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UC researchers continue to blaze new trails in science, medicine, business, education, engineering and the arts — literally transforming the way we live, work and learn.

A Deeper Dive into University of Cincinnati R&D Projects That Got Funded in 2018

Sure, it’s a good thing that the University of Cincinnati brought in more R&D money in 2018 than it did 2017, but let’s ignore the stats for a minute and talk about the work.


What happened to the lemurs in Madagascar?


Climate or humans? Which is responsible for the extinction of lemur species in Madagascar? It’s a question University of Cincinnati paleoecologist Brooke Crowley hopes to definitively answer with her partners at the University of Massachusetts and the help of a $81,125 grant from the National Science Foundation. 

Crowley, an associate professor in geology and anthropology in UC’s College of Arts & Sciences, is fascinated with the extinction debate. Along with a large multidisciplinary research team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Midwestern University in Arizona, she hopes a cave system in southwestern Madagascar may hold some answers. 

“Madagascar has had a ridiculous loss of animal taxa in recent history,” says Crowley, who has been studying ecology on the island since 2005. Her team has been able to answer a number of questions about how Madagascar has changed over the past several thousand years, but these caves hold a lot of potential when it comes to data because their record “goes back far enough that we can be definitively prehumen,” Crowley says. Some of the material could be up to 50,000 years old, Crowley says.

Many of the caves are currently underwater because of sea level rise, so the contents are well preserved. In order to conduct this research, divers are mapping the cave system and excavating fossils, bones and teeth. Crowley’s job is to analyze vertebrate remains, largely lemurs, primates native only to the island of Madagascar, and other terrestrial vertebrates. She will radiocarbon date this material and also analyze its chemical composition (carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and strontium isotopes).

Once the analyses are done, the research team can compare what they’ve found to known climate history and the expansion of human impacts on the island, and, hopefully, better understand what caused the extinctions. 


At this UC center, artificial intelligence is answering burning questions


Machine learning. It’s a branch of artificial intelligence that’s quickly changing the way we look at big data based on the idea that a properly built AI system can learn patterns for itself and arrive at outcomes we wouldn’t otherwise know. 

The University of Cincinnati is putting machine learning and data visualization to the test at its Digital Scholarship Center, which opened three years ago and is a provost-approved academic center and jointly supported by UC Libraries and College of Arts and Sciences.  

Using methods like those used by the analytic gurus at Google and Facebook, UC’s center is applying machine learning to large humanistic datasets—“unstructured” data—that isn’t quantifiable, says James Lee, the center’s academic director. Oftentimes, that’s a mountain of text, says Lee, who is also an assistant professor of digital humanities in the Department of English. Before machine learning, analyzing such data would have meant random sampling or reading all of the content. Now, AI systems can identify both large patterns and hidden trends in the data to make human analysis both more comprehensive and more precise, Lee says.

The center is currently working with eight colleges on different projects, ranging from the arts and humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields. One such project is between the College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, which are analyzing doctor’s notes for trends in medical cases with positive outcomes. There’s also a project with the College of Law combing through Lexis Nexis, a database of American case law, for legal trends, and a project with the College of Arts & Science’s Journalism Department breaking down how social justice and political movements form on Twitter.

The Digital Scholarship Center’s work got a nod of approval last year from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in the form of a $900,000 grant, money that will continue work on the aforementioned projects and get 10 more going, Lee says. Five projects have been identified and the center is still looking for another five ideas to back in the next 12 months. Any faculty member with a research question is encouraged to ask it, says Xuemao Wang, dean of University of Cincinnati Libraries, which houses the center. The center lowers technical barriers for entry,

“but we also teach the people to fish,” Wang says. “This can really increase their digital capacity.”


Pushing for what’s best for children with deafblindness


Imagine being a child with a condition so rare that you’re probably the only one with it at your school—likely the only one in your whole school district. That's often the case for children with combined hearing-vision loss, also known as deafblindness, who, in a sea of 1.67 million school-aged children in Ohio, number just 430, and that’s newborn to age 21, as of the most recent deafblind census. 

It can be an isolating experience, not just for the children, but for their parents and educators, says Deb Telfer, project director and principal investigator at Ohio Center for Deafblind Education, a federal project operated through the Systems Development & Improvement Center, which moved to UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services from the University of Dayton about a year and a half ago.

The center is charged with finding ways to improve the outcomes for learners with combined hearing-vision loss and federal funding of $1.5 million from the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs will support the continuation of the work for another five years. The funding was awarded to UC SDI, which designs, creates, and delivers professional development, consultation, and technical assistance to adults who support students with low incidence sensory disabilities, such as deafblindness. The program provides scholarships to children and their parents to attend conferences and annual retreats, where they can make connections and forge bonds with families experiencing similar challenges, says Telfer, who is glad the work has moved to UC.

“The University of Cincinnati has a strong commitment to equity for all children,” Telfer says. “There is a real commitment to people who are on the outside looking in. Whether they are first generation college kids, kids of color or in poverty, second-language English learners or students with disabilities, UC is committed to improving opportunities to learn for all.”

To learn more about UC’s Annual SRS report, visit this page.