Three projects awarded Innovation Funds for New Ideas in the Natural Sciences in 2022

Written by
Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research
Sept. 30, 2022

Three projects have been chosen for funding through the Dean for Research Innovation Funds for New Ideas in the Natural Sciences

What Dinosaur eggshells can teach us about forgotten ecosystems

Professor Niespolo

Elizabeth Niespolo, assistant professor of geosciences. Photo by Morgan Kelly

Elizabeth Niespolo, assistant professor of geosciences, will explore whether dinosaur eggshells can provide insights into the ecology and environment that existed during the age of the dinosaurs. Niespolo has previously shown that bird eggs can provide ecological and chronological information through analysis of the chemical elements trapped in the shells. In this new project, Niespolo and her team will look for everyday elements such as calcium, carbon and nitrogen as well as more rare elements such as uranium, lead and strontium in dinosaur eggshells. If successful, dinosaur eggshells could become a new tool to investigate the age and ecology of dinosaur fossils.

Using natural variation in wild mice to dissect the neurobiological basis of paternal behavior

Professor Pena

Catherine Jensen Peña, assistant professor of neuroscience

Catherine Jensen Peña, assistant professor of neuroscience, in collaboration with Ricardo Mallarino, assistant professor of molecular biology, will study the brain activity and biological mechanisms underlying paternal behavior in African striped mice. Unlike in traditional laboratory rodents, males in this species are active caregivers, and natural variation in the level of caregiving is related to environmental experience. The team is leveraging brain-wide imaging and genome-wide sequencing tools in this species to understand how natural variation in paternal behavior arises from differences in neuronal activity across brain regions and cell types.

Quantum-state-resolved spectroscopy of endofullerenes

Professor Weichman

Marissa Weichman, assistant professor of chemistry

Marissa Weichman, assistant professor of chemistry, will develop methods for measuring the quantum states of molecules called endofullerenes, a family of hollow carbon cages in which a guest atom or molecule is trapped. These molecules have applications in photovoltaics, pharmacology, and quantum information. Weichman and her team will combine a highly sensitive laser-based spectroscopic technique with molecular cooling to extremely low temperatures to study the quantum behavior of these systems. The combination of these technologies will have powerful capabilities for the study of intricate quantum phenomena in fullerenes and other large molecules.