Rice Awards Wagoner Scholarships to 14 graduate students

Award amounts range from $2,000 - $5,000 and will support research abroad

Rice University

The Rice University Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) is proud to announce that 14 Rice University graduate students have been awarded Wagoner Foreign Study Scholarships to continue their research abroad.

The Wagoner Scholarship is named for James T. Wagoner ‘29. His love of travel spurred him to establish this scholarship for students and alumni in memory of his parents and late wife. The Rice Graduate Council grants the awards to students who have demonstrated outstanding achievement and promise in their research.

You can read about each of the award winners and their projects below. Applications open in early November; graduate students interested in applying for the next cycle can find more information here. For questions, email the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Nina Cook, English

Cook’s dissertation, “Engaging Frames and Absorbing Names: Interpolating the Subject in Visual and Verbal Art,” focuses on the technical collaboration between word and image at the turn of the eighteenth century. Building on a foundation of archival research, Cook argues that between 1760-1888, artists and prose writers co-developed representational techniques meant to engage an audience’s attention. These artists sought to ensure audience loyalty to serialized fictions in an age saturated by visual and verbal media. Just as modern-day television shows deploy the “cliff-hanger” to ensure the audience tunes in again, eighteenth and nineteenth-century artists and writers employed structure, representational techniques, and narrative stratagems to give their art an edge in the marketplace, which was undergoing rapid change as print culture made art more accessible and literacy rates soared. These strategies include things as simple as first-person narration and as complex as the visual rückenfigur device, which causes the audience to identify with individual characters, as well as explicitly multimedia techniques like book illustration and narrative painting which aid the audience’s visual imagination. Cook will travel to the United Kingdom to examine how these techniques create an affective bond between artwork and audience that engages attention beyond a discrete viewing or reading experience, making art objects immersive and addictive.

Kristen Curry, Computer Science

Microbial communities are all the microscopic organisms in an environment. This includes single-cell organisms such as bacteria, archaea, and viruses that have shown to have profound impacts on their surroundings. Genomic sequencing advancements have revealed extraordinary genomic and metabolic diversity in these communities, yet the rules for deciphering their behavior and predicting interactions remain a major challenge in microbial research. Horizontal gene transfer (HGT), the transfer of genetic material from one organism to another, is believed to be driving evolution in microbial communities, yet the mechanisms that drive these transfers are not understood. Curry will be visiting France and developing computational techniques to analyze gene transfer events. Through the analysis of the terabytes of microbial genetic sequences publicly available, Curry hopes to ultimately expose new biological insights into the rules driving microbial evolution.

Kim Dasom, Applied Physics

In classical physics, vacuum is completely vacant and merely provides space-time coordinates in which matter moves. However, according to quantum theory, vacuum is full of zero-point energies with fluctuating electromagnetic fields that interact with matter, a central concept in modern quantum electrodynamics. An exciting frontier idea is to utilize such virtual vacuum photons to actively control materials. In particular, vacuum fields enhanced by cavity confinement are expected to alter material energy levels considerably and induce new phases. However, no drastic change of material properties has been achieved to date.

Dasom will travel to South Korea to explore the so-called superradiant phase transition where finite atomic inversion and photon number spontaneously emerge in the presence of ultrastrong light–matter coupling. Although the feasibility of this process has become the center of controversy over the last fifty years, recent theoretical studies have suggested that matter with a linear band dispersion under a spatially varying electric field would exhibit this phase transition. Nanogaps defining a cavity mode together with Landau levels in a large-area high-mobility graphene sample can realize these conditions and thus induce the superradiant phase transition, which has the potential to revolutionize quantum ground-state phase engineering and quantum information processing.

Robin Hueppe, Architecture

Architectural postmodernism dismissed the high-rise housing estate as a failed architectural typology. Although a complex mixture of political, infrastructural, and financial problems ended the history of housing estates in the United States before the twenty-first century, influential architect writers blamed modernist architecture and design. Hueppe will be conducting research in Montreal. Because Montreal has a less disruptive history, this research project proposes the study of past and present housing estate typologies of Québec’s welfare system as alternatives to single-family suburbia. The Archives de Montreal, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and the housing research history of McGill University are valuable resources that provide significant knowledge and understudied original documents. In particular, the research focuses on the creative role of Canadian woman architects, who were influential in Montreal’s housing history yet less visible in general architectural education. This project builds upon previous research on housing estates in Berlin conducted on the John T Mitchell traveling fellowship (PLAT Journal) and thesis research on peripheral housing communities in Rio de Janeiro (City, Culture, and Society Journal).

Monika Jankowska, Anthropology

Jankowska’s project focuses on two blockchain infrastructures to investigate how decentralization is configured in their architecture and governance and, hence, to learn decentralization impact contemporary governance structures. Ethereum is the second-biggest blockchain protocol after Bitcoin but, in contrast to Bitcoin, it offers functionalities such as creating online organizations governed by digital, automatically-executing contracts, and developing decentralized, transparently-operating applications. The European Blockchain Infrastructure (“EBSI”)  seeks to deliver cross-border public services within the EU but is also a part of the ‘sandbox’ space used to test and regulate other blockchain-based solutions. 

Jankowska’s research explores the extent to which decentralization is important to Ethereum and EBSI, the conceptualization of decentralization in the context of these two infrastructures, as well as how decentralization is experienced by the developers, operators, and users of these infrastructures. This allows Jankowska to examine the modes of social control and organization enabled by these two infrastructures. This project will see Jankowska travel to Spain, France, Germany, and Portugal to participate in Ethereum community meetings, which would allow me to better understand the Ethereum community, its objectives, and its governance rules and practices, as well as to learn more about Ethereum technology.

Emily Lampert, History

Before the nineteenth century, most slaveholders in the British Caribbean were unconcerned with whether or not their enslaved laborers reproduced, instead choosing to work those they enslaved to death or extreme disability and to continually purchase newly captured Africans to work their sugar plantations. This Caribbean practice, coupled with high mortality rates and low fertility rates, was contrasted sharply by Virginia, a region widely known for its exponentially reproducing workforce. This marked difference in mortality and fertility became a problem for Caribbean slaveholders after the closure of the transatlantic slave trade in 1807—simply put, their old practices were no longer sustainable. With Virginia’s reputation for a robust enslaved population in mind, Lampert argues that British officials and Caribbean planters, in the wake of a closing Atlantic slave trade, looked to Virginia for direction in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Largely using British slaveholders’ personal papers, the majority of which are housed in the United Kingdom, this project works to understand the image of Virginia in the Caribbean imagination as slaveholders scrambled to ensure enslaved reproduction after 1807.

Lynne Lee, Art History

Lee’s dissertation unravels the process by which white scholars in Brazil projected their preconceived notions of racial evolution and cultural hierarchy on their analyses of Black art in the first decades of the twentieth century. Focusing on the trajectories and scholarship of Nina Rodrigues, Arthur Ramos, and Roger Bastide, Lee examines how these medically trained intellectuals instituted Afro-Brazilian art as a field of study in a period of intense national modernization. In parallel, Lee offer updated analyses of early Afro-Brazilian ritual objects to liberate them from oppressive Eurocentric discourses and reveal how they resist and contest racist ideologies that determined their early scholarly analyses. Lastly, by examining the career of Bahian sculptor Agnaldo Manuel dos Santos, Lee demonstrates how this medically inflected approach to Black art later influenced the critical reception of an Afro-Brazilian artist. Lee will consult archives and artworks in Brazil to collect primary source materials that are crucial to their research.

Julieanne Montaquila, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Highly fragmented forests now make up the majority of the world’s remaining tropical forests. The edges of these fragments, where the forest transitions to human-disturbed landscapes, are subject to loss of tree diversity when dispersal services by fruit-eating animals are disrupted. However, the presence of highly attractive fruit resources may buffer the impacts of edges on tree community regeneration by acting as hubs of seed dispersal. Montaquila proposes to examine the influence of mistletoe presence on seed dispersal in edge and interior rainforest habitat in a biodiversity hotspot in Madagascar. Mistletoe is a key fruit resource for many lemurs and birds in Madagascar rainforests, and trees with mistletoe could be hubs for dispersal and result in increased regeneration of the forest at edges. Montaquila will track patterns of seed dispersal at edge and interior habitats with and without mistletoe using seed traps, and will survey vegetation to assess the influence of mistletoe on forest regeneration between different sites. Not only will addressing these questions give scientists a deeper understanding of how species interact with each other to structure diverse communities in a Madagascar ecosystem, but this research will have implications for biodiversity management and restoration programs in Madagascar and beyond. 

Yui Nishimura, Political Science

Under what conditions do international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and governments protect human rights? Nishimura’s dissertation focuses on the Universal Periodic Review (the United Nations’ human rights mechanism) and evaluates how the design of this international organization influences NGO behavior and how NGO behaviors affect government actions against human rights violations. Nishimura will be conducting research in Switzerland. Nishimura argues that international organizations can harness civil society activities and magnify their impact, encouraging governments to place pressure on other countries for human rights violations. Nishimura tests this argument by collecting and analyzing original text data from the United Nations human rights mechanism using statistical analysis and through interviews with relevant officials. The findings help us understand how the interactions between these different political actors can deter or stop severe human rights violations across the globe.

Karine Raynor, Art History

Raynor’s project consists of essential research for my dissertation titled: Mecanomorphs and the Articulated Body/Machines of Dada: From Object-based Practices to Performance Art. Raynor’s dissertation fills a gap in the scholarship by examining the mecanomorph--the imagistic Dada combinations of the human and the machine--and defining its nature, scope and function. Raynor argues that performance art emerged out of the mecanomorph as an articulated body/machine due to this confusion between the body and the machine, and the dissolving boundaries that distinguished one from the other.

Raynor’s research will consult essential artworks, archives, and scholarly resources in Paris and Venice that are necessary to complete their dissertation. While in Paris, Raynor will be under the supervision of a leading scholar on their dissertation topic, Arnauld Pierre at Sorbonne Université. 

Keren Reichler, Anthropology

Reichler will be conducting fieldwork in Argentina. Reichler’s dissertation research investigates how an emerging suite of agricultural technologies aims to help growers maximize crop yields, reduce synthetic inputs, and conserve water and land through “precision agriculture.” This digital revolution in agriculture requires a sensory infrastructure of networked devices—such as drones, robots, and in-ground sensors— that provide real-time data on agricultural conditions using machine learning and artificial intelligence. Reichler’s dissertation investigates how a network of scientists, engineers, growers, and investors in the US and Argentina are mobilizing a transnational regime of sensory infrastructure to potentially reshape decision-making across the agricultural landscape. This project will advance knowledge on the closely intertwined relationship between speculative capital, agricultural technology innovation, and the socio-ecological challenges of producing adequate nutrition for a growing human population in increasingly precarious ecological conditions.

Livia Tiede, History

Tiede’s dissertation demonstrates the changes and continuities of São Paulo’s early Black movement through chronicling the life of Frederico Baptista de Souza (1875-1960). Souza sought to coalesce divergent Black associations to create a “race united.” He did so in a time when the Brazilian mainstream press positioned America’s Booker T. Washington as the “great Black leader.” Souza learned from Washington’s “Uplift” ideology, which emphasized industriousness and morality as means to escape inequality. However, Souza argued that Afro-Brazilians were denied social justice despite such efforts. Souza’s departure from Washington evidences the dynamism of Black activism in the twentieth century. Ultimately, understanding Souza’s experience is critical to comprehending the larger trends of Black movements in post-Abolition societies. It shows how strategies from across the Black diaspora were reinvented according to local needs in fights against prejudice. 

Tiede plans to illustrate how this process unfolded outside Brazil by investigating documents that are largely ignored by English-language scholars, the early Black papers of Buenos Aires. In doing so, Tiede will conduct research in Argentina to further our understanding of the historical roots of racial inequities that continue to define Latin America.