In this edition of Research Connections, find links to researchers in the news, updates on important deadlines, and more news for University of Rochester researchers.
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Ascension gazes upon her arthritic hands in bright sunlight in the movie Japon. The film is the subject of an essay in Libre Acceso: Latin American Literature and Film through Disability Studies, co-edited by Prof. Beth Jörgensen.

Disability studies help professor illustrate virtues of inclusion

Often, the research that faculty members conduct informs the classes they teach.

The process also worked in reverse for Beth Jörgensen in 2009.

Jörgensen, a Professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, was preparing to teach a class on "coming of age" stories in Spanish America. She wanted to include a collaborative autobiography of Gabriela Brimmer, a Mexican woman who was profoundly disabled since birth with cerebral palsy, yet learned to communicate by manipulating an alphabet board with the toe of her left foot. Eventually Brimmer became a leading activist for the rights of disabled people in that nation.

"I did not know that much about disability studies," Jörgensen confides. "So, in order to teach this in an informed way, I got busy reading as much background as I could about disability life writing."

It was a revelation for her:

1. Helping her reevaluate how disabled people traditionally have been depicted in literature. "Whether it is Oedipus with his limping leg, or blind seers in the ancient texts, or Dickens's Tiny Tim, characters with disabilities have been pervasive in world literature, and yet their presence often says little about what it really means to live with a disability," Jörgensen noted. Instead, they often serve primarily as a "narrative prosthesis" — a device to create interest or advance the plot. They also may serve as a metaphor of a social ill, or as a device prompting the moral improvement of a non-disabled character. Disability studies approaches to literature and the recent emergence of disability life writing — autobiographies and other accounts in which disabled people describe their experiences — have helped rectify that.

2. Reshaping her own understanding of disability and the concept of accommodation. "This building has heat in the winter," Jörgensen noted during an interview in her office in Lattimore Hall. "That's an accommodation to my physical need for warmth. Society accommodates all of us. Our whole infrastructure, including our highway system and roads, makes our way of life possible, although we tend to take it for granted. Is it really a special accommodation, then, to put in curb cuts for people with disabilities?"

3. Disclosing to her the scarcity of scholarship on how disabled people have been depicted during the last century in Latin American literature and film. "In 2009 I could find only one book and a handful of articles about Latin American literature that had been done from the disability studies standpoint," she said.

Seven years later, she is co-editor and contributor to Libre Acceso (State University of New York Press, 2016), a collection of essays that Jorgensen and co-editor Susan Antebi of the University of Toronto hope will further scholarship in this area. The essay topics include:

1. How Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges viewed his progressive blindness as both a gift and a curse. "By not conceiving of blindness purely as a deficit, but as a mode of being in the world, Borges forces us to consider the value of disability and difference. Blindness has things to teach us," writes Kevin Goldstein.
2. An examination of Gabriel García Márquez's landmark One Hundred Years of Solitude through the lens of Asperger's Syndrome. "My suggestion is simple but extremely difficult at the same time," essayist Juan Manuel Espinosa writes. "Read Asperger's syndrome like a magical realist fiction, letting AS imaginations marvel us and teach us how varied and wonderfully complex the organization of the world may be."
3. Jörgensen's own examination of the life writings of Gabriela Brimmer and Ekiwah Adler-Beléndez, a bilingual, bicultural poet in Mexico who also has cerebral palsy. "Reading their work from a disability studies perspective expands our understanding of the complexities and the possibilities of negotiating geographies of exclusion and access in Latin America," Jörgensen writes.

Throughout the essays, common themes emerge, such as the "intersectionality" that occurs when one is not only disabled, but poor, and a minority member of society. "You can't just isolate the disability as if nothing else were also determining that person's destiny," Jörgensen said.

"All of the essays," she adds, "make a case for the importance of inclusion, of how much we miss out on the richness of human diversity if we are not inclusive of people with disabilities."

For Jörgensen, her scholarly journey into disability studies "is an example of how teaching a single book, and trying to bone up on what I needed to know to do a good job of teaching that book, opened a new field for me."

Her new research, in turn, has contributed back to Jörgensen's classroom teaching. This past fall she taught a new course on "Disability Studies: Rethinking Difference & Diversity." Jörgensen introduces students to scholarship that treats disability identities as both embodied realities, and social and cultural constructions. The course also explores the literary representations of physical, intellectual and psychosocial disability in works chosen from a variety of national traditions.

In her class, as in Libre Acceso, Jorgensen treats disability not as a deficit, but as a form of human diversity that can instruct us all.

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University faculty members garner 5 Google research awards

Faculty members in the Departments of Computer Science and of Brain and Cognitive Sciences have garnered five Google Faculty Research Awards in the current round, more than were awarded to any other universities except two.

The faculty members are Dan Gildea, Ehsan Hoque, and Michael Scott of Computer Science, and Celeste Kidd and Rajeev Raizada of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

Google reported receiving 950 proposals involving computer science and such related topics as machine learning, speech recognition, natural language processing, and computational neuroscience. It funded 151 projects. The one-year grants cover tuition for a graduate student and provide both faculty and students the opportunity to work directly with Google researchers and engineers.

Here's a brief summary of each project:

Gildea's project involves decipherment — learning to translate between languages where there are no existing translated documents in both languages. "Most current machine translation systems are based on learning statistical patterns from translated documents," Gildea explained. "For pairs such as Chinese-English there are millions of words of such documents available, but for the majority of the world's languages — say, Bengali-English — we only have monolingual text in each language." The project aims to learn correspondences even in this situation, taking advantage of the fact that, if two words co-occur frequently in English, their translations should co-occur in the foreign language.

Hoque proposes an opportunistic browser-based videoconferencing system that non-intrusively offers nonverbal feedback after video sessions. The system will intercept existing data streams that users consent to share, and analyze it for such communication dynamics as duration of turns, who interrupted who, aggregated smile intensity, speaking rate, loudness, and pitch. An existing sensing framework developed through Hoque's previous Google Faculty Research Award will enable the automated sensing of human nonverbal behavior. Intelligent interfaces will allow participants to explore the dynamics of the conversation. Some feedback will be labeled as private (only available to the particular participant) and some aggregated anonymized data as public (available to all the participants). "We envision our research being incorporated with Google Hangout in the long run," Hoque notes. Automated feedback could add more value to the overall video conferencing experience. Provided participants consent to share their data, this could enable collecting, at a very large scale, multimodal data that could be "very helpful in developing machine learning algorithms to push the boundaries of recognizing subtle nonverbal behavior."

The primary objective of Kidd's project is to "test theories about the features of the world that induce curiosity, especially early in development," through a series of lab experiments in which young children interact with information or free-play games displayed on touchscreens. "Specifically we test the hypothesis that individuals are drawn to material in the world that is somewhat, but not overly surprising given what they currently understand about the world, and that this guiding principle serves to maximize their learning." A better understanding off this mechanism might make it possible to develop child-directed apps that present children with material tailored to their preferred level of complexity, and for the app to offer material of increasing complexity as their knowledge and abilities change over the course of development.

Raizada uses methods from machine learning to investigate the structure of neural representations in the human brain. With support from the Googe award, he will explore links between computational models of the meanings of words and how the brain represents those meanings — specifically, whether the structure of those models of meaning can explain how people represent linguistic analogies. Work in cognitive psychology has shown that when people engage in analogical reasoning they carry out a structural alignment, in which the set of relations between one group of items is mapped onto a corresponding set of relations between a different group of items, e.g. "king" is to "queen" as "uncle" is to "aunt." "We have recently developed methods in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis which carry out the same sort of structural alignment, but now between fMRI neural activation patterns," Raizada explained. "Computational models of meaning developed at Google also show these sorts of structural relations, and we will be investigating whether such models are able to capture how the brain represents analogical relations between word meanings."

Scott will use his award to characterize the causes of "stumbling" and to reduce both its mean and its variance. As he explains: "In modern data centers, threads of control in a program frequently make brief requests for service (from the graphics processor, the network, a solid-state disk, or another thread) and then wait for a response. When the response arrives, the thread tends to 'stumble' back to work, as the operating system and the hardware work to restore its active state. This stumbling has become a major performance problem for Big Data companies like Google." The award is a follow-on to Scott's sabbatical last year as a Visiting Scientist at Google's lab in Madison, WI.

Goldman surveys the possibilities — and limitations — of stem cell therapy for neurological disorders

In a perspective piece appearing in the journal Cell Stem Cell, Steven Goldman, Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience and Neurology, lays out the current state of affairs with respect to stem cell medicine and how close we are to new therapies for neurological disorders. As reported by Mark Michaud, at the Research@URMC blog, Goldman makes these key points:

The fewer the targets the better. Diseases that involve a discrete cell type, or a family of cells, and impact a defined area of the brain represent a more straightforward proposition for stem cell therapies. . . . On the other hand, complex multi-faceted disorders like stroke, spinal cord injury, and Alzheimer's present a significant challenge because the damage involves several different cell types and can occur in different parts of the CNS simultaneously.

Can we get the cells to the right place and once they are there do they do their job? Diseases of the white matter — like multiple sclerosis — are considered strong candidates because the glial cells employed in potential therapies tend to migrate, differentiate, and proliferate once they are injected into the brain. Replacing the damaged neurons associated with cognitive and motor functions represents a far more challenging target for stem cell therapies because the cells not only have to be placed precisely where needed, but they must then be coaxed to form connections and integrate with the networks of cells around them.

Can we make the right cell types? The manipulation of stem cells can still be an imperfect process. Stem cells that are created by reprogramming the donor's skin cells or native stem cells in the brain may carry with them the genetic defect that is causing the disease. If researchers are unable to ensure the purity of the cells that are being transplanted, dangerous side effects, such as tumors, can arise. Also, the process of growing and preparing cells for transplant can take months. Many neurological conditions require that replacement cells be available quickly, before the effects of the disease and injury become irreparable.

Are stem cell therapies the best option? Other effective treatment options may compel scientists to focus their efforts elsewhere. For example, while Parkinson's disease is considered an ideal candidate for stem cell-therapies, new drugs and other therapies are able to effectively manage the symptoms of the disease.

Click here to read the full article.

Medical Center, SUNY Buffalo create collaborative genomics pilot funding program

The Medical Center and the SUNY University at Buffalo have released a request for applications to a new Collaborative Genomics pilot award program. The goal of this program is to fund projects that will lead to accelerated collaboration between UB and URMC in the area of large-scale, collaborative genomics.

In particular, the program seeks projects that build on established strengths at both institutions and leverage the collaboration to apply for future New York state opportunities for regional collaborative centers.

Click here at the CTSI Stories Blog to read more about the new pilot program and other collaborations with UB.

CFAR revises RFA, extends deadline for pilot fund

The Center for AIDS Research has revised its RFA for pilot funding to facilitate interdisciplinary and inter-professional collaborations between the HIV/AIDS Clinical Trials Unit and members of CFAR. The deadline has been extended until April 1. However, a Letter of Intent with a one page concept sheet or a discussion regarding the application topic with CFAR / CTU faculty (Dr. Keefer and/or Dr. Schifitto) is required by March 4. See the revised RFA; additional information is available here.

Rush Rhees microform collection is being relocated

In preparation for the upcoming construction of the Humanities Center on the 2nd floor of Rush Rhees Library, the library's microform collection is now being relocated and is currently unavailable for use. Anyone needing access to microform materials during the relocation process may request items via "Request through Interlibrary Loan" links in the Voyager catalog or directly from Interlibrary Loan.

For more information, contact Head of Collection Development Helen Anderson or Assistant Dean Jennifer Bowen.

Workshop helps faculty members save time by using online tools

Today is the last day to register for an interactive presentation that will provide faculty members with a variety of online tools and resources that will not only save them time and effort, but improve student satisfaction and learning.

In an effort to accommodate the University community, this workshop is being held at the Medical Center and at River Campus; please register for the session that best fits your schedule.

1. Monday, Feb. 29, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., lunch provided. Helen Wood Hall, 1W510. To register, contact Karen Grabowski at 276-3782 or via email at
2. Thursday, March 3, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., lunch provided. Le Chase Hall, Genrich Rusling Room. Register here or contact Adele Coelho at 273-2571 or via email at

Additional information regarding the Spring Online Learning Faculty Workshops may be found here.

PhD dissertation defenses

Emily Resseguie, Toxicology, "Regulation of Mitochondrial Function by Genotoxic Stress Response Pathways during Hyperoxia Exposure." 1 p.m., March 2, 2016, Ryan Case Method Room (1-9576). Advisor: Michael O'Reilly.

Andrew Cox, Microbiology & Immunology, "Increasing the Safety of the Live Attenuated Influenza Virus Vaccine." 3 p.m., March 3, 2016, K-207 (2-6408). Advisor: Steve Dewhurst.

Mark your calendar

Today: Aging and Engaging: Development of an Automated Social Skills Coach, presented by Kimberly Van Orden, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry. Social Connectedness and Health Research Seminar. Noon-1:00 pm in Helen Wood Hall (1w-501). Van Orden's program of research focuses on the prevention of late life suicide and the role of social connectedness as a mechanism for preventing those suicides.

Today: Deadline to nominate junior faculty for the Furth Award. Nominees should be junior, tenure track faculty appointed in natural or biological science departments within ASE, SMD or SON who have been hired within the past three academic years. Read more here.

Feb. 29: Deadline to file initial applications for pilot project funding from the Infection and Immunity: From Molecules to Populations (IIMP) program. Read more. . .

Feb. 29: Using online tools to save faculty time, a Technology in Health Professions Education Workshop. 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Helen Wood Hall (1w-510). To register, contact

Feb. 29: Screening of Intelligent Lives, which explores how narrow views of intelligence led to the segregation of people with intellectual disabilities. With filmmaker Dan Habib. 7 to 8:30 p.m., Genrich-Rusling Room of LeChase Hall. Read more . . .

March 1: Research Methods, presented by Karl Kieburtz, Co-Director, Clinical and Translational Science Institute; Edwin van Wijngaarden, Associate Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences; Rob Strawderman, Chair, Department of Statistics; Donald M. Foster, Distinguished Professor of Biostatistics; and Eric Rubinstein, Executive Director of CTSI Research Services. Noon to 1 p.m., Helen Wood Hall Auditorium (1w-304). CTSI Seminar Series.

March 3: Using online tools to save faculty time, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., lunch provided. Le Chase Hall, Genrich Rusling Room. Register here or contact Adele Coelho at 273-2571 or via email at

March 4: Population Health Engineering, presented by Solomon Abiola, Health and Technology Research Associate, Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics. Noon-1:00 p.m., Helen Wood Hall Auditorium (1w-304). Public Health Grand Rounds.

March 7: Engaging Students with Online Tools. 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Natapow (1-9545). A Technology in Health Professions Education Workshop. To register, email

March 8: Data Management. Part of the OHSP Achieving High Quality Clinical Research seminar series. Noon to 1 p.m. Helen Wood Hall Auditorium (1w-304).

March 9: Free public showing of Nickel City Smiler, a documentary film chronicling a refugee's fight for survival and hope in America. 7:45 p.m. LeChase Hall (Genrich-Rusling Room). Offered through the Warner School of Education. A panel discussion will follow the film, delving deeper into the themes and issues raised in Nickel City Smiler. Read more . . .

March 10: Utilizing URMC Laboratory Resources for Clinical Research, presented by Kris Kuryla. Noon to 1 p.m., Saunders Research Building 1.416. SCORE meeting.

March 10: Engaging Students with Online Tools. 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., LeChase Hall, Genrich Rusling Room. Online Learning Workshop.

Please send suggestions and comments to Bob Marcotte. You can see back issues of Research Connections, an index of people and departments linked to those issues, and a chronological listing of PhD dissertation defenses since April 2014, by discipline.

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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.