2016 Chancellor Faculty Fellows

Biographies of 2016 Chancellor Faculty Fellows

Wenbiao Chen, associate professor of molecular physiology and biophysics

Research Focus: Genetic Basis of Susceptibility to Type 2 Diabetes

Pancreatic alpha and beta cells secrete glucagon and insulin respectively to maintain glucose homeostasis. In conditions that impair the signaling of these hormones, alpha and beta cells compensate by increasing their number and augmenting their secretion. Defects in the compensatory responses lead to defects in glucose homeostasis. The molecular mechanisms underlying the compensatory responses remain incompletely understood. The Chen Lab found that compensatory responses of pancreatic alpha cells and beta cells is conserved in zebrafish, a vertebrate model amenable for live imaging as well as large-scale genetic and chemical screens. The Chen Lab combines genetic, pharmacological, and imaging techniques to identify genes essential for the compensatory responses and to define their roles in diabetes.

Derek Griffith, associate professor of medicine, health, and society

Research Focus: Social Influences on Men’s Health & Racial & Ethnic Health Disparities

Professor Griffith is primarily focused on identifying and addressing psychosocial, cultural and environmental determinants of African American men’s health and well-being. Dr. Griffith specializes in informing, developing and testing interventions to improve African American men’s lifestyle behaviors and chronic disease risk, morbidity and mortality, including reducing obesity and increasing healthy eating, physical activity and screening, often using a community-based participatory research approach. His research has been featured in such news outlets as MSNNPRTime MagazineUS News & World Report and USA Today.

Kelly Haws, associate professor of management

Research Focus: Food Decision Making, Financial Decision Making, Self-Control in Consumption

Professor Haws studies consumer behavior, with a particular focus on issues related to consumer welfare and an emphasis on food decision-making and health-related issues and the underlying decision-making process involved. In addition, she also studies responses to actions taken by firms intended to reward consumers as well as issues related to behavioral pricing.

Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Journal of Consumer Research, the Journal of Marketing Research, the Journal of Marketing, the Journal of Consumer Psychology, the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Management Science, and others.

Julián Hillyer, associate professor of biological sciences

Research Focus: Mosquito Immunology & Physiology, Host-Parasite Interactions

Professor Hillyer is interested in basic aspects of mosquito immunology and physiology, focusing on the mechanical and molecular bases of hemolymph (blood) propulsion, and the immunological interaction between mosquitoes and pathogens in the hemocoel (body cavity). Given that chemical and biological insecticides function in the mosquito hemocoel, and that disease-causing pathogens transverse this compartment prior to being transmitted, the Hillyer Lab expects their research will contribute to the development of novel pest and disease control strategies.

Irina Kaverina, associate professor of cell and developmental biology

Research Focus: Intracellular Cytoskeletal Microtuble Network, Its Regulation & Function in Physiology and Disease

Microtubules (MTs), 25-nm self-assembling polymers serve as highways for organelles and molecular transport within a cell. During cell division, MTs are arranged into the mitotic spindle and drive chromosome segregation. In interphase cells, MT network organization and modes of MT-dependent transport are much more variable, reflecting functional diversity of cells and tissues. Paradoxically, our understanding of interphase MT networks is by far less advanced that the understanding of mitotic machinery. The Kaverina Lab aims to close this gap in knowledge; they study how complex MT networks are arranged, and how specialized MT arrays support distinct cellular tasks.

Christopher Loss, associate professor of public policy and higher education

Research Focus: 20th Century Higher Education in the United States

Professor Loss is a historian of the twentieth-century United States who specializes in the social, political, and policy history of higher education. His interests range from the study of democratic citizenship and interdisciplinary expertise to the research economy and the linkages between the K–12 and higher education systems, focusing in each of these areas on the ways in which the organization of knowledge shapes—and is shaped by—political and social institutions in modern America.

He has published articles and essays in the Journal of American HistoryJournal of Policy HistorySocial Science HistoryHistory of Education Quarterly, and the Journal of Military History, among others.

Bradley Malin, associate professor of biomedical informatics

Research Focus: Data Science, Management & Trustworthy Computing

Professor Malin researches big health data analytics and the infrastructure necessary to support such investigations. He has made specific contributions to a number of health-related areas, including distributed data processing methods for medical record linkage and predictive modeling, intelligent auditing technologies to protect electronic medical records from misuse in the context of primary care, and algorithms to formally anonymize patient information disseminated for secondary research purposes.

His investigations on the empirical risks to health information re-identification have been cited by the Federal Trade Commission in the Federal Register.

Catherine Molineux, associate professor of history

Research Focus: History of Early Modern British Atlantic

Professor Molineux’s interdisciplinary scholarship focuses on the history of the early modern British Atlantic (including early North America and the Caribbean, Britain, and West Africa), with special emphasis on visual culture and on race, slavery, and empire. She published Faces of Perfect Ebony: Encountering Imperial Slavery in Imperial Britain (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012) and is working on a new book, tentatively entitled The Making of Kings: African Sovereignty in the British Atlantic World.

She is co-directing the 2017-2018 Warren Center for the Humanities interdisciplinary faculty seminar on “Telling Stories: Modes, Media, and Meanings.”

Kevin Niswender, associate professor of medicine

Research Focus: Pathophysiology Diabetes & Obesity

Professor Niswender is interested in the neuroendocrine regulation of feeding and pathogenesis of obesity and makes extensive use of the full translational spectrum of model systems ranging from cell culture and animal models to human investigation. The Niwsender Lab focuses on the shared mechanisms between the development of obesity and diabetes, cardiometabolic risk, and the clinical implications of insulin resistance, lipid accumulation, and inflammation. They are also increasingly interested in shared mechanisms between obesity and diabetes pathogenesis and common neuropsychiatric co-morbidities, and they are investigating the effects of body composition in obesity using novel fat-water magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on neural function, lipoprotein metabolism, and among others.

Çağlar Oskay, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering

Research Focus: Multiscale Computational Modeling

Professor Oskay researches multiscale computational modeling and simulation of material and structure systems subjected to extreme environments and loading conditions. Oskay is the director of the Multiscale Computational Mechanics Laboratory at Vanderbilt. It focuses on computational characterization of the failure response of systems that involve multiple temporal and spatial scales, development of computational methodologies for failure and fragmentation of composite systems subjected to extreme loading conditions including impact, blast and crushing loads, characterization of complex and hybrid composite systems, and analysis of multiphysics problems.

Betsey Robinson, associate professor of history of art

Research Focus: Greek & Roman Architecture & Art

Professor Robinson researches ancient cities and sanctuaries, and landscapes – actual, imagined, and as represented in ancient art and literature. Since 1997 she has conducted research at the Corinth Excavations of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, focusing on water supply, architecture, and works of art in context. Her book, Histories of Peirene: A Corinthian Fountain in Three Millennia (Princeton: ASCSA 2011), won the 2011 PROSE Prize for Archaeology and Anthropology. Her current project, “Divine Prospects: Mounts Helicon and Parnassus in Ancient Experience and Imagination,” is a book-length manuscript on Hellenistic and Roman perceptions of, and engagement within, Greek landscapes and sanctuaries.

Robert Webster, associate professor of mechanical engineering

Research Focus: Surgical Robotics

Professor Webster is interested in surgical robotics, and more generally, in applying scientific and engineering tools to enhance all aspects of medicine. He is the director of the MED lab, which is a place where doctors and engineers work to create new lifesaving medical technologies. Projects in the MED lab typically involve the design and modeling of novel systems that make surgery less invasive and/or more accurate. This involves designing and constructing robots that are smaller and more dexterous than existing surgical robots, and fusing image guidance into the system to help the surgeon perform surgery more accurately. Theoretical aspects of this research involve screw theory, mechanics-based modeling, and optimal mechanism design, among other techniques.

Steve Wernke, associate professor of anthropology

Research Focus: Archaeology & Historical Anthropology in Andean Region of South America

Professor Wernke researches community organization, landscape and land-use, and the transformation of religious forms and practices during prehispanic and colonial times in the Andean region of South America. Methodologically, his research analyzes archaeological and documentary data sources in a GIS-based spatial framework to examine how community and landscape mediate relationships between households and states. His current research explores the transition from Inka to Spanish rule during the earliest period of sustained interaction between Spanish clerics and provincial Andean communities through NSF-funded excavations in mission villages in the Colca valley of southern Peru.

Christopher Williams, associate professor of medicine

Research Focus: Intestinal Epithelial Repair Programs in Inflammatory Bowel Disease & Colitis Associated Carcinoma

Professor Williams’ research focus is understanding how the epithelium responds to injury and how normal injury response processes are subverted in the development of malignancy. There are three major research programs within the Williams Lab: 1) Epigenetic control of intestinal epithelial wound healing and repair programs and relationship to colorectal oncogenesis, 2) Junctional signaling in mucosal wound healing responses and inflammatory carcinogenesis, and 3) Oxidative injury defenses in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and colitis associated carcinoma (CAC).