A drone shot of the Yuen Campus in Hong Kong

Provost's Global Faculty Awards

2023-24 Latin America PGFA Recipients

Academic Events

Disentangling the Problematics of Genomics and Identity in Chile: Paving the Path Towards More Ethical and Equitable Research with Indigenous Communities

PIs: Maanasa Raghavan, Department of Human Genetics
Partner Organization(s): Universidad Mayor, Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile, National Museum of Natural History

Despite efforts to increase the representativity of human diversity in genomic research by including Indigenous peoples, we have witnessed how genetic information is often misused and disproportionately affects historically marginalized groups. In Latin America, genomic research has played a crucial role in advancing two contradictory identity discourses: (1) “mestizaje,” perceived as genetic homogenization that has contributed to the erasure of Indigenous identities and the lack of recognition, self-determination, land rights, and preservation of cultural inheritance and (2) “purism,” understood as the existence of groups with unmixed genetic ancestry as sole depositories of Indigenous identities. With this problem in mind, we founded the Science and Communities Group and organized a 3-day workshop in 2022 for Indigenous People in Chile that focused on genomics and identity in the region. This first workshop had excellent attendance and essential discussions between people from different communities, prompting us to propose a second 4-day workshop focusing on similar concerns. This second workshop will give continuity to our efforts to promote a shift in the current research ethos in the region by improving research practices and scientific training, thus moving towards community-based collaborative practices that support Indigenous interests and concerns.

International Conference on Craniofacial Biomechanics

PI: Callum Ross, Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy
Partner Organization(s): University of Campinas

The overall aims of the proposed activities are to deepen and widen the expertise in our collaborative networks, expose new opportunities for collaborative research and training between our communities, and prepare grant proposal submissions. Speficially, we propose a February, 2024 Conference and Workshop to bring together craniofacial biology researchers from the USA, Brazil and Australia in 1. a conference to review ongoing clinical and basic science research in craniofacial biology of humans, nonhuman primates and other model systems, and 2. a workshop to outline specific grant proposals to support international collaborative research between US and Brazilian investigators. A prior congress funded by UC Global in 2018 resulted in several clinial research papers, and funding for young investigators to work in Brazil.

Modern Research in Condensed Matter at the International Institute of Physics, Brazil

PI: Paul Wiegmann, Department of Physics
Partner Organization(s): International Institute of Physics

As one of the economic superpowers, Brazil aims at scientific and technological leadership. Despite its great potential and developed public education system, its current scientific output remains modest: Nature and Scopus currently rank Brazil as 24th and 14th in scientific production respectively. Recently, a new International Institute of Physics (IIP) in Natal emerged as an internationally competitive research center in Theoretical Physics in Brazil whose mission is to serve as a center in theoretical research in frontier areas of physics and as a gateway of international science in South America.

This project intends to help the development of research at the IIP by bringing UChicago faculty experience in the strategic planning of the IIP’s activities, supporting research in specific areas of theoretical physics and fostering inter-institutional links and cooperation between the IIP and UChicago. The project's specific goal is to introduce research in a few particular areas of quantum physics which could be developed into a strategic interest for the IIP. Such areas include studies of topological states of matter and novel quantum materials featuring such states.

New Drivers of Migration

PIs: Susan Gzesh, The College; Angela Garcia, Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice

This project builds on our previous Provost Global Initiative "New Drivers of Migration," for which we convened (in March 2019 at the University of Chicago) an academic roundtable of approximately 20 researchers and policy advocates to examine the changing paradigms for migration from Mexico and Central America to the U.S. During the pandemic (2020-2022), we could not convene another in-person meeting. In addition, migration patterns in the region were substantially disrupted and changed. For 2022-2023, we proposed (and received funding for) an exchange of visits (now taking place in Spring 2023) between faculty from the University of Chicago and the Colegio de Mexico (our partner institution) to give public talks and participate in meetings with colleagues. For 2023-24, we propose to continue such exchange visits to engage more faculty at both institutions in the project and to exchange ideas and on-going research about the rapidly changing forces influencing unauthorized migration in the region. We see that climate change and criminal violence play an increasing role as "drivers of migration." Further discussion from the perspectives of Mexico and the U.S. are important in gaining an understanding of how states and private actors are responding to these new drivers.

Predicting and preventing gang entry among poor adolescent boys

PIs: Christopher Blattman, Harris School of Public Policy
Partner Organization(s): Universidad EAFIT, Princeton University, Innovations for Poverty Action, Sercretaria de Educación, Alcaldía de Medellín, Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje, Alcaldía de Medellín

Who joins street gangs, why, and what interventions reduce gang recruitment? There are innumerable theories and a number of U.S.-based longitudinal studies and interventions. But there is no systematic data or formal program evaluation in Latin America.

This proposal describes a partnership between UChicago scholars and Urban Labs with several actors in Medellin, Colombia: the city’s premiere university, municipal government, and several nonprofit organizations.

After conducting several years of qualitative interviews with gangs, the community, and youth, we designed and launched a survey of the 10,000 13-year-old boys in neighborhoods with the highest levels of recruitment. The survey assesses correlates of recruitment risk and has already identified a number of misperceptions that seem to influence gang entry.

We describe a proposed set of within-survey informational experiments, as well as a large-scale field experiment, to test whether correcting these misperceptions changes gang entry. Many of the basic data collection expenses and intervention expenses are being paid for by the Colombian government. This proposal seeks support for U.S.-based principal investigators (including a Ph.D. student co-author) to travel to Colombia to plan and execute the research, as well as disseminate the findings and hold meetings and events with the government and partners to plan follow-on data collection and interventions. It includes opportunities for Colombian investigators to travel to UChicago during the grant period. We also seek support for UChicago students to act as research assistants in data analysis and planning.

Finally, following the project completion, the project offers an opportunity to host senior university, city government, and police officials at UChicago Harris and Urban Labs. The latter is outside the scope of this proposal, and will be funded by the Colombian government, but is only possible because of the research collaboration supported by this proposal.

Printed Matter for a Popular Reader: A Nervous Archive

PI: Sergio Delgado Moya, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures
Partner Organization(s): Universidad Alberto Hurtado

Towards the end of the 19th century and through most of the century that followed, rising levels of literacy throughout Latin America created new opportunities for print publishers: rapidly growing numbers of readers constituted potentially massive publics for newspapers and magazines. Beginning in the last few decades of the 19th century, commercial publishers pursued emergent reading populations with publications that featured a type of content (more local than national or international, more scandalous and sensationalist, more attentive to the lives of underprivileged citizens) and a style of presentation (more visual and more accessible) that appealed to these new readers. In the intervening century, between, the late 19th century and the end of the 20th century, a vast and relatively unexplored archive of popular print matter was formed, dispersed throughout the continent and often relegated to the margins – and the outside – of institutional depositories.

This project sets out to explore one segment of this archive: the popular print media produced and distributed in Chile between the 1880s and the 1980s. It convenes a group of scholars from the Universidad Alberto Hurtado in Santiago de Chile and the University of Chicago who share an interest in both the history of popular print culture in Chile and in the way this print culture was referenced and reactivated by Chilean artists and writers active during the years of the Pinochet dictatorships.

Our project has two objectives. First: to shed light on "lowbrow" reading subjects whose interests, preferences, countenance, and life stories can be inferred from newspapers that targeted them and that often featured them in their coverage. Second: to revisit the work of Chilean artists like Eugenio Dittborn and Francisco Smythe who frequently included materials from popular newspapers and magazines in politically charged artworks they produced during the years of the dictatorship.

Public Administration and Subnational Governance in Latin America: Challenges, Responses, and Future Directions

PI: Alan Zarychta, Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice
Partner Organization(s): Indiana University, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Florida Atlantic University, University of the Andes, Texas Tech University

Public administration scholarship has historically focused on cases from the Global North, including western Europe and the United States. While that research has generated important knowledge about the drivers of government responsiveness and performance, it has not always been relevant to conditions in others parts of the world, particularly Latin America. This means that challenges to equitable service delivery, public sector reform, and effective action on the part of policymakers and civil servants often persisted without appropriate responses. Similarly, the academic literature on these topics of public importance was not sufficiently representative of the diversity of governance arrangements across the Global South, and thus fundamentally limited. A distinct scholarship of Latin American public administration has emerged in response to these limitations driven by academics and practitioners from the region. This research has proved successful in identifying the limits of prior work and developing new ideas that can better serve the needs of policymakers, public managers, and government officials across Latin America. The mini-conference proposed here will bring together scholars working on topics of public administration and subnational governance in Latin America to share findings of ongoing research, discuss the state of knowledge on key questions in the field, and help set the agenda for future research that centers the experiences and voices of those in the region. Academic exchange of this type is critical for Latin American research to contribute to global debates in public administration about how subnational governance can support the achievement of major policy priorities, like the Sustainable Development Objectives. The mini-conference will also be the basis for special issues on these topics in two major public administration journals, in English and Spanish, that help address fundamental questions about how and under what conditions state, municipal, and local governments can best serve their communities.

SER/ANIMAL: Humanos y otros en las Américas

PI: Sarah Newman, Department of Anthropology
Partner Organization(s): Brown University, Museo Arqueologico de Bogotá

In his book Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide (2016), the British author Charles Foster writes: “Perhaps, for a human, being an animal is just an extreme mode of empathy—no different in kind from what you need to be a decent lover or father or colleague.” But what it means to be a “decent lover or father or colleague” is neither self-evident nor universal nor static. SER/ANIMAL: Humanos y otros en las Américas (BEING/ANIMAL: Humans and Others in the Americas) takes up Foster’s provocation and asks: what does the changing meaning of being (an) animal reveal about being (a) human? The project brings together anthropologists, archaeologists, art historians, artists, and others to explore the long and diverse histories of how humans across the continent from Alaska to Patagonia, and from the remote past to the present, have experienced, conceptualized, manipulated, and commodified non-human animals—and therefore, also themselves. “SER/ANIMAL” can be read both as a single locution—"being (an) animal”—but also as a disjunction "being (or) animal.”

This year-long project is conceived in four principal parts, each involving a local partner institution located in Bogotá, Colombia:

    • An academic conference (open to the public) at the Universidad de Los Andes
    • A bilingual edited volume based on the conference, to be published in Spanish by the Fondo de Promoción de la Cultura and made available online in both Spanish and English
    • A related series of radio interviews with conference participants and local interlocutors hosted by the Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano
    • An exhibition at the Museo Arqueológico de Bogotá (MUSA), which houses the largest collection of pre-Columbian ceramics in Colombia

The conference, book, interviews, and exhibition complement one another in tackling the research questions behind the SER/ANIMAL theme while engaging different (though sometimes overlapping) academic and non-academic audiences.

Research Projects

A Chicago-Chile Collaboration to Elucidate Topographic Surface Renewal

PI: Luka Pocivavsek, Nhung Nguyen, Department of Surgery
Partner Organization(s): Universidad de Santiago de Chile

Building upon the existing collaboration between researchers at the University of Chicago (UChicago) and Universidad de Santiago de Chile (USACH), this proposal aims to continue providing students at both institutions with research opportunities to grow and excel their expertise. This joint project focuses on combining the strengths of both institutions on theoretical analysis, computational modeling, and experiments to elucidate topographic surface renewal, a new de-adhesion mechanism discovered through our previous successful collaborations (Pocivavsek L, Cerda E, et al. 2018, Nature Physics; Nguyen N, Hamm E, Cerda E, Pocivavsek L et al. 2023, Journal of the Royal Society Interface). Our published work showed that employing dynamic topography to promote self-cleaning of surfaces that are at-risk of biofoulant build-up has the potential to overcome the limitations of the current surface chemical modifications approaches in creating long-term sustainable artificial surfaces. To enable its applications in medical devices, specifically improving the patency of vascular grafts, there is still a pressing need to better understand topographic surface renewal under the realistic loading conditions that these surfaces endure. This poses a challenging research problem where students and researchers at both groups will exchange ideas to bring forth innovative solutions. The various project leaders and their research groups will collaborate to: (1) study the effects of the interactions of time scales of biofoulants materials and cyclical loadings on the topographic de-adhesion process using theoretical analysis; (2) use finite element methods to simulate topographic surface renewal of time-dependent biofoulants subjected to repeated loadings; and (3) develop and test model systems of topographic surface renewal.

Global Initiative to Prevent Toxoplasmosis and its Consequences

PI: Rima Mcleod, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Partner Organization(s): University of Quindio, Universidad de Rosario, INDIASCAT, University of Panama

Project goals are to prevent Toxoplasma infection transmission to the fetus, and brain and eye damage caused by Toxoplasma infection later in life. Education and screening programs will be available for high school/college students to detect eye disease and pre-pregnancy serologic testing, and also for women monthly throughout pregnancy. We will compare acceptability in higher and lower income settings on a limited scale. This will establish familiarity/satisfaction with this important means to diagnose and thereby treat to save lives, sight, cognition and motor function. This will be in conjunction with establishing education programs, assuring that care and medicines are available in Panama, a country where toxoplasmosis prevalence and harm are high. Effect on cognition, neuroimaging, eye blood vessels, identified using optical coherence tomography (OCTA), will be characterized for an aging population along with serum biomarkers, imaging of brain and eye (retina) to non-invasively predict outcomes. Examination of brain tissue will compare human pathology to murine toxoplasmosis neurodegeneration. This work addresses prevention of suffering associated with toxoplasmosis and understanding infections’ consequences. This is even more impactful with current potential to eradicate this infection with compounds we are developing. Defining adverse consequences of toxoplasmosis may help incentivize eliminating severe associated consequences.

Training Initiatives

STEM-Out Mexico

PIs: Sonia Hernandez, Department of Surgery; Oscar Pineda-Catalan, Biological Sciences Collegiate Division

Developing and acquiring teaching skills can be a weakness of STEM graduate and postdoctoral programs, including UChicago. A common misconception is that experts in their field will also be experts in teaching. The present proposal will develop UChicago graduate students and postdocs teaching skills, who will participate in mentored teaching opportunities that provide experience of the whole cycle of course development: syllabus development, lesson planning, classroom implementation, and course assessment. We designed a program to recruit, and mentor young scientists in training (ST) (graduate students and postdocs) for developing and implementing their own STEM workshops in an international environment in Mexico. With our partners, Clubes de Ciencia Mexico, a Mexico-based non-profit outreach organization, we will pair the UChicago-ST with a Mexican-ST to co-develop and co-teach their workshop, under the mentorship of STEM-Out coordinators. The instructors will mentor a group of 25 high school and undergraduate students’ basic research methods and state of the art in their area of expertise. Thus, Mexican co-instructors and students will benefit from this program as well as UChicago graduate students and postdocs. Although this program has run for five years, we continue to innovate by incorporating one student doing research for 10 weeks in Mexico city, as part of Global Health at UChicago, and who will implement the research obtained during the summer into an outreach opportunity. This expands our research collaborations with new partners in Mexico.