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Joint Research and Education Seed Grant Awards

Global Cornell awarded more than $200,000 to 44 Cornell-Hub faculty teams to support emerging research and teaching collaborations, with matching funds from eight Global Hubs partner universities.

These Joint Research and Education Seed Grants bring faculty from partner institutions together to develop joint projects to strengthen Cornell and Global Hubs partner universities' strategic priorities and develop multidisciplinary cutting-edge research and curriculum to create academic and societal impact.

The grants were awarded in December 2022, and projects will run from January 1 through December 31, 2023.


University of Edinburgh–Cornell University

Does a Strange Subunit of Nature’s Primary CO2-Fixing Enzyme Change its Kinetics and Promote Liquid-Liquid Phase Separation?

  • Cornell PI: Laura Gunn, Plant Biology, School of Integrative Plant Science, CALS

  • Edinburgh PI: Alistair McCormick, Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, School of Biological Sciences    

Abstract

Photosynthetic organisms make sugars from carbon dioxide (CO2) using an enzyme called Rubisco. Rubisco is considered inefficient because oxygen can compete with CO2 for its active site. To enhance Rubisco’s performance, some organisms condense Rubisco into a liquid-like micro-compartment called a pyrenoid that is fed with CO2. One-third of global carbon capture is mediated by a pyrenoid, and they have considerable untapped potential to improve growth in important crop plants. Rubisco has small and large subunits; the small subunit (RbcS) interacts with linker proteins that bring Rubisco together into the pyrenoid. We have identified a peculiar version of RbcS in hornworts that appears to have its own in-built linker protein. We aim to characterize the role of this unique RbcS in pyrenoid formation, evaluate the influence of this RbcS on Rubisco performance, and reconstitute a basic Rubisco condensate in a model land plant as a ‘proof-of-principle’ of the transferability of the hornwort pyrenoid to crop plants.

Frontiers of Finance: Debt, Insurance, and Financial "Innovation" in Kenya

  • Cornell PI: Amiel Bize, Anthropology, A&S

  • Edinburgh PI: Kevin Donovan, African and Development Studies

Abstract

Contemporary Kenya is a leading site for financial innovation, with a stream of new products being designed to meet a range of needs. Part of a wider effort, sometimes called “financial inclusion,” these products explicitly seek to incorporate demographics previously marginalized by finance. Yet the risks of over-indebting and further marginalizing the poor are stark. Our collaborative project will explore the ‘frontiers of finance’ in Kenya. Analyzing micro-insurance schemes and digital debt products, we will consider what financial expansion looks like in practice. We will also use this research as an opportunity to cultivate a broader conversation about financial frontiers—both in our teaching and through the creation of a research network that can bring together scholars working on similar questions in other regional contexts.

Preparing for Flight: How do Malaria Parasites Maximize Transmission

  • Cornell PI: Megan Greischar, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, CALS
  • Edinburgh PI: Sarah Reece, Institute of Ecology and Evolution and Institute of Immunology and Infection Research SBS/CSE

Abstract

Sarah Reece looking at mosquitoes

Life in seasonal environments means facing extreme environmental fluctuations. The re-emergence of mosquito vectors at the end of the dry season means that malaria parasites must switch from persistence within a host to transmission. The rapid increase in malaria cases at the beginning of each wet season suggests malaria parasites achieve this by sensing the presence of vectors. We propose that malaria parasites respond to the introduction of chemicals in the saliva injected by mosquitoes during blood feeding - as demonstrated for another insect-borne pathogen, Leishmania. We will test this hypothesis, revealing new and sophisticated strategies for malaria parasites and establishing a novel target for interventions that are urgently needed to break the transmission cycle. By establishing proof of principle that malaria parasites up/down-regulate their transmission activities in line with seasonal increases/decreases in mosquito population dynamics, we will use the resulting publication as the basis for a large, collaborative grant application.

Did We Spot Life? False Biosignatures in Exoplanet Reflectance Spectra

  • Cornell PI: Lisa Kaltenegger, Astronomy, A&S
  • Edinburgh PI: Sean McMahon, School of Physics and Astronomy and School of GeoSciences

Abstract

The proposed project will consist of a new collaboration between the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell (CSI) and the UK Center for Astrobiology (UKCA) at Edinburgh, two of the world’s leading hubs for astrobiological research. PI Kaltenegger at Cornell has previously pioneered the use of hemispherical reflectance measurements from biological materials as analogs for the biosignatures that may be resolvable on exoplanets. Co-I McMahon at Edinburgh has led the study of “false biosignatures”: signals that mimic evidence of life but, in fact, arise from non-biological processes. In this new collaboration, we will test the novel hypothesis that certain combinations of minerals, organic matter, and atmospheric conditions may lead to false biosignatures in exoplanet reflectance spectra obtained by the next generation of telescopes. We anticipate important and eminently publishable results which will pave the way for significant further collaboration between the CSI and the UKCA in future years.

Assisting Bird Audio Identification With On-Device Machine Learning Model for Species Range Estimation

  • Cornell PI: Jessie Barry, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, CALS
  • Edinburgh PI: Oisin Mac Aodha, School of Informatics

Abstract

Estimating the geographical range of a species from in situ observational data is a challenging and important geospatial prediction problem. Given a set of locations indicating where a species has been observed, the goal is to learn a model that can predict how likely it is for the species to be present at any other location. While this is a well-studied problem, traditional approaches do not avail of the latest methodology in machine learning. We will investigate new approaches for spatial representation learning that jointly estimate the geographical ranges of thousands of different species. We will apply the developed models to data from the citizen science platform eBird which will result in efficient range estimation solutions that can be deployed on mobile devices. Success will be measured by using our estimated ranges as a geographical filter for the machine-learning predictions of the popular Merlin Sound ID app.

Making the Thermal Future: A Cornell-Edinburgh Platform for Interdisciplinary Collaboration

  • Cornell PI: Alex Nading, Anthropology, A&S
  • Edinburgh PI: Jamie Cross, Social Anthropology

Abstract

From the impact of net zero targets on energy systems to the impact of acute heatwaves on health, climate change is driving innovations in thermal technologies and infrastructures. A new thermal future is being made. This project seeks to understand the social and economic implications of the thermal future. Our focus is on the emerging solutions to heating and cooling that connect diverse communities of people: from those who see heating and cooling innovations as sources of commercial value, to those who see heating and cooling as something to be technically managed, to those who see heating and cooling through the prism of labor and justice. Our collaboration will establish an interdisciplinary, cross-campus scholarly network capable of seeding future research and funding opportunities, and it will catalyze disciplinary work in the qualitative social sciences on the making of the thermal future.

GEOHUB: A Trans-Atlantic Collaboration on Deep Geothermal Energy Risk Communication (Part I)

Three-way project with Cornell, University of Edinburgh, and King's College

  • Cornell PI: Katherine McComas, Communication, CALS
  • Edinburgh PI: Darrick Evensen, Department of Politics and International Relations

Abstract

Geothermal drilling rig

Our project will establish GEOHUB, a trans-Atlantic deep geothermal energy research collaboration between Cornell, Edinburgh University, and King’s College London. Recent advances in deep geothermal systems, like Cornell’s Earth Source Heat Project, have made considerable renewable energy extractable worldwide. Widespread adoption of this emerging technology could significantly address climate change and energy insecurity. Past resistance to new energy technologies exemplifies why research is needed to avoid communication failures and engage the public before controversies occur. To establish durable foundations for GEOHUB, we will: (1) Conduct a cross-national comparative US-UK survey to define a baseline of public concerns, values, and perceptions of deep geothermal energy, (2) Publish the findings in a scientific journal, (3) Organize a multi-stakeholder workshop at King’s to strengthen our European network, (4) Conduct an academic workshop at Edinburgh to discuss GEOHUB’s future directions, and (5) Submit a joint international grant application to help guarantee the durability of our collaboration.

Advancing Cornell-Edinburgh Leadership in Sustainability Education*

Abstract

Advancing Cornell-Edinburgh Leadership in Sustainability Education

Current environmental, economic, and social crises require urgent action at global, national, and local levels. Local communities can respond by taking civic actions—such as engaging in environmental policy-making and political activism, critiquing and influencing social norms, facilitating civic ecology education, and organizing stewardship projects. Through this research, the Cornell-Edinburgh partnership will lay the foundation for an online sustainability education course for community leaders and educators globally to prepare them to take local civic actions for sustainability. The Cornell-Edinburgh research team will conduct a series of interviews with government and civic informants in the UK and the U.S. to inform online teaching focused on sustainability and civic action. We will create recommendations for an online course focused on equity, cultural contexts, civic engagement, and horizontal exchange of ideas to strengthen local sustainability actions. The research results will also be published and used to leverage funding for the development of the collaborative online sustainability education course. Alex Kudryavtsev is working closely with Co-PIs Marianne Krasny and Beth Christie on this project.

*Funded through Cornell ICC grants


Hong Kong University of Science and Technology–Cornell University

Competing or Complementary Hegemons? An Analysis of the West’s Responses to China’s Belt and Road Initiative

  • Cornell PI: Ding Fei, Global Development, CALS
  • HKUST PI: Naubahar Sharif, Division of Public Policy

Abstract

Since the inception of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, it has attracted much scholarly, media, and policy attention to the ways that China is challenging the existing world order. Existing research has explored the geo-strategic, geo-economic, and geo-cultural dimensions of the BRI. Yet, there are fewer studies that examine traditional powers’ responses to the BRI and the effects of those responses. This collaborative project synthesizes the various initiatives, strategies, and cooperation platforms emerging in the developed world to counter the BRI. We ask in what ways these responses are competitive or complementary to the BRI and whether/how they influence the contours of the BRI. The outcomes of this project aim to foster a critical understanding of a rising China in the global political economy and guide the development of future interdisciplinary research agenda to unpack the regional impacts. 

CryoEM Structures of Eukaryotic DNA Replication Complexes

  • Cornell Co-PI: Marcus Smolka, Molecular Biology and Genetics, CALS
  • Cornell Co-PI: Bik-Kwoon Tye, Molecular Biology and Genetics, CALS
  • HKUST PI: Shangyu Dang, Division of Life Science

Abstract

The Dang Group (HKUST), Bik-Kwoon Tye (Cornell), together with the Zhai Group (HKU) are currently collaborating on the study of the structure of the yeast/human replisomes in normal and S-phase arrested cells using single particle cryo-electron microscopy. Marcus Smolka is an expert on phosphoregulation of replication machinery, especially in cells under DNA replication stress. We envision a possible future collaboration that involves Smolka, Tye, Shangyu Dang, and Yuanliang Zhai studying the phosphoregulation of replisomes at the atomic structural level, which will inform the dynamic mechanistic functions of replisomes as they encounter cellular stress. This bold, challenging, and high-impact vision requires time, scale, and resources to realize. We will use this seed grant to develop a liaison among these groups to form a platform for global collaboration on a high-impact project.

Measuring the Evolution of Urban Renewal in the United States Using Satellite Imagery and Deep Learning

  • Cornell PI: Wenfei Xu, City and Regional Planning, AAP
  • HKUST PI: Fan Zhang, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Abstract

The set of mid-20th urban redevelopment interventions in the United States, generally initialized with the demolition of poor, urban, and often minority neighborhoods, was transformational for the physical urban fabric and socioeconomic trajectories of these neighborhoods and their displaced residents. Despite the depth of research on particular cities, there is sparse research that systematically investigates these programs at a national level. A crucial reason is the lack of detailed, neighborhood-level data on the sites of urban renewal. Using a combination of archival records from the Housing and Home Finance Agency and the Urban Renewal Administration, partially digitized maps records from the Digital Scholarship Lab, and aerial imagery from Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, this demonstration project will begin to create a national dataset of urban renewal sites and estimate the impact of urban renewal on the socioeconomic, racial, and housing outcomes on neighborhoods around the area.

Understanding the Interaction Between Compound Heat Waves and Urban Heat Island Effect

  • Cornell PI: Qi Li, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell Engineering
  • HKUST PI: Jiachuan Yang, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Abstract

More than half of the global population lives in cities, and urbanization and climate change impose new sustainability challenges. The urban heat island (UHI) effect makes cities vulnerable to heat waves. Moreover, compound heat waves (CHWs) – multiple heat waves occurring in sequence with cool breaks between them, are predicted to constitute a greater proportion of heat wave hazards due to global climate change. However, the interactions between the CHWs and UHI have so far remained elusive. This collaborative project will advance the fundamental knowledge of how CHW affects UHI under global climate change and how mitigation strategies work differently in distinct global cities. The research design involves multiple global cities, which will inform science-based decision-making in adapting to climate change, given the diversity of urban environments. As important global issues will be investigated, this project will inspire and increase awareness of students in both institutions about climate change and sustainability.


King's College London–Cornell University

Axions in String Theory

  • Cornell PI: Liam McAllister, Physics, A&S
  • KCL PI: David Marsh, Faculty of Natural, Mathematical & Engineering Sciences

Abstract

A collaborative research project between Liam McAllister’s group at Cornell and David J.E. Marsh at King’s will uncover new limits on string theory. McAllister’s group specializes in computing the properties of axion fields in string theory, while Marsh has expertise in the physics of axions, including astrophysical and cosmological constraints. Through joint work, measurements of X-rays from astrophysical sources can be translated into limits on the quantum-mechanical properties of gravity. Graduate student Naomi Gendler and postdoctoral researcher Jakob Moritz, both of Cornell, will visit King’s for periods of two weeks at a time in order to catalyze this collaboration and lay the foundation for publication. They will perform on-site adaptations of computational software developed at Cornell and simultaneously learn analysis techniques from Marsh and his group at King’s.

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Occupations: Comparative Perspectives from the U.S. and the UK

  • Cornell PI: Isabel Perera, Government, A&S
  • KCL PI: Andreas Kornelakis, Business School, SIME Department

Abstract

Will robots take over our jobs? This Cornell-King's collaboration examines how artificial intelligence (AI) has influenced major knowledge-intensive services sectors, such as telecommunications and health care -- and how governments, employers, and workers have responded to the challenges that smart technologies pose for the world of work. Taking the United States and the United Kingdom as our case studies, we will explore a wide range of emerging issues and countervailing forces (e.g., public policies, professional associations, vocational training systems, licensing bodies and laws, unions, and labor market regulation). The study aims to be the first to systematically map these issues in the United States and the United Kingdom, with the goal of launching a mixed-methods project that covers a broader set of country cases. In so doing, the collaboration leverages the interdisciplinary expertise of our institutions to inform policy debates at the intersection of AI and work.

Pivotal Powers in the U.S.-China Competition

  • Cornell PI: Jessica Chen Weiss, Government, A&S
  • KCL PI: Ramon Pacheco-Pardo, European & International Studies

Abstract

What role do pivotal states play in great power competition and transition? Drawing from existing works on hedging and middle powers, we propose a novel understanding of "pivotal powers"—secondary states with regional influence that operate in overlapping spheres of great power influence—to analyze their strategies for shaping and revising global governance institutions amid rising systemic uncertainty. To illustrate our framework, we trace the strategies of four pivotal powers in the context of the current U.S.-China competition: Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, and South Africa. In doing so, we show how pivotal powers can constrain or exacerbate great power competition and the implications their strategies hold for the future of global governance in the post-hegemonic world.

Mapping Harmful Algal Bloom Dynamics in Lake Victoria to Understand the Impact on Local Communities

  • Cornell PI: Kathryn Fiorella, Public and Ecosystem Health, Veterinary College
  • KCL PI: Emma Tebbs, Geography/Social Science and Public Policy

Abstract

Boat on lake with algal bloom

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are growing in extent, duration, and scope around the world. Beset by widespread and frequent HABs, East Africa’s Lake Victoria offers an exceptional context to study the dynamics and impacts of blooms. We propose here to integrate satellite-based monitoring tools to detect bloom conditions and extent developed by King’s College researchers with on-the-ground data collected by Cornell researchers, both in collaboration with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) and Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD). This partnership will facilitate satellite-based monitoring of HAB seasonal patterns and long-term trends and link HABs to public and ecosystem health challenges, including toxin accumulation in fish and drinking water and environmental impacts of aquaculture. The team’s regional investment, strong connections to KMFRI/RCMRD, and commitment to jointly advancing knowledge, publications, and external funding applications will enable us to leverage this project for long-term impacts.

Assessment of Phenotypes and Outcomes of COVID and its Sequelae in the US and the UK*

  • Cornell PI: Mark Weiner, Population Health Sciences, Weill Cornell Medicine
  • KCL PI: Vasa Curcin, Population Health Sciences, School of Life Course and Population Sciences

Abstract

The proposal aims to establish a common framework for analyzing Covid and Long-Covid presentations, pathways, and outcomes across the UK and U.S. health systems. The Post Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Infection (PASC), or Long COVID, is a new and widely spread condition, defined as fatigue, breathlessness, cognitive dysfunction, and a variety of other symptoms occurring after COVID-19 infection. The teams at Cornell and King’s are both engaged in large research programs around PASC (RECOVER and LOCOMOTION, respectively) and share an interest and expertise in computable phenotypes. During this initial collaboration, we shall design a collaborative framework that will enable joint studies based on sharing phenotypes and models. All methodological outputs will be shared with the community, promoting reproducibility and reuse. The project will pave the way toward a larger joint grant exploring the use of phenotypes for federated machine learning and disease-focused assessment and evaluation of health systems.

GEOHUB: A Trans-Atlantic Collaboration on Deep Geothermal Energy Risk Communication (Part II)

Three-way project with Cornell, Edinburgh, and King's College

  • Cornell PI: Katherine McComas, Communication, CALS
  • KCL PI: Ragnar Lofstedt, Geography/School of Global Affairs

Abstract

Geothermal drilling rig

Our project will establish GEOHUB, a trans-Atlantic deep geothermal energy research collaboration between Cornell, Edinburgh University, and King’s College London. Recent advances in deep geothermal systems, like Cornell’s Earth Source Heat Project, have made considerable renewable energy extractable worldwide. Widespread adoption of this emerging technology could significantly address climate change and energy insecurity. Past resistance to new energy technologies exemplifies why research is needed to avoid communication failures and engage the public before controversies occur. To establish durable foundations for GEOHUB, we will: (1) Conduct a cross-national comparative US-UK survey to define a baseline of public concerns, values, and perceptions of deep geothermal energy, (2) Publish the findings in a scientific journal, (3) Organize a multi-stakeholder workshop at King’s to strengthen our European network, (4) Conduct an academic workshop at Edinburgh to discuss GEOHUB’s future directions, and (5) Submit a joint international grant application to help guarantee the durability of our collaboration.

*Funded by Weill Cornell Medicine


National University of Singapore–Cornell University

A Home in the Hills: Land, Family, and Futures in the Eastern Himalayas

  • Cornell PI: Sarah Besky, ILR School
  • NUS PI: Sahana Ghosh, Sociology and Anthropology

Abstract

This project explores agrarian transitions in the eastern Himalayas through family histories. Assistant Professor Sahana Ghosh and Associate Professor Sarah Besky will co-locate for ethnographic fieldwork in the Kalimpong and Darjeeling districts of the Indian state of West Bengal during the summer of 2023. The primary objectives of this fieldwork are 1) to develop a historical anthropological methodology to study agrarian transformations through family histories; 2) to seed long-term collaborative ethnographic fieldwork and writing; 3) to bring together inquiry into the two forms of labor that have long shaped life in the region but are often taken as discrete processes: military service and agricultural surplus production. Family histories bring together diverse livelihoods and economies and highlight the interconnections between types of migratory and agrarian labor, the value of land, and the futures of indigenous communities in the age of climate catastrophe.

Building Natural History Collections in the 21st Century Through a Collaborative NUS-Cornell Exchange of People, Specimens, and Ideas

  • Cornell PI: Irby Lovette, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, CALS
  • NUS PI: Frank Rheindt, Biological Sciences

Abstract

Collection of bird specimens in museum

Natural history collections form the backbone of organismal biology. They document global biodiversity, provide the longest—and in some cases only—time-series data about populations, and help solve conservation problems. Despite the value of specimens, legal, ethical, and public perception challenges make it ever more difficult to justify the active collecting of many vertebrates, thereby limiting our ability to document changes in biodiversity and ecosystem health. Museums must therefore re-image how specimens are acquired and prioritize "salvage" efforts to gain specimens from unintended animal deaths (i.e., window collisions). Researchers at Cornell and the NUS have long salvaged bird carcasses for scientific discovery and conservation. Through this collaboration, we will re-imagine how natural history collections support the global research community by initiating a scalable, collaborative specimen salvage network that results in continued collections growth. This initiative will further strengthen Cornell’s and NUS’s position as leaders in biodiversity science.

Towards Real-World Robotic Caregiving: Bridging the Gap Between Roboticists and Healthcare Professionals

  • Cornell PI: Tapomayukh Bhattacharjee, Computer Science, Cornell Bowers CIS
  • NUS PI: Harold Soh, Computer Science, School of Computing

Abstract

Developing meaningful solutions for robotic caregiving requires roboticists and other stakeholders, such as care recipients, caregivers, and occupational therapists, to come together to design, develop, and evaluate use-inspired technologies. Through this project, we are proposing to organize an interdisciplinary workshop that would enable roboticists and healthcare professionals to come together to engage in a dialogue to define key problems and brainstorm meaningful solutions. In addition to defining key problems in this field, one of the barriers to developing real-world solutions is the lack of realistic data. We propose to use this workshop to also collect multimodal data of realistic human caregiver-care recipient physical interactions for some of those key identified problems. Key outcomes of this project would be a network of interdisciplinary teams and problems in the domain of physical robotic caregiving and a public dataset of multimodal (vision, tactile, etc.) physical human-robot interaction scenarios.

Seaweed as Climate Technology: Assessing Barriers to and Potential of Expanded Algae Production in Indonesia

Abstract

Harvesting seaweed in Indonesia

Seaweed can contribute significantly to climate change mitigation through its capture and storage of carbon and by providing a biofuel alternative to deforestation-causing palm oil. Indonesia is the world’s largest tropical producer of seaweed, with significant small-scale production undertaken by females. This project asks whether algae-based biofuel can be a significant part of Indonesia’s renewable energy transition and whether algae-based biofuel is a source of renewable energy globally. This project will investigate the multi-scalar benefits and harms of expanded algae production on marine ecosystems, local communities’ livelihoods, and climate mitigation. This Global Strategic Collaboration project thus places social sciences scholarship at the core of strategies involving nature-based solutions to climate change and will involve fieldwork in Indonesia and meetings of collaborators in Singapore. The research will also contribute to both universities’ efforts to build resilience to climate change challenges by developing low-carbon initiatives with social, economic, and environmental co-benefits.

Digital Twin Models: A Comparative Approach to Global Methods

Abstract

Urban models, like digital twins, are used by decision-makers to manage and plan for uncertain futures. Digital twins are models that abstract reality and test ‘what-if’ scenarios in a virtual environment. This collaboration bridges pre-existing projects on digital twin models conducted at the National University of Singapore and Cornell University. The NUS team is examining the human-model interaction in the model-making process of a digital twin project in Singapore. The Cornell team has surveyed digital twin models globally, constructing a database of over 50 digital twin platforms to examine the gap between rhetoric found in marketing literature and the technical realities of each software platform. This grant will support collaborative workshops, journal paper writing, and model development. The objective of this collaboration is to establish a comparative lens on digital twin models, to develop a multidimensional method, and to prototype an alternative practice of digital twin model construction.

Designing Conversational Agents to Modulate Humans’ Belief in Misinformation

Abstract

Misinformation leads to increased social stigma and crises. Although technologies may help detect and curb misinformation, they might strengthen false beliefs when falsely responding to misinformation. Recently, the demonstration of the chatGPT has not only shown the potential of a Conversational Agent (CA) but alarmed people that it could lead to detrimental consequences. Therefore, this project aims to facilitate the development of new interventions to enhance human abilities to identify misinformation, building on the CAs which have been adopted to combat misinformation during COVID-19. Previous studies showed CAs could facilitate fact-checking and myth-busting; however, the effects of such CAs on people’s attitudes and immunity toward misinformation and the potential of CAs to strengthen people’s critical thinking and help them become resilient to information manipulation remain under-explored. We will leverage the PIs’ expertise in computer-mediated communication and human-robot (AI) interaction to contribute to the design for reducing the effects of misinformation.

Capturing the Role of Microglia-Neuron Interactions in the Early Stages of Neurodegeneration with a New Human in Vivo Model*

  • Cornell PI: Li Gan, Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute, Weill Cornell Medicine
  • NUS PI: Vicenzo De Paola, Neuroscience and Behavioural Disorders, Duke-NUS Medical School

Abstract

Tauopathies, which include Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), are fatal neurodegenerative conditions for which no disease-modifying treatment is available to date. One of the main reasons why therapeutic approaches for AD and FTD have failed so far is that the early stages of the disease are not well understood. The overall goal of this project is to capture the role of early microglia-neuron interactions, an issue so far inaccessible in human experimental in vivo models. We will achieve this by combining transplanted patient-induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPSC)-derived cortical progenitors and neurons, which in the adult mouse brain self-assemble in large vascularised territories with complex cytoarchitecture and functionality, complemented with patient iPSC-derived microglia, a major population of brain cells implicated in tauopathies. Overall, this project will create a more advanced human multicellular in vivo model and tackle the early stages of axon and synaptic dysfunction in neurodegenerative diseases.

The Juice is Worth the Squeeze: The Role of Chromatin Architecture in Confined Migration-Induced Phase Separation* 

  • Cornell PI: Jan Lammerding, Biomedical Engineering, Cornell Engineering and Weill Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology
  • NUS PI: Andrew Holle, Biomedical Engineering and Mechanobiology Institute

Abstract

Phases of liquid-liquid phase separation in cells

The principle of "liquid-liquid phase separation" (LLPS) has recently captured the attention of scientists, as it provides an intriguing mechanism by which molecules within a cell can form separate compartments, similar to the separation of oil and vinegar in a vinaigrette over time. Most prior research has focused on chemical signals governing LLPS; here, the two PIs, Jan Lammerding and Andrew Holle will investigate how external mechanical cues can modulate LLPS inside living cells. Using complementary molecular biology approaches and microfabricated devices developed in their laboratories, they will determine how the physical stress associated with cells migrating through microscopic constrictions that mimic the confined spaces within the human body can alter the organization of intracellular structures via LLPS. These studies will provide an improved understanding on the effect of confined migration on various biological processes, ranging from the recruitment of immune cells to sites of infections to the metastasis of cancer cells.

Innovating Emergency Department Triage Using Machine Learning*

  • Cornell PI: Yiye Zhang, Population Health Sciences, Weill Cornell Medicine
  • NUS PI: Nan Liu, Health Services and Systems Research, Duke-NUS Medical School

Abstract

The Emergency Department (ED) is crucial in ensuring public health worldwide. Established research teams at Cornell and NUS aim to tackle the challenge of imagining and innovating the future of the emergency department through technology. As a first step, we will study ED triage, a complex clinical judgment process that determines the level of care and ED resources. We will validate two existing and published machine learning algorithms to predict and triage according to the risk of hospital admission and mortality. The algorithms, the Score for Emergency Risk Prediction (SERP) tool, and Deep Significance Clustering (DICE) for ED triage were developed in our respective research studies using large-scale data in Singapore and the U.S. We will jointly review common data elements and refine our work into a universal ED triage tool through in-person workshops and discussions. Our effort will lead to a widely applied and validated ED triage tool across countries.

*Funded by Weill Cornell Medicine


University of Sydney–Cornell University

Defining Spatiotemporal Mechanisms that Promote Peripheral Nerve Regeneration

Abstract

Nerve magnified

Peripheral nerve damage can have devastating effects on a person’s quality of life. Regrowing nerves must navigate through a complex environment and interact with surrounding cells to reach their appropriate targets. Recent advances in imaging-based technology enable the examination of these interactions with unprecedented resolution in three dimensions. By combining these new tools with existing mutant models, this Project will shed light on the mechanisms underlying regeneration, with the potential for identifying new therapies that can enhance regrowth. It involves the combined strengths of a bioinformatician and a neurobiologist that will establish a strong foundation for future collaborations.

Minimally Disruptive Urbanism

  • Cornell PI: Lily Chi, Architecture, AAP

  • USYD PI: Chris Smith, Architectural Theory, School of Architecture, Design and Planning

Abstract

In 2008 the Catalan architect and urbanist Manuel de Solà-Morales suggested urban environments benefit from ‘small interventions, which create a ripple, not comprehensive development’. A decade on, cities now house over half the world’s population, and the health of cities has never been more precarious. This project focuses on socially and ecologically strained urban environments, exploring small-scale tactical interventions that significantly reduce the burden of large-scale development. This project will document the techniques, technologies, and support structures involved and will cultivate new knowledge about how a 'minimally disruptive urbanism' might better support complex and diverse cities and their ever-growing populations.

Molecular Polaritonics

Abstract

Electronic devices based on the interaction of light with matter are central to our technology-driven world. Semiconductors such as silicon are used to harvest sunlight in solar cells, while others are used to encode information into optical pulses that are sent around the world via fiber-optical cables. When semiconductors emit or absorb light, energy is exchanged between particles of light (a photon) and electrical current (an electron). Instead of discreet ‘jumps’, it is possible to make devices in which photons and electrons are mixed together by placing certain semiconductors between closely spaced mirrors. The mirrors act like tiny boxes, 'trapping’ photons so that they interact with the electrons and make them behave in entirely new—sometimes unexpected—ways. Bringing together expertise in molecular semiconductor devices, photonics, and ultrafast lasers, researchers at Cornell and the University of Sydney are exploring ways to harness these effects to make more efficient semiconductor devices.

Testing a Framework for Designing and Evaluating Scalable Online Assessment in a Global Higher Education Context

  • Cornell PI: Rene Kizilcec, Information Sciences, Cornell Bowers CIS

  • USYD PI: Elaine Huber, Business Co-Design Team, Business School

Abstract

The recent rapid, large-scale shift to online delivery in higher education has prioritized research to ensure the quality of online teaching, learning, and assessment. This collaborative study aims to validate a framework for evaluation and design of quality online assessments in a global context, building on a recent research project on Australia-wide online assessment practices. The expected outputs from this research will include the design of an online assessment interactive tool which enables the framework to be utilized at scale, presentation at a Learning at Scale conference, and submission of a larger grant between both universities. This project addresses a significant gap in the literature and practice of online assessment with implications for education, professional bodies, and employers by providing a comprehensive, evidence-based framework to enhance world-class online assessment practices.


University College London–Cornell University

Study of Novel Eco-Friendly Perovskite Semiconductors for Optoelectronic Applications

  • Cornell PI: Qiuming Yu, Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Cornell Engineering

  • UCL PI: Mojtaba Abdi Jalebi, Institute for Materials Discovery, Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Abstract

Optoelectronic devices such as photovoltaics, photodetectors, and light-emitting diodes incorporating new, inexpensive materials show tremendous promise to alter the energy landscape by reducing the cost of both energy production and consumption. Furthermore, the development of eco-friendly low-cost high-performance product-integrated photovoltaics and photodetectors is vital for the widespread adoption of wireless sensor networks and the Internet of Things that is set to disrupt the way we live and work. However, impacting these markets requires that new materials lower production costs and outperform the current technology in terms of cost and efficiency. Lead-free perovskite semiconductors are great candidates to address these requirements. Here, the UCL and Cornell research teams will perform a systematic study on the photophysical and structural properties of the novel eco-friendly perovskites with a scope of exploring their utility in highly efficient photovoltaics and photodetectors. The teams will establish long time collaborations to tackle the global sustainable energy challenges.

The Role of Transparency Frames in Human-AI Interaction and Trust

Abstract

Have you ever wondered how people decide whether or not to trust and use artificial intelligence (AI) technology in educational practice? The adoption of AI is impacted by many human factors, including misconceptions, myths, and fears about AI, but there isn’t much research on how these factors shape human-AI interactions in educational settings. We want to understand how different ways of presenting information about AI can affect people’s trust and adoption of AI-based educational technology. This understanding can help to design AI technologies that are more effective and easier for people to adopt. We can also provide educators with insights on how to responsibly adopt AI in their practice. The collaboration between Kizilcec and Cukurova brings together a unique blend of expertise in the fields of education and AI, and this project aims to start a potential long-term collaboration between both PIs’ teams at their respective institutes.

Migration and Refuge: Collaborations Across Borders

Abstract

Building on the interdisciplinary strengths in migration and refugee studies across Cornell and UCL, the “Migration and Refuge” Working Group will foster new opportunities for dialogue and sustainable collaboration among faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars, producing academic and public-facing outputs. We aim to advance understandings of borders, mobility, displacement, and refuge through interdisciplinary collaboration oriented around critical approaches to migration and refugee studies. We respond both to the realities of our global age of migration and displacement, as well as to the longer histories of policy and scholarship on borders and asylum that have centered Western and statist perspectives, rather than prioritize the voices and experiences of those crossing borders. Inter alia, we will build synergies around: Southern perspectives on migration and displacement-Scholarship and praxis that meaningfully recognize refugees as producers of knowledge-Refuge - rather than fetishization of the refugee - as a starting point of analysis.

Anthropocene World-Making / Aesthetics of Exposure

  • Cornell PI: Karen Pinkus, Romance Studies and Comparative Literature, A&S

  • UCL PI: Florian Mussgnug, School of European Languages, Culture and Society

Abstract

Plant producing greenhouse gasses

Our project brings together researchers in the humanities, social, and life sciences. “Exposure” is widely used in ecology (biological forms are exposed to foreign agents, perhaps toxic) and from photography (before the digital). We speak of limiting our exposure to ecological and financial risk. When we talk of invisible non-toxic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the question becomes more complex. At heart, our project asks about translation: what does it mean to take a term from one set of disciplines and apply it or scale it to another, say, from laboratory work in chemistry to narratives about survival, the emergence of radically new social and aesthetic constellations, or images of landscapes? Can such moves yield "solutions" beyond narrow spheres of expertise? Can exposure serve as a method for significant realignment in the Anthropocene?

School Management Practices and Pupils’ Socio-Emotional Development

  • Cornell PI: Daniela Scur, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

  • UCL PI: Nikki Shure, UCL Social Research Institute

Abstract

How a school is managed has important implications for pupils’ learning outcomes, with better management practices leading to better learning outcomes across the globe. However, the focus of outcomes has mostly been on grades or test score achievements, with less attention paid to outcomes such as socio-emotional development. This is despite an increasing body of evidence showing that socio-emotional skills matter for labor market and other life outcomes. For example, recent work has identified overconfidence as important in driving labor market success. This project will link existing international assessment data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) with new international management practice data for a range of countries to explore the relationship between school-level management practices and pupils’ socio-emotional skills, including overconfidence, work ethic, and perseverance.


Universidad San Francisco de Quito–Cornell University

Whole Genome Analysis of the Ecuadorian Hillstar: A Window into Hummingbird Evolution

Abstract

Colorful Hillstar bird on a plant in Ecuador

Hillstars are extraordinary creatures as they weigh only a few grams but can maintain a high metabolism at the low temperatures and low oxygen pressures of the Andean highlands. The Ecuadorian Hillstar from Chimborazo volcano differs in coloration patterns and in their high-frequency songs from those in other volcanoes of Ecuador, a signal of the insularity of volcano faunas. This project will sequence the genomes of Ecuadorian Hillstars, with the aim of understanding their evolutionary history. Genomic tools, while powerful, are not equally accessible, with limited opportunities for training outside of North America and Europe and private companies offering services at a marked-up and prohibitive cost. This project will foster international collaboration between USFQ in Ecuador and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and train an Ecuadorian student in genomic wet lab and bioinformatics techniques, transferring skills that can be used in subsequent studies and taught at their home institution.

Microbial Community Characterization of Gold Bioleaching Reactors During Various Stages of Operation

Abstract

Gold extraction from ores is mainly achieved using cyanide, mercury, or halides due to their high selectivity for this metal. However, these chemical species can be toxic to humans and the environment. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining widely incorporate these hazardous compounds into their practices, often under dangerous occupational practices. Nonetheless, when gold mining is the main or only source of income, the deleterious effects of their practices are not a main concern. Therefore, in this project, we aim to harness native cyanogenic bacteria or iodine-oxidizing bacteria capable of selectively extracting the metal of interest by a process known as biomining or bioleaching. Here we propose to implement bioleaching reactors, of which we will characterize the microbial community composition from the seed to the optimization of the reactor. Results will allow us to establish the optimum bacterial community and the conditions required to sustain gold bioleaching in a reactor.

Examining the Role of Large Vertebrates in Biogeochemical Cycling in the Western Amazon

Abstract

Despite being one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, paradoxically, the Amazon rainforest is in short supply of many nutrients critical for supporting biodiversity. This is particularly true for sodium (Na), which can be limiting for herbivorous animals. In response to Na limitation, large herbivores can seek and consume Na-rich soils in areas called mineral licks. These sites are ecologically and culturally significant due to their influence on animal movement; however, the importance of mineral lick use by animals for broader ecosystem processes remains unexplored. Nutrient dispersal by animals may have vital implications for ecosystem functioning, with overlooked consequences of anthropogenic disturbances (e.g., overhunting, oil extraction). Our collaborative research, based at USFQ’s Tiputini Biodiversity Station, bridges animal ecology and biogeochemistry to examine animal roles in rainforest nutrient cycling. Our goal is to highlight animal impacts on the functioning of rainforest ecosystems to better understand the consequences of biodiversity loss.

Aging in Ecuador: Challenges for Community Planning

Abstract

Contrary to popular belief, Ecuador is aging. Our collaborative research in Ecuador will help us understand the challenges associated with aging and develop solutions adapted to regional specificities. The research will take an all-ages approach to designing communities and planning that better meets the needs of residents across the life cycle. Local governments perceive aging as a profound change and need to plan and develop local responses according to a broader understanding of the challenge. This requires new approaches to planning and community policy. No Ecuadorian city has joined the WHO framework for Age-Friendly Cities, but this may provide a model for local action. We will determine which domains of the WHO framework are relevant in the Ecuadorian Andean context and which are not. Using a case study approach, we will explore the issues being faced on the ground, the possible responses, and the implications for planning and future research.

Informing Public Health Interventions: A Cross-Sectional Survey of Community Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices Towards Cutaneous Leishmaniasis in Three Endemic Regions of Ecuador

Abstract

Cutaneous Leishmaniasis under microscope

This study will assess community knowledge and practices related to cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) in Pichincha province, Ecuador. CL is a zoonotic vector-borne disease that leads to skin lesions and scarring in infected humans. Urbanization, deforestation, and climate change impact CL disease distribution and have contributed to recent increases in the disease in Ecuador, including Pichincha, and little is known about the CL epidemiology in this province. Prevention and control of leishmaniasis require a combination of strategies, including community education. The research team will use the study results to inform public health CL disease prevention programs in Ecuador. This is the first collaboration between USFQ’s medical school and Cornell’s Department of Public and Ecosystem Health. The project will be used for community-engaged learning, allowing students from both institutions to gain public health practice and research skills.

Levels of Biological Diversity: The Link Between Plant Interaction Diversity and Phytochemical Diversity in the Andean Asteraceae Shrub Baccharis Latifolia

Abstract

Diverse plants in the Andean environment

Plants produce a large diversity of secondary metabolites of which some have been shown to function as defenses against herbivores. One of the major driving questions in plant biology and chemical ecology is why individual plants maintain such a high diversity of compounds and why natural selection seems to drive further metabolic diversification on the population and species levels. Here we address major hypotheses that explain population-level variation in phytochemical diversity. We measure phytochemical diversity as a function of arthropod species diversity by taking advantage of steep elevational and population density gradients along the slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes. This project addresses rarely-tested fundamental hypotheses in ecology and evolution but also integrates concepts of two very impactful and fast-growing subfields, biodiversity research and chemical ecology. This later merger also unifies research that was traditionally focused in the tropics with that focused on temperate biomes, respectively.


Imperial College London–Cornell University

Evaluating Learning During Remote and In-Person Labs Using Machine Learning Analysis of Student Lab Artifacts

Abstract

Given the experience of remote physics lab courses during the pandemic, with virtual, simulation, and online collaboration labs being implemented at Imperial and Cornell, it is important to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of the different modalities for student learning to inform the development of future lab courses. Hence, we propose the question: Are remote/online physics labs as effective as in-person labs for students to learn experimental skills? However, to answer this question, we have to compare the two modalities, which is a challenge because they have not been contemporaneous. Therefore, we have identified artifacts that students produced during both remote and in-person physics labs that will provide evidence of experimental skills —these being lab notebooks (from Cornell) and lab reports (from Imperial). Due to the qualitative nature of these artifacts, we propose to use Natural Language Processing (NLP)—a form of machine learning – to systematically analyze a large number of lab artifacts. However, before answering the principle question, we first have to know whether NLP can be used to evaluate student learning of experimental skills from lab artifacts. This is the question we propose to address with the seed funding to build a foundation for further funding applications.

Wikipedia Editing: A Transatlantic Materials Collaboration

Abstract

We propose to organize a series of Wikipedia editing hackathons ("Wikipedia edit-a-thons") to empower students, staff, and faculty at the departments of Materials at Imperial College London and Materials Science and Engineering at Cornell to contribute to the free online encyclopedia. In the process, community members will (i) improve the (technical) content available at Wikipedia, (ii) hone their (science) communication skills (both written and visual), (iii) ameliorate the ways and the degree to which systemic inequities present in society are mirrored on Wikipedia, and (iv) establish connections between both campuses by collaborating on these editing projects. We will organize several edit-a-thons with different topical focuses (topics within the materials science curriculum, scientist biographies, etc.) and different target audiences (undergraduate students in different years or courses, graduate students, faculty, et al.). For each event, we will identify an overarching theme (e.g., electrochemistry, nanomaterials, mechanical properties of materials), specify comprehensive suggested editing targets, provide editing training and feedback, as well as organize follow-up mechanisms that allow the editors to finalize their work on an improvement or creation project.