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University of Iowa News Release

March 9, 2006

UI Obermann Center Awards Collaborative Research Grants

Three teams of researchers, including six professors from the University of Iowa and two visiting scholars, have been awarded Interdisciplinary Research Grants, a program supported by the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Graduate College and the C. Esco and Avalon L. Obermann Fund.

The awardees were selected from a record number of applications sumitted to the Obermann Center. Interdisciplinary Research Grants is the center's longest-running grant program.

The selected projects and researchers include:

"Research Issues for Riverine Bank Stability Analysis in the 21st Century: An in-depth analysis of ongoing challenges and research needs."

This is a study of riverbank erosion by researchers from three different continents: Thanos Nicholas Papanicolaou, UI associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; Massimo Rinaldi, professor of civil engineering, University of Florence; and Subhasish Dey, associate professor of civil engineering, Indian Institute of Technology. Papanicolaou says that about $40 million of bank stabilization repair work is done every year in the Midwest. Bank destabilization is being aggravated by climate viability. "The freezing and thawing cycles have become increasingly extreme in recent years," he says. "What's happening in the Midwest is not unlike the recent mudslide in the Philippines, which was also caused, in part, by the unpredictable weather." The group will outline the most promising efforts currently being used for bank stabilization and identify instances when bio-technology can be used.

"Quantifying the Efficacy of Robotic Data Gathering: Objective assessment of geologic interpretation and application to lunar and Mars exploration missions."

The three UI researchers involved with this study say their goal is to improve the efficiency of future robotic space missions to Mars and the Moon. Geb Thomas, UI associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and a specialist in NASA robotics, and two geologists -- Mark Reagan, UI associate professor, geoscience, and Ingrid Ukstins Peate, visiting UI assistant professor, geoscience -- will facilitate communication between scientists (geologists) interpreting robotically acquired data and the engineers responsible for building the robot. To accomplish this, they will evaluate what data scientists require, and assess the most efficient means of acquiring those data. For example, their first project will be to calculate the necessary resolution for a robot's camera so that geologists can reliably tell one type of rock from another. There are many different rock types with differences in color and texture, and variations in lighting condition can alter the appearance of the rocks. "Currently," notes Thomas, "multi-million-dollar funding projects are being carried out on inter-planetary robotic exploration without a plausible means of quantitatively evaluating the results of individual missions or the possibility of cross-mission comparisons."

"Mapping Our Racial Disparities in Access to Substance Abuse Treatment: A national analysis of Whites, Latinos and African-Americans."

Much like treatment for mental and physical health, the treatment for drug and alcohol addiction is racialized. UI professors Stephan Arndt and María B. Vélez propose to help explain this inequality by mapping it out in this study. Velez, assistant professor of sociology, and Stephan Arndt, professor of psychiatry and director of the Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research, will investigate the extent of racial and ethnic differences in treatment access nationally and draw on sociological thinking in order to contextualize racial disparities in access to treatment. They hope to answer such questions as: Do Latinos and African Americans experience similar treatment access or is one group more disadvantaged than the other? Are any such disparities consistent nationally, or are there other city or regional factors involved? Is there more parity in treatment access for some drugs than others? Also, Are some Latino groups such as Cubans more likely to receive treatment like whites? Arndt observes that "the more immediate the access to treatment, the more likely people will get the help they need and move into recovery from addiction, thus we need to assure that access is equally available across the board." Vélez says she is excited because it will help us better understand why some groups such as Latinos have a harder time than whites maintaining recovery. She says, "Although drug use and relapse is often thought of as individual action, we hope to show how this seemingly individual-level phenomenon is rooted in larger societal arrangements of inequality and discrimination."

The research teams will complete their work during one-month residencies at the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies on the Oakdale campus during June and July 2006. Jay Semel, director of the center, said the Obermann Interdisciplinary Research Grants, with their distinctive emphasis 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 $6 million.

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

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