser: Professor Brian Bremen
Project Title: Assessing the Viability of Gold Nanoplates as a Contrast Agent for Photoacoustic Imaging and Photothermal Therapy
Description: My project is focused on assessing the viability of functionalized gold nanoplates as a contrast and photothermal agent for photoacoustic imaging and photothermal therapy. I design and synthesize gold nanoparticles, apply surface coatings, and prepare them for imaging and therapeutic applications. I conduct tests using photoacoustic imaging and photothermal therapy on both in-vitro and in-vivo models to learn about the properties of these particles and how to develop them for further, more advanced applications.
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Stanislav Emelianov
Project Title: Energy Efficiency Programs Optimization
Description: Some of the biggest environmental damages come from buildings. In the U.S. they account for 40% of the primary energy use, 72% of electricity consumption, 39% of CO2 emissions and 13.6% of potable water consumption. This accounts for 65% of global warming contamination. Nonetheless, 30% of that energy could be cut through investments in energy efficiency programs. My proposed project consists of incorporating computational models to allocate the design of optimal energy efficiency programs. These programs target both the maintenance and construction of buildings and houses, and possibly even the combination of distinct independent applications to obtain an even more optimal result.
Faculty Adviser: Professor Karen Kocher
Project Title: The Cinematic Tropes of Web Documentary
Description: Web documentaries have brought a new dimension to filmmaking with interactivity and continuous content creation, bringing the process of presenting reality to life more than any other technological innovation in the history of cinema thus far. This emerging genre, at its experimental stage, is defining itself with a focus on viewer engagement to impact the various subjects of the films' concern. My research will study the common devices used in web documentaries to close the barrier between media and reality, and how these tropes are advancing the goals of the genre in the greater picture of documentary history.
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Michael Blackhurst
Project Title: Vonnegut and The Sirens of Titan: Using Religion to Express a Humanist Worldview
Description:Kurt Vonnegut is widely recognized as one of the Twentieth Century's most influential black humorists-a satirist and an anti-war novelist who's most famous works, Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five exemplify these traits. Long considered to be purely a science fiction writer, Vonnegut, and subsequently his work, tends to be discussed with an emphasis on the scientific and the technological. Vonnegut himself, however, often claimed that he never intended to be a science fiction writer, and that his focus was much broader-essentially the entire world and everyone in it. My research focuses on one of Kurt Vonnegut's earliest novels, The Sirens of Titan. Religion in this novel comes up not only through aspects of plot but also in the imagery, tone, and central themes. The focus of my research is on the use of this religion, mainly as an opposition to science, but also as a complement. I intend to prove that the inclusion of religion in The Sirens of Titan is both a means of emphasizing the complexity of such themes as fate, free will and sense of purpose, and of expressing a humanist argument about the importance of communication and connection between all human beings.
Faculty Adviser: Professor Brian Doherty
Project Title: The Food is Free Project
Description: Launched in January 2012, the Food is Free Project is a non-profit organization that aspires to grow food and community in Austin, Texas. The project is ostensibly an experiment in altruism in that everything it does is open source and free of charge. Though Food is Free has gained significant momentum through online social media, it remains to be seen how the organization fits into the well-established urban gardening movement in Austin, whether its message unites or divides people of different political opinions, and whether the group achieves its goals of community development and food sovereignty. My research examines those issues - the project's context, political implications, and degree of success - in an attempt to evaluate whether the Food is Free Project is a viable model for social entrepreneurship.
Faculty Adviser: David Edwards
Project Title: The Role of Dlk1-Dio3 Enhancers in the Maintenance of Mammalian Stem Cell Pluripotency
Description: Low reprogramming efficiency and reduced pluripotency (cellular immortality) are two of the biggest obstacles in induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) research. Prior studies have shown a positive correlation between the pluripotency levels of iPSCs and the degree of activation in the DNA region between the delta-like homology 1 gene and the type III iodothyronine deiodinase gene (Dlk1-Dio3 imprinted mega-cluster) on human chromosome 14. By using a myriad of molecular stem cell techniques and tissue culture laboratory methodologies, my research attempts to elucidate the three-dimensional mechanisms and enhancer-promoter interactions which maintain the pluripotency of stem cells. It is my hope that this research will improve iPSC derivation techniques and promote the application of these cells to regenerative medicine and cancer therapy, as well as facilitate our entrance into the realm of personalized healthcare.
Faculty Adviser(s): Jonghwan Kim, PhD (University of Texas at Austin), Partha Das, MSc, PhD (Harvard Medical School), Stuart Orkin, MD (Harvard Medical School)
Project Title: Analyzing the Regulatory Mechanism of MET18 in Yeast during DNA Damage Repair
Description: DNA is constantly bombarded by mutagens such as sunlight and chemical compounds. Even slight mutations to the transcription factors that coordinate the process of DNA damage repair often lead to an accumulation of DNA lesions that thwart the natural cell cycle and lead to malignant mitotic division, known as cancer. Transcription factor Met18, a protein produced in yeast and human cells, has three postulated roles in cellular growth and repair: nucleotide excision repair (NER), telomere sequence maintenance, and RNA polymerase II recruitment. Differential growth analyses confirm MET18 deletion strains (met18∆) grow poorly relative to wild-type cells (S288C) in the presence of the alkylating agent methyl methanesulfonate (MMS). Comparative microarray and RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) of the S288C and met18∆ strains grown in the presence and absence of MMS will reveal which genes are up- and down-regulated by Met18 during DNA repair. Follow-up chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing (ChIP-seq) will then identify specific gene targets to which Met18 binds during alkylation repair compared to normal growth conditions. These experiments will attempt to offer unprecedented whole genome insight into regulatory targets of MET18 as they relate to DNA damage repair. These data will also help increase the resolution of DNA repair protein interactions that can be used to produce more targeted cancer therapies with significantly reduced side effects.
Faculty Adviser: Professor Vishy Iyer
Project Title: Ethics Without Volition
Description: The claim is often made that if we lack free will, then there could be no such thing as morality or ethical behavior. I will address this question from a philosophical perspective and argue that the mysterious concept of free will, or humans as uncaused causers, is not only irrelevant to morality but possibly even harmful to how we deal with ethical issues in the real world. I will refer to various contemporary ethicists and philosophers of action, as well as some historical philosophers who have made good points about the possible relation between (or need for) free will and ethics.
Faculty Adviser: Professor Jonathan Dancy
Description: In the arena of international relations theory, the bargaining model of war tells us that private and/or incomplete information may precipitate the outbreak of hostile military conflict between sovereign nations. States not only possess information unobservable by opponents, but they have a strategic incentive to bluff and misrepresent their capabilities. Policy miscalculations based on inaccurate information may engender negotiate breakdown. Thus, the ability for a nation to emit credible signals that convey its intentions and commitments is of dire importance. Since the preeminent paper by James Fearon in 1994, "audience costs" have been considered an innate, institutional device of democracies capable of performing such a critical function. Fearon posited that democratic leaders who threaten force in international crises tend to coerce nondemocracies into making peacetime concessions because the high domestic political costs of backing down make those threats credible to their opponents. Recent studies, however, have come into dispute with this theory. Some skeptics have extended the applicability of audience costs to nondemocracies (Weeks 2008) such as dynastic monarchies and mixed nondemocracies while others have outright denied its significance (Snyder 2009), instead turning to "policy" and "reputational" costs as the sources of successful democratic coercion. My research tests the validity of these three, conflicting strands of audience cost theory by analyzing them against the postwar disputes between certain democratic and nondemocratic Middle Eastern nations, primarily Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
Faculty Adviser: Professor Peter Trubowitz
Project Title: Shifting History: Depictions of Indo-Aryans in Textbooks from 1998-2004
Description: In nearly all nations, students must take history classes as per the mandatory curriculum. These classes often also serve to develop students' nationalism by painting a rosy picture of the nation's "official" history. However, in the case of India during the period 1998-2004, "official" history changed from year to year. Political parties hoped to change textbook curriculum to reflect party viewpoints about the Indo-Aryan peoples, the first civilization identified as Hindu (circa 1500 BCE). My research will question how the first Hindus were portrayed in textbooks during this tumultuous period, and how these portrayals related to a national sense of identity.
Faculty Advisor: Professor Cynthia Talbot
Project Title: Democracy Stalled: Examining States of Emergency in the Post-1945 World
Description: In the post-World War II world, violent and intense domestic movements for such causes as self-determination and separatism have constantly threatened a government's monopoly on force within a state. More often than not, the state is unable to use traditional policing methods that also respect civil rights, and it overwhelmingly responds to civil unrest with states of emergency. Such decrees, which may include curtailments of speech and assembly, increased surveillance, and martial law, typically run afoul of traditional insistences on civil rights and political liberties. The amount of solid quantitative research on this phenomenon is minimal. For example, there is no universal dataset for the universe of cases, no academic definition of the term, and no concrete answers to questions about its varying severity. My project will consist of three stages. First, I will construct a working academic definition of a state of emergency and clarify its attributes in order to allow for consistent and more in-depth research and understanding of these state acts. Second, I will use my definition and coding requirements to build a definitive dataset of instances of states of emergency since 1945. Finally, I will attempt to establish a causal relationship to the question: what conditions affect the length of a state of emergency? I have three testable variables - historical conditions, values and traditions, and state structure.
Faculty Advisor: Professor Zachary Elkins
NATALIE SAN LUIS
Project Title: Masculinity and Black Authenticity in Contemporary Hip Hop
Description: For my research project, I plan to analyze how hip-hop has empirically provided a forum for marginalized black voices and experiences and how that forum has changed since the advent of the Internet, specifically addressing conversations about black authenticity and black masculinity. My research will also address the ramifications of these changes: what does this new generation of hip-hop artists reveal about contemporary black experience, as well as the experiences of other underrepresented groups? An analysis of the careers and songs of rappers who fall under the heaviest criticism for not being "authentic" enough will help to contextualize these arguments. I hope to create dialogue about what hip-hop can reveal about race and class in contemporary America.
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Karl Hagstrom-Miller
Project Title: Musical Meanings in the Sounds of Speech
Description: By examining the presence and function of non-verbal sounds in speech and verbal language in general, I hope to illuminate functional meaning in music and show the specificity and richness of this art form. I will also examine the similarities and differences between verbal language and musical language in how they communicate information, what type of information they communicate, how people learn them, and theories of how they developed.
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Edward Pearsall
Project Title: Bram Stoker's Vampire Archetype
Description: One hundred years after his appearance in Bram Stoker's momentous novel, Count Dracula immortally endures in popular culture. His gaunt appearance, bloodthirsty ways and transformative powers have spawned a plethora of renderings of undead creatures in novels, television shows and movies. Despite the Count's memorability, he was by no means the first vampire to appear in a novel; in fact, the vampire had been ravaging fictional villages long before the days of Stoker. Accordingly, my research examines how prior stories and folklore shaped Stoker's conception of the vampire.
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Jerome Bump
Project Title: Role of Modern Communication Technology in Economic Development with a Focus on South America
Description: One of the fastest growing needs in the world today is the need for better telecommunications. The world is becoming a smaller place every day because of the rapid pace of technological growth. When technology is paired with communications massive strides can be made in economic development. My research will focus on how to apply telework set-ups in more industrialized nations to more developing countries with a particular focus on Southern America.
Faculty Adviser: Alfred Norman
Project Title: Middle School Mob Mentality: Channeling it Towards Achievement
Description: A recent buzzword in the world of education reform is "culture". Many schools are attempting to create school environments conducive to learning. These environments often conflict with the cultures that the students themselves establish, rendering them ineffective. My research will examine the cultures present in a private, public, and charter middle school, particularly the interaction between the school's desired culture and the culture of the students, as well as techniques that encourage student bodies as a whole to "buy into" a culture that encourages education.
Faculty Advisor: Letisha Brown
Project Title: The Interaction between Past Memories and Present Memories
Description: Memory is the all-encompassing agent within our lives, allowing us to maintain our sense of self within a continuously changing world. However, little research has elaborated on the relationship between memories, as newer memories are often encoded in relationship to older memories. My research explores whether previously learned knowledge can help or hinder the encoding of new related information behaviorally in people. This study examines if the strength of older memories can interfere (proactive inference) with newer memories or if it assists with the integration and recall of new memories.
Faculty Adviser: Professor Alison Preston
ALEXANDRA VAN BRUMMEN
Project Title: Inhibiting Synuclein Aggregation to Increase Spinal Cord Recovery after Injury
Description: In the United States, it is predicted that there are nearly 40 new cases of spinal injury per year per million people, with costs for recovery extending into the millions of dollars, thereby demonstrating the importance of resolving this problem. The purpose of this research is to find a way to increase the ability of neurons in spinal cords to regenerate after injury. We are using the lamprey as our model organism. Lampreys are small jawless fish. Like humans, they are vertebrates. However, unlike humans, their spines regenerate, thereby allowing simple observation of recovery after injury, and they have 30 giant reticulospinal (RS) neurons that are very easy to observe during regeneration. By studying the lampreys, the ultimate goal of my project is to find a substance that could also increase spinal cord regeneration in humans. In my lab, a protein called Synuclein has been identified as being present in the dying neuronal cells of both lampreys and humans after spinal cord injury. Currently, I am trying identify Synuclein's role (if such a role exists) in the events leading to cell death after injury.
Faculty Adviser: Professor Jennifer Morgan
Project Title: Behind the Curtain: The Artist as Collector in Peale's Museum
Description: In 1822, artist and museum proprietor Charles Willson Peale completed his eight-foot by six-foot self-portrait. The Artist in His Museum was a celebration of a four- decade long career and offered a glimpse of Peale's museum collection before its untimely dispersion. I will employ Peale's rich visual and written sources to explore the establishment of public institutions, the growth of popular education, and the extent of scientific inquiry in late 18th and early 19th century America. What was deemed unfit for preserving, collecting, painting, describing, or sharing? How did objects and artworks in Peale's museum interact with one another, engage with the viewer and proprietor, appear in the painted form, communicate power, and assign cultural value?
Faculty Adviser: Professor Neil Kamil