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‘New Directions’ Seed Grants Support 7 Research Projects

Faculty to Advance Promising Work in Areas Including Racial Justice, Quantum Science

By Ted Knight

UMD's Miller Administration Building

Exciting new research projects, including several designed to fight racism and injustice, have received seed funding from the 'New Directions' grant program, which is supported by the Maryland Catalyst Fund.

Photo by John T. Consoli

The University of Maryland has awarded new seed funding to seven projects focusing on topics ranging from the documentation of community heritage to the discovery of atomic catalysts.

The grants come from the New Discovery Fund, which advances important new lines of research and creative work with high potential for impact. It’s supported by the Maryland Catalyst Fund program within the Division of Research and matching funds from the colleges and departments of the research awardees.

“We are excited to support these dynamic, diverse and creative research initiatives through the New Directions program,” said Vice President for Research Gregory F. Ball. “The projects have the potential to make a significant impact on communities locally, regionally and nationally.”

This year, a Racial and Social Justice track was included to support research that addresses systemic, institutional and structural racism and injustice, resulting in the selection of four projects.

The following projects were selected for New Directions awards:

Digital North Brentwood Heritage Project: In the first community in Prince George’s County incorporated by African Americans, anthropology Distinguished University Professor Mark Leone is working on a participatory heritage framework designed to empower residents and community descendants through digital historic preservation. The community is confronting challenges related to stormwater management and impacts of gentrification.

Identifying Parental Sexual Orientation Socialization Strategies: Conceptual and Measurement Development: Jessica Fish, assistant professor in the Department of Family Science, is advancing research on sexual minority youth, who experience poorer mental health and greater substance use than their heterosexual peers. She is pursuing a testable conceptual model of parental sexual orientation socialization and a self-report measure of those practices that can be utilized in future research and intervention.

Anti-Black Racism Initiative: Sociology Professor Rashawn Ray leads this effort to address racism in our local community and on our campus, produce scholarship that advances a national conversation and policy agenda on social justice, and empower students to envision and create a racially equitable future.

Data-Driven Deep-Learning-Accelerated Discovery of Atomic Catalysts: Mechanical engineering Keystone Professor Teng Li is leading research to develop a new data-driven deep-learning-accelerated design methodology for the discovery of high-performance atomic catalysts, which facilitate highly efficient chemical reactions in creating green and renewable fuels, cut carbon emissions and preserve clean water.

“The System Isn’t Built for Us.” Exploring Black and Latinx Parent Experiences of Educational Exclusion in a Local District to Reduce Inequality: Sophia Rodriguez, an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning, Policy, and Leadership, is conducting a qualitative case study centering on Black and Latino/x parents' experiences of exclusion in a local community school district. The study will leverage interview and focus group data of 75 parents to contribute to research and advocacy efforts to increase racial and social justice for underrepresented parents.

Measuring Quantum Energies of Molecules in Extreme Rotational States: Chemistry and biochemistry Professor Amy Mullin’s group will investigate how extreme rotational energy affects vibrational states in centrifuged molecules by directly measuring quantum energies in different vibrational states using a spectroscopic method known as combination differences. The ability to measure rotational energies separately from vibrational energy will inform current models of molecular quantum states, contribute to our understanding of heat transport at the molecular level and lay the groundwork for understanding the dynamics of gas-phase molecules in extreme energy environments.

Evaluating Implementation Determinants and Processes of the Montgomery County, Maryland's Racial Equity and Social Justice Act: Kellee White, associate professor of health policy and management, will evaluate implementation determinants and processes of Montgomery County’s new Racial Equity and Social Justice Act, which mandates legislative committees on racial equity and requires racial equity impact assessments and statements for management, legislative and budgetary priorities. She also plans to develop a framework for evaluating racial equity and social justice policy implementation.

This article has been updated to correctly identify a grant recipient as Assistant Professor Jessica Fish in the Department of Family Science.

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