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 Research Connections :: University of Rochester

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From left to right, Michela Andreatta, Martina Poletti, John Singleton, and Chenliang Xu, recipients of James P. Wilmot Distinguished Assistant Professorships.

Scholars bursting with potential

Four University faculty members, representing “some of the most promising young men and women in the early stages of their academic careers,” have been awarded James P. Wilmot Distinguished Assistant Professorships at the University of Rochester.

Michela Andreatta, assistant professor of Hebrew language and literature, joined the Department of Religion and Classics as a lecturer in 2011.  Since then, she has developed a cohesive undergraduate Hebrew program by expanding the existing curriculum and establishing a new minor. A specialist in early modern Hebrew literature, Andreatta maintains a “remarkable” pace of scholarship in terms of publications, fellowships, and grants both nationally and internationally, and is actively engaged in service to her department and University at large, says Nora Rubel, the Jane and Alan Batkin Professor of Jewish Studies and chair of religion and classics. “She is respected and valued as a great teacher and wonderful colleague.”

Martina Poletti has “made critical discoveries that have led to a complete change in how we view the function of central vision,” says Duje Tadin, professor and chair of brain and cognitive sciences. Poletti, a Sloan Fellowship recipient with a joint appointment in neuroscience, has linked small fixational eye movements to higher aspects of visual functioning, including attention, visual exploration, and task relevance. She also received a prestigious early career award from the Vision Sciences Society. Poletti has published several papers in top journals and the successes and quality of the students she mentors are “truly remarkable,” Tadin says. “I have every expectation that Martina will continue making major advances in vision research.”

John Singleton’s research agenda focuses on big questions in the economics and governance of public education, illuminating how access to high-quality schools can lift children out of poverty. His research agenda–combining detailed qualitative institutional knowledge with sophisticated economic modeling techniques—“will set him up to be one of the leading researchers in the country in the economics of education,” says George Alessandria, professor and chair of economics. “I can think of only a handful of researchers who can achieve what John does.” Singleton is also a valuable mentor for students and contributes to his department by organizing an applied seminar series, for example, and developing popular courses.

Chenliang Xu, who joined the Department of Computer Science in 2016, is considered a rising star in the field of computer vision, in particular the extraction of meaning from recorded videos. A prolific researcher, with more than 60 peer-reviewed publications, Xu is also an innovative instructor who has revamped a computer vision course and introduced a popular course on deep learning. In 2020 alone, he published 18 papers, organized tutorials at two major conferences, served on five different program committees, and reviewed papers for five professional journals. “He is, already, a major contributor to our international reputation,” says Michael Scott, the Arthur Gould Yates Professor and Chair of Computer Science.

The Wilmot Distinguished Assistant Professorships are announced every two years and are held by the recipients until the next round of awards. There is one award for each of the four major disciplines in Arts, Sciences & Engineering. The professorships are named after James P. Wilmot, a former trustee and benefactor of the University, who was founder and chair of Page Airways Inc. and chairman of the board of Wilmorite Inc., a construction corporation.

Hooker dissertation fellowship winners

The Elon Huntington Hooker Dissertation Fellowship was first endowed by the Hooker family in 1947 to support graduate students across disciplines in the sciences.

It’s one of the University’s most competitive dissertation fellowships for the sciences and is given to students who display exceptional ability and promise. This year’s fellowship recipients are:

  • John Bettinger, a PhD candidate in biology
  • Rachel Bonn-Breach, a PhD candidate in biochemistry
  • Jessica Ciesla, a PhD candidate in biochemistry
  • Joshua DeMuth, a PhD candidate in chemistry
  • Jackson Hernandez, a PhD candidate in chemistry
  • Donggeon Nam, a PhD candidate in chemistry
  • Karla Rosalia Sanchez Lievanos, a PhD candidate in chemistry
  • Eric Schreiber, a PhD candidate in chemistry

Will mismatched vaccine doses boost immunity to COVID?

As the number of vaccinated Americans continues to rise, Medical Center researchers are participating in a new clinical trial that will mix-and-match the initial regime of an approved COVID-19 vaccine with a booster dose from a different manufacturer.

“This study is a critical step and will show if doses from different vaccines are safe, tolerable, and sufficiently boost the immune system enough to fight off reinfection by SAR-CoV-2 and variants,” says Ann Falsey, professor of medicine, infectious diseases and co-director of the URMC Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit.

Coronavirus continues to circulate at high rates globally and scientists speculate that COVID could evolve to become a seasonal, mutating virus that remains with us for years.  While researchers have speculated that the immune system could provide protection that lasts years, it remains unknown how long the immunity from vaccines will last.  It is assumed that over time the immune response to COVID will weaken, necessitating a booster dose to keep the immune system primed to fight off infection.

The emergence of variants is another complication that will dictate future coronavirus booster dose strategies. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines appear to be very effective against most of the identified variants of COVID, including the Indian variant that is spreading across South Asia. However, variants could emerge that render existing vaccines less effective or potentially even evade the protection provided by vaccines altogether, necessitating new versions of the vaccine. Read more.

Can the cycle of radicalization, conspiracies be broken?

In a recent study published in the American Journal of Political Science, Scott Tyson, assistant professor of political science—together with University of Michigan coauthor Todd Lehmannlooks at two common policy interventions designed to counter the growing radicalization among the US population.

The duo finds that improving economic conditions reduces both radicalization efforts and dissent. However, the duo also finds that trying to render people psychologically less susceptible to radicalization can backfire and instead increase the efforts by radical leaders to influence and radicalize more followers.

While radical assertions of a “deep state” and “stolen elections” have long bubbled quietly underneath public discourse, Tyson says during the last five years, the ideas have moved into the mainstream discourse. That shift—from fringe to center stage—Tyson argues, happened during the Trump presidency.

The January 6 storming of the US Capitol, Tyson says, was driven by such conspiratorial misinformation, as hundreds of American citizens attacked the seat of American democracy in order to reverse what they were led falsely to believe was an “undemocratic election”—despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Read more.

Faculty, grants staff urged to attend webinar on Science and Security

University faculty members and grants staff are urged to attend a zoom webinar from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. next Tuesday, June 29, on Science and Security.  The webinar will describe some of the background that has led to increased federal scrutiny of University relations with foreign entities, and provide information about the new reporting requirements that federal granting agencies have imposed on grant applications.

Richard Waugh, vice provost for research, will give a short presentation, then host a Q&A session with assistance from Gunta Liders, associate vice president for research administration. The webinar is hosted by the Committee on Science and Security and the Office of the Vice-Provost for Research.

Please use this link below to join the webinar:
Passcode: 151523

Senior leader education and development

With the demands for healthcare transformation, senior leaders in academic health centers must meet complex and emerging challenges to shape the future of healthcare, medical education, and research, and must be able to engage others in generating and implementing new pathways for success.

The Senior Leader Education and Development (SLED) Program is a two-year educational leadership development program that uses evidence-based, collaborative learning and reflective practice to guide senior leaders in academic medicine in being transformational leaders. 

There is no charge to attend this program for URSMD faculty. The course begins in September 2021. Register by Wednesday, June 30.

Enjoy the holiday!

Due to the July 4 weekend, the next issue of Research Connections will appear July 9.

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Rochester Connections is a weekly e-newsletter all faculty, scientists, post docs and graduate students engaged in research at the University of Rochester. You are receiving this e-newsletter because you are a member of the Rochester community with an interest in research topics.