Archives for Grant Awards

David Ruskin Awarded $380K NIH Grant for Research into Ketogenic Diet


David Ruskin with Trinity students working in his lab: (back row) Ariana Adamski ’17, Hannah Reichert ’18, (front row) Livia Wyss ’16, Subrina Bisnauth ’15, and Lizzy Foley ’17.

The ketogenic diet has been around for over 100 years as a treatment for epilepsy. Susan Masino, Vernon Roosa Professor of Applied Science, recently published an article finding that the diet’s effectiveness comes from increasing levels of adenosine. Building on that research and existing theories of neuroscience, David Ruskin, research assistant professor, is testing the proposition that the ketogenic diet can also be used to relieve pain. For that work, Ruskin was recently awarded a grant of over $380,000 from the National Institute of Health.

​Masino’s research, backed by a $1.7 million grant from the NIH, supports the theory that the ketogenic diet – a low-carbohydrate diet that treats epilepsy – works by increasing levels of adenosine, and other researchers have found that adenosine relieves pain. So it stands to reason that the ketogenic diet holds the potential to be successful in relieving pain. That proposition is what Ruskin and a group of Trinity undergraduate students are exploring in their research.

The six undergraduates are involved at every step of the research, including running tests and collecting data. Their work, if it confirms their hypothesis, could have tremendous implications: this natural treatment for inflammatory pain would be welcomed by those who, for a variety of reasons, cannot use traditional pain relievers.

It is likely to be at least a year before Ruskin and the students have preliminary results, but their work is under way. This research is made possible by one of the hallmarks of a Trinity education: faculty members and undergraduate students collaborating on cutting-edge research.

“It’s been a great seven years at Trinity,” said Ruskin, who joined the faculty in 2008. “Working with students and other faculty members is very enjoyable.”

Ruskin’s colleagues are equally enthusiastic about his work at Trinity.

“Dave is an amazing collaborator, and I can’t overstate how valuable he is to the laboratory,” said Masino. “Besides being a great scientist, he is a great writer and a great mentor to the students. Students who work with him are really lucky because his time is devoted almost 100 percent to the research and they get a lot of one-on-one attention from a highly trained scientist.”

Guggenheim Fellowship Awarded to Trinity Biblical Scholar Seth Sanders

S.SandersMain2.424x250Seth L. Sanders, an associate professor of religion at Trinity College, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to support his research and writing as a biblical scholar.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation grants funding to fellows based on “prior achievement and exceptional promise.” Sanders was one of 175 scholars, artists, and scientists selected this year, from among more than 3,100 applicants, in the Guggenheim Foundation’s 91st competition. Sanders also was recently awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to support his scholarly work.

Sanders plans to use his Guggenheim Fellowship and NEH grant to finish researching and writing his third title, Why We Can’t Read the Torah: The Form of the Pentateuch and the History of Ancient Hebrew Literature. Through this book, Sanders intends to analyze the literary values of the Torah to understand its place as one of Western history’s most fruitful pieces of literature.

“Religious people have struggled with the Bible’s contradictions since they first read it, and scholars have used them as a window into how it was created. What my project can explain is why those contradictions were put in the text in the first place,” Sanders said.

“As a collection of incompatible versions of similar stories, the Torah is unlike any other major work of ancient literature,” Sanders said. “Biblical scholarship still cannot agree on how this new paradigm arose. My project draws on ancient Near Eastern evidence to explain what is new about it by placing the Torah in literary history.”

Sanders, who has experience working with sources in Hebrew, Akkadian, Aramaic, and Ugaritic, will conduct his research in Philadelphia and Ann Arbor, Michigan, both of which have major research libraries and scholarly communities in his field.

Trained in Bible, Semitic languages, and comparative religion at Harvard, Hebrew University, and Johns Hopkins, Sanders has been a Trinity College faculty member since 2007. He studies how political identities and religious experience were created in ancient Israel, and his work connects the Bible, Jewish identity, and political thought from ancient Israel to modern nationalism.

Sanders recently returned from a special session of the American Oriental Society in New Orleans, where he brought together a group of scholars to investigate the questions his project raises more broadly, across the ancient world from Egyptian and Sumerian to Babylonian and Canaanite. The results will be featured in the next issue of the Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions, for which Sanders is editor, and in a future book project.

His first book, The Invention of Hebrew (awarded the Frank Moore Cross prize from the American Schools of Oriental Research and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award) argues that Hebrew was the first successful vernacular literature, which helped create ancient Israel and the Bible as both historical and imaginative possibilities. His forthcoming second book, From Adapa to Enoch: Scribal Culture and Religious Vision in Judea and Babylonia, explores the cultures that created the Hebrew Bible and Dead Sea Scrolls via their mythical heroes.

NEH Grants Support Ambitious Research by Trinity Faculty

Zayde Antrim moderating one of the academic symposia during the inauguration of Joanne Berger-Sweeney

Zayde Antrim, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of History

For their research on the mapping of the Middle East and the uniqueness of the Torah, respectively, the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded grants of $50,400 each to Zayde Antrim, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of History and International Studies, and Seth Sanders, associate professor of religion. Each will use their fellowship to continue research and complete their most recent books.

Antrim’s project, Mapping the Middle East, emerged from her previous scholarship on ideas of place in the early Islamic world as well as two courses she developed at Trinity: “Mapping the World” and “Mapping the Middle East.” Her book uses a set of representative and compelling maps to trace a history of the ways in which people have visualized and asserted power over the Middle East during the last millennium.

“My research for Mapping the Middle East has taken me to libraries and archives in Turkey, Lebanon, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the U.K., and the United States,” said Antrim. “I will be using my fellowship year to visit other archives in the Middle East and Europe and to finish writing the book. I am thrilled to have the additional time and resources to devote to this ambitious project.”

Seth Sanders, associate professor of religion

Seth Sanders, associate professor of religion

Sanders will finish researching and writing his third book, Why We Can’t Read the Torah, theorizing the literary values of the Torah in order to understand its place as one of Western history’s most fruitful (and unique) pieces of literature. With each major event in the Torah happening in multiple ways, it is unlike any other major piece of ancient literature.

“Religious people have struggled with the Bible’s contradictions since people first read it, and scholars have used them as a window into how it was created. What my project can explain is why those contradictions were put in the text in the first place,” Sanders said.

Sanders, who has experience working with sources in Hebrew, Akkadian, Aramaic, and Ugaritic, will draw on Near Eastern evidence to understand the uniqueness of the Torah’s form and how it fits into literary history. He intends to conduct his research at the University of Chicago, which has the most extensive Near Eastern Studies library in the United States.

Cruz-Uribe Wins NSF Grant for Research on Harmonic Analysis on Weighted Lebesgue Spaces

Hartford, CT, September 30, 2014 – The research by David Cruz-Uribe, professor of mathematics, can be difficult to understand if you don’t also have a Ph.D. in mathematics. Recently, though, Cruz-Uribe was inspired by the work of a colleague to collaborate with his undergraduate students. He’s now doing just that, and has been awarded a grant of $105,772 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his work.

Photo by Pablo Delano

Cruz-Uribe’s research is a continuation of the approach taken by 19th century French mathematician Joseph Fourier, who used who used simple functions with smooth graphs to approximate the graphs of complicated functions with sharp corners while studying the flow of heat in solid objects. Exploring this approach, mathematicians have developed powerful tools and discovered solutions to differential equations that arise in various branches of science. With the support of the NSF, Cruz-Uribe hopes to continue that trend.

“My work is devoted to developing new tools within the field of harmonic analysis, and then applying them to the study of more abstract differential equations,” he says. “This kind of mathematical research deepens our understanding of a wide range of mathematical ideas and these in turn can have surprising and unforeseen applications in many different areas.”

The grant from the NSF, in addition to supporting the continuation of Cruz-Uribe’s research into weighted norm inequalities and partial differential equations, will support him engaging advanced undergraduate students to join in his research.

Scott Rodney, an associate professor of mathematics at Cape Breton University in Canada, is a colleague of Cruz-Uribe who has successfully involved undergraduate students in his research, something that can be a challenge for researchers in pure mathematics. Inspired by this, Cruz-Uribe has sought to do the same thing.

“When students used to ask me what I did, my standard answer was to tell them to go to graduate schools, and when they had passed their qualifying exams to come back and ask me again!” he says. “However, this year my senior thesis student, Philip Cho ’15, is writing his thesis on Sturm-Liouville theory, an area I want to learn more about. And I am currently working on a project with Greg Convertito ’16, that is related to my research.”

Colleagues, Grants Support Stefanie Chambers’ Research on Somali Americans

For her newest book, Stefanie Chambers, associate professor of political science, is comparing the incorporation of Somali Americans in the Twin Cities and Columbus, Ohio. It’s an effort that she acknowledges was made possible by the support of many others: her colleagues, a Trinity alumnus, and most recently the American Political Science Association.

Stefanie Chambers speaking at Connecticut's Old State House in 2012.

Stefanie Chambers speaking at Connecticut’s Old State House in 2012.

Chambers started this research when she was writing a chapter on minority mayors in majority-white cities. At the suggestion of Abigail Williamson, assistant professor of political science, Chambers wrote a conference paper on Somalis in Columbus. She enjoyed the research experience so much that she decided to make it her next book project.

Chambers collaborated with several colleagues who were able to offer their expertise in immigration, Islam, and other areas. In addition to Williamson, she worked with Anthony Messina, John R. Reitemeyer Professor of Political Science; Diana Evans, professor of political science; and Zayde Gordon Antrim, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of History and International Studies.

While preparing for her field work, Chambers came across a book called Somalis in Minnesota. She soon learned the author was a Trinity alumnus: Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, IDP ’97. She later connected with Yusuf, who became an enormous asset to her work in the Twin Cities, connecting her with trusted individuals in the Somali American community who helped her build credibility.

“I’ve had people say to me, ‘I wouldn’t have met with you if it wasn’t for someone vouching for you,’” she said, pointing out that some in the community suffered from what she called “research fatigue.”

In addition to the help from Yusuf and her colleagues, Chambers’ research was supported by Trinity’s Faculty Research Committee and the American Political Science Association. These grants allowed Chambers to conduct 43 interviews in Columbus and another 40 in Minneapolis.

Chambers plans to write the bulk of the book, Immigrant Incorporation in New Destinations: Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus, during her Spring 2015 sabbatical.

Faculty Members Reinvigorate Trinfo Café Community Garden, Connect Courses to Neighborhood

When Susan Masino, Vernon Roosa Professor of Applied Science, saw the community garden at Trinfo Café, she saw an opportunity to beautify a Trinity space, provide the neighborhood with access to healthy food, and engage Trinity’s students and faculty in their community. With the help of a Mellon Grant, faculty members, students, and the Trinity neighborhood, Masino has reinvigorated a centerpiece of the College’s engagement with its community.

“Because faculty members have so many demands on their time, something like this is hard to keep going [with just one faculty member],” Masino said. “But with an academic focus and multiple faculty involved, it can thrive.”

The project – called Fresh Food, New Connections – was awarded a Mellon Grant to execute this model: a rotating group of faculty members maintaining and utilizing the community garden and incorporating an academic focus. The faculty members involved come from a variety of disciplines: psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, language and culture studies, and economics.

Susan Masino, Vernon Roosa Professor of Applied Science, speaks to the crowd at the opening of the Trinfo Cafe Community Garden.

Susan Masino, Vernon Roosa Professor of Applied Science, speaks to the crowd at the opening of the Trinfo Cafe Community Garden.

While studying the economics of farmers markets, students in Carol Clark’s ECON 101 course helped to get the community garden up and running, as did eight students pursuing an independent study. In the coming academic year, students in Dario Del Puppo’s “Food in Italian History, Society, and Art” course will spend time utilizing and maintaining the garden. Participating faculty members have set up a four-year schedule that will help to sustain the garden and interact with the community.

While working on the garden, Masino discovered that a neighboring unused parcel was also owned by Trinity. She worked with the College to clean up the space, which will be used as an outdoor classroom and sculpture garden featuring the work of Trinity students.

On July 10, the community celebrated the opening of the garden and the outdoor classroom. Dozens of members of the Trinity community and the neighborhood explored the space, enjoying food, live music, dancing, and conversation with friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Joanne Berger-Sweeney, President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience, was among those in attendance.

“This is a real sign of the liberal arts reaching beyond the hedges and into the community,” said Berger-Sweeney. “I am so proud to be a part of this effort and a part of this College.”

To view more photos of the July 10th community garden opening, click here. Photos by John Atashian.

Joan Morrison leads Initiative to improve Hartford Parks

During the fall planting season, the City of Hartford took advantage of a $70,000 challenge grant that they received earlier this year from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Program’s Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds. The grant, acquired under the stewardship of Professor of Biology Joan Morrison, is being used to improve the habitat in Hartford parks for native and migratory birds and to develop educational guidelines that describe the characteristics of urban bird habitats and identify hazards to birds living in cities.

“Most people who live in urban areas have this idea that wildlife lives somewhere else, in a rural refuge or a protected area,” said Morrison. “We are trying to find ways to educate people in the city who are very removed from nature about wildlife and about the importance of urban habitats.”

With over 50 percent of the globe’s population living in urban areas, the Urban Conservation Treaty was created to raise awareness among city residents about the value of wildlife, especially migratory birds. In particular, the Connecticut River is an important pathway for birds in the Atlantic Flyway that stretches along the Atlantic coast of North America.

Green spaces in parks located in Hartford serve as feeding and resting spots for thousands of birds during their seasonal migrations along the Connecticut River corridor. Many more species of birds native to the region reside in Hartford’s urban green spaces, such as Keney and Pope parks, year round.

Morrison pursued the grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with Mary Pelletier, director of Park Watershed, Inc., a Hartford-based citizens group whose mission is to cultivate clean water and healthy urban environments in the Park River watershed region.

Morrison’s work takes several forms, the first of which is improving the habitat directly by creating a plant palette. “The palette will identify and contain descriptions of a suite of plants that are appropriate for this region’s soil and climate and are also useful for birds as food and shelter,” she said.

The plant palette is under development by Morrison, who is working with Trinity students to inventory what birds use Keney Park and Pope Park during different seasons. Once Morrison and her research team record the types of birds that are using the park, they will next determine what each species requires for food and nesting. They also will identify and address hazards to birds in Hartford, including light pollution, feral cats, and windows on city buildings. Birds can become disoriented by city lights and often strike windows, sometimes fatally, when they see trees reflected in the glass.

Trinity students plant trees at Pope Park during Do It Day 2012. (photo by Nick Lacy)

In addition to collecting data for the plant palette, Morrison and her team at Trinity, along with Pelletier and other members of Park Watershed, Inc., the Parks & Recreation Advisory Commission, Friends of Keney Park, and Friends of Pope Park, are working with Hartford residents to provide hands-on education through planting and other park improvement efforts.

One example of this hands-on approach occurred in September during Do It Day, when Trinity students worked with Morrison, Pelletier, and the Knox Park Foundation to plant trees and shrubs around the pond in Pope Park.

Morrison is also working with three different middle schools—Mary Hooker Magnet School in Hartford, Two Rivers Middle Magnet School in East Hartford, and Illing Middle School in Manchester, CT. Students have taken field trips to wooded areas where they are able to interact with birds in the field. “The kids learn how to catch birds and how to band them, take wing measurements, and record data. Plus, we get to talk about why scientists band birds and why wildlife preservation is important,” said Morrison.

Morrison and Pelletier will have a year to monitor the updated park habitats to see how plants grew and were used by birds. After adjustments are made, the resulting plant palette will provide standards and best practices for public park maintenance going forward, as well as for businesses and residents in the region looking to their improve their campuses, industrial parks, or backyards. The palette will ultimately be available in digital and print forms and made available to the public.

“Similar projects have had success in Philadelphia, Chicago, Phoenix, Portland, and other cities across the country,” Morrison said. “When we finish the project at the end of 2013, we hope that our parks will be rejuvenated and provide improved resources for Hartford’s wildlife and its residents.”

Lean more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Migratory Bird Program and the Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds. 

Read the full story here

On December 2, 2012, the Hartford Courant published a related feature story titled “Bird Lovers Create Safe Habitat in Urban Hartford Setting.” Click here to read the article. 

Ralph Morelli receives $902,000 NSF Grant

Computer Science Professor Ralph Morelli has been awarded a $902,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to promote the use of a mobile Computer Science Principles curriculum (Mobile CSP) in Connecticut public schools. Beginning in Hartford, high school teachers will be trained to teach computer science courses in schools that don’t currently offer them.

The program marks a unique collaboration between Trinity, the Hartford Public School System, the Connecticut Chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association, and Hartford area high schools. The grant runs though December 31, 2015.

Beginning in summer 2013, Hartford high school teachers will participate in a six-week training course. Participating teachers will offer the course in city high schools starting in the 2013-14 academic year. The process will repeat itself two more times, according to Morelli, who is hoping to train at least 30 teachers during the grant period. Students in the Hartford public school system are currently not given the opportunity to study computer science.

In the second and third years, the project will expand to other, similarly situated Connecticut cities and towns. It’s estimated that between 300 and 600 students will be involved in the project. One of the schools that will be participating is the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy at the Learning Corridor across Broad Street from the Trinity campus.

The Mobile CSP will use a new computing language, App Inventor for Android, to provide a rigorous, programming-based introduction to computational thinking. The curriculum has been developed in collaboration with Chinma Uche, president of the Connecticut Chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association. It’s been piloted during the past two years at Trinity and the Greater Hartford Academy of Mathematics and Science.

Morelli, who is spending a sabbatical leave this year at MIT, is in the process of developing teaching resources and the curriculum for the project. Morelli said he and his colleagues will also be “gearing up, forming an advisory committee and planning on how to go about recruiting schools and teachers,” a process that is expected to take several months.

A member of Trinity’s faculty since 1985, Morelli said computer science is a very good discipline for high schools students to acquire because “it teaches them to think logically and abstractly and to break down problems into parts and solve them.” That type of skill, Morelli said, can be beneficial no matter what subject the students choose to study later in their academic careers.

All of the project’s teaching materials – lesson plans, syllabi, quizzes and tests, and evaluation rubrics – will be distributed through an openly licensed on-line repository. If the curriculum proves to be attractive and accessible to teachers, as well as effective in improving computing skills and attitudes among the hard-to-reach student population targeted by this project, it could have a broad and far-reaching impact, according to Morelli.

This project builds on Trinity’s Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS) initiative, which, since 2007, has been engaging undergraduate students at Trinity and other schools in building free software for socially beneficial applications. To learn more about the initiative, visit

Studying student misconceptions about plant biology

In August, The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Education Foundation awarded a $26,853 grant to Kathleen Archer, associate professor of biology. The grant will pay for a portion of an ambitious project that will help reform how introductory biology courses are taught in higher education.

The project being undertaken by Archer, working with co-investigators Maryann Herman, assistant professor of biology at St. John Fisher College in New York; Grace Ju Miller, associate professor of biology at Indiana Wesleyan University; Laura Olsen, professor of biology at the University of Michigan; and Jodie Ramsay, associate professor of biology at Northern State University in South Dakota, is to assess undergraduate college students’ misconceptions about plant structure and growth.

The catalyst for reform in undergraduate biology education is the proliferation of information that the field has experienced during the past 50 years. “Initially, we could take an introductory textbook and cover it in a semester,” said Archer. “But now it takes sometimes two or three semesters. As biology knowledge continues to increase, we are going to have to make decisions about what essential things students should know on which they can build in upper-level courses.”

This perspective is reflected in a 2009 report called Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action, which was sponsored by the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), with contributions from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). Although the report was one of several that pushed for reform of introductory biology instruction, Archer says that Vision and Change was the most articulate in laying out what steps need to be taken. “It essentially says, ‘We’re spending too much time trying to have students learn facts, and not enough time teaching them how to be scientists,’ and asks that we focus on big picture ideas of how knowledge is acquired.”

Archer developed the grant proposal in partnership with her co-investigators whom she met in 2011 after she delivered a lecture at the ASPB annual meeting. Together, they are working on creating a concept assessment, or a collection of questions that can universally evaluate what students know in a particular area of study.

Archer and her colleagues are focusing on plant biology, but the larger field of biology covers topics ranging from molecules to ecosystems, with different professional societies overseeing similar projects in each sub-discipline.

Once they are assembled, Archer said, the consequences could be seen at undergraduate institutions across the country. “The concept assessments should work pretty much under any circumstances,” she said, “and can help us reform the way we teach undergraduate biology.”

Read the full article here.

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