2022–2023 Projects

Ahmet Ay and Krista Ingram


A seal in the ocean

Ahmet Ay, associate professor of biology and mathematics, and Krista Ingram, professor of biology, have received an award for $146,000 for their project "New Perspectives on Wild Seal Population Dynamics: Integrating AI, Drones, and e-Genomics".

This project will use artificial intelligence tools and facial recognition software along with environmental DNA-informed population genomics to estimate critical population parameters for harbor seals. The project will involve the development of novel conservation automation tools including the SealNet software package for facial recognition in seals and drone-based data collection. The ultimate goal is to track population size and structure, genetic diversity, habitat fidelity and migration patterns of wild seals without disturbing the population or ecosystem.

Damhnait McHugh

man and woman stand outside under trees

Damhnait McHugh, Raab Family Chair and professor of biology, and collaborators Olaf Schmidt (University College Dublin, Ireland) and Daniel Fernández Marchán, Marta Novo, and Sergio Jiménez Pinadero (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain) have received an award for $102,000 for their project "History, Ecological Impacts, and Adaptation of an Introduced Soil Dweller in the Changing Climate of Ireland".

The project will investigate an introduced species of earthworm newly found in Ireland. The small worm, which was previously limited to southern France and northern Spain, was reported for the first time in 2012 in southeastern Ireland and has now reached high numbers at historically significant sites there, ranging from 5,000-year old passage tombs to the first farm lands on the island.

Combining their expertise in ecology, evolution and genomics, the international team and their students will investigate how and when the worm was introduced, its ecological impacts on local fauna, and how it is physiologically and genetically adapted to the climate in Ireland. They will also collaborate with Irish archaeologists to interpret their results in the context of the well-documented ancient and recent human history of the introduction sites. Ultimately, the research can inform management of this invasive species


Past Projects


There were no new projects awarded in 2020-2022.

Jacob Goldberg, assistant professor of chemistry, and collaborator Thanos Tzounopoulos (University of Pittsburgh) have received an award for $134,000 for their project "Chemical Probes for Synaptic Zinc". They will develop and prepare a new generation of small-molecule sensors that will be used to detect and quantitate zinc ions in the brain. Using these and other tools, the research team will investigate the role of zinc ions in fine-tuning neurotransmission, sound processing, and sound frequency discrimination in mammalian auditory circuits. The findings from this project will allow for a deeper understanding of the fundamental biology of normal hearing and of such pathological states as hearing loss, tinnitus, and schizophrenia.

Bineyam Taye, assistant professor of biology, and Ken Belanger, professor of biology, along with collaborators Julian Damashek (Utica College) and Zeleke Mekonnen (Jimma University, Ethiopia) have been awarded $149,000 for their project entitled "Understanding gut-microbiome interactions following mass deworming against soil-transmitted helminths (STHs) among young Ethiopian schoolchildren." The project will study the microbial communities (microbiomes) present in the gastrointestinal tracts of Ethiopian children who are or are not infected with parasitic roundworms, and then examine the changes in the gut microbiome that occur upon treatment with anti-parasitic drugs. Ultimately, the goal is to understand how alterations in the gut microbiome in children impact other health and developmental outcomes.

Spencer D. Kelly, Professor of Psychology and Brain Sciences, and Yukari Hirata, Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures have received an award of $26,000 for their project “Accentuating the Positive: Can Co-Speech Hand Gestures Help Judgments of Accent in a Foreign Language?”. The project will investigate whether speakers of a foreign language can use culturally appropriate hand gestures to help make their accents easier to understand to native speakers. This work will also explore whether hand gestures can reduce some of the negative stigma associated with non-native accents during cross-cultural communication.

Erin Cooley, Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Lauren Philbrook, Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, William Cipolli, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, and collaborators Jazmin Brown-Iannuzzi (University of Virginia), and Ryan Lei (Haverford College) have received a two-year award for $160,000 for their project "Why does rich = White and poor = Black in the minds of United States' citizens? Race-based class assumptions and their consequences for increasing racial resentment and race-related health disparities in the United States.” Using a multi-method approach, they will investigate the psychological processes that link race with social class as well as the psychological and physical consequences of these associations. Such findings should advance the scientific understanding of why the macro-level race wealth gap exists, while also illuminating unique forms of discrimination that may be experienced by poor people of different races.

Frank M. Frey, Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies, Peter R. Scull, Professor of Geography, and their collaborators Birungi Mutahunga, Nkalubo Julius, Kuule Yusufu, Oloya Sam, Nahabwe Haven, and Isabirye Gideon (Bwindi Community Hospital, Uganda) have received a two-year award for $130,000 for their project "Prevalence and predictors of antimicrobial resistance in clinical- and community-acquired upper respiratory bacterial samples in children under 5 in southwestern Uganda". They will study the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in pathogens causing upper respiratory illness in southwestern Uganda, and identify factors associated with this resistance profile through a consideration of socio-demographic factors, access to and distribution of antibiotic drugs in the community, and unprescribed antibiotic use.

Linda Y. Tseng, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Physics, and her collaborators Pitiporn Asvapathanagul (California State University, Long Beach) and Phillip B. Gedalanga, (California State University, Fullerton) have received a two-year award for $116,000 for their project "Investigating the fate and transport of microplastics and their ecological impacts in natural and engineered systems". Microplastics are small plastic particles and are found ubiquitously in the environment. Despite concerns of microplastics in the environment, the connection between their transport and the impact of these microplastics is not well-known, and could have large influence on human and ecological systems. This project intends to explore the transport and impact of microplastics.

Elodie Fourquet

Elodie Fourquet, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, and her collaborator Flip Phillips, Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience at Skidmore College, have received a two-year award of $101,262 from the Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute for their project “Representing and Perceiving Depth in Digital Images”. Humans easily and reliably perceive relative depth in two-dimensional images, such as photographs, realistic paintings, and even sketches. We do this despite the inaccurate depiction or absence of many depth cues that exist in natural 3D environments. Can we understand and digitally reproduce the visual information that makes this possible?

To produce 2D images of 3D scenes, this project uses computer graphics algorithms based on the projective geometric calculations of Renaissance artist-mathematicians. Psychophysical methods measure observers’ perception of the 3D scenes as the 2D pictorial information varies, providing critical insight into the human visual system’s interpretation of 3D space. The results of these experiments will guide improvement of the depiction of 3D depth in 2D imagery. This, in turn, will facilitate richer content in computer-generated images for illustration and visualization — two important research areas in computer graphics.

Wan-chun Liu

Wan-chun Liu, Assistant Professor of Psychology, along with collaborators Dmitriy Aronov (Columbia University) and Atsushi Miyanohara (UCSD) have received a two-year award of $155,000 for their project “Use of optogenetics to identify the effect of social interaction on the development of vocal learning circuits”. Optogenetics involves genetic manipulation which provides neurons with light sensitive activity. This project will create two lines of optogenetic songbirds allowing external control of gene expression related to learning of songs. In addition it will construct a computer tracking facility to monitor the social interaction of the birds as they learn songs from their parents. The research will explore the influence of social interaction on learning in songbirds.

Neil Albert, Krista Ingram, and Jenn Lutman

Neil Albert, Lecturer in Psychology and Neuroscience; Krista Ingram, Associate Professor of Biology, and Jenn Lutman, Director of the Writing and Speaking Center, have received a two year award of $24,342 for their project: “The Paradox of Peak Performance in Elite Scholar-Athletes: Disentangling Circadian and Sleep Effects on Effort and Performance.” This project explores the genetic basis of time-of-day variation and impacts of circadian rhythms on physical and cognitive performance. In particular, genetic variations which influence circadian rhythms predict that some people are naturally night-owls or morning larks. This work will quantify the associations between these genetic markers, sleep quality, and performance by time-of-day.

Enrique Galvez

Enrique Galvez, Charles A Dana Professor of Physics, and his collaborators Robert Alfano (City College of New York) and Linyan Shi (Columbia University) have received a two-year award of $82,000 for the project “Biomedical Diagnosis with Quantum Entanglement”. The project explores the diagnosis of medical tissue using quantum entanglement. Quantum entanglement of twin photons allows monitoring photons going through tissue by measuring partner photons outside the tissue. This has promise as an alternative method to detect disease and to do noninvasive imaging.

Ahmet Ay

Ahmet Ay (Biology and Mathematics) and his collaborator Ertugrul Ozbudak (Albert Einstein College of Medicine) have been awarded $107,392 for their project “Interdisciplinary Investigation of the Vertebral Segmentation Clock”. The gene regulatory network instructingdevelopment of the vertebral column has remained elusive. Expression of multiple genes display dynamic waves in the precursor cells, which are primed to differentiate into the vertebrae disks. This project will combine computational methods for modeling large-scale systems with molecular perturbation techniques in the laboratory to pin down the gene regulatory circuit controlling segmentation of the vertebrae disks during embryonic development.

Jessica Graybill

Jessica Graybill (Geography and Russian & Eurasian Studies) and her collaborators Andrey Petrov (University of Northern Iowa) and Gleb Kraev (Moscow State University) have received a one-year award of $37,430 for their project “Tundra Tracks: Mapping Community and Carbon Mobilities in the Russian Arctic”. Vehicle tracks have a long term impact on the tundra in Arctic Russia. Unused tracks remain recognizable from satellite images ~40 years after creation. The tracks damage plant cover, compact and disengage soil layers and change energy and matter fluxes. Their impact on large scale climate is unknown. They are also intertwined with human activity and community in these regions. This project will explore how carbon fluxes vary on or near tracks, how the tracks vary in density and distribution and how their presence interacts with nearby human communities.

Michael Loranty and Heather Kropp

Michael Loranty and Heather Kropp (Geography) and their collaborators Nick Rutter (Northumbria University, UK) and Chris Fletcher (University of Waterloo, CA) have received a two-year award of $136,545 for their project “Impacts of boreal climate feedbacks on climate change”. Boreal forests represent approximately one-fifth of the Northern Hemisphere land surface and strongly influence global climate. Declines in the duration and extent of seasonal snow cover across the boreal region increases the absorption of solar radiation, which amplifies climate warming. The strength of this positive feedback varies widely between climate models because it is difficult to represent complex snow-forest- climate interactions. This project will confront climate model representations with field measurements and satellite observations of boreal forest-snow energy dynamics. The researchers aim to improve the understanding and climate model representation of interactions between boreal forest structure, snow cover, and climate dynamics.

Tim McCay, Damhnait McHugh, and Ahmet Ay

Tim McCay and Damhnait McHugh (Biology) and Ahmet Ay (Biology and Mathematics) have received a two-year award of $152,907 for their project “An Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding Ongoing Biological Invasions by Crazy Worms (Amynthas) in North America”. Earthworms of the genus Amynthas are rapidly invading North America from Asia. These large, lively worms (aka “Crazy Worms”) have large effects on the ecosystems they invade, but we know very little about their basic biology and potential for spread. This project will integrate fieldwork, lab experiments, molecular analyses, and mathematical modeling to reveal the life history and physiological tolerances of these earthworms, reconstruct their historical invasion of North America, and make predictive statements about their spread and impact. The goal is to learn enough about Amynthas to inform management strategies for these invasive species.

Jonathan Levine

A gloved hand holding up a fragment of the La Paz Icefield meteorite
A fragment of the La Paz Icefield 02205 meteorite, which comes from the Moon, is mounted for analysis with the prototype dating spectrometer, alongside a smaller piece of glass which serves as a standard. Levine and his colleagues are investigating this lunar specimen to learn how best to date lunar rocks in situ on the Moon.

The institute is awarding a second year of funding to Jonathan Levine (Physics and Astronomy) and his collaborators F. Scott Anderson and Tom J. Whittaker (Southwest Research Institute), for their project: “Mineral Identification with a Prototype Dating Spectrometer for Spaceflight.”

The history of the planets is recorded in extraterrestrial rocks. However, most extraterrestrial rocks with known absolute ages are meteorites, whose precise origins are difficult to ascertain. A major objective of planetary science is to date planetary specimens whose geologic contexts are known, so as to determine the timing of specific events in solar system history, such as the volcanic eruptions that caused the craters that cover much of the Earth-facing side of the Moon.

To this end, a team including Jonathan Levine is building a novel mass spectrometer capable of dating rocks on the basis of the rubidium and strontium isotope abundances in their constituent minerals. This instrument is novel in that its components are all miniaturizable for spaceflight: the aim is to one day land it on the Moon or a planet, and to date rocks in situ.

The funded research would allow Levine’s team to develop techniques for identifying the minerals that they are dating, so as to optimally interpret the age data they obtain.

Krista Ingram

“Timing is everything: The influence of circadian rhythms and gene-by-environment interactions on test performance and risk-taking in humans.”

Colgate biology professor Krista Ingram and her colleagues Neil Bearden (INSEAD, Singapore), Allan Filipowicz (Johnson School of Business, Cornell University) and Kriti Jain (IE Business School, Madrid) received a two-year award for their project “Timing is everything: The influence of circadian rhythms and gene-by-environment interactions on test performance and risk-taking in humans.”

Combining their expertise in molecular biology, cognitive psychology, and organizational behavior, the research team will integrate genetic analyses with psychological measures and behavioral tasks to investigate how an individual’s cognitive performance (e.g., standardized exams) and risk preferences (e.g., decision-making tasks) are related to the time the task is performed, an individual’s genotype, and gene expression profiles.

“This work represents an exciting new area of study in human sociogenomics,” said Picker ISI Director Damhnait McHugh. “By working across their disciplines, the team will help us understand the molecular basis for human performance and risky decision-making.”

Jonathan Levine

“Laser-atom interactions in a mass spectrometer for dating Martian rocks.”

Mass spectrometer
Colgate professor Jonathan Levine and his collaborators are designing a novel mass spectrometer to try to better determine the ages of rocks on Mars.

Jonathan Levine (physics & astronomy) and his collaborators F. Scott Anderson and Tom J. Whittaker (Southwest Research Institute) received a one-year award for their project “Laser-atom interactions in a mass spectrometer for dating Martian rocks.”

Their research goal is to increase understanding of the timing and timescales of Mars’s global climate change by estimating the ages of Martian rocks using a novel mass spectrometer. The spectrometer will determine rock ages by measuring the abundances of rubidium-87 and its radioactive decay product strontium-87 in dozens of spots in a rock sample, using intense lasers to separate atoms of these elements from each other and from the rest of the rock.

The research team will investigate the fundamental physics of how laser light interacts with atoms, so that they can best control those interactions to ensure maximum precision and accuracy in the rock ages they determine. Their ultimate goal is to fly the new spectrometer to Mars on a future rover mission and date rocks found there in their geologic context.

“This collaboration brings together a physicist, a geologist, and a physical chemist to push the boundaries on our abilities to age rocks on other planets,” said McHugh. “Their work has the potential for some very exciting results, both in fundamental physics and in our knowledge of Mars.”

Rebecca Metzler and Kiko Galvez

“Probing Biomineral Formation through Novel Laser Imaging Polarimetry”

Rebecca Metzler and Kiko Galvez (Physics & Astronomy) received a two-year, $57,000 grant for their project “Probing Biomineral Formation through Novel Laser Imaging Polarimetry,” which will combine the physical optics involved in diagnosing complex light forms with the biophysical research of the biomineral surfaces made by various mollusk species. The colorful inner surfaces of mollusk shells are an example of the extraordinary biominerals that are produced by living organisms. These shells have a complex surface structure composed of micro-crystals intertwined with and cemented by bio-organic compounds. In an innovative combination of different approaches, Metzler, Galvez, and their students will study the polarization of the iridescent light reflected by the shells to obtain information about the composition and structures that give them their remarkable physical properties. Rebecca and Kiko are each bringing very different approaches and perspectives to this very creative collaboration, and together they will develop exciting new ways of visualizing and understanding complex biological materials,” said Picker ISI Director, Damhnait McHugh.

Catherine Cardelús, Eliza Kent, Peter Klepeis, and Peter Scull

“Does religious management mitigate the socio-ecological drivers of forest change in sacred groves of northern Ethiopia?”

A researcher in climbing gear in the rain forest canopy

Catherine Cardelús (Biology), Eliza Kent (Religion), Peter Klepeis and Peter Scull (Geography), along with Margaret Lowman (NC Museum of Natural Sciences & NC State University) and Alemayehu Wassie Eshete (Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia) have been awarded a one-year, $90,000 grant for their project “Does religious management mitigate the socio-ecological drivers of forest change in sacred groves of northern Ethiopia?” Some forests in northern Ethiopia are maintained as sacred sites around Christian Orthodox Tewahido Churches. Some of these church groves date from the 4th century AD; however, many are diminishing in size and diversity because of pressures from farming and gathering of firewood. In a rare collaboration across the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, the funded research team and their students will collaborate closely with Ethiopian colleagues and local communities to assess whether and how cultural and religious stewardship of the sacred forests reduces negative impacts on these compromised ecosystems. “This team represents an exciting collaboration across many disciplines. The depth of understanding to be gained by their collaborative approach is immense and coupled with close connections with the people most invested in the sacred forests, this work can have a powerful impact on the fate of these unique habitats,” said Dr. Damhnait McHugh, Director of the Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute.

Two Colgate professors — Rebecca Miller Ammerman, classics, and Randy Fuller, biology — along with seven collaborative partners across the globe, received major research grants from Colgate’s Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute. Both projects, as envisioned by Harvey M. Picker ’36 when he established the institute in 2006, extend the reach and resources of Colgate faculty members so they can tackle scientific problems in creative new ways.

Rebecca Miller Ammerman

Researchers at an excavation
Rebecca Ammerman will study a large and diverse set of ceramics recovered by excavations on the coast of southern Italy.

“An Integrated Approach to the Study of Ceramic Technology at Metaponto, a Greek City-state in Southern Italy”

$125,000 for two years to Rebecca Miller Ammerman, Department of the Classics, and Ioannis Iliopoulos, University of Patras, Greece.

Randy Fuller

“Whole-ecosystem Restoration Through Liming of Acidified Tributary Streams in the Honnedaga Lake Basin in the Adirondack Mountains”

$70,000 for one year to Randy Fuller, Department of Biology; Cliff Kraft and Don Josephson of Cornell University; Colin Beier and Mark Dovciak of SUNY-ESF; and Barry Baldigo and Greg Lawrence of the US Geological Survey.

Learn more at the Colgate news site

Metallic sculpture on display in Colgate's Clifford Gallery
This sculpture by DeWitt Godfrey, associate professor of art and art history, helped spur a research project about applying mathematical methodologies to art and design.

The Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute recently awarded grants supporting collaborative research teams led by Colgate faculty members who will combine their expertise from across disciplines to address questions in science and mathematics.

“I continue to be impressed by the breadth of inquiry and caliber of proposals from our Colgate faculty,” said Damhnait McHugh, director of the institute.

Janel Benson

“The Implications of Maturational Timing and Racial Stressors on the Mental Health of Racial Minority Young Adults”

$70,000 for two years to Janel Benson, Department of Sociology and Anthropology and Brandon Yoo, Arizona State University

DeWitt Godfrey and Tom Tucker

“Mathematical Methodologies for Art and Design”

$150,000 for two years to DeWitt Godfrey, Department of Art & Art History; Tom Tucker, Department of Mathematics; Tomaz Pisanski, University of Ljubljiana; and Daniel Bosia, Expedition Engineering, U.K.

Learn more at the Colgate news site

Krista Ingram

“Sociogenomics of circadian rhythms and task behaviors in ants”

$78,476 for two years to Krista Ingram, Department of Biology; Ian Bloch, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and Rudolf Meier, National University of Singapore

James (Eddie) Watkins and Nancy Pruitt

“Ecophysiological, Biochemical, and Molecular Mechanisms of Desiccation Tolerance in Ferns”

$188,467 for two years to James (Eddie) Watkins, Department of Biology; Nancy Pruitt, Department of Biology; and Melvin Oliver, USDA-ARS at the University of Missouri.

Jason Meyers

“Investigating the role of Sulf1 in control of stem cell maintenance and activation in sensory organs of frogs and fish”

$64,050 for two years to Jason Meyers, Department of Biology, and Elizabeth Pownall, University of York

Frank Frey, Peter Scull, and Ellen Kraly

“Monitoring Infectious Disease Dynamics in Ugandan Mountain Gorilla, a Critically Endangered Species”

$67,400 for a second year to Frank Frey, Department of Biology; Peter Scull, Department of Geography; and Ellen Kraly, Department of Geography

Dan Schult, Ken Segall, and Patrick Crotty

“Synchronization of Networks of Neurons Using Josephson Junctions”

$78,000 for a second year to Dan Schult, Department of Mathematics; Ken Segall, Department of Physics & Astronomy; and Patrick Crotty, Department of Physics & Astronomy

Frank Frey and Peter Scull

“Monitoring Infectious Disease Dynamics in Ugandan Mountain Gorilla, a Critically Endangered Species”

$87,400 for one year to Frank Frey, Department of Biology and Peter Scull, Department of Geography.

Learn more at the Colgate news site

Dan Schult, Ken Segall, and Patrick Crotty

“Synchronization of Networks of Neurons Using Josephson Junctions”

$78,000 for one year to Dan Schult, Department of Mathematics; Ken Segall, Department of Physics & Astronomy; and Patrick Crotty, Department of Physics & Astronomy.

Damhnait McHugh

“Comparative Analyses of Larval Development”

$90,000 for two years to Damhnait McHugh, Department of Biology, with co-investigator Bruno Pernet, Department of Biological Sciences, California State University, Long Beach.

Yukari Hirata and Spencer Kelly

“Multimodal Learning of Second Language Speech Sounds”

$74,800 for two years to Yukari Hirata, Department of East Asian Languages and Spencer Kelly, Department of Psychology

Read more from Colgate University News