Tag Archive | "college of arts and sciences"

Chemistry Professor Awarded Science Fellowship in Japan

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Chemistry Professor Awarded Science Fellowship in Japan


By Betty Chinea
Special to UM News

Rajeez-Prabhakar

Rajeev Prabhakar

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 15, 2017)—Rajeev Prabhakar, a chemist at the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences, is no stranger to spending time in a foreign country.

Originally from India, he earned his Ph.D. in Sweden and is accustomed to discovering and acclimating himself in different cultures, which is why Prabhakar had no reservations about visiting Japan—for the second time in his career. But this excursion is more business than pleasure.

Recently, Prabhakar received news that he was awarded a prestigious fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) as a visiting professor.

Selection for this coveted fellowship is an honor not lost on Prabhakar. Only 25 percent of applicants are accepted and each must have a host professor in Japan who applies for them.

“It is very exciting,” said Prabhakar. “The Japanese are very advanced in science and they have a strong research culture.”

Prabhakar, who began his journey February 15, will visit multiple universities in Japan through March 9, including the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, Fukui Institute for Fundamental Chemistry, Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules, Nagoya University, and Hokkaido University.

The purpose of the fellowship is to establish research collaborations with Japanese scientists from the institutes and universities, and help advance and expand Prabhakar’s current research at UM, which is primed to fundamentally advance the design of artificial enzymes, biomaterials, antimicrobial peptides, and drugs for neurological disorders.

“It will be very beneficial to interact with some of the leading researchers in these areas and explore innovative ideas of mutual interest,” said Prabhakar.

The importance of Prabhakar’s research is underscored by JSPS’s full support of his visit. Along with collaborating and forming new connections with Japanese researchers, he will be presenting research seminars as a visiting professor.

For more than 80 years, the JSPS has initiated and carried out a vast array of programs that are essential to promoting scientific research. The organization has developed as a research and support organization designed to advance research and foster talented researchers for generations to come.

The fellowship also supports UM President Julio Frenk’s vision for UM as an innovation hub, connecting, collaborating, and building knowledge with organizations and researchers beyond our borders.

“I am hopeful that the JSPS fellowship will help me to expand the research we are already doing here and start something new and interesting while building ties between UM and leading Japanese universities,” said Prabhakar.

 

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History Professors Win NEH Fellowships

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History Professors Win NEH Fellowships


By Alex Bassil
UM News

Bernath- Lindemann-NEHAwards

Michael Bernath and Mary Lindemann

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 1, 2017) — Michael Bernath and Mary Lindemann, College of Arts and Sciences faculty members and colleagues in the Department of History, have been awarded National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Fellowships for 2017.

Bernath is the Charlton W. Tebeau Associate Professor of 19th Century American history, and Lindemann the chair and professor of early modern German, Dutch, and Flemish history and medical history in the early modern world. They will use their awards for book projects on, respectively, Northern Teachers in the Old South and the aftermath of the German Thirty Years War.

“We are proud and excited that two of our distinguished history professors in the College of Arts and Sciences were awarded NEH fellowships, a tremendously respected award in the humanities,” said Leonidas Bachas, dean of the college. “Awards such as these not only promote scholarship in the humanities, but also lead to knowledge shared with our students seeking a deeper understanding of the human experience. The UM Center for the Humanities provides funding to enable these research ideas to reach the stage of NEH support.”

The UM fellowships were among $16.3 million in grants awarded nationwide by the NEH for 290 projects. The Fellowship for University Teachers’ program supports college and university teachers pursuing advanced research. This year the NEH received 1,298 applications and funded 86 of the total, approximately 6.6 percent of the proposals, making the fellowships among the most competitive humanities awards in the country.

Bernath’s project, “In a Land of Strangers: Northern Teachers in the Old South, 1790-1865,” looks at the experiences, reception, and perception of thousands of Northerners, both men and women, who came to teach throughout the Southern states. Bernath argues that the presence of these Northern teachers represented the most intimate, sustained, and widespread contact point between Northerners and Southerners during the antebellum period. He begins here to examine when, how, and where ideas of Northern and Southern identity emerged.

“Given how difficult it is to win an NEH award, I’m honored to be one of two faculty members in the same department and university, a highly unusual occurrence,” Bernath said. “The NEH plays an essential role in facilitating groundbreaking research and the exploration of vital issues that benefit us, not only as scholars and universities, but also as a society.”

Lindemann’s project, “Fractured Lands: Northern Germany in an Age of Unending War, 1627-1721,” analyzes the effects of the Thirty Years War on Germany for a century after the conclusion of peace. The project is innovative in the sense that it looks not only at political and social development but also considers the impact of the war on the environment.

“Such NEH grants have been critical in my career,” said Lindemann, who credited two previous NEH grants for the publication of two books, the first with Johns Hopkins University Press in 2006 and the second with Cambridge University Press in 2015.

“The time needed to do deep archival research and write is absolutely critical for scholars employed at major universities,” she continued. “I’m grateful for the support of the NEH and UM’s College of Arts & Sciences. In a political climate where the NEH is in danger of being either eviscerated or eliminated it is important to emphasize how valuable it is for sustaining and nurturing high-quality scholarship throughout the U.S.”

The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent federal agency and one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States.

 

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Illuminating Moonlight: President Frenk and Tarell McCraney Discuss the Playwright’s Academy Award-Nominee


A screening at the Cosford gives UM President Julio Frenk an opportunity to talk to one of the creative forces behind the Academy Award-nominated ‘Moonlight’

By Robin Shear
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (January 30, 2017)—The evening after Moonlight received eight Academy Award nominations, the University of Miami hosted a special screening event at the Cosford Cinema, with a Q&A between UM President Julio Frenk and Tarell Alvin McCraney, the playwright and Miami native whose largely autobiographical work inspired the critically acclaimed film.

McCraney has been a professor of theater and civic engagement in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences since 2015. During that time he also launched an arts leadership project for young women of color at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Liberty City, one of the local resources that gave McCraney a rare refuge from the poverty, crime, and bullying he struggled with growing up in the neighborhood.

After last Wednesday’s screening of the 111-minute drama, currently slated to run at the Cosford through February 9,  a visibly affected audience paused briefly before breaking into applause.

Moonlight, already a Golden Globe winner for Best Picture-Drama, tells the story of Chiron, also nicknamed “Little” and “Black,” in three gripping acts. Chiron lives with his drug-addicted mother in Liberty City during the turbulent 1980s. With troubles at home and school, the quiet but intense Chiron (pronounced shy-rone) traverses dangerous terrain, buoyed by fleeting moments of sanctuary and support from a drug dealer named Juan, based on a significant figure in McCraney’s youth. Unlike Chiron, McCraney took another path and went on to become a renowned playwright, recognized in 2013 with a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.

“This is a stunning example of how artists can move us to new understandings of our world,” Frenk said during his introduction of McCraney, who has “story by” and executive producer credits on Moonlight. “Tarell is a son of Miami. He is an artist of Miami. And he is an advocate for Miami. The film we just saw is such a beautiful, poetic, loving portrait of our incredible city in all its dimensions.”

But it is a story that might never have been widely known. When McCraney was 22, his mother died of AIDS-related complications. Trying to make sense of his life up to that time, he wrote In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Though never staged, almost a decade later the work came to the attention of director and screenwriter Barry Jenkins, also raised in Liberty City. Their collaboration has garnered a powerful response that has pushed the self-described “painfully shy” McCraney into a new kind of spotlight.

Among Moonlight’s eight Academy Award nominations are Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director. At the Q&A on January 25, McCraney spoke openly and eloquently about what it was like to be part of such an intensely personal project and why he thinks it has resonated with audiences and critics as one of the best films of the year.

Crediting the authenticity Jenkins brought to the screen and a “one-of-a-kind” ensemble cast, McCraney said, “There hadn’t been this kind of storytelling in a while, specifically about people of color from this part of the world. I think there was an appetite for it.”

He also credited School of Communication lecturer Rafael Lima, who taught playwriting at McCraney’s high school, with the words of wisdom that helped him begin to share this poignant and intimate piece.

“I had tried to figure out ways to create the story before and didn’t really understand how to do that,” said McCraney. “He said, ‘If a story keeps coming to you visually, then it’s a film. If you hear it, then it’s a play.’”

Asked by Frenk what he would tell young people who live in a world where they, like Chiron, may face violence in terms of their race, sexual orientation, or any other dimension of their identity, McCraney replied, “I don’t know if I would tell them anything, to be fair. Having sat in that chair and having to listen to adults figure out how to fix an ill of society by telling you something feels counterintuitive. The thing I often try to do in those circumstances is show them where they actually belong. One of the initiatives I’ve appreciated since I’ve been here at the University is the Culture of Belonging because it’s a powerful tenet. We have work to do here, but that’s where it all starts. One of the things that Juan does in the film for Little is he says, ‘You belong somewhere, you’re a part of something.’ And that’s what I would try to show rather than say.”

Praising Moonlight, School of Communication Dean Gregory Shepherd asked McCraney to expand on the character of Juan, complexly portrayed by Academy Award nominee Mahershala Ali. McCraney started with an anecdote about walking up to Ali backstage after seeing the movie with an audience for the first time in Toronto. “My tie was askew and [Ali] started fixing it,” recounted McCraney, “and I burst into tears because for me he had just sort of transformed into this person I had not seen since I was 6 or 7 years old.”

The character of Juan, he explained, was based on his mother’s boyfriend, a man named Blue. “He was a drug dealer, and he was every bit of a hero to me,” McCraney said. “He taught me how to ride a bike. He taught me how to swim. He told me that I was good enough. He often stemmed my mother’s abuse from affecting me in many ways. I was the best-dressed kid in Liberty City for a long time. I always wanted to honor that memory but not expunge it of any of the things that, actually, he did.”

Thanking McCraney for coming to speak to one of his classes previously, UM student Jeremy Penn asked him to discuss the bullying and violence portrayed in the film and how the “school and police fail to address the systemic issues that are going on.”

McCraney said that in his own life the system didn’t fail him. “At some point the bullying stopped because I was led out of danger,” he explained. He was offered free classes at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center and attended the New World School of the Arts, “so I could be in a place that was just a little bit more accepting of who I was.”

But that’s not everyone’s story. McCraney notes that Chiron’s story doesn’t follow his own trajectory of success. “One of the reasons I wrote [the story] in that way was, what if I took that one missed step to the left? And both things cost. No matter what school I’m at, no matter what instructor I’m with, I still carry the scars of that time.”

President Frenk concluded by thanking McCraney—who will be returning to his alma mater, the Yale School of Drama, in July to serve as chair of the playwriting department—for his artistic creation, his work at UM, and his service to the greater Miami community.

“Obviously on Oscar night all your friends and family at the U are going to be rooting for Moonlight. We hope it does very, very well,” said Frenk. “We wish you well—and you know this will always be the home where you truly belong.”

The evening was sponsored by the Office of the President, the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Communication.

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Biologist Learns How Lovesick Wrens Hit New Notes


A UM biologist studied how songbirds in remote areas of Costa Rica learn new duets when paired with a new mate

By Deserae E. del Campo
Special to UM News

Wren-DuetKarla Rivera-Cáceres, a University of Miami biology graduate student, plays a harmonious duet of singing wrens from a recording she captured out in the field during a recent trip to Costa Rica.

“The song sounds like one bird but if you listen closely, it’s a male and female wren singing a duet in perfect unison,” said Rivera-Cáceres.

Along with songbirds, many animal species perform duets, an uncommon vocal interaction that can occur between mated or unmated species, such as frogs and crickets. But the coupled wrens Rivera-Cáceres recorded in Costa Rica sing alternating phrases, or parts, of the song so smoothly and with such complexity and fast tempo that the untrained ear may hear just a single bird.

For years, Rivera-Cáceres studied the “duet codes” (non-random association of song types) of paired wrens and wondered if the ability to perform their complex and seamless music was a skill the birds were born with or learned during juvenile or adult stages of life. Now, after two months of intense listening in Costa Rica, she knows that they can learn new songs with new partners, even as adults. She says the newly learned songs are akin to prenuptial agreements.

“It’s like the birds think: If you’re willing to invest the time and energy to learn a new duet code, then I am sure you are not going to leave me because if you do, you would lose a big investment and would need to learn a whole new duet code with another partner,” she said.

According to Rivera-Cáceres, a male wren has his set of songs and a female wren her own set. When paired, the birds link their song types in a non-random way. For example, if the male sings his type “A” song, the female may respond with her type “C” song. If the duet fits, the wrens will perfect their duet code until it becomes seamlessly unified.

“I selected this particular species for my research because their duets are very complex,” said Rivera-Cáceres. “The birds need to be in sync, so when one bird sings the other remains silent, and they do this in a very fast tempo while avoiding any overlap.”

Past studies on duetting wrens focused on the function and evolution of the songs, not necessarily the birds’ development to perform them.

“Understanding the development process of duetting and whether the wrens invest the time and energy to duet with their partners is key to determine if these duet rules are difficult to acquire and thus demonstrate the birds’ ability and skill to learn a new song when paired with a new mate,” said Rivera-Cáceres.

Her research, “Neotropical wrens learn new duet rules as adults,” illustrates the complex behavior of duetting wrens by explaining the process of how the birds acquire the ability to duet throughout their lives. It was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“Paired wrens that are together for a long time keep the same rules across years but each pair in the population will have its own rules. In other words, pairs from the same population do not duet the same,” said Rivera-Cáceres. “It didn’t make sense to me that wrens don’t continue to learn new duet codes during adulthood because if they did have fixed rules, which they learn during the juvenile stages, when the birds got older they would be unable to pair with another bird singing a different set of song rules.”

To prove that wrens learn new duet rules instead of repeating a learned rule from their juvenile stages, Rivera-Cáceres performed a “removal experiment” in Costa Rica, moving either a male or female wren from one territory to another to test if their duet codes changed when they found new partners. To relocate the wrens, she played a recording of another wren’s song in a pair’s territory. When one of them flew to the speaker to investigate the “intruder,” she captured it in a thin net and released it elsewhere in the forest.

“At first, the new pairs struggled in their coordination and duet code adherence but they caught on over time,” said Rivera-Cáceres. “What I did find interesting was that the male wrens changed their duetting rules more than females. The females normally kept the responses they had with their old mates, while male duet codes appear to be more flexible. It did take the new pairs months to perfect their new duet codes but over time, they did get better and better.”

Her collaborators include William A. Searcy of the Department of Biology at the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences; Esmeralda Quirós-Guerrero of the School of Biology at the University of St. Andrews, UK; Marcelo Araya-Salas of the School of Biology at the University of Costa Rica and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University.

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Children Learn to Safely Cross the Street in UM’s WalkSafe Program


walksafe

Katrina Lopez, statewide coordinator for the WalkSafe program, shows pre-schooler Quentavius Boges how to safely cross the street at a simulated crosswalk on the Linda Ray Intervention Center’s playground.

Parents and children from the Department of Psychology’s Linda Ray Intervention Center came together recently to practice safe-street crossing at an outreach event sponsored by the University of Miami WalkSafe program. Part of the KiDZ Neuroscience Center at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, the program is designed to reduce the number of pediatric pedestrian injuries through the use of evidence-based educational curriculum and community outreach activities.

The Linda Ray Intervention Center’s staff had identified the need to promote safe street-crossing strategies for the families enrolled in their program. The children, who meet criteria for early intervention services, and their adult caregivers were able to practice safe crossing last month on simulated crosswalks set up on the playground and joined in arts and crafts projects about safe-walking strategies.

 

 

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