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Joint Research Seed Grant Awards 2023

Since August 2022, Global Cornell awarded more than $440,000 to 88 Cornell-Hub faculty teams to support emerging research and teaching collaborations, with matching funds from 11 Global Hubs partner universities and contributions from Weill Cornell Medicine.

The 2023 Joint Research Seed Grants grants were awarded in December, and projects will run from January 1 through December 31, 2024.

Chulalongkorn University–Cornell University

Integrating Cultural Competence and Diversity/Equity/Inclusivity Framework to Improve Healthcare for Underserved, Marginalized and Vulnerable Populations*

*Note: Funded by Weill Cornell Medicine


Health equity is a fundamental human right, and the WHO advocates for everyone’s “full potential for health and well-being” regardless of their social, economic, demographical, geographical, or other socially determinant factors. Unfortunately, underserved, marginalized, and vulnerable (UMV) populations around the world still experience limited access to care and/or receive poor healthcare quality because of bias and discrimination based on racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic, cultural, and/or linguistic characteristics. Our project aims to improve healthcare for UMV populations at the King Chulalongkorn Medical Center by incorporating cultural competency and diversity/equity/inclusion (DEI) frameworks into training initiatives and institutional policies. Through this strategic collaboration award, we hope to strengthen bi-campus ties, share resources and best practices, and plan future joint efforts in research, education, and policies. Our target groups for intervention include: 1) the indigent/socioeconomically underserved; 2) LGBTQ+ communities; 3) patients in palliative and end-of-life care; and 4) the disabled.

Extraction of Recycled Monomers in Textile Recycling via Reactive Crystallization 

  • Cornell PI: Jin Suntivich, Materials Science and Engineering, ENG      

  • Chula PI: Nadnudda Rodthongkum, Metallurgy and Materials Science Research Institute        


Recycle illustration

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is commonly used in textiles and plastic packaging. Unfortunately, its consumption produces nondegradable waste plastics, causing landfill and water contamination. Chemical depolymerization can enable the recycling of post-consumer PET by depolymerizing PET into the monomer building block. This method, however, requires post-depolymerization purification to remove functional additives (e.g., coatings and colorants). This proposed research focuses on studying the separation technologies for this post-depolymerization purification. Researchers from Chulalongkorn University and Cornell University will work to separate monomers from waste plastics by turning them into a metal-organic framework (MOF) and disassembling them into purified monomers to remove impurities. The outcome is the scientific knowledge of how the reactive crystallization purifies recycled TPA and how to reuse chemicals during depolymerization and purification to enable circular PET technologies.

New Kopitiams: Nostalgia Aesthetics, Cultural Appropriation, and Gentrification     

  • Cornell PI: Arnika Fuhrmann, Asian Studies, A&S      

  • Chula PI: Napong Rugkhapan, Department of Urban & Regional Planning Faculty of Architecture            


This research explores the emerging phenomenon of "kopitiams," a type of traditional cafe in the gentrifying historic districts of Bangkok. Originating from the historic port cities of Southeast Asia, kopitiams were vibrant local centers serving affordable meals and fostering urban sociability. Economic shifts and middle-class migration led to their decline. However, recent trends in historic Bangkok nod at their revival, driven by young entrepreneurs who infuse traditional aesthetics into a modern cafe business. The study will address three themes. First, the kopitiams capitalize on nostalgia and historical aesthetics to evoke bygone eras, thus distinguishing their enterprises. Second, the new kopitiams risk decontextualizing traditional elements, potentially simplifying cultural narratives and perpetuating tokenistic representation. Lastly, the modern revival of kopitiams hints at the dynamics of neighborhood change. These establishments cater to a wealthier clientele, potentially sidelining local patrons and increasing property values, thus reflecting the challenges and opportunities of urban renewal.

Chula-Cornell Cure Collaboration: Advancing CAR Technology for HIV and Cancer Cure*      

  • Cornell PI: Lishomwa Ndhlovu, Medicine, WCM    

  • Chula PI: Koramit Suppipat, Faculty of Medicine

    *Note: Funded by Weill Cornell Medicine               


PIs Ndhlovu and Suppiat

A cure for HIV has proven elusive given that HIV can hide in immune cells that are resting or in a latent state in people living with HIV. To achieve an HIV cure, our Weill Cornell Medicine team is currently developing a one-time immunotherapeutic for durable remission of HIV in the absence of anti-HIV treatment using pre-clinical models. Our Chulalongkorn University has developed clinical manufacturing protocols for cell therapies. Together we plan to advance knowledge using an engineered T cell (CAR-T) which involves removing a type of white blood cell—T cells—from a person’s blood, then genetically engineering it to make proteins and allow the CAR-T to enter the hiding place of HIV, attach, and kill the infected cells. We hope to make this a scalable global HIV cure and advance this work against cancer. Our joint expertise and collaborative spirit will create a foundation for innovative research towards success.

Smart City Transformation in Bangkok: A University-Led Urban Modeling Approach


Smart City frameworks are revolutionizing urban sustainability through technology. This project aims to develop an immersive urban modeling platform for Bangkok's Bantadthong neighborhood. This data-driven platform will serve as an essential tool for urban planning, benefiting policymakers, local communities, government agencies, and developers. Cornell University will spearhead the technological development of the platform, while Chulalongkorn University will develop data-acquisition methods, offer localized insights, and formulate policy recommendations. The project aims to generate a replicable model for Smart City initiatives and university-led urban revitalization. Knowledge dissemination will occur through academic publications, policy briefs, and public forums. By forging this inter-institutional collaboration, the project lays the groundwork for sustainable, long-term partnerships, addressing a pressing need for cohesive, technology-driven urban planning in Bangkok and similar environments.

Unlocking Bat Defenses: The Role of Bat MARCH2's Unique Amino Acid Sequence in Blocking Viral-Cell Fusion       

  • Cornell PI: Hector Aguilar-Carreno, Microbiology and Immunology, VET       
  • Chula PI: Supawadee Umthong, Biochemistry and Microbiology, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences              


Illustration of bat and viruses by Armando Pacheco
Bat and Viruses by Armando Pacheco

Viruses can cause devastating illnesses and global pandemics, yet bats exhibit a remarkable resistance and remain symptom-free when exposed to many deadly viruses. We are teaming up to learn from bats how they fight off diseases and to unlock the mysteries of bat antiviral defense to outwit lethal viruses such as Nipah, Ebola, and Coronaviruses. We will combine the cutting-edge viral entry and membrane fusion techniques from Aguilar-Carreno’s lab together with host-virus interaction research from Umthong’s lab to uncover bats’ antiviral mechanisms. Focusing on bats' MARCH2 protein, we've found a unique part in this protein that does not exist in humans but can boost human immunity against HIV-1. This intellectual fusion promises to advance our understanding of viral defenses, potentially leading to new treatments. Our joint efforts exemplify the benefits of international scientific collaboration and could lead to breakthrough treatments, enhancing our readiness for future viral outbreaks.

University of Edinburgh–Cornell University

From War at Home to War Abroad: Understanding the Experiences of Post-Conflict Peacekeepers

  • Cornell PI: Sabrina Karim, Government, A&S    

  • Edinburgh PI: Maggie Dwyer, School of Social and Political Science               


After two decades of post-civil war security sector reform, Sierra Leone and Liberia have now deployed forces to UN peacekeeping missions. Those who were once involved in civil war are now the ones leading the efforts for peace in other countries such as Mali. This project seeks to understand how security force personnel in Liberia and Sierra Leone experience their role as peacekeepers and what effects the deployment has on them once they return home. Each PI has collected data on the topic in these countries but using a different methodology. This project will bring together an international team of researchers from the Global North and Global South to explore the complementary data to advance understanding of post-conflict peacekeeping. Project findings will be written for academic audiences as well as public audiences. Additionally, the findings will serve as a starting point for future joint funding bids and engagement with practitioners in the realm of peace and security.

Darker Shades of Green: An Anthropological Framework for the Global Study of Right-Wing Environmentalisms

  • Cornell PI: Chloe Ahmann, Anthropology, A&S

  • Edinburgh PI: Zeynep Oguz, Social Anthropology/SPS          


After decades of denial and obstruction, the global right is increasingly willing to acknowledge that climate change is a threat to lifeways everywhere. From attacks on reproductive rights to increased policing at the border, a repertoire of climate interventions is emerging that targets population, rather than production and consumption. We propose to study these developments under the banner of “right-wing environmentalisms,” developing collaborative, cross-field research attentive to their deep roots and contemporary forms, with a focus on the shapes these movements take in different contexts. Because there is virtually no anthropological research on the rise of right-wing climate interventions, we lack an understanding of how these movements are unfolding in real time, and what draws people to support them. Our partnership will yield a sustainable, interdisciplinary, cross-campus platform intent on building an understanding of right-wing environmentalisms in different parts of the world, and producing rigorous public-facing scholarship. 

Boiling Point: Unraveling the Explosive Synergy of Volcanic Eruptions and Water  

  • Cornell PI: Olivier Desjardins, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, ENG

  • Edinburgh PI: Eric Breard, School of Geoscience               


The 2022 Hunga volcanic eruption underscored the significant hazards of explosive volcanism amplified by Earth's abundant water. The eruptions occurred 200 m underwater, propelled an ash column to a record 57 km height, and formed tsunamis. The partial collapse of the column fed pyroclastic flows, which transformed into underwater turbidity currents that severed seafloor cables, isolating a nation from the rest of the world. Despite the prevalence of underwater volcanoes, our understanding of hydro-volcanism is limited. This project leverages advances in computational modeling of multiphase flows to study volcanic jets interacting with water and the transformation of pyroclastic flows in fast and long runout turbidity currents. By unraveling the interplay between water and volcanism, we aim to improve models to predict and mitigate the multifaceted hazards of explosive eruptions. This collaboration opens a new avenue for research at the frontiers of physics and geoscience capable of seeding new funding opportunities.

Towards an Integrative Understanding of Host-Microbe Interactions Over Aging   

  • Cornell PI: Nicolas Buchon, Entomology, CALS    

  • Edinburgh PI: Jennifer Regan, Institute of Immunology & Infection Research, College of Science and Engineering               


The innate immune system becomes dysregulated as we age - inflammation induces tissue damage, and our ability to fight infection decreases. We understand little about how aging shapes the immune system’s two seemingly opposing functions: to control invasive pathogens and to maintain a healthy relationship with microbiota. Both functions deteriorate with age, exemplified by the higher susceptibility of older people to infections such as COVID, and the rise of pathobionts in the aging gut microbiome. Whether this is due to a common mechanism is unknown. We will test this in Drosophila, which has a conserved immune system, by comparing the gene expression in tissues that respond to septic and oral infection over age, in genotypes that show different magnitudes of immune aging. This will reveal mechanisms underpinning systemic and intestinal immune decline and their co-dependency, forming the basis for a large, collaborative grant application on the biology of immune aging.

Learning from Perth West, Scotland: Benchmarking and Expanding a Hydrogen Hub for Socioeconomic and Health Impact Analysis in North America             

  • Cornell PI: Richard Geddes, Policy Analysis & Management, BBP              
  • Edinburgh PI: Sean Smith, School of Engineering 


We assess the socioeconomic and health implications of a possible strategic hydrogen hub located in Perth West, Scotland. This transport hub will produce hydrogen on-site using renewable energy to serve directly or adjacent electricity grids to refuel trucks, buses, and coaches. This will serve as the first case study to launch a broader set of collaborative projects between Cornell and the University of Edinburgh. Through this effort, Cornell team members will gain insights into hub development to benchmark hydrogen hubs in the United States. Edinburgh will expand its analytical understanding to socioeconomic and health dimensions, thus leveraging Cornell’s expertise in infrastructure policy and methodology across disciplines. We will disseminate this knowledge broadly through co-produced workshops, key stakeholder sessions, and site visits to explore innovative methods for constructing a joint collaborative framework. The union of Cornell-Edinburgh research teams will generate a blueprint to ensure positive outcomes in these crucial sectors through the formulation of evidence-based policy recommendations and interventions.

University of Ghana–Cornell University

Water and Waste in Urban Informal Settlements in Accra, Ghana

  • Cornell PI: Victoria Beard, City and Regional Planning, AAP

  • Ghana PI: Austin Ablo, Department of Geography and Resource Development


Urban informal settlement in Accra, Ghana

Accra, Ghana, like many cities around the world, is urbanizing at an unprecedented pace. Rapid urbanization and unplanned growth has forced many urban residents into informal settlements that lack municipal services, such as water, basic sanitation, and solid waste management. Conditions in informal settlements leads to environmental degradation, negative public health outcomes, and hinders economic vitality. What can be done to improve lives and livelihoods in these underserved communities? This project will address this question by co-developing a research agenda that informs action on the ground. The project team, co-led by Professor Victoria A. Beard and Dr. Austin Ablo of the University of Ghana, will conduct a literature review, site visits to four informal settlements, and a one-day workshop in Accra. This initial collaboration will lay the groundwork for future research and action on informal settlement upgrading, develop a diverse stakeholder group dedicated to improving conditions in settlements, and target the resources necessary to achieve meaningful and scalable impact for these communities.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology–Cornell University

Medical Generalist Artificial Intelligence for Chest X-ray via Large Language and Vision Models*      

  • Cornell PI: Yifan Peng, Population Health Sciences, WCM    

  • HKUST PI: Hao Chen, Computer and Science Engineering

*Note: Funded by Weill Cornell Medicine


In recent years, we have seen great examples of how artificial intelligence (AI) may be applied to image-based diagnostic tasks. However, there is no universal solution for training large-scale foundation models for the respective clinical downstream applications. This proposal will integrate advances in medical image analysis and NLP to solicit novel approaches and computational solutions to promote chest X-ray foundation models and their use to address open and challenging clinical problems (e.g., disease classification, lesion detection and segmentation, and report generation and summarization) in a robust and data-efficient way. Successful completion of this project will also lead to a cross-disciplinary, AI/ML-ready ecosystem that will enable researchers to easily access and explore the value of foundation models and medical imaging data and to support integrated analyses with non-imaging data. It will also improve our ability to make the model and biomedical image data findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (FAIR).

Leveraging Virtual Reality to Improve Navigation Abilities in Seniors with Mild Cognitive Impairment       

  • Cornell PI: Saleh Kalantari, Human Centered Design, CHE       

  • HKUST PI: Bertram SHI, Electronic and Computer Engineering, School of Engineering


People using VR headsets

Navigation and wayfinding can be difficult for older adults, especially those with cognitive decline. Digital environments, such as digital games, may improve cognitive functions and wayfinding performance. This project tests the effects of wayfinding training in virtual reality on wayfinding performance in the real world. This study is cross-cultural: half the subjects will be recruited and assessed in the United States (at Cornell) and the remaining half in Hong Kong (at HKUST). This bifurcated approach ensures a broader spectrum of participant backgrounds, thereby facilitating the design of the application for a more diverse group of older adults. This study aims to shed light on the potential advantages of virtual reality intervention, offering valuable insights guiding the future development of applications designed to enhance wayfinding and navigational skills in older adults.

The PIs are also collaborating with:

Unlocking Content-Sharing Platform Potential: A Data-Driven Strategy for Optimizing Creator Integration

  • Cornell PI: Yichun Hu, Operations, Technology, and Information Management, JGSM/JCB

  • HKUST PI: Ruohan Zhan, Department of Industrial Engineering and Decision Analytics


As content-sharing platforms (e.g. YouTube, TikTok, Netflix, among others) compete in an expanding digital market, the integration of new creators becomes vital for differentiation and capturing a diverse audience. Such integration, however, comes with varied financial challenges, particularly as quality and reputation often correlate with higher costs. This proposal delves deep into a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, leveraging recent advances in operations research, machine learning, and causal inference. In particular, we aim to unravel the economic implications of onboarding creators against the potential uplift in platform value through user satisfaction and content diversity. With this foundation, our research aspires to arm platforms with actionable policy for strategic creator integration, powered by innovative tools from constraint optimization. Ultimately, we seek to shed light on strategies that platforms can adopt, effectively expanding their content repertoire while maximizing consumer satisfaction.

Boycotts, Buycotts, Ethical Consumption and Investor’s Extrapolative Beliefs


Ethical consumption scale illustration

We propose to investigate the financial market impacts of consumer responses, including brand boycotts and buycotts, following firm-level environmental and social (E&S) scandals. We study the discrepancy between anticipated ethical consumption and actual consumer actions. Stock price reactions after the E&S scandals can hardly be explained by cash flow effects from consumption changes. We posit that short-term changes in ethical consumption might be misconstrued in financial markets due to extrapolative beliefs investors hold about ethical consumers, potentially overestimating the boycotts' and buycotts' effects on the implicated firm's cash flows. Our approach is to quantify these extrapolative beliefs using granular consumer purchase panel data in the U.S. We'll leverage variation in firm-level customer inertia, inferred from the firm’s consumer profiles and historic purchase patterns, notably brand loyalty and switching patterns. We'll then explore if this inferred brand-level inertia can explain the gap between firms’ immediate cash flow changes and stock price reactions post-scandal.

This project brings together cross-disciplinary PIs from marketing and finance. Liaukonyte (Cornell) brings expertise in consumer boycotts and boycotts in the consumer product arena, while Zaldokas (HKUST) has expertise on E&S scandals and their influence on investor behavior."

King's College London–Cornell University

The Politics of Labor Market Outsiders in the Middle East and North Africa: Insights from Tunisia 

  • Cornell PI: Dina Bishara, Global Labor and Work, ILR         

  • King's PI: Ferdinand Eibl, Political Economy            


This project aims at unpacking the political and social policy preferences of labor market outsiders in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). If funded, we will conduct a pilot survey in Tunisia, which would serve as the foundation for a larger grant proposal. The pilot study would allow us to refine our measurements and better develop a subsequent survey instrument to be used on a larger scale across several countries in the MENA region. Labor market outsiders comprising informal, irregular, and unemployed workers constitute the bulk of the labor force in MENA. Despite this, we lack fine-grained data on the composition of this group and its economic and political preferences. Theoretically, compared to countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the literature on the political economy of labor market dualism in MENA and the Global South more widely remains extremely underdeveloped. This project sets out to correct this imbalance.

Fixing Democracy Through Participatory Governance


Our research collaboration looks at how to radically reshape democracy by better incorporating citizens directly into democratic policymaking. We focus on two institutions—citizens assemblies and petitioning—and their use in the past, to better inform best practices today. We will bring together a set of scholars who study collective governance, across the US and Europe, for a foundational conference to share modern research and policy recommendations. The conference will provide the opportunity for building a research network to continue transatlantic collaboration in 2024-25.

War and the State*

*Note: This is a tripartite project with UCL that also received a UCL-Cornell Seed Grant.         


"Wait for Me, Daddy," taken by Claude P. Dettloff (Public Domain)
"Wait for me, Daddy" (The National Archives of Canada, Claude P. Dettloff)

What is modern war? What is the nature of the violence it entails? What are the boundaries between the legitimate and illegitimate uses of force? To answer these fundamental questions, the “War and the State” project analyses war as a conflict not just between armies but between societies, a social activity that is shaped by the economic and political structures of the society from which it emerges and made possible by the capacity of the modern state for organized violence. In so doing, the project brings together traditional operational histories as well as new work on civil-military relations, recognizing that the structures of warring societies—including their race and gender hierarchies, divisions of labor, and conceptions of citizenship—are a central factor in understanding changes in battlefield tactics, grand strategy, the new technologies with which wars are won and lost, and the kinds of demands that the state can make on its people.

Digitally Safe and Secure Migration: A Comparative Study Between the UK and the US

  • Cornell PI: Rebecca Slayton, Science & Technology Studies, A&S

  • King's PI: Kovila Coopamootoo, Computer Science, Faculty of Natural, Mathematical & Engineering Sciences    


Migrants undertake complex resettlement processes, including integration into digital infrastructures. For example, immigrants often need to obtain smartphones and associated apps that share personal data. Unfortunately, the urgency of daily life needs often leads to the neglect of digital security for refugee and migrant communities, leaving them vulnerable to scammers, political surveillance, and more. Furthermore, technologies that ensure people’s online safety and security are often designed with a one-size-fits-all model that does not match the unique needs of marginalized populations. We will conduct interviews to improve our understanding of the digital security experiences and needs of migrants to the United Kingdom and the United States, two nations that have experienced a tremendous influx of migrants, including many refugees. We will also propose ways of ensuring that digital safety and security technologies better these migrants, advancing social justice while also laying the groundwork for a larger research collaboration between Cornell and KCL.

Side Chain Engineering of Mixed Transport Materials for Bioelectronics     

  • Cornell PI: Christopher Ober, Materials Science and Engineering, ENG      

  • King's PI: Micaela Matta, Chemistry, NMES               


Organic bioelectronic devices promise revolutionary medical treatments for chronic pain or spinal cord injury. They exploit novel “mixed” conducting organic molecules able to transport both electrons and ions, bridging the signaling gap between biology and electronics. Despite this potential, only a few suitable materials have been identified, leaving the vast chemical space for mixed conductors largely unexplored.

This project uses data-driven computational modeling (KCL) and synthetic chemistry (Cornell) to perform proof-of-concept side-chain engineering studies and design novel, optimized materials for bioelectronics. This new collaboration will bridge a fundamental knowledge gap in bioelectronics and result in new design rules for organic mixed conductors.

National University of Singapore–Cornell University

Machine Learning for Revealing Decisive Factors in Microwave-Assisted Pyrolysis of Biomass and Plastic Wastes

  • Cornell PI: Shuwen Yue, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, ENG      

  • NUS PI: Ka Ming YU, Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Design and Engineering    


Microwave-Assisted Pyrolysis illustration

Microwave-assisted pyrolysis (MAP) is a promising technology to recover energy from various waste materials, including biomass and plastics while offering higher energy efficiency than today’s waste-to-energy incinerators. One of the barriers hindering MAP commercialization is the vast variety of feedstocks, of which the composition varies with waste sources and impacts the energy density of MAP products. This project aims to unravel the complex correlations among feedstock properties, MAP operating parameters, and product characteristics, by performing structured data mining from MAP-related literature, followed by machine learning model development and training. Our data-driven approach will identify critical factors to advise future process design and potential digitalization, with the goal of securing a steady supply of compliant feedstocks and high consistency in product quality. The project outcomes will facilitate field-scale MAP to produce energy-dense bio-oils and H2-rich pyrogas, promoting energy transformation and driving toward Sustainable Development Goals.

Enhancing Urban Resilience to Hydroclimate Extremes by Coupling Physics-informed Climate Shocks with Network Analysis

  • Cornell PI: John Albertson, Civil and Environmental Engineering, ENG      
  • NUS PI: Xiaogang He, Civil and Environmental Engineering 


Urban communities rely extensively on trade networks for bringing in resources and on infrastructure networks that deliver resources. Climate shocks can fragment trade supply networks and cripple infrastructure grids. Existing approaches to climate risk analysis typically simulate impacts from gradual shifts in key climate variables with less focus on the short-term shocks and rarely consider compound effects locally or simultaneous events at separate points on a spatial network. Compound hydroclimate extremes, usually induced by anomalous large-scale circulation patterns, can simultaneously hit multiple major suppliers of a city, and greatly exacerbate the associated climate risks. We examine the resilience of trade networks under various climate extreme scenarios conditioned on large-scale circulations. The resulting climate-hedging approach will guide geographic supply chain decisions toward a climate-resilient city. We begin focused on food supply networks, but plan to expand the collaboration effort to consider energy supplies and urban infrastructure as well.

Theorizing Singapore as a Global Hub of Capitalism: Culture, History, and Environment

  • Cornell PI: Juno Parrenas, Science and Technology Studies, A&S      
  • NUS PI: Faizah Zakaria, Southeast Asian Studies / Faculty of Arts and Social Science          


Singapore pond

Theories of global capitalism often occlude Singapore, a uniquely multicultural and global hub of commerce with one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world. This proposed seminar brings together scholars from Cornell and NUS in anthropology, history, science and technology studies, and environmental history. We will facilitate both a workshop in January 2025 for collaborative field research and a podcast series. Both will consider the global emergence of Singapore from a fishing village to a global hub of capitalism. The workshop and podcast field sites include wet markets, wetlands, the causeway border, and construction sites. The podcast recordings will feature perspectives from people who illuminate conditions of capitalism in Singapore and their ambient soundscapes. The podcast offers contrast and comparison to other global hubs of capitalism and will be accompanied by a collection of essays generated from the workshop. Together they seed future conference and research grant proposals. 

Queen Mary University of London–Cornell University

Race and Racialization in the Balkans, the Middle East, North, and East Africa


This initiative brings together humanists and social scientists who are doing groundbreaking work on race and racialization in the Balkans, the MENA, and East Africa, regions with a common legacy of Ottoman rule and influence. The two-day workshop will lead to an edited volume to address how racialization arose across these geographies in the 19th century and how modern racism took hold there in the 20th century. Though historically minded, this workshop and edited volume will be multidisciplinary to help contextualize the more recent emergence of racist violence in places like Greece, Tunisia, and Lebanon, and to provide theoretical and conceptual frameworks that move beyond the assumed black-and-white binary of racism. This initiative will begin with a workshop to be held in May/June 2024 and an edited volume; a step in the direction of an expanded synergetic collaboration not only between Cornell and QMUL, but potentially also with institutions like Exeter University, the University of Sharjah, and UCL.

Fingerprinting Our Bones: Linking the Architecture and Mechano-Sensitivity of the Osteocyte Network       

  • Cornell PI: Karl Lewis, Biomedical Engineering, ENG      

  • QMUL PI: Stefaan Verbruggen, School of Engineering and Materials Science    


Osteocytes are the most abundant bone cells and form a network that is crucial to the osteocyte’s role as the major regulator of how bones sense and respond to exercise. The network is key to healthy bone remodeling and likely differs between bones and individuals. However, little is known about how local osteocyte network characteristics impact their responses to tissue-level mechanical cues. Dr. Lewis has developed a novel intravital imaging technique for direct in vivo observation of osteocyte signaling events with simultaneous whole bone loading, while Dr. Verbruggen uses computational modeling to measure network integrity and predict the likely mechanical stimulation experienced by individual cells. This project will, for the first time, map the osteocyte network architecture to their molecular activation patterns. Combining these methods will provide an unprecedented understanding of micro/nanoscale characteristics that contribute to bone health, alongside a new tool to characterize how this is disrupted in disease. 

Demographic Inference from Cost-Effective DNA Sequencing Experiments Using Deep Learning       


Watercolor of an American shad by Sherman F. Denton (Public Domain)

Current patterns of genetic variation carry important information about demographic processes, such as population growth, contraction, or migration, that have shaped species in the past. Deep learning algorithms have recently emerged as a powerful framework for recovering that information, but it is still unclear how they cope with the uncertainty and error that result from cost-effective sequencing strategies often used for non-model species. We propose to design and deploy a novel deep learning algorithm which accommodates for sparse and uncertain low-coverage sequencing data, and test this on an empirical example, using data on the American shad, a fish species of conservation concern with known major demographic shifts in the recent past. This new algorithm and proof-of-concept should make demographic inference more accessible for a broader set of organisms, which can help yield a better understanding of evolutionary history and valuable insights for conservation.

Citizens' Positions: Democracy, Trust and Governance

  • Cornell PI: Rachel Riedl, Government, A&S               

  • QMUL PI: Andrea Tessei, School of Economics and Finance             


We are proposing a joint seed grant to support preliminary coordination and planning for a larger external grant application that will launch a $500,000 research study on democratic erosion pathways and the strategies of democratic resistance, and understand the impact of such contestations on citizens’ levels of trust and perceptions of effective governance, and support for democracy. Moving to the micro-level focus on the political behavior of individual citizens, we can interrogate the mechanisms that moderate citizen perceptions of democratic performance in reaction to particular pathways of democratic erosion and resistance. The research project will produce new understandings of citizens’ concepts and understandings of democracy; their needs and preferences; and which policies and strategies reinforce pro-democratic institutions, and behaviors, and increase trust. In drawing upon different modes and methods of democratic erosion and resistance, we will assess leaders’ exclusionary rhetoric and marginalization strategies, to test how those relate to citizens’ perceptions, support for democracy, and trust in the system.

Bridging Worlds: Indigenous Leadership, Conservation, and Planetary Health in Ecuador

  • Cornell PI: Richard Stedman, Natural Resources and the Environment, CALS     
  • QMUL PI: Doreen Montag, Centre for Public Health & Policy               


Community mapping exercises In Bellavista by Santiago Antonio Garcia, Sr.
Community mapping exercises In Bellavista by Santiago Antonio Garcia, Sr.

Indigenous Peoples globally continue to struggle for their land rights, health, food security, and livelihoods. Increasing pressures to combat climate and planetary crises, coupled with increasing global demand for energy and minerals, have fueled conflicts in areas of high bio and cultural diversity. Often such places are also rich in fossil fuels and minerals. Continued forest and ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss pose increasing risks for local people’s livelihood and potential zoonotic spillovers and pandemic risks.

In Ecuador, Indigenous Nations and Nature itself have legal rights in the constitution. These rights are threatened by the forces described above. Our project will co-produce—with Indigenous leaders in the most biodiverse area of the Amazon—a research proposal that addresses two linked phenomena: the challenges of illegal mining and livelihood and ecosystem implications of cessation of fossil fuel extraction. This project will contribute to decolonizing and indigenous methodologies, and continued efforts to empower Indigenous Nations and sustainable development.  

University of Sydney–Cornell University

Advancing PET-Guided Diagnostic and Treatment Response Assessments for Immuno-Oncology Patients: A Comparative Study of Total-Body Generalized vs. Standard Patlak and Conventional SUV PET Imaging*   


SUV PET Imaging

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is a powerful human cancer imaging exam for tracking tumors throughout the body based on their higher sugar consumption, following injection into the blood of a dose of radioactive sugar, known as Fluorine-18 fluorodeoxyglucose (18F-FDG). However, 18F-FDG PET exams can be confusing when part of the absorbed 18F-FDG escapes back into the blood or when immune-boosting therapies increase body sugar consumption through inflammation to fight cancer. To improve the exam’s accuracy, we combine the Siemens Biograph Vision Quadra, a state-of-the-art ultra-sensitive PET scanner at the Australian National Total-Body PET Facility and the University of Sydney, with direct generalized Patlak image reconstruction, an advanced dynamic PET analysis method developed at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, to display the rate of body sugar consumption after accounting for blood sugar levels. This novel combination will help researchers better distinguish treatment effects from inflammation, advancing our understanding of cancer therapy.

Assessing the Impact of Nutrition Behaviour Change Communication Activities on Maternal, Infant, and Young Child Feeding Knowledge and Behavior Among the Neighboring Non-Participants in the Shonjibon Cash and Counseling Trial in Rural Bangladesh


Bangladesh street scene

This project extends a research collaboration between USYD, Cornell, and ICDDR,B on the Shonjibon Cash and Counselling (SCC) Trial. The SCC Trial involves an unconditional cash transfer and nutrition counseling delivered on a mobile app, aiming to reduce childhood stunting in rural Bangladesh. Previous work has shown when nutrition counseling is provided in-person, knowledge "spills over" to non-participant households. Providing information via mobile phones is less expensive than in person; however, it is not known if the same degree of spillover occurs when information is provided through mobile telephony. We will use mixed methods to survey  "neighboring" mothers and assess the SCC Trial spillover.

Co-Sense: Enabling Enhanced Perception in Autonomous Vehicles through a Multi-Sensor Fusion and Collaborative Communication Framework

  • Cornell PI: Kilian Q. Weinberger, Computer Science, CIS (also ENG)
  • USYD PI: Stewart Worrall, Engineering, School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering         


Co-Sense aims to elevate autonomous vehicle technology by establishing a robust multi-sensor fusion and collaborative communication framework. Utilizing a pioneering machine learning architecture, the project integrates camera data alongside 3D sensors, facilitating enriched environmental perception even under challenging conditions. By fostering multi-agent collaboration, Co-Sense ensures efficient information exchange between vehicles and infrastructure, enhancing navigational safety and operational efficiency. The methodology encompasses meticulous data collection and annotation, innovative machine learning algorithms design, the development of a cooperative communication protocol, rigorous model training and evaluation, and comprehensive field testing. This endeavor promises obstacle detection and classification advancements under varied lighting and weather conditions. It ensures bolstered road safety and reliability of autonomous navigation through real-time, accurate data provision and cooperation.

The Central Role of Communication in Efforts to Advance Health Equity     

  • Cornell PI: Jeff Niederdeppe, Communication, CALS (also BBP)          

  • USYD PI: Olaf Werder, Discipline of Media & Communications, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences            


Werder and Niederdeppe headshots

This partnership will form an international and multi-sectoral network of scholars and practitioners working jointly on improving equitable outreach and care in health communication partnerships to investigate the central role of communication in contemporary health equity debates. It will analyze the ways that political leaders, health officers, journalists, and health promoters shape public narratives about healthcare, health inequity, and structural determinants of health, with the goal of arriving at strategies or interventions that facilitate the reduction of health inequalities. Through generative conversation and convening in Sydney in the summer of 2024, we will launch the first large-scale investigation of the multi-layered communicative and policy dimensions across the United States and Australia, producing both scholarly and public-facing reports on narrative change and health policy equity. In the months following the symposium, we will build on this foundation to develop competitive grant proposals to broaden the scope and impact of the collaboration.

Understanding the Regulation of Gene Expression Across Lifespan and Generations               

  • Cornell PI: Siu Lee, Molecular Biology & Genetics, CALS     
  • USYD PI: Alyson Ashe, School of Life and Environmental Sciences


The Ashe lab at the University of Sydney and the Lee lab at Cornell have previously demonstrated that the protein SET-26 plays a key role in controlling when and where genes get expressed and, as a result, has a major impact on how organisms age and how gene expression "memories" get passed on from parents to offspring. Our joint proposal aims to investigate how SET-26 achieves its fascinating roles by identifying and studying the protein partners of SET-26 and by testing whether SET-26 acts differently in different cell types. The proposed research will be conducted using the powerful genetic model soil nematodes and will focus on developing the necessary genetic tools. The SET-26 protein is highly conserved from nematodes to humans, and mutations in the human counterpart of SET-26 likely result in the development of cancer and neurological diseases. Our joint research study will likely illuminate key aspects of how SET-26 function and will have important implications in multiple aspects of human health.

University College London–Cornell University

Wellness and Mental Health Symposium and Cross-cultural Research


Poor mental health has been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a global crisis. However, individuals seeking mental health and wellness support can profit from access to research-informed programs and appropriately designed physical environments. The purpose of this proposal is to create an event that supports conversations around this topic and to select and visit sites for cross-cultural research. Our proposal, therefore, has two components. The first is to convene specialists in health, hospitality and design to discuss wellness and mental health and to provide an interdisciplinary context for the proposed research. The second is to support the UCL co-investigator’s visits to mental health facilities in North America with the purpose of identifying study sites and, in some locations, collecting checklist data. Data from several locations in Europe and Oceania have already been obtained (Chrysikou et al., 2022), and sites in North America are sought for comparison.

Advancing UCL-Cornell Collaboration on Environmental Health Equity Under Globalization

  • Cornell PI: Chuan Liao, Global Development, CALS     

  • UCL PI: Zhifu Mi, Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction               


Environmental Health Equity illustration

This joint research project aims to foster collaborative research between UCL and Cornell and advance our understanding of environmental health equity in the context of globalization. It will leverage UCL's expertise in investigating the environmental consequences of international trade and Cornell's expertise in assessing health equity resulting from environmental pollution. The project will focus on the tele-coupled nature of global trade to examine how consumption patterns in one region lead to cross-border pollutant emissions, which further impact populations disproportionately along the Global Value Chain. By adopting a consumption-based perspective, we will quantify the air pollution embodied in international trade and assess its induced health ramifications. Through a decade-long retrospective analysis, the study will also explore how evolving trade patterns have altered environmental impacts. Our findings will shed light on the unequal health consequences arising from global trade and provide insights for coordinated pollution mitigation strategies.

Building Engineering Education Research Capacity for a Diverse 21st Century Workforce  

  • Cornell PI: Allison Godwin, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, ENG      

  • UCL PI: John Mitchell, Communications Systems Engineering        


Allison Godwin headshot

Rapid shifts in technology demand an engineering workforce prepared to leverage large amounts of data for evidence-based decision-making. However, many engineering programs have not kept pace with the data literacy skills needed. Additionally, current engineering undergraduate enrollment and job placement trends indicate slow progress in increasing gender and racial/ethnic diversity in the United States and the United Kingdom. This project brings together engineering education research across Cornell University and University College London to build capacity for cross-national research to support student development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes to support a diverse and well-prepared engineering workforce in three research foci: 1) experiential learning, 2) data literacy, and 3) broadening participation in engineering to support workforce development. As engineering education emerges as a research field capable of creating solutions to these pressing problems, the growing expertise at these institutions provides an opportunity to develop cutting-edge scholarship to support these essential student outcomes.

Can We Control the Climate? Reconciling Technical, Scientific, and Political Constraints on Stratospheric Aerosol Injection Deployment Strategies  


Stratospheric Aerosol Injection (SAI) is a proposal to create a layer of reflective aerosols to cool the planet, offsetting some of the impacts of climate change. Whether and how to deploy SAI would be a choice, as the location and volume of aerosol injections could be fine-tuned to achieve different climate outcomes. With this grant, the team would seek to integrate engineering, scientific, and policy perspectives, at a workshop at Cornell and a follow-up meeting at UCL. The team will bring together expertise on the technical deployment characteristics of SAI, knowledge of control systems science, an awareness of the model uncertainties and the challenges of detection and attribution, with an appreciation of the constraints that policymakers would face in deciding on a course of action. The result of this effort will be a research agenda to be jointly pursued by a collaboration between UCL and Cornell.

War and the State*           

*Note: This is a tripartite project with King's College that also received a King's-Cornell Seed Grant.  


"Wait for Me, Daddy," taken by Claude P. Dettloff (Public Domain)
"Wait for me, Daddy" (The National Archives of Canada, Claude P. Dettloff)

What is modern war? What is the nature of the violence it entails? What are the boundaries between the legitimate and illegitimate uses of force? To answer these fundamental questions, the “War and the State” project analyses war as a conflict not just between armies but between societies, a social activity that is shaped by the economic and political structures of the society from which it emerges and made possible by the capacity of the modern state for organized violence. In so doing, the project brings together traditional operational histories as well as new work on civil-military relations, recognizing that the structures of warring societies—including their race and gender hierarchies, divisions of labor, and conceptions of citizenship—are a central factor in understanding changes in battlefield tactics, grand strategy, the new technologies with which wars are won and lost, and the kinds of demands that the state can make on its people.

Universidad San Francisco de Quito–Cornell University

Comparative Genomics of Listeria Isolates from Ready-to-Eat Foods in Ecuador: Implications to Public Health in Ecuador and Abroad        

  • Cornell PI: Renato Orsi, Food Science, CALS     
  • USFQ PI: Lorena Mejia, Instituto de Microbiologia, College of Biological and Environmental Sciences  


Meat market

Listeria monocytogenes is a foodborne pathogen that causes listeriosis, a severe infection with a 15-25% mortality rate afflicting mainly immunocompromised individuals, the elderly, and pregnant women. In Ecuador, listeriosis is not a notifiable disease, so reliable estimates of the burden of the disease are unknown. Nevertheless, previous studies suggest contamination with L. monocytogenes in different foods (36% in artisanal cheeses, and 16% in meat products). In this study, we will sequence the genomes of 51 L. monocytogenes isolates from ten types of ready-to-eat foods commonly found and consumed in Ecuador. These data will then be used to identify virulence genes and assess whether these Ecuadorian food isolates are closely related to previously sequenced Ecuadorian clinical and cheese isolates, and to global clinical L. monocytogenes isolates present in public databases. In addition, isolates showing different pathogenic potential will be assessed for their lethality in the zebrafish embryo model system.

Diversity and Adaptation in the Andean Blueberry: Genomic Insights into Plant Survival at Environmental Extremes               


Maria Torres on a field trip to collect Andean blueberry samples
Maria Torres on a field trip to collect Andean blueberry samples

The Andean blueberry (Vaccinium floribundum) is found in the paramo, a high-altitude ecosystem unique to the Andean highlands. In order to live in this habitat, it has evolved remarkable adaptations to withstand the harsh environmental conditions and seasonally limited access to nutrients and water. A collaboration between the Plant Biotechnology Laboratory (USFQ) and the Specht Laboratory (Evolution of Plant Form and Function) at Cornell University aims to better understand the genetic and evolutionary basis of these adaptations. Through comparative genomic analyses, we aim to discover the genetic signatures that distinguish high-altitude populations from their lower-land counterparts. Using genomic techniques within an evolutionary framework, we aim to identify the genetic factors that allow the Andean blueberry to adapt to extreme paramo conditions such as high altitude, intense UV radiation, freezing temperatures and limited oxygen. With profound implications for understanding and mitigating the effects of climate change, this research promises to develop strategies to protect vulnerable ecosystems and the conservation of endemic plant species of biological and cultural value to the Andean region.

Rivers, Rights, and the Ecosystem of Urban Life    

  • Cornell PI: Mildred Warner, Global Development (also City and Regional Planning), CALS (also AAP)

  • USFQ PI: Andres Martinez-Moscoso, Colegio de Jurisprudencia               


Andres Martinez-Moscoso and students in Ecuador

Ecuador is the first country to enshrine 'rights of nature' in its constitution. Since 2008 advocates have used this to push for the protection of rivers, forests, and wildlife. In the US, advocates are beginning to use 'rights of nature' as a legal argument as well, but without the constitutional support found in Ecuador. In Ecuador, these cases open up new avenues for protecting nature and have been used by urban residents, youth and indigenous people to protect their rivers and water supply and force attention to climate change. This study will explore these legal approaches, and their impacts on the environment, the city, and the state. The research will be presented to the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program at Cornell, the Land, Climate, and Justice Conference at the University of Virginia School of Law, and to a workshop in Ecuador on how cities can protect the rights of nature.

Building Local Capacity And Improving AI-powered Automated Acoustic Identification For Robust Avian Monitoring In The Western Amazonian Biodiversity Hotspot   


Acoustic avian monitoring in the Amazon

Identification of songs and calls is the best way to monitor imperiled Amazonian bird communities. There are few trained observers in this region but an ever-increasing amount of audio survey data from automated recorders. There is thus an urgent need to train AI tools to identify bird sounds in audio recordings. Merlin Sound ID is an AI tool for bird sound identification developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Merlin's precision, efficiency, and scalability make it an ideal tool to monitor bird populations in the Amazon, yet 65% of the region's species are not yet supported. To improve the identification abilities of Merlin, USFQ and Cornell will increase the number of recordings of Amazonian birds by expanding local capacity to record bird sounds. This project will be based at USFQ's Tiputini Biodiversity Station, where we will pilot the use of Merlin to analyze standardized audio survey data collected there.

Fisheries, Fishing Communities and Whale Populations in a Changing World: Effects of Climate Change, Drug Trafficking and Ghost Nets on Community, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health       


Fishing boats on the water

In northern Ecuador, the tropical province of Esmeraldas hosts a richly biodiverse marine landscape. Resulting tourism, fisheries, and aquaculture support local livelihoods. However, a shift in drug trafficking from Colombia to Ecuador has increased piracy. That piracy is negatively impacting the ecosystem and fishing communities. The proposed research takes a systems approach to understanding the cascading impacts of narco-trafficking piracy and abandoned, lost, or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) - or ghost nets. Pirates often force fishers to discard fishing gear; the resulting ALDFG then harms reef ecosystems, cetacean health (as whales are caught by the discarded nets) and fisheries. Piracy harms locals by threatening safety, food security, and incomes. We use data from ecosystem monitoring and interviews with local fishers to analyze the connections between ecosystem status, fishery health, and well-being of the local population. We aim to provide a baseline for future collaborations to enhance the integration of ecosystem and social health.

Scientific Collaborators: Annalise Povolo, Gabriela Navarrete