University of Vermont

Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR)

2014-15 REACH Recipients

Congratulations to our 2014-15 REACH recipients! Please see their names and project descriptions, below.

Vicki L. Brennan, Religion
Sound, Urban Space, and Religious Publics in Lagos, Nigeria

This project investigates how claims to urban space by members of religious communities in Lagos, Nigeria are produced, circulated, experienced and contested through sound. I am interested in exploring how Lagotians learn to "hear" the city as religious and secular subjects and how these modes of listening to the city shape their knowledge of and engagement with urban space.At the same time, I am also interested in understanding how religious communities contribute to the overall sonic texture of the city.

This research will be based on ethnographic fieldwork in public spaces in Lagos, including markets, streets, and shared forms of transportation. I will be using REACH funding to support preliminary fieldwork and writing. Using data gathered during this preliminary research trip I intend to apply for funding to support an additional twelve months of fieldwork in Lagos. Furthermore, I will apply for grants that support digital humanities research so that I can develop an interactive web-based program that will allow me to present my research in a multimedia format using both geo-spatial and audio technologies.

Kathryn J. Fox, Sociology
The Socio-Cultural Impact of New Zealand's Legal Landscape

In the 1970s, New Zealand eliminated tort laws, creating a culture without civil litigation. Although legal scholars have analyzed this system, which is still the only one of its kind in the world, the impact on citizens' orientations to risk, personal responsibility, and interpersonal relationships has never been studied.

While in New Zealand in 2013 on a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award, I noticed a profound difference in the way that New Zealanders appeared to approach notions of risk and responsibility. Exploring the cultural differences between the U.S. and New Zealand would shed light on the impact of litigation on cultures. Research on this topic would be ground-breaking in demonstrating the interaction between the legal landscape and culture.

With REACH funding, I will conduct the necessary literature review, develop a detailed research plan, conduct a preliminary research pilot and write a National Science Foundation grant proposal. I will also travel to New Zealand to access the relevant historical/legal documents and scholarship and to develop relationships necessary for the successful execution of the larger project. The short-term result of the REACH grant will be an application for external funding; the end product will be a book-length manuscript.

Tiffany Hutchins, Communication Sciences & Disorders
Patricia A. Prelock, Communication Sciences and Disorders
The Development of a Norm-Referenced Theory of Mind Inventory (ToMI)

Theory of Mind (ToM) is one of the most energetically pursued topics among researchers and clinicians working in the area of autism and related disabilities (e.g., Astington & Baird, 2005). Broad consensus exists that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) demonstrate severe impairments in ToM or the ability to reason about the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of self and others. This has led many to conclude that ToM represents a core deficit responsible for the social, communicative, and behavioral impairments characteristic of ASD (e.g., Baron-Cohen, 1995). Although many measures for assessing ToM currently exist (for reviews see Baron-Cohen, 2000; Sprung, 2010), they are associated with a specific set of significant problems (Hutchins, Bonazinga, Prelock, & Taylor, 2008; Hutchins & Prelock, 2008; Hutchins, Prelock, & Bonazinga, 2012) and this has hindered inquiry in one of the most active areas of research in developmental disabilities. To address this limitation, the development of a norm-referenced Theory of Mind Inventory (ToMI) is being proposed as a resource to provide a content- and construct-valid measure of ToM.

Jana Kraft, Animal Science
Thomas L. Jetton, Medicine/Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
Dhananjay Gupta, Medicine/Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
Alexander Wurthmann, Chemistry
Studying the Role of Dairy-Derived Bioactive Lipids as a Nutritional Intervention Targeting the Pathogenesis of Diabetes Mellitus

Type 2 diabetes (T2D) has become a global epidemic threatening the quality of life and imposing an enormous financial burden to society. To reduce T2D, there is a clear need to promote a healthy lifestyle for the primary prevention for at-risk individuals. Epidemiologic studies have demonstrated that T2D can be prevented through diet modification. Recent clinical evidence suggests that diets rich in dairy products protect against T2D. The principal components responsible for improving altered energy metabolism are thought to be bioactive lipids (fats), in particular trans-palmitoleic acid. We have now identified another specific milk-derived lipid that may actually be responsible for these effects (15-methyl-hexadecanoic acid, a "branched-chain" fatty acid). Since the nature of this diet-associated protection is unknown, a more thorough identification and characterization of these two dairy-derived lipids are necessary.

As a crucial initial step, this REACH proposal seeks to determine the extent to which two candidate dairy-derived bioactive lipids may positively impact both insulin secretion and insulin action, the key processes underlying T2D, using cultured cell models subjected to a diabetic environment. The long-term goal of this research is to establish a cross-disciplinary program focused on the role of bioactive dairy-derived lipids in reducing the risk of T2D and its related conditions.

Christopher Landry, Chemistry
Mercedes Rincón, Medicine/Immunology
A New Inhalable Treatment for Allergic Asthma

Allergic asthma is a chronic disease affecting millions of people worldwide. Available therapies, usually based on aerosolized steroids, provide only short-term relief in cases of mild asthma and have little or no effect in severe asthma. These therapies often have side effects from unwanted interactions with normal cells. In addition, size and therefore effectiveness of aerosolized particles within the lung is dependent on a variety of uncontrollable environmental factors including local humidity in lung tissue and improper inhaler use.

To address these problems, we plan to develop a new therapy based on tocilizumab (TCZ), which blocks the action of a key component of the inflammatory response in asthmatic patients, and porous silica nanoparticles, which are non-toxic, non-immunogenic, and have a rigid structure that does not depend on environmental conditions. First, we will evaluate the particles' physical targeting ability by measuring their lung penetration depth after intranasal administration to mice. Then, we will measure their biological targeting ability by attaching TCZ to the particles' surfaces through a type of chemical bond that can be broken once the particles are in lung tissue, and finally we will test the ability of the delivered TCZ to reduce biological markers of inflammation.

Teresa Mares, Anthropology
La Otra Frontera (The Other Border): Exploring Latino/a Migrant Foodways in Vermont

This study investigates the food practices of Latino/a migrant workers in Vermont's dairy industry. The first objective of this multi-year study is to examine: how one's relationship to food and hunger shapes the decision to migrate; how accessing, preparing and sharing food influences household relationships before and after migration; and how migrant households negotiate food needs and preferences within the institutional structures and policies related to the market, the state, and civil society. The second objective is to test and improve the methodological tools used to research food security and food access within households that are excluded from US political citizenship. This study will establish quantitative measures of food security among Latino/a migrant households and combine these measures with qualitative data that provide a deeper understanding of how these households access food.

This REACH Award will support research conducted during the initial phases of this study. This includes conducting 200 surveys with Latino/a workers on Vermont's dairies using the Spanish version of the US Household Food Security Survey Module, and conducting follow-up interviews with 50 households. Additionally, interviews will be conducted with service providers and other key stakeholders in the broader social network that Latino/households engage to access food.

Rodney Scott, Neurological Sciences
Haley Woodside-Jiron, Education
Neuroscience-Based Strategies for Learning Impairments in Children with Epilepsy

Children with epilepsy are at high risk for learning disabilities. Unfortunately, these deficits are not often recognized resulting in a failure to intervene and support these children. Appropriate recognition and intervention could have a major impact on quality of life, as well as social and economic outcomes. Recently the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has recommended that there be strong efforts to identify learning disabilities in children with epilepsy and to design, implement and evaluate interventions. We contribute to those goals with this research using a trans-disciplinary framework in which principles learned from neuroscience approaches in animal models are translated into human studies. These studies will provide data on the neural basis of learning impairments and whether it is possible to maximize learning even in the presence of seizures, antiepileptic drugs and pre-existing brain abnormalities. The study employs innovative EEG methods and is paired with educational interventions employing enriched environment, overtraining, and neuronal connectivity through innovative literacy instruction. This work capitalizes on an existing synergy between UVM Neuroscience, Behavior and Health TRI investigators who have well-established reputations for research in education and epilepsy-related neural abnormalities that contribute to learning problems.

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