The University Record, June 3, 2002

Rackham awards interdisciplinary grants

By Michelle Begnoche
University Record Intern

Last September an interdisciplinary panel appointed by Rackham Dean Earl Lewis began to review 66 research proposals submitted by U-M faculty. With more than half a million dollars at stake, competition for the Rackham Interdisciplinary Collaboration Research Grant was intense.

After narrowing the field to nine, on April 1 the winners were announced. Two projects, “Dark Matter and the Formation of Galaxies: Evidence and Theory,” and “Global Feminisms: Comparative Case Studies of Women’s Activism and Scholarship,” will be funded fully, receiving $250,000 each. Three other projects are to be partially funded. “Embodying Emotion: Translating the Language of Movement and Meaning,” “Integrating Phylogeny, Physics, and Epidemiology Models for Infection Control,” and “The Antilium Project: The Rational Humanization of Human Artifacts,” will receive $50,000, $75,000 and $55,000 respectively.

“The goal was to fund innovative projects which might have a transformative impact in their fields and use innovative models of collaboration,” says June Howard, associate dean for interdisciplinary initiatives.

“Dark Matter and the Formation of Galaxies: Evidence and Theory,” will combine the fields of astronomy, statistics and philosophy. Primary Investigator Mario Mateo, associate professor of astronomy, says, “The backbone of this project is our effort to obtain observations that allow us to study in detail the dark matter content of nearby galaxies.” Though dark matter cannot be seen from emitted or reflected radiation, its presence can be inferred from its gravitational effects, Mateo says.

“The motivation has to do with the fact that dark matter is probably more abundant than visible matter, and thus acts as the fundamental glue that helps build individual galaxies and the universe as a whole. Yet, we still don’t know what dark matter is,” Mateo explains.

The analysis of these data is ultimately a statistical exercise, Mateo says. There are also fundamental philosophical issues involved, he adds. “This study will offer an ‘inside view’ to a philosopher of science of how scientific hypothesis is critically tested.” In addition the philosophical questions of how rapidly one arrives at ‘truth’ using statistics, and what can and cannot be falsified using statistical arguments will be addressed.

“Global Feminisms: Comparative Case Studies of Women’s Activism and Scholarship” will bring together methods and theoretical tools from history, anthropology, psychology, sociology, political science, women’s studies and the humanities.

“We are aiming to document the activities of feminist scholar-activists in four countries: China, India, Poland and the U.S.,” says primary investigator Abigail Stewart, professor of psychology and of women’s studies.

According to Stewart, “We are doing this partly to encourage scholarly attention to the common and distinct histories of feminist scholarship and women’s movement activism in these four particular countries.” Another intended outcome of the project is turning the documentation into curricular material.

Eventually the project hopes to expand to other sites, a prospect Stewart says would have been much more difficult to consider without this grant. “This is such an unusual project that we doubt it could have been funded any other way,” she says.

“Interdisciplinary work is one of the strong suits of U-M,” Lewis says. “The Reaccredidation Study confirmed this—we want, however, to keep pushing the envelope.”

The grant is part of an ongoing effort by Lewis to increase interdisciplinary cooperation at U-M. Lewis already has established the Rackham Interdisciplinary Summer Institute and the Rackham Seminars. “This grant ties them all together,” he says.

The proposals were considered based on intellectual quality and originality of the project, the collaboration it entailed, the likelihood the project would have an impact in its field, and on the prospective professional benefits the graduate students involved would gain from the work.

“The quality of the proposals was so high, we decided to make several awards and not run this competition again next year. We do hope to have another program of interdisciplinary research grants later on,” Howard says.

The projects will be carried out for three years, with the teams providing annual reports. “We hope to have a public event in a few years to talk about the process and the collaboration of grad students and professors,” Howard says.



Rackham Interdisciplinary Collaboration Research Grants

Primary Investigators for fully funded projects

Dark Matter and the Formation of Galaxies: Evidence and Theory: Mario Mateo, associate professor of astronomy; Michael Woodroofe, professor of statistics; James Joyce, associate professor of philosophy; Matthew Walker, doctoral candidate in astronomy

Global Feminisms: Comparative Case Studies of Women’s Activism and Scholarship:

Abigail Stewart, professor of psychology and of women’s studies; Jayati Lal, assistant professor of sociology and of women’s studies, faculty associate at the Center for South East Asian Studies; Kristin McGuire, doctoral candidate in history of women’s studies

Primary Investigators for partially funded projects

Embodying Emotion: Translating the Language of Movement and Meaning: Melissa Gross, associate professor of kinesiology; Daniel Koditschek, professor of electrical engineering and computer science; Heidi Kumao, visiting assistant professor of art and design; Geoff Gerstner, adjunct assistant professor of psychology; Barbara L. Fredrickson, associate professor of psychology

Integrating Phylogeny, Physics, and Epidemiology Models for Infection Control:

James S. Koopman, professor of epidemiology; Carl P. Simon, director, Center for the Study of Complex Systems; Leonard M. Sander, professor of physics; Jeffrey Long, professor of human genetics

The Antilium Project: The Rational Humanization of Human Artifacts: Panos Y. Papalambros, professor of mechanical engineering; Richard Gonzalez, professor of psychology; Allan Afuah, associate professor of corporate strategy and international business; Jan-Henrik Andersen, assistant professor of art and design; Mattias Jonsson, assistant professor of mathematics.