Awards go to highly exploratory collaborations between artists and scientists or engineers

Written by
Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research
March 22, 2017

A number of innovative research projects ranging from the sciences to the arts and engineering have been granted funding through Princeton's Office of the Dean for Research.

Each year, the Dean for Research Innovation Fund gives support for exploratory research projects that might not otherwise qualify for external grants.

"I am pleased that the University is able to provide funding for these original and creative research projects," said Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science and professor of chemical and biological engineering. "Each year our selection committees identify the best proposals from a truly outstanding collection of faculty submissions. This year's selected projects represent a wide range of exciting research directions across the disciplines."

New research collaborations between artists and scientists or engineers

Saving the Sonorine, an early 20th-century form of voice mail 

A new project aims to finally read a long lost chapter of media history. Postcards known as Sonorines that contain inscribed audio messages, popular from 1905 to 1907, are too fragile to be played on the few remaining players that exist today. To recover the messages so they can be studied, Thomas Levin, associate professor of German, and Adam Finkelstein, professor of computer science, will develop a novel optical capture process. The project will be funded primarily through a newly awarded two-year grant from Princeton’s David A. Gardner '69 Magic Project in the Humanities Council, the project will receive support from the DFR Innovation Fund to build a device that combines custom software with off-the-shelf scanning hardware to transform the cards' audio data into sound.


New research collaborations between artists and scientists or engineers

Thomas Levin, associate professor of German, and Adam Finkelstein, professor of computer science, will receive support from the Dean for Research Innovation Fund for Research Collaborations Between Artists and Scientists or Engineers to develop a technology for reading the audio data stored in postcards known as Sonorines (pictured), which were popular from 1905 to 1907. The postcard's reverse side contains an inscribed audio message playable with a specialized phonograph-like device, but the surviving cards are too fragile to be played on the few existing players. The researchers will develop a device capable of reading the messages inscribed in the cards. (Photo by Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research)

Holistic analysis of heritage structures 

To reconstruct and preserve sites of cultural heritage, researchers will create new methods for studying heritage structures using technologies including ground-penetrating radar, 3-D modeling and virtual reality. Branko Glišić, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Michael Koortbojian, the M. Taylor Pyne Professor of Art and Archaeology, have teamed up to carry out this research with graduate students Isabel Morris and Rebecca Napolitano. This interdisciplinary collaboration brings together expertise from the arts, engineering, geosciences, and the humanities, and will represent an important contribution toward building a new Princeton heritage structures program, a joint effort between the departments of art and archaeology and civil and environmental engineering.

Toxic metals and the Maya civilization Naturally occurring arsenic, a highly toxic metal found in groundwater and mineral deposits, may have contributed to the decline in health of the Maya people. To explore this theory, Satish Myneni, professor of geosciences, and Bryan Just, the Peter Jay Sharp, Class of 1952, Curator and Lecturer in the Art of the Ancient Americas, have teamed with undergraduate Catherine Ivanovich, Class of 2017, to study how widespread arsenic poisoning was among the Maya people. They will explore possible pathways of exposure to arsenic, which has been detected in Maya ceramic vessels. The researchers hope that the study will shed light on the factors behind the collapse of Maya civilization and the implications for modern societies.