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Arts & Sciences announces fall 2022 SPEED grant winners

The internal seed grant program “Seeding Projects for Enabling Excellence & Distinction” (SPEED) aims to spur novel and impactful research, scholarship, and creative practice initiatives led by tenure-track and research faculty in Arts & Sciences. These semiannual awards of up to $50,000 support the exploration and development of new scholarly and creative pathways across disciplines in and beyond Arts & Sciences.

This fall’s awardees comprise the second cohort of SPEED grant winners, following the program’s launch in spring 2022. The recipients include faculty from anthropology, biology, chemistry, economics, languages, music, and psychology. Their projects span topics from drug design to critical translation and from educational neuroscience to ecological processes.

Funding for these innovative projects will last one year, with expectations that the work will lead to external grant submissions, scholarly publications, or significant presentations or events.


Dynamic Cournot “Oil’Igopoly” with Private Information

Gaurab Aryal, associate professor of economics, will study dynamic quantity competition with proprietary cost information in the oil industry with the overall aim of understanding how the global crude-oil market works and finding ways to improve market efficiency. The work will include development of a new empirical framework that captures salient features of crude-oil markets, including uncertainty in market demand and investment decisions, leading to a more realistic and technically robust model.

Measurement of Real-World Spatial Navigation Skills and Daily Navigational Behaviors in Older Adults

Denise Head, professor of psychological and brain sciences and associate professor in radiology, will address gaps in data collected about older adults’ ability to navigate their surrounding environments and the potential negative impacts on daily life that arise from deficits in spatial navigation. Head’s primary aims are, first, to develop measures to assess spatial navigation skills and daily navigation behaviors in the real world and, second, to assess for age differences in cognitive mapping and relationships between cognitive mapping and daily navigational behaviors. The project will include collaboration with the Kemper Museum.

Artisanal Heart: The Sciences of Making in Early Modern Korea

Hyeok Hweon Kang, assistant professor in the Department of East Asian Languages in Cultures, will expand his methodology of “reworking” or reverse engineering Korean objects and their processes to gain insights into the original artisanal methods. In uncovering the knowledge of Korean artisans and practitioners, Kang will illustrate that early modern engineering was a global, rather than strictly Western, phenomenon with local variations. Kang’s ambitious reworking will provide material for the completion of his book manuscript Artisanal Heart.

Developing Geoarchaeological Methods to Investigate Hunter-Gatherer Earthwork Construction at Poverty Point, NE Louisiana

Tristram R. Kidder, the Edward S. and Tedi Macias Professor in the Department of Anthropology, will undertake proof-of-concept investigations at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Poverty Point in northeast Louisiana, the largest hunter-gatherer site in the world. The work will apply innovative geoarchaeological analytical methods to long-debated questions about social, political, and economic changes in hunter-gatherer societies, with particular attention to how the complex characteristics seen at Poverty Point contrast with current anthropological understandings of hunter-gatherers.

Dissociating Exemplar vs. Abstraction-Oriented Learning in the Human Brain

Mark McDaniel, director of the Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning, and Education (CIRCLE) and professor of psychological and brain sciences, and Zachariah Reagh, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, will collect pilot neuroimaging data as a springboard for future work in educational neuroscience. The work builds on the individual-differences framework developed by McDaniel to predict student performance in STEM courses. Reagh will direct an fMRI study of the brain mechanisms that support and characterize those individual differences, using the initial neuroimaging data to refine the team’s theoretical model of the brain areas that support different learning tendencies.

Fire Disturbance as a Driver of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning across Scales

Jonathan Myers, associate professor in the Department of Biology, will experimentally test the importance of fire disturbance in shaping biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships in a temperate forest ecosystem. By determining how fire alters ecological communities at different spatial scales and exploring the ecological processes underlying those changes, Myers’ project will deepen scientists’ understanding of how global changes in fire regimes impact critical services that ecosystems provide to humanity.

A Hybrid Machine Learning/Physics-Based Polarizable Force Field

Jay Ponder, professor of chemistry in Arts & Sciences, of biochemistry and molecular biophysics in the School and Medicine, and of biomedical engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering, will develop state-of-the-art, hybrid models for biomolecular simulation and drug design, combining machine learning and physics-based simulation technology to further reduce the time, effort, and expense of early stage drug development. The work will focus on how this hybrid approach can improve the accuracy and robustness of molecular simulations, particularly in their representations of potential energy functions or “force fields.”

Fire Ecologies Recording

Christopher Stark, associate professor of composition in the Department of Music, will fund a professional recording of his composition Fire Ecologies, a 55-minute unique musical and visual experience that explores American landscapes through the lens of climate change. The recording will be published on New York City-based record label, New Focus Recordings, and be accompanied by a promotional music video of the fourth movement, “Infernal Dance,” produced by Philadelphia-based video artists, Four/Ten Media, and published on YouTube. The recording and video will be done in the style of contemporary popular music, enabling Stark’s work to reach a larger audience.

Black Orpheus: Translating Vinicíus de Moraes’s Orfeu da Conceição to Page and Stage

Julia Walker, chair of the Performing Arts Department and professor of English and performing arts, will work with Mary Jo Bang, professor of English; Aaron Coleman, MFA ‘15, PhD ‘22; Ignacio Infante, associate professor of comparative literature and Spanish; Ron Himes, the Henry E. Hampton, Jr. Artist-in-Residence in the Performing Arts Department; and Brazil-based translator Rane Souza to produce the first English language translation of Orfeu da Conceição (1956), a play by Brazilian poet Vinícius de Moraes. The team aims to publish an annotated critical translation of the play in English and produce a full-stage version of the musical through a collaboration between the Performing Arts Department and the St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre Company.