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University of Iowa News Release

June 3, 2005

UI Obermann Center Awards Collaborative Research Grants

Four teams of researchers, including five professors from The University of Iowa and four visiting scholars have won Obermann Interdisciplinary Research Grants, for collaborative projects to be carried out this summer. The program, which this year will run from late May through June is supported by the Office of the Vice-President for Research, the Graduate College and the C. Esco and Avalon L. Obermann Fund.

This year's projects and researchers are:

"America's New Slavery: Public and Private Responses to Involuntary Servitude and Human Trafficking," by Kenneth Cmiel (right, in photo), professor of history in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of the UI Center for Human Rights, and Mark Sidel (left, in photo), UI associate professor of law. Contemporary cases of slavery occurring in the U.S. involve farm workers, garment workers, domestic workers, nursing home employees, hotel workers and others. Cmiel and Sidel will examine several facets of the new American slavery and the legal responses to it as part of larger individual and joint projects on slavery, trafficking and involuntary servitude in the U.S. They will engage in joint readings and discussions leading to writing and action-oriented projects on: 1) the development of legal policy, statutes and particularly case law to combat new forms of slavery, trafficking and involuntary servitude; 2) the diverse legal strategies that have been employed by public interest attorneys and private attorneys for trafficking and slavery victims to assert their rights, in addition to criminal prosecutions by the U.S. Justice Department; and 3) the strategies of prosecution and alliance undertaken by the Justice Department and allied agencies.

"India Calling: Accents, Identities and Aliases in the Indian Call Center Industry," by Aimee Carrillo Rowe (right, in photo), UI assistant professor of rhetoric and Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry, and Sheena Malhotra (left, in photo), assistant professor of women's studies at California State University, Northridge. There are an estimated 1 million call center agents in India, most of whom go through "accent neutralization training" and are given aliases and assumed US-based identities in order to make US customers more "comfortable." What are the cultural implications of an enormous workforce that sleeps during the day, works at night and interacts mostly with customers at the other end of the world on the basis of a false identity? This project attempts to explore how the inequities of global power relations between India and the U.S. are manifested and performed through the daily "migration of the mind" for these agents.

"Ultra-Local Governance in China's Cities and Villages: Bringing Together Perspectives from Political Science and Sociology," by Benjamin Read (right, in photo), UI assistant professor of political science, and Ethan Michelson (left, in photo), assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University. They will examine China's hundreds of thousands of rural Village Committees and urban Residents' Committees, ultra-local governance institutions that raise many questions lying at the intersection of political science and sociology. In particular: how does the community-level context of these administrative bodies -- deeply embedded as they are in local society -- affect their performance? How do different types of constituents perceive them and interact with them? The project brings together in-depth qualitative interviews and on-site observational study, along with an original pair of matched urban-rural survey datasets.

"Computer Visualization and Identification of DNA Knots and Links," by Isabel Darcy (middle, in photo), UI assistant professor of mathematics, Stephen Levene (left, in photo), associate professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of Texas at Dallas, and Robert Scharein (right, in photo), a computer scientist from Vancouver. The group will work to develop a new technique to easily and rapidly identify DNA knots and links formed by proteins such as recombinases and topoisomerases. DNA is tightly packed into genes and chromosomes; in order for replication or transcription to take place, DNA must first unpack itself. DNA packing can be visualized as two very long strands that have been intertwined millions of times, tied into knots, and subjected to successive coiling. However, replication and transcription, the first steps in cellular division, are much easier to accomplish if the DNA is neatly arranged rather than tangled up. The only current method for uniquely identifying DNA knots and links is technically demanding, tedious and error-prone. The collaborators are developing software that will reconstruct a knotted or linked DNA from an atomic-force micrograph of the molecule and generate a three-dimensional graphical representation of the DNA's conformation.

Jay Semel, Director of the Obermann Center, said the Obermann Interdisciplinary Research Grants, with their distinctive emphasis on collaborative work, were the first of their kind in the nation. Since the program's establishment more than a decade ago, UI projects funded by these grants have resulted in numerous jointly-authored articles and books, as well as federal and foundations grants totaling more than $6 million.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011, Writer: Jennifer New.