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University of Iowa News Release

July 14, 2004

UI Obermann Center Awards $50,000 In Collaborative Research Grants

Seven University of Iowa professors and one professor from North Carolina are spending a month this summer at the UI Obermann Center for Advanced Studies collaborating on four interdisciplinary research projects. The Obermann Center has awarded Interdisciplinary Research Grants totaling more than $50,000 to support these projects.

The interdisciplinary research program is supported by the Office of the Vice-President for Research, the Graduate College and the C. Esco and Avalon L. Obermann Fund.

This year's projects and researchers include:

"Plea Bargaining Around the Federal Sentencing Guidelines," by Stephanos Bibas, (left, in photo) associate professor of law, and Celesta Albonetti, (right, in photo) professor of sociology. They will use case record data and interview data to determine the extent to which prosecuting attorneys continue to rely on charge bargaining as an incentive to defendants to plead guilty. The enactment of Federal Sentencing Guidelines in 1987 was supposed to reduce this type of bargaining by mandating that sentences be based on criminal charges consistent with the defendant's alleged criminal conduct. Charges are not supposed to decrease base on charge reductions as part of guilty plea negotiation. The UI team will also investigate whether a defendant's ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status affect both the probability of receiving a charge reduction and the level of reduction offered.

"Research into the History and Artistry of African American Quilts," by Linda Bolton, (left, in photo) associate professor of English, and Chandra Cox, (right, in photo) associate professor and chair of art and design at North Carolina State University. They will study the encoded messages in African American quilts to expand their collaborative exhibition, "Memory and Oblivion: Legacies of Enslavement in the Americas." The exhibition focuses on the history of African people in the Americas and reflects upon the ancestral and living memories that continue to define and enrich a communal identity that began with persecution. By studying the quilts, Bolton and Cox will add to the exhibition an exploration of non-western methods of recovering and documenting the historical experience of people of African descent. The exhibition has been on view at Hampton University and the Harriet Tubman Museum. Bolton and Cox hope to display it at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, the Museum of African Art in Baltimore, and the Anacostia Museum in Washington, D.C.

"Second Language Acquisition and Language Testing Exploration of Pragmatics," Michelene Chalhoub-Deville, (left, in photo) associate professor of curriculum and instruction, and Roumyana Slabakova, (right, in photo) assistant professor of linguistics. They will study second language learners' knowledge of pragmatics, or the real-world knowledge that speakers bring to the usage of language. Pragmatics are key to second language acquisition because they help the speaker to understand underlying meaning, or what people really mean when they say something. Their goal is to collect research data that demonstrate the importance of pragmatics for successful communication in a second language and to devise a pragmatics module for standardized languages tests.

"Statistical Analysis of Long-Range Dependence in Surface Water and Groundwater Flow and their Chemical Loads," You-Kuan Zhang, (left, in photo) associate professor of geoscience, and Kung-Sik Chan, (right, in photo) professor of statistics and actuarial science. They will study water contamination by nitrate-nitrogen in streams, a serious environmental problem in Iowa and other parts of the world. Nitrate-nitrogen from Iowa streams has been identified as a major pollutant of the Mississippi River. Zhang and Chan will work to develop a more accurate statistical method of estimating the daily concentration of nitrate-nitrogen, carry out statistical analyses of variations in that concentration, and investigate the long-term effects of this concentration on streams. The results of their analysis will be useful in designing better agricultural practices that result in less nitrate-nitrogen and other pollutants in watersheds in Iowa and across the Midwest.

Jay Semel, Director of the Obermann Center, said the Obermann Interdisciplinary Research Grants, with their distinctive force on collaborative work, were the first of their kind in the nation. Since the program's establishment more than a decade ago, UI projects funded by these grants have resulted in numerous jointly-authored articles and books, as well as federal and foundation grants totaling more than $3 million.

For 25 years the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies has encouraged scholarly interaction to explore broad frontiers of knowledge and investigate complex ideas and problems. Obermann Scholars are stimulated by informal exchange of ideas with scholars from other disciplines and by uninterrupted blocks of time in which to pursue their research. Obermann Scholars have published numerous scholarly books and articles and have won millions of dollars in competitive external research funding for projects started at the Center. For more information about the Obermann Center or the Interdisciplinary Research Grants, contact Semel at 319-335-4034 or

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011, Program: Jay Semel, 319-335-4034,