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WSU Research New Faculty Seed Grant

New Faculty Seed Grant Program

Encouraging new, junior level faculty to develop research, scholarly, or creative programs


The Office of Research and Office of the Provost support the annual New Faculty Seed Grants to help junior faculty develop research, scholarly or creative programs that lead to sustained professional development and extramural funding.

The 2018 application cycle begins November 1. A Notice of Intent is required  and must be submitted by 5pm December 7, 2017 in order to be considered for this program. Late NOIs will not be accepted. Full proposals are due February 15, 2018 by 5pm.

Join us on November 7th from noon to 1pm for an informative Q&A session with the Program coordinators. Register for the event HERE.

RFP: 2018_Seed Grant Guidelines and Application

If you have any questions concerning the guidelines, proposal or review process, please contact the program coordinators: Maureen Bonnefin or Emily Brashear at

2018 Funded Projects

Brianna Ewing, School of Food Science
Title: Strategic Yeast Nutrition Supplementation for Hard Cider Fermentation

Cider production and consumption has increased dramatically over the past decade, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. One area of interest to cidermakers in this region is how yeast nutrition during fermentation impacts aroma and flavor development in cider. One aroma, hydrogen sulfide, is responsible for a rotten-egg-like odor and is often produced as a response to yeast nutritional stress. Though much work has been done to evaluate the production of hydrogen sulfide during grape wine fermentation, there is a significant lack of research pertaining to cider fermentation.

Therefore, this research aims evaluate nutrient supplementation strategies during hard cider fermentation to reduce the occurrence of hydrogen sulfide formation by adding various forms of nitrogen and vitamins at different rates. This study will be the first in a multi-institutional effort to address yeast nutrition in cider fermentation to support the growing cider industry.

Sarah Hart, School of the Environment
Title: Fire-adaptive trait diversity across spatial scales: Consequences for productivity recovery following wildfire

Coincident with recent warm and dry conditions, ecosystems across the globe have experienced an increase in wildfire activity. Future changes in climate are widely anticipated to increase area burned and fire occurrence. In the context of anticipating the ecological consequences of altered fire regimes, a key challenge is understanding which systems may be most resilient, or able to recover their essential structure and function following disturbance. It is widely thought that resilience is greater in more diverse systems because any individual species lost to wildfire may be compensated for by another species that is functionally similar. Yet empirical evidence for the diversity-resilience relationship is lacking, particularly across complex landscapes. To address this knowledge gap, the proposed research seeks to quantify the effects of biodiversity and environmental conditions on resilience across spatial scales.

Sophia Tegart, School of Music
Title: Musical Ekphrasis in the Flute Works of Women Composers: A commissioning and recording project

Within the scope of this project, the PI, Sophia Tegart, will commission, record, and perform works by women composers for flute alone and flute and piano. Musical ekphrasis, or the representation of art, nature, and poetry in music will act as the unifying theme of the project. The commissioned, recorded, and performed works on the CD will exemplify musical ekphrasis. The CD will contain previously written works by composers Jean Ahn, Jessica Rudman, Laura Schwendinger, Sofia Gubaidulina, and Gabriela Lena Frank, as well as newly commissioned works by Canadian-born, Scottish-based composer Emily Doolittle and German-American composer Ingrid Stolzel. The PI will perform and record the works in collaboration with Washington State University School of Music faculty pianist, Michael Seregow. The eventual result of this project will be the addition of new creative works, preservation and dissemination of the works, and national and international recognition of the works through published scores and reviews, recordings, and musical performances.

Chanmi Hwang, Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design & Textiles
Title: Towards Mass Production: Developing Functional Maternity Hospital Gown

In labor and delivery services, all women deserve good quality maternal health services for the wellbeing of themselves and their children. However, there has been an increase in patient dissatisfaction of current hospital maternity gowns since they are not fully functional for the healthcare practitioner and are physically and emotionally uncomfortable to the user. The purpose of this project is to conduct the research needed that informs development of economically feasible and functional hospital gowns that satisfy the needs of both patients and the practitioners throughout different stages of labor. The researcher will (a) identify key design attributes of patients and practitioners’ user needs through a nation-wide online survey and interviews conducted at Pullman Regional Hospital, and (b) determine a cost-effective design and sustainable supply chain of the maternity hospital gowns. This study extends the user-centered approach to a society-oriented focus through product innovation, product-service system innovation and socio-technical system innovation. Patients, healthcare practitioners, and health insurance organizations will benefit from the results.

Molly Kelton, Department of Teaching & Learning
Title: Health Education through Arts Learning: A STEM Partnership in Diverse Rural Communities

For many low-income and minority children living in US rural-agricultural regions, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) can seem out of reach. There is a pressing need to develop educational programs that allow underrepresented children to see themselves and their rural communities as a genuine part of the STEM landscape. This project will launch the Health-STEM Education through Arts-based Learning (HEAL) partnership. Emerging STEM-education scholars in WSU’s College of Education lead the HEAL partnership. Additional collaborators include faculty in CAHNRS, the College of Medicine, and the Franklin and Yakima Extension campuses, as well as community partners in rural Washington. HEAL’s long-term mission is to broaden minority and rural participation in STEM. This project will develop a novel educational program to teach children in grades 3-5 from predominantly-Latino populations in Central Washington about ecological dynamics and infectious diseases that affect rural-agricultural areas. This unique partnership will investigate innovative arts-based strategies to reveal diverse opportunities for students to engage in STEM fields.

Xiongzhi Chen, Mathematics & Statistics
Title: Large-scale multiple hypotheses testing: adaptivity, accuracy, stability and reproducibility

In many scientific endeavors including genomics, genetics, medical science and drug safety studies, researchers need to simultaneously compare one or more features of thousands or even millions of study subjects and then identify highly relevant ones for further investigations. This leads to large-scale multiple hypotheses testing for high-dimensional data. However, observations in such data usually follow heterogeneous distributions, are dependent on each other, and inherit various sources of uncertainty. This greatly affects the adaptivity, accuracy, stability and reproducibility of a statistical procedure. To date, these four issues have only been addressed for very special cases. Correspondingly, the proposed research will address them in general by developing testing procedures that adapt to the overall level of signals in data, classifying the type of dependence under which a statistical procedure is accurate and stable, and proposing reproducible and scalable statistical methods that account for heterogeneous sources of uncertainty in data.

Idil Akin, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Title: Strength and stiffness of unsaturated clay in relation to internal stress state

Strength and stiffness of the soil are the two most important parameters in the design and analysis of geotechnical engineering structures (e.g., foundations, pavements, natural and man0made slopes, etc.). The traditional framework that is used in geotechnical engineering practice to determine the mechanical soil behavior is based on the assumption that the soil is fully saturated with water. The assumption simplifies the analysis by reducing the soil into a two-phase medium an considers the worst possible environmental conditions, however, cannot represent the true stress state of soil. More importantly, change in soil saturation results in a nonlinear change in internal stress state, and therefore to mechanical soil behavior, which cannot be captured by the current framework. This study is a step to develop a new framework to quantify mechanical behavior of soils in the entire range of saturation (i.e., from 0 to 100%). Soil stiffness is measured through resilient modulus and shear modulus tests in the entire range of saturation. The change in soil stiffness with saturation is explained through the change in internal stress components (i.e., adsorptive and capillary components) with saturation.

Ofer Amram, Nutrition & Exercise Physiology
Title: Access to Opioid Addiction Treatment and Overdose Risk in Spokane County

Regions throughout North America are experiencing unprecedented rates of morbidity and mortality associated with opioid overdoses (OD). In fact, the increase in OD-related death is attributed to have caused the first drop in US life expectancy since 1963 (0.1% between 2015 and 2017). Within Washington State, Spokane County had a 78% increase in opioid drug-related deaths in 2016 compared to 2014 (64 vs. 36 respectively). There is growing evidence that methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) is effective in reducing rates of OD and OD mortality. Therefore, the purpose of this project is to: 1.) examine the relationship between access to the only publicly-funded MMT clinic in Spokane county and both adherence to treatment and likelihood of OD and, 2.) to map locations (hotspots) within Spokane County where either high or low concentrations of MMT clients are found. A web-based mapping and visualization dashboard will display the results and provide an analysis platform for decision makers.

Lais Malavasi, Veterinary Clinical Sciences
Title: Effect of buprenorphine/bupivacaine in brachial plexus block for elbow arthroscopy in dogs.

Local anesthesia techniques have many advantages besides producing pain relief during surgery. It also promotes pain relief after surgery, better recovery from surgical procedures, and a faster healing time. Bupivacaine has been the agent of choice for local blocks due to its longer duration of time (6 h). Human research has shown that adding buprenorphine, a partial opioid, to a nerve block can increase the analgesia duration threefold. This could benefit patients undergoing surgeries by providing prolonged analgesia after discharge from the hospital. The aim of this study is to evaluate the effect of buprenorphine added to the local anesthetic (bupivacaine) for brachia! plexus block in dogs that will be subjected to elbow arthroscopy. The effect of this drug combination will be compared to the effects of brachia! plexus block given only the local anesthetic. Data collection will include intraoperative cardiorespiratory variables, postoperative pa_in and lameness scores, and opioid consumption postoperatively which will be given when any dog is showing signs of pain.

Ryan Driskell, School of Molecular Biosciences
Title: Investigating cellular heterogeneity during skin development in a porcine (pig) model.

Adult skin wounds in mammals heal via a reparative, rather than regenerative, process and, therefore results in fibrotic scarring. Small scars in the skin are not normally a problem for mammals, but fibrotic scars that cover large areas of the human body, such as burn wounds, can be debilitating. To fully regenerate a wound, re-formation of a complex micro-tissue-architecture including skin appendages, hair follicles and sweat glands is required. Fibroblasts are key cell types in regulating appendage formation during skin development and tissue repair. We have discovered that regulating the relative abundances of different fibroblast populations during wound repair in mice will direct skin regeneration instead of scarring. Here we intend to investigate fibroblasts during porcine (pig) skin development as a surrogate model for human skin, to lead to therapeutic strategies for human skin regeneration.

Julia Day, School of Design & Construction
Title: A mixed methods approach to understanding the human-building interface

As evidenced by a growing body of research, building interface design profoundly affects occupant comfort, building usability and energy use. However, there is limited research and practical guidance on residential building interface design. This project will use a set of novel surveys, interviews, and field studies to determine best practices for design considerations for common household interfaces (e.g. thermostats, light switches, windows, blind controls, and water fixtures). An online survey and interviews will be implemented to understand occupants’ perceptions of thermal and visual comfort, as well as respective adaptive opportunities and corresponding behaviors (e.g. opening/closing windows).

Ultimately, findings from this study will provide major insights about the importance of: (a) the human-building-interface, (b) design missteps and lessons learned, and (c) understanding the building context when implementing behavioral approaches. This research has the potential to greatly improve residential design and human-building interface controls. Results will be disseminated through a free webinar, journal and magazine article, and an illustrated user-friendly report of results.

Qiang Zhang, Department of Chemistry
Title: Design and Synthesis of Porous Smart Materials

The proposed research aims to design and synthesis porous smart materials for applications in sensing of toxic chemicals in air and water. These smart materials can change color when contacted with specific chemicals. We plan to use highly emissive organic ligands as building blocks to construct porous luminescent coordination polymers and porous organic polymers. On one hand, the feature of these materials is that the structure of the framework can change upon chemical or physical stimulation, for example, metal ions in water or external pressure. The change of structure will cause the color or emission color change, which can be recorded to identify the contacted species and calculate the concentration. On the other hand, the rigid framework can be constructed by using flexible organic ligands, in which there are functional groups that are not directly used to connect to the network. In this case, the free functional groups can interact with chemicals, which will change the relative conformation of the organic ligand, which will alter the color of the material. As the color of the material is very sensitive to the conformation, the detection of chemicals with very low concentration can be realized.

Jessica Willoughby, Communication
Title: The role of emotions and social media in young women’s tanning attitudes and behaviors

Melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, is prevalent in young women. Melanoma kills one person every hour. Younger skin is particularly vulnerable to ultraviolet light that promotes skin cancer, making young women a prime target audience for prevention messaging. Messaging focused on increasing knowledge has not been found effective at changing behaviors. Our project will examine the role of psychosocial variables related to media use and emotional states in promoting or preventing skin damaging and skin protection behaviors through real-time data collected via ecological momentary assessment with young women in two states. Results of this research will provide us with valuable insights that can inform the development of an intervention to promote sun safety for young women. Additionally, it will provide preliminary data for external funding applications.

Richard Iles, School of Economic Sciences
Title: Human cognition in computer simulations: an evaluation of poverty alleviation.

The pattern of cyclical poverty is a frequent feature of households in poverty across low – middle income countries. Interventions may contribute to cyclical poverty when immediate gains don’t change household’s long-run productive capacity. The integration of economic theory with agent-based models to better understand the importance of micro-level assumptions on macro-level outcomes aligns to a complex systems framework. This same framework is appropriate to better understand long-term epidemiological and environmental dynamics associated with poverty alleviation and the use of livestock asset transfers. Two agent-based models will be built each with a different geographical and livestock asset focus. The simulation model requires two sets of human decisions: a) sale of livestock, and b) vaccination against infectious livestock disease. The contrasting assumed levels of information associated with persistent knowledge of the availability of livestock feed and limited information about livestock disease outbreaks provides natural contexts to test the effects of cognitive information processing costs.


2017 Funded Projects

Demetrius Abshire, Nursing
Title: The Rural-Urban Obesity Disparity: Do Psychosocial and Environmental Factors Matter?

Rural residents are more likely to be obese than urban residents even after considering the effects of diet, physical activity, and sociodemographic factors. Among rural residents, those living in highly rural areas are less likely to be obese than those in intermediate rural areas. While reasons for these differences are not understood, some researchers speculate that social factors and the built environment may play an important role. The purpose of this study is to examine relationships among psychosocial determinants of health, the built environment, and obesity among adults living in diverse rural and urban areas. We will administer a mail or web-based survey to adults living in highly urban, intermediate rural, and highly rural areas of Washington State to understand whether psychosocial factors including loneliness, perceived stress, worry, and perceived social support are related to obesity. We will also use geographic information system techniques to explore associations among characteristics of the built environment with these psychosocial factors and obesity. Study findings will be used to inform future interventions that target the unique determinants of obesity in these areas.

Aboutaleb Ameli, Mechanical & Materials Engineering (WSU Tri-Cities)
Title: Active materials and structures enabled by 3D printing of polymer nanocomposites

The successful coupling of 3D printing and functional materials (e.g., shape memory polymer/carbon nanotube, SMP/CNT) can shift the paradigm in many domains including smart and active materials, functionally graded structures, metamaterials, and regenerative biomaterials, to name but a few. It will provide the opportunity to design the product at multiple length-scales; fundamental material properties can be tailored by the introduction of nanomaterials (e.g., CNT) at the feedstock preparation stage, while selective mesostructural architecture (e.g., patterns, layers) at the micrometer-millimeter range can be designed and spatially deposited within the overall platform via 3D printing. In the design of efficient shape memory materials, this synergy would yield stiffer SMPs with faster response at lower excitation energy levels. This work aims at conducting basic experimental research assessing the feasibility of multimaterial 3D printing of SMP/CNT nanocomposites. A design of experiment is proposed in an attempt to answer some fundamental questions and address the challenges anticipated in the multimaterial 3D printing of nanocomposites.

Haipeng Cai, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Title: Incremental Taint Analysis for Efficient and Precise Vetting of Evolving Android Apps

Computing on various Android devices has become pervasive nowadays. However, growing security vulnerabilities and attacks in the Android ecosystem constitute various threats to both individual lives and our society through Android apps. Taint checking is a common methodology for dealing with major classes of security threats, yet it suffers from difficult challenges in attaining practical scalability and effectiveness at the same time. This project explores a significant departure from conventional approaches to taint checking, called incremental taint analysis. Exploiting the evolving nature of Android apps, the incremental analysis will narrow down the space of examination from the entire app program as conventionally addressed to the parts of the program that are different from its previous versions. Since the differences are typically small as resulted from incremental changes, the cost of taint checking can be drastically reduced without sacrificing effectiveness via incremental analysis.

Meanwhile, app artifacts such as development logs and user comments extracted from the app evolution history will be exploited to further enhance the effectiveness.


Devasmita Chakraverty, Teaching and Learning
Title: Impostor Phenomenon in Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Up to 35-45% of medical students and residents suffer from impostor phenomenon or “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness,” a phenomenon highly correlated with anxiety, depression and burnout. Yet, there is a paucity of studies making an in-depth examination of IP. This qualitative study examines how IP affects career decisions of individuals in medicine and biomedical sciences. In this national study, we will survey approximately 125-150 advanced doctoral students, postdoctoral scholars, residents and pre-tenured faculty using non-probability sampling.

Using survey scores with items from two validated scales, we will first group individuals as exhibiting low, moderate, high, or intense IP. Next, we will interview about 100 of the survey participants (including members from each stratification group) to determine how IP affects personal and professional experiences as well as career decisions among individuals. We will use qualitative content analysis to identify themes and interpret findings. WSU has identified equity and diversity as a grand challenge. Study findings will be used to inform recommendations to support trainees, provide professional development opportunities, design targeted interventions for “at-risk” groups and conduct program evaluation with the aim of developing a more diverse, equitable and culturally competent workforce.

Zachariah Heiden, Chemistry
Title: Using Fluorescent Dyes for the Generation of Switchable Catalysts

The development of new chemicals and pharmaceuticals is critical to increasing the life-span and living conditions of the human population. With the advent of new chemical and pharmaceutical products, an emphasis has been placed on the development of molecular catalysts capable of promoting selective chemical transformations. To reduce the number of catalysts needed in the synthesis of a molecule, the proposed research aims to develop a molecular catalyst capable of promoting multiple selective chemical reactions. Exposure of the proposed catalyst molecule to heat, light, or the addition of an electron will allow for the catalyst molecule to switch between chemical reactions and only catalyze one chemical reaction at a particular moment. The ability to selectively catalyze multiple reactions will result in cheaper chemical products and pharmaceuticals containing less metal impurities.

Emily Huddart Kennedy, Sociology
Title: Green Consumerism and Social Inequality

Every day, we make decisions that challenge or support ecologically unsustainable market practices—this is called green consumerism (e.g., buying a hybrid car or organic food). Green consumerism is widely assumed to be the main path for individual engagement in environmental protection. Existing research focuses on how these efforts impact sustainability, ignoring possible relationships to social inequality. Recent evidence that greenhouse gas emissions are higher in places with greater levels of inequality makes examining this relationship timely and important. Green consumers tend to have high levels of education and prestige. This, combined with evidence that people judge those who ‘buy green’ to be more trustworthy and honest people, means it is important to (1) explain the relationship between green consumerism and inequality and (2) to develop measures of individual environmental impact that capture the environmental protection efforts of a wide range of people, regardless of their past and current context. Meeting these objectives will serve to better understand how green consumerism can exacerbate inequality, identify non-market solutions individuals use to protect the planet, and provide insights into how people view the link between their consumption, environmental impact, and position in society.

Jong-Hoon Kim, Mechanical & Materials Engineering (WSU Vancouver)
Title: A dendritic nanotip sensor for amplification-free, rapid detection of DNA

Nanostructures have demonstrated significant impacts in various fields of optics, electronics, composites, energy and sensors. Such impacts are originated from the small dimension, which induces relatively large surface area and enhanced interaction with environment. In recent years, various DNA sensors have been reported using various nanostructures as an alternative to conventional methods. Such nanostructured DNA sensors are advantageous not only for their low cost, simplicity and sensitivity, but also for their amenability to miniaturization. Nanostructures are being used for either the bio-recognition element or the transducer of biosensors to improve the electrochemical signals of biocatalytic event that occur at the electrode/electrolyte interface. In the field of biosensors, nanostructures composed of the one-dimensional features offers high sensitivity and specificity due to the isolated targets on nanostructures surface. However, the actual development is lagged by less reliable manufacturing with lack of scalability. In this proposal, the novel approach will be attempted to reduce the variations and to enhance the scalability and the reproducibility. Using the fabricated structure, rapid concentration capability for target DNA will be studied and demonstrated.

Shannon Scott, Music
Title: Asian and Asian American Wind Quintet Commissions, Tour and Recording Project

The goal this project is to commission, perform and record music for two compact discs (CDs) of wind quintet music by established and emerging Asian and Asian-American composers, promoting the artistic synthesis of Asian musical traditions within the wind quintet repertoire and promoting this repertoire to numerous quintets. The Pl and co-investigators, known as the Pan Pacific Ensemble, performed successful concerts and world premieres at the 2016 China-ASEAN Music Week in Nanning, China, and will perform at the 2017 Thailand International Composers Festival, Bangkok, Thailand, and in other venues. Two CDs of commissioned and performed music from these festivals will be recorded for Albany Records and promoted in peer-reviewed journals. These activities will result in greater dissemination of Asian compositional approaches to wind quintet music and promote international visibility for the repertoire, the performers and WSU.

Boyang Wu, Pharmaceutical Sciences
Title: Deciphering the Stromal-Tumor Cell Interaction in Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in America, affecting 1 in 7 men, and the second leading cause of cancer death in American men. Despite early detection and a wide spectrum of primary tumor interventions, nearly 30,000 yearly deaths from prostate cancer still occur in America. These facts highlight the unmet clinical need for new mechanism-based therapies to effectively treat prostate cancer and improve patient survival. Prostate cancer develops in a microenvironment where growth and progression are governed by complex reciprocal interactions between tumor cells and surrounding stromal elements. The proposed studies will define the functional and mechanistic roles of monoamine oxidase B, a neural enzyme metabolizing neurotransmitters and a novel clinically relevant therapeutic target in the prostate cancer stromal environment, and its downstream effectors in mediating tumor-stromal crosstalk promoting prostate cancer initiation, growth and metastasis. Our studies will provide new fundamental knowledge of the molecular basis of prostate cancer development in the microenvironmental context, laying the foundations for new single or combination therapies capable of rapid clinical translation to treat prostate cancer.


Washington State University