Dean for Research Innovation Funds enable bold and creative new projects

Eight new research projects, from novel ways to control mosquitoes to a telescope for studying the Big Bang, have been awarded funding through the Dean for Research Innovation Funds at Princeton University. These competitive awards aim to encourage bold explorations in the natural scienceshumanities, industrial research collaborations and the campus as a laboratory

"Through the Innovation Funds, the University encourages investigation into ideas that have great potential to make a difference and to expand the boundaries of knowledge," said Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science and professor of chemical and biological engineering. "These highly promising and original projects are ones that may not be ready for funding from traditional mechanisms such as federal grants. The University's support for early-stage research has a tremendous positive impact on the overall quality of the faculty and research at Princeton."

The following projects, selected by committees of University peers knowledgeable in the relevant disciplines, were funded:

New ideas in the natural sciences

A forensic approach to the study of food webs: Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Robert Pringle and his team will sequence DNA fragments in fecal samples of free-ranging African savanna animals to study their diets and the symbiotic gut bacteria that aid digestion. The goal is to provide information about interdependencies that may help to harmonize wildlife conservation and livestock production in Africa.

New studies of the Universe's past: Suzanne Staggs, the Henry DeWolf Smyth Professor of Physics, and Lyman Page, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Physics, along with colleagues from a dozen institutes around the world are designing a new telescope near Princeton's existing Atacama Cosmology Telescope in northern Chile. The telescope will enable more accurate studies of tiny temperature fluctuations in space that offer a way to study the Big Bang at the origin of the universe.


Eight new research projects, from novel ways to control mosquitoes to a telescope for studying the Big Bang, have been awarded funding through the Dean for Research Innovation Funds at Princeton. Faculty members Mala Murthy and Carolyn McBride are researching how to interfere with mosquito mating to reduce mosquito populations. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes court and mate in flight. In this photo a mating pair at left is being harassed by a second male, at right. (Photo by Alex Wild)

A novel intervention to control mosquito-borne diseases: Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology Mala Murthy and Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Carolyn McBride, both of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, will explore ways to interfere with mosquito courtship and mating to reduce mosquito populations.

New ideas in the humanities

The Enlightenment as a global phenomenon: Sophie Gee and Sarah Rivett, associate professors of English, will bring together leading scholars across fields and disciplines at a conference to discuss the Enlightenment as a complex, global phenomenon that has had lasting impacts on religion, race, and geographic and cultural diversity.

New collaborations with industry

Securing the Internet of Things: Nick Feamster, professor of computer science and acting director of the Center for Information Technology Policy, will work with Michael O'Reirdan of Comcast Corporation in Philadelphia to enhance the security of the Internet of Things. The project aims to develop new machine-learning approaches to identify all devices connected to a user's home network and detect anomalous behavior.

New ideas for campus as a lab

Indoor-outdoor environmental sensing: Kelly Caylor, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Princeton Environmental Institute, and Forrest Meggers, assistant professor of architecture and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, will design and deploy a network of sensors throughout campus to understand the dynamic interplay between indoor and outdoor environments, and to use the information to improve building design.

Earth zero-carbon structures: Sigrid Adriaenssens, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, will lead a project to test the suitability of "rammed earth" construction, which involves tightly packing soil into frames to build walls and other structures. Students will construct and monitor rammed earth structures over the next year to determine the potential for Princeton-area soil as a building material.

Light pollution campus survey: Gáspár Bakos, associate professor of astrophysical sciences, will lead a project to use aerial monitoring to map the night-time illumination of the campus to identify areas where steps can be taken to reduce the amount of light escaping into the night sky. The project will build on an ongoing senior thesis project, conducted by undergraduate Stephen Barton (Class of 2016).

The Innovation Fund for the Campus as a Lab is co-sponsored with the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, the Princeton Environmental Institute, the Office of the Dean of the College, and the High Meadows Foundation Sustainability Fund.