Incubator for Transdisciplinary Futures announces first round of funded projects

Incubator for Transdisciplinary Futures announces first round of funded projects

Nine multiyear clusters and five yearlong programmatic grants bring together faculty across all seven schools to collaborate on new transdisciplinary research.

The Incubator for Transdisciplinary Futures (ITF), a signature initiative of the Arts & Sciences Strategic Plan, was created to catalyze and support bold collaborations that foster the future of scholarly inquiry. ITF achieves its mission to nurture innovative academic configurations in part by funding multiyear thematic clusters and programmatic grants. These clusters and grants bring together faculty from across Washington University to collaborate on novel ideas, unprecedented learning opportunities, and possible solutions to the world’s most critical issues.

ITF co-director William Acree

From its first round of proposals, ITF funded nine multiyear clusters and five yearlong programmatic grants that bring together 49 faculty leads and 85 additional contributing faculty across all seven schools and 32 distinct departments.

“We are so inspired by the level of engagement with this initiative,” said William Acree, ITF co-director, associate vice dean of graduate education, and professor of Spanish. “Most of the faculty teams had not worked together prior to our call for proposals. It is precisely the infrastructure of the Incubator that is facilitating these novel connections. So we’re incredibly hopeful to see where teams go, and how they help us imagine what is possible for the decade of Arts & Sciences and the university of the future.”

Multiyear research clusters are funded for three years, consist of faculty from at least three distinct units, and foster imaginative new partnerships, including with external collaborators. Clusters also provide a framework for developing innovative student learning opportunities and identify new areas of transdisciplinary study.

ITF co-director Betsy Sinclair

Yearlong programmatic grants support cross-campus teams in hosting conferences, symposia, and community-building events around their selected transdisciplinary theme. These events allow students, faculty, and staff to explore new academic thought.

The transdisciplinary collaborations supported by ITF are anticipated to endure in both research and educational models, transforming research infrastructure and enhancing the global visibility of both Arts & Sciences and Washington University as a whole.

"This funding represents the beginning of one of our key goals — building the kind of collaborative community imagined by the faculty as part of the A&S strategic plan," said Betsy Sinclair, ITF co-director and professor of political science. "We're grateful to Dean Hu for listening to his faculty and believing in the power of Arts & Sciences."


Multiyear clusters

Immersive Technology Collective

Elizabeth Hunter, assistant professor of drama; Uluğ Kuzuoğlu, assistant professor of history; and Seth Graebner, associate professor of French and of global studies, lead this cluster focused on how immersive technologies and virtual worlds are reshaping human perception, exploration, and collaboration. The group will explore questions surrounding how scholars and artists can influence the future of immersive technologies, potential developments in bodily and mental perceptions, and how virtual and augmented reality might be used for the public good through research, pedagogy, aesthetics, and creative thought.

Mindfulness Science and Practice

Todd Braver, professor of psychological and brain sciences; Ron Mallon, professor of philosophy; Diana Parra Perez, research assistant professor in the Brown School; and Erik Dane, associate professor of organizational behavior in the Olin Business School, lead this cluster focused on mindfulness as an increasingly popular and accessible set of mental training practices and skills that can be used to improve health, wellness, and psychological functioning. The group will bring together a diverse set of researchers, scholars, and mindfulness practitioners to transform the science of mindfulness through innovative and pioneering collaborative research, while, in parallel, applying a critical scholarly lens towards what has been termed the “modern mindfulness movement.”

The St. Louis Policy Initiative: Segregation, Public Health, and Environmental Policy

Andrew Reeves, professor of political science; Scott Krummenacher, lecturer in environmental studies; Matthew Gabel, professor of political science; and Elizabeth Korver-Glenn, assistant professor of sociology, lead this cluster focused on bringing diverse theoretical and methodological perspectives together to study policy in the St. Louis metro region with an emphasis on engaging with the most pressing policy challenges in society today. The group will explore the relationship between racial segregation, political representation, housing policy, public health outcomes, and environmental outcomes in urban cores and their suburbs. The initiative will also provide resources to support other St. Louis-focused research projects and research on urban politics more generally.

The Storytelling Lab: Bridging Science, Technology, and Creativity

Jeff Zacks, professor of psychological and brain sciences; Ian Bogost, professor of film and media studies in Arts & Sciences and of computer science and engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering; and Colin Burnett, associate professor of film and media studies, lead this cluster focused on establishing Washington University as the transdisciplinary hub for the study of storytelling and its social, political, legal, creative, medical, and technological implications. The group will explore effective storytelling – both how effective stories are made and how people make sense of them – across media and platforms, across communities and cultures, and in public health.

Towards a Synergy between Artificial Intelligence and Neuroscience

Ralf Wessel, professor of physics; Keith Hengen, assistant professor of biology; and Likai Chen, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, lead this cluster focused on the convergence of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and brain sciences. Using deep learning neural networks as explanatory models for the functional organization of living brains, the group will undertake transformational research into understanding how intelligence works and advancing insights into the mechanisms of artificial and biological intelligence. The work will support targeted treatment of mental diseases in brains, development of general artificial intelligence in neural networks, and synergistic educational opportunities for the next generation of scholars.

Trust and Public Health

David Carter, professor of political science; Matthew Gabel, professor of political science; Jimin Ding, associate professor of mathematics and statistics; and Mark Huffman, professor of medicine at the School of Medicine and co-director of the Global Health Center, lead this cluster focused on trust as an essential component in the effective implementation of public health measures. The team will create new research and learning opportunities with the aim of understanding sources of trust, mistrust, and distrust that affect public health, health care, and health policy. The work will fill an existing gap in understanding how sociostructural, economic, and political sources of low trust can be remedied to improve population health.

Next Frontiers in Radio Chemistry: Personalized Medicine for Infectious Diseases

Timothy A. Wencewicz, associate professor of chemistry; Petra Levin, the George William and Irene Koechig Freiberg Professor of Biology; Manel Errando, assistant professor of physics; Daniel Thorek, associate professor of radiology at the School of Medicine; and Deborah Veis, professor of pathology and immunology at the School of Medicine, lead this cluster focused on the development of cross-disciplinary team-based training and technology advancement in the area of infectious disease imaging. With particular attention to resistant bacterial infections, the team will develop imaging tools that enhance the study of infectious diseases in laboratory settings, facilitate diagnosis in the clinic, and guide treatment to improve outcomes.

Policy Body Camera Metadata

Andrew Jordan, assistant professor of economics; Christopher Lucas, assistant professor of political science; and Soumendra Lahiri, the Stanley A. Sawyer Professor in Mathematics and Statistics, lead this cluster focused on understanding and leveraging the information captured by police body cameras, which are used by over 60% of U.S. police departments. The team will assess what information is already available, what new information can be generated, and how that information can be used to improve policing. The work will blend the perspectives of technologists, social scientists, police departments, and communities with the aim of encouraging the most equitable and productive uses of body-worn cameras.

The Human-Wildlife Interface: Disease Dynamics and Pandemic Prevention

Krista Milich, assistant professor of anthropology; Michael Landis, assistant professor of biology; and David Wang, professor of pathology and immunology at the School of Medicine, lead this cluster focused on the spread of new infectious diseases, climate change, and biodiversity loss, three urgent and interconnected problems facing society today. Based on their results from a human-wildlife interface at one site in Uganda, the team will use a data-driven and community-centered approach to implement strategies to reduce the opportunities for spillover events, ultimately striving to predict and prevent future pandemics. Their innovative framework will also provide a basis for other research projects where humans and wildlife are in close contact.


Programmatic grants

Foster Care Systems

Ian Fillmore, assistant professor of economics, and Seanna Leath, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, lead this project to create a database that documents the diversity in foster care systems across states and over time. By combining data on foster care systems with existing data on foster child outcomes, the team can address questions on how the characteristics of a foster system affect children. The new database has the potential to transform long-held assumptions about everything from foster child mental health to racial gaps in the foster system to the design of substance abuse interventions that help parents to reunite with their children.

Black Joy Collaborative

Karma Frierson, assistant professor of African and African-American studies; Paige McGinley, associate professor of performing arts and director of American culture studies; and Miguel Valerio, assistant professor of Spanish, lead this effort to bring together students and faculty with St. Louis-based artists and institutions who share an investment in Black performance, a critical site of Black joy as a practice. The collaborative will draw on a wide array of fields to wed scholastic inquiry with exercises in producing and celebrating joy, create knowledge about Black joy, and spread awareness about where Black joy is already being produced both on campus and in the broader St. Louis region.

Moving Stories

Ila Sheren, associate professor of art history and archaeology; Ariela Schachter, associate professor of sociology; Tabea Linhard, professor of Spanish and comparative literature and director of global studies; Lisa Bulawsky, professor in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts; and Jonathan Hanahan, associate professor in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, lead this project to develop a small group exhibition that will take place in fall 2023. The exhibition will feature artists, both national and local, who represent stories of migration in their work. Selected artists will also conduct community workshops with the aim of opening a dialogue with immigrant communities in St. Louis and beginning the local collection of migrant narratives, supporting the team’s eventual goal of establishing WashU as a center for migration studies.

Science in the Public Square

Talia Dan-Cohen, associate professor of anthropology, and Corinna Treitel, professor of history, lead this group dedicated to using insights from the humanities and social sciences to investigate questions surrounding the authority of science and expertise. Recent crises of scientific authority are particularly visible in public dissent and debates about the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, the ability of government officials to communicate critical information, and the increasingly expansive role of technology in daily life. The team will organize events and co-teach courses designed to catalyze a broad conversation about how and why crises of trust in science occur and how best to respond to them.

Improving Data Integration Techniques

Ted Enamorado, assistant professor of political science; Soumendra Lahiri, the Stanley A. Sawyer Professor in Mathematics and Statistics; and Kunal Agrawal, professor of computer science and engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering, lead this project focused on enabling researchers to integrate information from multiple data sets when no unique identifier that links records across datasets is available. Combining data sources can be incredibly powerful, but such efforts carry computational difficulties and raise privacy concerns. The team will develop solutions to these problems built on accuracy, computational efficiency, privacy protection, and algorithmic fairness. They will also invite expert speakers to Washington University to share their insights.