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.
Email not displaying correctly?
View it in your browser.

Data mining of Instagram sheds light on teen drinking patterns

Instagram, which is very popular among teenagers, offers large amounts of information in the form of photos and text. Of particular interest to Jiebo Luo and his collaborators is what this wealth of information can tell us about the alcohol consumption experiences of underage drinkers. As Luo, Professor of Computer Science, and his team note in a new paper, studying the social media behavior of this group allows the researchers to observe it passively in an "undisturbed state."

Though Instagram does not offer a way of selecting users by age, Luo and his team applied computer vision techniques they've been pioneering to analyze the profile faces of Instagram users to get sufficiently accurate guesses for their age, gender, and race.

The researchers monitored drinking related activities via the teens' Instagram photos by analyzing the social media tags associated with these photos using a constructed Internet slang dictionary and also any alcohol brands the users follow.

They found that underage alcohol consumption, as with adults, occurs more on weekends and holidays and at the end of the day. There wasn't a strong bias toward one gender for alcohol consumption — it matched the gender ratio of Instagram users.

The researchers did find that different alcohol brands are followed in varying degrees by teenagers, and that different genders follow different brands. This could identify brands that are attracting younger audiences in social media, which could be useful to people working with underage drinkers.

"There are several ways we can go about doing that," said Luo. "We can keep government agencies or schools better informed and help them design interventions. We could also use social media to incorporate targeted intervention and to measure the effect of any intervention. And perhaps other things we haven't thought about." Read more . . .

Do you have an interesting photo or other image that helps illustrate your research? We would like to showcase it. Send a high resolution jpg or other version, along with a description of what it shows, to

Experienced faculty invited to be master mentors

All University research mentors are invited to apply for UR Mentors, a new faculty development program designed to build and support a community of Master Mentors who can be resource persons within their respective departments, able to coach less experienced mentors and training program directors.

This evidence-based program consists of a series of interactive workshops and skill-building exercises with colleagues. Participants will increase their confidence, knowledge and skills as mentors through working on:

1) Effective communication strategies, including autonomy supportive techniques; 2) Aligning protégé/mentor team expectations; 3) Fostering protégé transition to independence; and 4) Promoting protégé professional development

The program includes 4 sessions that will begin in January 2016 and run through March. The sessions will be held in Saunders Research Building and Wallis Hall. Participants will be eligible for continuing education credits and will receive a certificate of completion.

Applicants should be Associate Professors or Professors who have some experience as mentors and whose application is supported by their department chair, center director, or dean. Applications will be accepted until Nov. 23 and decisions will be finalized by Dec. 1.

Further information can be obtained by contacting Vivian Lewis, 273-2760. Please forward all applications to: Click here for further details.

How Freedom Schools use resources of oppressed students, parents, and communities

A half century ago, Civil Rights activists established summer Freedom Schools for Black people in Mississippi, as part of an effort to ensure that they could pass literacy tests and register to vote.

The tradition continues at Children's Defense Fund Freedom Schools operating at dozens of sites across the United States. Nancy Ares, Associate Professor of Teaching and Curriculum at the Warner School, is researching how the NorthEast Area Development Corp.'s summer Freedom School in Rochester helps African American and Latino students and their community recognize and leverage the "cultural capital" they have in order to overcome racial and economic barriers. Specifically, she's interested in how these forms of capital are constructed and how they are circulated, in the form of community based standards and goals for learning.

Cultural capital refers to any non-financial social asset that promotes the social mobility of a group or individual, despite limited economic means. Examples can include linguistic, aspirational, navigational, and familial capital developed over time as communities cultivate ways of surviving in oppressive conditions.

For example, when parents from low-income neighborhoods advocate for advanced placement classes for their children, they may encounter negative assumptions within a school system about the ability of their children to excel in these classes.

"So there's a resistance capital that develops, often by having relationships with other people in the community who have done this," Ares noted. "They help each other learn how to not take no for an answer and to navigate the bureaucracy."

The curriculum of the Freedom Schools stresses multicultural literature; improved writing, reading and thinking skills; and lessons in the history of African-Americans or Latinos in America. Many Freedom School sites have helped reverse the summer reading loss that often occurs over the summer, Ares said.

The students also participate in afternoon social action projects in their communities to help build an awareness of the sources of social oppression, and also to build a sense of agency as well as community and cultural pride.

The Freedom School classes are taught by college students or recent graduates. As part of her project, Ares has asked these student teachers, called servant leader interns, to describe the standards they set for themselves, and the standards they believe are expected of them by parents and students.

The responses were "remarkably consistent," Ares said. "What comes across very clearly is that loving children as they are, as Black children or Latino children, helps prepare them for living in a society that still has endemic racism, in ways that help keep them safe and build and maintain their sense of self worth." This kind of love is called armed love.

Ares, who has studied teaching and learning in high schools, says there's an important difference between the Freedom Schools that the students attend in summer, and the public schools they attend the rest of the year: a stronger sense of connection and responsiveness to the communities and cultures that the students come from.

The NEAD Freedom School, for example, is "definitely not punitive. It's all about positive development," Ares said. "It has as its base an acknowledgement of the particular experiences and resources of communities under pressure, and treating culture and community as essential, positive parts of learning and teaching."

The failure to do so in most public schools, she notes, shows up, for example, in disciplinary policies that establish certain, mostly White middle class norms for behavior that may not match up with the communication or interaction styles of young people from communities of color — resulting in an "overrepresentation" of those students being suspended.

"Raising children to understand their history, to be proud of who they are, to be able to advocate for themselves and see themselves as part of a community working to improve itself, is the sort of community knowledge building and care of youth that is becoming more and more important as schools have more and more trouble educating everybody," Ares notes.

New imaging approach could accelerate tissue engineering

Asst. Prof. Regine Choe, principal investigator, and Assoc. Prof. Danielle Benoit, co-investigator, both of Biomedical Engineering, have been awarded an NSF grant for their collaborative research project, "Diffuse Optical and Correlation Tomography for Monitoring of Bone-Graft Healing."

The goal is to develop new methods of using red and infrared light to monitor and image the re-growth of blood vessels in healing bones. These methods, based on diffuse optical tomography (DOT) and diffuse correlation tomography (DCT), would provide non-invasive, deep-tissue longitudinal monitoring, which could significantly accelerate the tissue-engineering field and lead to new methods for healing damaged tissues.

These methods also promise efficiencies that could speed the clinical translation of new tissue-engineering technologies, saving time and reducing development costs.

"Although there have been various applications of diffuse optical tomographic techniques, their utility in bone-vascularization monitoring, especially in engineered tissue, has never been explored," the project summary states.

Study examines disease role of maternal anxiety during pregnancy

Sex differences in human health and disease are well-documented: autism and attention deficit disorder are much more common in boys, and starting around adolescence, depression is much more common in girls.

With a $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, University scientists will focus on maternal anxiety during pregnancy as a possible explanation for these differences.

The research team, led by Emily S. Barrett, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, will test the idea that anxiety in pregnancy alters sex hormones in the fetus — how they are produced and how they act — leading to differences in physical, cognitive and social behaviors. The team hypothesizes that these changes may affect males and females differently.

"There are sex differences in a range of health outcomes and they can be evident very early on, even in infancy," said Thomas G. O'Connor, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Wynne Center for Family Research, who is a member of the research team. "What's interesting is that levels of sex hormones are very low in babies, so there must be something happening in utero that is leading to different outcomes in the sexes. We think prenatal maternal anxiety may have some influence." Read more. . .

School of Live Culture to address "food deserts" in Rochester

(This is the second of three parts about the Edible Ecologies project of Cary Peppermint, Assistant Professor of Art and of Digital Media Studies, and Leila Nadir, Lecturer in Sustainability Studies.)

"Food deserts" are neighborhoods where fresh produce or healthy food are hard to come by. Through their Edible Ecologies project, Cary Peppermint, Assistant Professor of Art and Digital Media Studies, and Leila Nadir, Lecturer in Sustainability Studies, are raising awareness of the food deserts in Rochester.

"Food deserts are often created due to a lack of transportation," Nadir explained. "If you don't have a car, and you're several miles from a Wegmans, and if city transportation is poor, you're not going to get there to a grocery store full of fresh vegetables and whole foods." Instead, residents in such neighborhoods have to rely on what's locally available, and that's often fast-food restaurants and convenience markets, which emphasize processed food.

In support of their research on the role of the arts and humanities in creating sustainable communities, Peppermint and Nadir recently received grants from Franklin Furnace Fund, one of the most prestigious art organizations supporting performance art in the US, and the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. Their new project, titled School of Live Culture, will bring together three Rochester communities to create new sustainable networks of collaboration and creativity: the University of Rochester, the Gandhi Institute, and Seedfolk City Farm. Seedfolk operates multiple community gardens in the city to engage youth in project-based learning to contribute solutions to the city's food deserts.

Through the School of Live Culture, which is also part of the Edible Ecologies series, UR students will share what they've learned about fermentation and creative computing for the arts with the youth workers of Seedfolk City Farm. Seedfolk youth, in turn, will share their expertise in organic gardening with UR students.

The title, School of Live Culture, refers not only to the use of microbes to ferment food, but also to the creation of new methods of community-building that will take place between populations of students who otherwise wouldn't interact.

A broader goal of Edible Ecologies is to extend the message beyond food deserts to an even more diverse audience.

"If the industrial food system were to be disrupted, and we had no memory of the previous 100,000 years of humans' ecological wisdom and survival strategies, what do we have to fall back upon?" Nadir asks. Peppermint adds, "Modern society is very forward looking, focused on progress and all that is new. This type of thinking has clearly brought about many exciting innovations, but we also think there are a lot of resources in the past to be rediscovered."

(Next: Peppermint and Nadir employ a collective, participatory approach to research)

Serving on review board gives you the 'whole picture'

(Since arriving here two summers ago, Ehsan Hoque, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, has been the PI or co-PI on a total of nine applications that have been approved for about $6.6 million. This is the last in a three-part series looking at why he has been successful.)

Earlier this year, Ehsan Hoque, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, served on a National Science Foundation panel reviewing grant applications. The University's grant administrators recommend that investigators get this kind of experience; so does Hoque.

"Once you have done it, you see the whole picture," he said." You know exactly how things work."

Hoque, for example, was asked to review twelve 15-page proposals in two weeks time. "You're doing this as a service, and it's a lot of work to go through each proposal," Hoque said. "On each proposal I was looking very intently at the first page. If I got excited looking at the (summary on) the first page, I read the rest of the proposal in a very enthusiastic manner. If I didn't get the main idea of the project from reading the first page, I wasn't very enthusiastic."

That's why Hoque spends at least as much time on the one-page summaries of his own grant applications as all the other pages combined. And he writes them first, in part so that he will have time to circulate them among other faculty in his department for their comments before the deadline to submit.

He makes sure that those other faculty members, though in the same department, are working in areas of research other than his own. Chances are, the reviewers on an NSF panel will be from other areas as well. They may not be well-versed in all the technical aspects of a proposal, so it is important that a proposal be written with enough explanation. The reviewers "should be able to read the first page and understand it. If they don't, then something is wrong," Hoque said.

This requires additional thought and time in preparing an application, which is why Hoque is also careful not to spread himself too thin when applying for grants. "I think a lot of people make the mistake of submitting too many proposals. They will write 10, hoping one or two will work out. If you're writing 10 proposals you're probably not doing a good job on any of them. There's just not enough time."

Next round of AS&E Pump Primer II awards begins

With increased competition for a shrinking pool of extramural funding, AS&E Pump Primer II awards offer faculty members seed money to develop the proof of concept that will make their grant applications more competitive.

Typical budgets are $1,000 to $20,000, in rare instances as large as $50,000.

The deadline to apply for the next round of awards is Feb. 1, 2016. Faculty members in Arts & Science should refer questions to Debra Haring, and those in Engineering to Cindy Gary.

Population Health committee seeks your participation

Do you have an interest in promoting population health through research or education? If so, consider joining the Population Health Coordinating Committee, formerly known as the Population Health Interest Group.

The PHCC is an interdisciplinary, interdepartmental group that serves as a resource to advance research and education in population health and community engagement at the University. The committee also collaborates with clinical and community service programs across the University, and fosters discussion about relevant events, activities, developments and progress at local, regional and national levels.

The group meets every other month. Contact Mary McDonald to get on the mailing list to receive future meeting notices. The PHCC is convened by the Center for Community Health and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

Introducing a new faculty member

Xuwen Chen has joined the Department of Mathematics as an assistant professor. Chen works on the analysis of partial differential equations. He is interested in dispersive equations and kinetic theory. His research on the rigorous analysis of many-body systems has been published in the Archive for Rational Mechanics and Analysis and the Journal of the European Mathematical Society. He has also published in a variety of journals including the Analysis & PDE, Communications in Mathematical Physics, and Journal de Mathématiques Pures et Appliquées. His current research is funded by a National Science Foundation grant. Prior to coming to Rochester, Chen served as a Tamarkin assistant professor at Brown University from 2012 to 2015. He received his PhD from the University of Maryland at College Park in 2012.

Congratulations to . . .

Harry Reis, Professor of Pscychology, who has been awarded the 2015 Career Contribution Award by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). The award honors scholars who have made major theoretical, methodological, and/ or empirical contributions to the fields of social and personality psychology over the course of their career. Reis is recognized as a groundbreaking researcher of social interactions in daily experience through the development of the Rochester Interaction Record. The RIR is a technique that allows researchers to study patterns and characteristics of social relations that occur in everyday life. Read more . . .

UR research in the news

The brain's immune system could potentially be harnessed to help clear the amyloid plaques that are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, a new study shows. "This research confirms earlier observations that, when activated to fight inflammation, the brain's immune system plays a role in the removal of amyloid beta," said M. Kerry O'Banion, Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy and the lead author of a study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation. "We have also demonstrated that the immune system can be manipulated in a manner that accelerates this process, potentially pointing to a new therapeutic approach to Alzheimer's disease." The findings are the culmination of years of investigation that were triggered when O'Banion and his colleagues discovered that amyloid beta plaques were being cleared in mice with chronic brain inflammation. The researchers conducted a series of experiments showing they could replicate the phenomenon of amyloid beta clearance — absent brain inflammation — by "tricking" microglia, which serve as one the central nervous system's first lines of defense against infection and injury, into action by injecting a specific protein molecule, a cytokine, into the brain. Once the microglia were mobilized in mouse models of Alzheimer's disease, the researchers observed a more than 60 percent reduction in amyloid beta in the brain. "While we still need to fully understand the complexity and potential unintended consequences of this approach, it is clear that microglia play an important role in the removal of amyloid beta from the brain and may represent a novel approach to treating this disease," said O'Banion. Read more . . .

A team of URMC researchers, in partnership with collaborators in Zambia, have secured a $2.9 million grant to better understand the risk and potential negative drug interactions experienced by people living with HIV-associated seizures in Africa. An estimated 25 million HIV positive people reside in Sub-Saharan Africa and many of these individuals will go on to develop a seizure disorder as a result of their infection. While the wide availability of antiretroviral (ARV) therapy has helped transform HIV from a fatal infection into a chronic condition, caring for people with HIV/AIDS who also suffer from disorders such as epilepsy remains a challenge. The researchers, including Gretchen Birbeck, Professor of Neurology; Michael Potchen, Professor of Imaging Sciences; Brent Johnson, Associate Professor of Biostatistics; and Harris Gelbard, Professor of Neurology, will recruit 300 HIV positive urban and rural participants of all ages who have experienced their first seizure and follow them for two years to examine the cause of the initial seizure, seizure recurrence, and response to epilepsy and HIV treatments. Read more . . .

A Sunday Democrat and Chronicle story looks in-depth at how the Center for Emerging and Innovative Sciences is matching University researchers with local companies to bring cutting edge projects to fruition — from cameras that could transform airport security to noninvasive laser treatments for vision problems. It also details how CEIS helped pave the way for Rochester's designation as headquarters for the AIM Photonics initiative. Read more . . .

PhD dissertation defense

Angela Balliano, Biochemistry, "Characterization of ATP-Dependent Chromatin Remodeler-Nucleosome Interactions and Analysis of the Role of HMGB1 in Base Excision Repair." 2 p.m., Nov. 24, 2015, Neuman Room (1-6823). Advisor: Jeffrey Hayes.

Mark your calendar

Nov. 10: "Developing a Regulatory Science Training Program and Potential Career Paths," presented by Emma Meagher, Director, Translational Research Training Programs and Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Research, University of Pennsylvania Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics. Noon to 1 p.m., Helen Wood Hall Auditorium. Part of the "Advancing Regulatory Science and Translational Science: Research, Training and Partnerships" lecture series.

Nov. 12: The Wilmot Cancer Institute's 20th Annual Scientific Symposium. Lectures, oral presentations and poster session. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Class of '62 Auditorium and Flaum Atrium. Completed poster registration forms should be sent by email to Daina Bullwinkel, who can be contacted at 273-1447 if you have questions.

Nov. 13: University-wide research conference to promote diversity and inclusion through the advancement of scholarship and showcasing University scholarly activity. To register or for more information about the conference, please visit Diversity at the University. #URDiversity #HipHopEd

Nov. 13: Deadine for students to submit completed information sheets for the "America's Got Regulatory Science Talent" Competition to be held at UR on Dec. 8, 2015. Click here for complete information and instructions on how to apply.

Nov. 14: Healthcare Deep Data Dive, exploring innovative and effective uses of health data to improve patient outcomes. 8 a.m., Saunders Research Building. Learn more here.

Nov. 16: Noon deadline for University students, staff and faculty interested in entrepreneurship training and in identifying and developing valuable product opportunities from their academic research, to apply to the University's I-Corps Site program for grants of up to $3,000. Read more here.

Nov. 19: Deadline to register for "Transforming Population Health Research: Advances, New Methods, and Community Partnerships," the next UNYTE Scientific Session, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Dec. 3, in the Helen Wood Hall Auditorium. Read more . . .

Nov. 23: Deadline for University research mentors to apply for UR Mentors, a new faculty development program designed to build and support a community of Master Mentors. Click here for further details.

Dec. 1: World AIDS Day Scientific Symposium sponsored by the Center for AIDS Research, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the Class of '62 Auditorium and Flaum Atrium. Registrations for the poster session should be sent to Laura Enders by Nov. 16. Click here for more information and the registration form.

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.

University of Rochester Logo
Copyright 2013, All rights reserved.
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.