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Please note: The Smithsonian-UMD Seed Grant Program will not run in 2017.  

Over the past 7 years, this program has supported a wide variety of joint research projects which have resulted in funded grants, publications, performances, and a myriad of opportunities for student/post doc training, research, and advancement.

To maximize any future investments, our leadership teams will take time to reassess the strengths of our collaboration and cement new avenues for continued and supported research collaboration. Promising opportunities may emerge. For example, the Smithsonian is exploring a seed pool for academic collaborations that does not focus on specific academic institutions but rather on pan-institutional strategic priorities.

We will update this site as information becomes available. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us:

University of Maryland:
Eric Chapman, Assistant Vice President
(301) 405-7136

Smithsonian Institution:
Amy Marino, Office of the Provost
(202) 633-5645

UMD-SI Seed Grants


Bridging biomechanics and macroevolution: spider cheliceral function and diversification

Hannah Wood (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History) and Jeffrey Schultz (CMNS/Entomology, UMD)

In the field of arachnology, there is a large gap, in that virtually no researchers work at the interface between chelicerae function and spider diversification. While research involving the biomechanics and evolution of spider silk has dominated the field, an important and necessary facet of spider evolution and life history has been largely ignored, that of the function of chelicerae (similar in function to jaws or mandibles) to capture and envenomate prey. This exploratory project seeks to fill in this gap by addressing the following questions: 1) how does cheliceral function change in the “primitive” spiders compared to the more-derived spiders?; 2) how does cheliceral function change among different sized spiders? These questions will be addressed through the use of micro-CT scanning, high-speed videography, and measurements of force production among different groups of spiders. This research will be novel to the field of arachnology and furthermore, will also be significant to field of evolutionary biology regarding fundamental hypotheses about trait adaptation and diversification. The implications of this research are abundant. Regarding silk biomechanics, the research has been important for developing materials that are strong and elastic. Research examining spider venoms has been fruitful for medical science. We expect the research we propose here to also have important implications involving the science of designing robots based on animal movements, as well as for understanding of the feeding functions and ecology in animals that prey on agricultural pests.

Investigation of the Use of Atomic Layer Deposited Films to Prevent Glass Disease

Edward Vicenzi (Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute) and Raymond Phaneuf (UMD Materials Science & Engineering)

Of the materials used throughout the ages for crafting cultural heritage objects, glass seems the most nearly immutable – however glass objects degrade with time due to the destructive phenomenon known as glass disease. This corrosive effect threatens not only the appearance, but also the physical integrity of objects made from glass, and at present there is no cure for glass disease. Existing conservation practices, consisting of environmental control and/or polymeric-based coatings are ineffective in preventing or mitigating the irreparable damage glass disease does to cultural heritage objects over long periods of time. Recent scientific investigations make it clear that prevention of the destructive effects of glass disease is only possible if moisture is kept away from the surface. In this project we propose to address the question of how to do so for the centuries to millennia which characterize the age of many objects in museum collections. We will adopt a revolutionary approach, using atomic layer deposition (ALD) to create transparent, amorphous, exceedingly conformal oxide films onto glass objects. Our recent results suggest that these coatings can keep water from contacting the underlying glass objects for centuries or longer. In developing our ALD-based glass conservation process we will test it, and adapt it, for consistency with the standards set by the conservation community: that the result should be visually acceptable, that the performance should exceed that available based upon existing treatments, and that the process should be reversible – i.e. that it should be possible to remove the ALD films without degrading the underlying objects. The project will be carried out in two major thrusts: in the first the goal will be to investigate prevention of glass disease, using uncorroded glass objects as our substrates. In the second thrust we will investigate a much more daunting challenge to glass conservators: mitigation of existing glass corrosion.

Zika, Sex and Seasonality

Justin Calabrese (Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute) and William Fagan (UMD Department of Biology)

Zika virus (ZIKV) is an emerging infectious disease with significant public health implications, both internationally and here in the United States. Recent studies suggest that sexual transmission of ZIKV is more common than initially realized, meaning that ZIKV has the potential to become problematic even in regions without abundant mosquito vectors.   Predicting the spread of ZIKV in temperate North America requires an understanding of insect ecology, insect phenology (i.e., the seasonal timing of insect life-history), and disease dynamics.  Using mathematical modeling approaches, we aim to determine:

  • the degree of sexual transmission necessary for multi-year ZIKV outbreaks
  • how this is expected to vary with regional climate
  • the role of continued ZIKV importation due to travel from tropical regions
  • the combined effects of sexual behavior, ZIKV importation and regional climate on the incidence of ZIKV.

Unraveling these issues will allow us to explore whether human sexual transmission can allow sufficient disease spread in the absence of mosquito vectors, which could then allow ZIKV to sustain through U.S. winters, creating a major risk for outbreaks where climate data and vector phenology would suggest that there is none.  This information, which is best quantified using synthetic models, will inform decision-making and strategies to reduce the disease's impact on human populations.

Creating a Bioengineered Ovary for Restoring Follicle Functions and Development in Domestic Carnivore Models

Nucharin Songsasen (Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute) and John Fisher (UMD Fischell Department of Bioengineering)

One of the major challenges in preserving the genomes and fertility of females, including women, is the rarity of mature oocytes (eggs) capable of fertilization. The overall goal of this project is to establish a bioengineered ovary that consistently promotes the production of oocytes from cultured ovarian follicles in domestic carnivore models. The findings of this project will lead the establishment of an improved method for fertility preservation, especially for (1) endangered carnivores where genetically valuable females often die before contributing their genes to the population and (2) women patients scheduled for cancer therapy where treatments are likely to destroy ovarian function. Finally, the bioengineered ovary can serve as an in vitro platform to assess the effect of contaminants and environmental toxins on ovarian follicle development, and thus, eliminating the use of live animals.

The U.S. Latina/o Health History Project: Developing Digital Resources to Engage Public Learning and Inspire Innovative Scholarship

Katherine Ott (Smithsonian National Museum of American History) and Chantel Rodriguez (UMD Department of History)

As the U.S. Latina/o population continues to grow, there is increasing urgency not only to identify their health issues but also the culture and history that inform their health practices. The UMD History Department and Smithsonian National Museum of American History recognize that the lack of resources on U.S. Latina/o health practices poses a serious problem both for scholars working in this field and, more generally, for those interested in the improvement of Latina/o health. To address this need, we will pilot a groundbreaking project on the history of U.S. Latina/o health by collecting material objects and documenting personal stories related to traditional Latina/o health practices. This UMD-SI collaboration is a crucial step toward the ultimate goal of launching a national-level digital project to establish an invaluable cache of primary source materials that will engage public learning and inspire innovative scholarship.


Dataset and Analysis on Intentional Targeting of Cultural Heritage During Armed Conflict

Paul Huth (UMD Center for International Development and Conflict Management) and Corine Wegener (SI Office of the Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture) with Brian Daniels, University of Pennsylvania and Susan Wolfinbarger, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Why is cultural heritage targeted by combatants during intrastate conflict? Cultural heritage represents the physical manifestation of the culture and history of a social group or region; its intentional destruction is designed to erase the presence of a people in history. Such policies are likely to occur at the same time as other large-scale abuses towards civilian populations. Little systematic theoretical and quantitative research currently exists on the destruction of cultural heritage sites. This project draws upon cultural heritage experts at the Smithsonian and conflict studies experts at the University of Maryland’s Center for International Development and Conflict Management. Through this collaboration we will develop and test a theory about the causes of deliberate heritage destruction using a new dataset on the characteristics of cultural heritage sites and the occurrence of targeting in Syria and Iraq.

Development and Characterization of a Graphene-Based THz Mixer

Thomas E. Murphy (UMD Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics) and Paul K. Grimes (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory) with Martin Mittendorf (UMD) and Lingzhen Zeng (SI)

Graphene, a single atomic layer of hexagonally ordered carbon atoms, exhibits many unique features that have been extensively investigated over the past decade. As well as very high mechanical strength, graphene has exceptional optical and electronic properties which make it an ideal material for making novel devices for a wide range of applications. The aim of this new cooperation is to exploit the electronic properties of graphene to  develop a new type of very high frequency radio-wave detector, primarily for astronomical applications that will improve the capabilities of submillimeter-wave radio telescopes. This project combines the expertise in the fabrication of graphene-based devices at the University of Maryland with the expertise in very high frequency radio detector design and characterization at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Minimum Dynamic Area Revisited- How Do Large Disturbances Affect the Distribution of Ungulate Species in Arid and Semi-Arid Ecosystems

Joseph Owen Sexton and Ralph Dubayah (UMD Geographical Sciences Dept) and Peter Leimgruber and Melissa Songer (Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

Large scale natural catastrophes, such as drought or snow storms, can have devastating effects on wildlife populations, leading to dramatic die-offs and sometimes local extinctions.  Understanding the frequency and size of such catastrophic disturbances is critical for the design of protected area system, and to ensure that protected wildlife will survive over the long term.  The area required to sustain wildlife and biodiversity even in the face of irregular, large-scale disturbances, is called the minimum dynamic area.  An interdisciplinary team of geographers, remote sensing experts, and wildlife ecologists from the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian is using satellite mapping and GPS animal tracking to answer these critical questions, by comparing patterns in the arid lands of the western U.S. and the steppes of Mongolia.

Development of a Microfluidic Gas-Liquid Interphase 3-D Tissue Explant Culture Chip for Fertility Preservation

Don DeVoe (UMD Dept. of Mechanical Engineering) and Budhan Pukazhenthi (Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

The overall goal of the proposed research is to develop a microfluidic system to support growth and differentiation of testicular tissue explants from neonate donors.  If successful, this approach would allow the rescue of genetic (gonadal tissue) from rare and endangered ungulates that may die unexpectedly or euthanized for medical reasons. 


Alternate Approaches to Produce Pluripotent Stem Cells for Conservation Biology Applications

Carol Keefer (UMD-Animal & Avian Sciences) and Pierre Comizzoli (SI National Zoological Park)

Stem cell technologies offer exciting prospects in regenerative and reproductive medicine for humans and animals. Despite multiple attempts in domestic and wild animal species, the majority of studies report numerous obstacles that still need to be overcome before producing efficient stem cells. We will explore the potential of novel approaches including protein and cell extract treatments which do not involve genetic modifications. This research will lead to safe and reliable ways to obtain and use stem cells for veterinary and conservation applications such as therapeutic treatments, drug and toxicant testing, and fertility preservation.

Asian-Latino Education Lab: Piloting Innovative Curricular Tools to Enable Intersectional, Cross-Community Learning and Cultural Competencies for Minority Communities

Janelle Wong (UMD-Asian American Studies) and Adriel Luis (SI Asian Pacific American Center)

The UMD Asian American Studies Program and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center will pilot Smithsonian digital assets as innovative classroom learning tools specifically focusing on cross-cultural connections and collisions. This collaboration will bring resources from the Smithsonian’s existing Asian-Latino Project into University of Maryland classrooms. The two units will collaborate to begin compiling and building the foundations of the Asian-Latino Education Lab, soliciting written, visual, audio, and video materials from leading artists, filmmakers, writers, and scholars, then working together to shape these materials into a cohesive and focused learning experience.  The Lab will be introduced to UMD students during the Fall 2014 academic semester, then evaluated, refined, and further developed over winter 2014 for re-deployment in the classroom in the Spring 2015 academic term. This Smithsonian-University of Maryland collaboration is a vital step toward the ultimate goal of launching the Lab on a national scale. 

Nutrient Composition and Immunoglobulins in Anthropoid Primate Milks: A Key to Conservation and the Evolution of Human Milk?

Kasey Moyes (UMD Department of Animal & Avian Sciences) and Michael Power (SI National Zoological Park)

At present, zoo nutritionists/veterinarians have limited useful information regarding the nutrient and immuno-protective (i.e. immunoglobulins) content of milks from different anthropoid primate species. These milk constituents are critical for proper development of the neonate, and their characterization will provide information regarding the evolution of milk within anthropoid primates, including human milk.  Our specific aims are to identify the nutrient and immunoglobulin profiles in milk from gorillas and orangutans throughout lactation and to compare to human milk to assess evolutionary changes.  Results from this study will assist the professionals charged with care in captivity to develop improved hand-rearing protocols and provide new data regarding the patterns of evolutionary change in human milk since the last common ancestor with the great apes.

Reframing the Teaching and Learning of Migration/Immigration in U.S. History

Kate Keane (UMD Department of History), Ira Berlin (UMD Department of History), Carrie Kotcho (SI National Museum of American History) and Magdalena Mieri (SI National Museum of American History)

The study of migration and immigration is a matter of great intellectual weight and major contemporary societal concern. Migration is a fundamental human experience and the study of immigration addresses the experience of most men and women who ever walked the earth, as well as the related subjects of the movement of diseases, cultures, commodities, capital, and technology. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Center for the History of the New America at the University of Maryland will assess the state of field regarding the teaching and learning of immigration and migration history in schools across the United States (primarily focusing on K-12 settings). The data and analysis generated by the team’s research will serve as the basis for the creation of recommendations for integrating the story of migration and immigration more fully into the teaching of American history.

Between Land and Water: Archaeological Exploration of Changing Human Relations in Chesapeake Ecology

Mark Leone (UMD Department of Anthropology) and Anson Hines (SI Environmental Research Center)

European planters and mariners, indentured servants and day-laborers, enslaved Africans and African American tenant farmers, and Native Americans transformed the landforms and environments of what is now the 2,650-acre campus of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) over several thousand years. The researchers, students, and volunteer citizen scientists from the University of Maryland Department of Anthropology and SERC will collaborate with descendant communities to explore these transformations and what those changes meant to the people who caused them and to their progeny.


Impacts of invasive predators on island endemic food web networks

Daniel Gruner (UMD Department of Entomology) and Robert Fleischer (SI Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics)

Biological invasions are a primary worldwide driver of ecological change and species endangerment. On oceanic islands worldwide, invasive rats in particular are likely responsible for extinction of thousands of endemic bird populations and species. In the Hawaiian Islands, two-thirds of the forest bird species still extant are threatened or endangered, which only increases the challenge of observing and quantifying ongoing threats from introduced predators. The proposed work develops novel genomic tools to analyze diet and extract the history of predation from the traces left behind in bird and rat feces. We will work within a long-term experimental manipulation of rats in replicated forest fragments, allowing construction of food web network models in the presence and absence of rats, and quantification of the ecological impacts of predation on birds and competition for their shared invertebrate prey. The proposed study will improve the scientific basis for management, for example if introduced game birds contribute via diet subsidies to rat predation of native passerine birds. 

Genomic insights into evolution, ecological adaptations and biological diversity of tropical marine cyanobacteria

Charles Delwiche (UMD Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics) and Valerie Paul (SI Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce)

Cyanobacteria (also known as "blue-green algae") are a group of bacteria that perform plant-like photosynthesis, and release oxygen in the process (plants and algae are capable of photosynthesis because they have cyanobacteria permanently incorporated into their cells). They are among the earliest of all organisms unambiguously identifiable in the fossil record; over the last 3 billion years they have adapted to almost every habitat on Earth, and are important in many environmental and economically important processes, including "black band disease" (BBD) of coral. Despite the importance of this group, it is believed that much of their biological diversity remains unstudied, in part because they can be difficult to grow in the laboratory and are difficult to identify by visual examination. The research proposed will be a collaboration between Valerie Paul at the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce and Charles Delwiche at the University of Maryland, who will bring together their expertise in cyanobacterial biology and in genomics to apply DNA methods to the study of cyanobacterial diversity in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.

Elucidating spermatozoal energy metabolism and metabolic dysfunction in felids and teratospermic species

Carol Keefer (UMD Department of Animal & Avian Sciences) and Adrienne Crosier (SI Conservation Biology Institute, Center for Species Survival)

Cheetahs, along with 90% of the world's cat family, have poor sperm quality which hinders reproductive management efforts to maintain endangered populations. More specifically, their sperm have poor survival following frozen storage (cryopreservation). Using the novel approach of mass spectrometry, we will investigate spermatozoal energy metabolism in domestic cats and endangered species such as the cheetah. This approach will allow us to obtain a more complete understanding of the complex metabolic mechanisms that dictate fertility and cryo-survival of spermatozoa and allow us to develop improved methods of long-term frozen storage of sperm, eggs, and embryos for these species.

Valuing our scans: Towards a metric for assessing impact, value, and use of digitization and digital surrogacy for ethnographic collections

Ricardo L. Punzalan (UMD College of Information Studies) and Robert Leopold (SI The Castle on the National Mall)

Our project develops a general framework for assessing the impact of digitized ethnographic collections. To achieve this goal, we will document and analyze the how key stakeholders articulate the value and perceived uses of existing digitized anthropological collections. Our research benefits from the insights and perspectives gathered from a diverse group of individuals currently involved in the preservation and access of heritage collections. These stakeholders include the heritage professionals and administrators working within institutions that house ethnographic collections, the source communities from which the artifacts originated, and the various target users of these digitized materials.

Piloting tools to enable active and participatory learning for middle school students: Research project on how a digital toolset will help students integrate Smithsonian digital resources into their learning experiences

Susan De La Paz (UMD Counseling, Higher Education, & Special Education) and Melissa Wadman (SI Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access)

During the 2013-14 academic year, the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access and University of Maryland College of Education faculty will work with middle school students who are attending the PGCPS's newly opened College Park Academy to enable students to explore thousands of Smithsonian digital resources through guided, informal learning activities in history and STEM areas. Students will produce digital projects guided by their own interests, which will be acknowledged and rewarded through Smithsonian Digital Badges. Measures of learning and student interest will inform the developers about further refinement of the existing digital toolset that has been designed to scaffold the learning process.


  • Alexa Bely (UMD Department of Biology), and Jon Norenburg (SI National Museum of Natural History, Department of Invertebrate Zoology)
    Do ribbon worms have somatic stem cells? A comparative study of regeneration and growth in Nemertea.
  • Sacoby Wilson (UMD Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health), Vikki Chanse (UMD Department of Plant Science & Landscape Architecture), and Tony Thomas (SI Anacostia Community Museum)
    Community-Based Assessment of Exposure for Subsistence Fishers in the Anacostia River Region (CAESARR).
  • Judith Freidenberg (UMD Department of Anthropology), James Deutsch (SI Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage), Fath Davis Ruffins (SI National Museum of American History), and Julie Greene (UMD Department of History)
    Creating Museums of the Immigrant Experience.
  • Raymond Phaneuf (UMD Department of Material Science and Engineering), and Edward Vicenzi (SI Museum Conservation Institute) 
    Selective Diffusion of Component Metals into Atomic Layer Deposited Oxide Films and its Significance in their Use as Protective Barriers for Alloy Museum Objects.
  • Brian Bequette (UMD Department of Animal and Avian Sciences), and Nucharin Songsasen (SI Conservation Biology Institute)
    Metabolic fingerprinting technology as a tool for network-wide investigations of mammalian oocyte metabolism.


  • Mohamad Al-Shiekly, & Richard A. Livingston (UMD School of Engineering), and Carol A. Grissom (SI Museum Conservation Institute) Investigation of the Feasibility of Nondestructive Measurement of Moisture in Porous Materials Using Prompt Gamma Neutron Activation (PGNA).
  • Shannen Hill, Mary Corbin Sies, and Psyche Williams-Forson (UMD College of ARHU), Bruce Richard James, Jack Sullivan, and Raymond Weil (UMD College of AGNR), Julie A. Silva (UMD College of BSOS), and Karen E. Milbourne, Mary Jo Arnoldi, Jonathan S. Kavalier, J. Patrick Megonigal, Jeffrey K. Stine, & Jessica Levin Martinez (SI National Museum of African Art, NMNH, SERC, NMAH)
    Excavation, Accumulation, and Preservation in the African Landscape.
  • Karen R. Lips (UMD College of CMNS), and Roy W. McDiarmid, Robert Fleischer, & Jessica Deichmann (SI USNM, NMNH, and Conservation International) 
    Forensic Ecology: Do Museum Collections Hold the Key to Unraveling the Complexities of Disease History and Population Declines in Appalachian Salamanders?
  • Mega Subramaniam, Paul Jaeger, & Lesley Langa (UMD College of Information Studies ), and Giuseppe Monaco and Elizabeth Ziebarth (SI Center for Education and Museum Studies)
    The Museum Experience of Children with Autism and Their Families: Improving Access through Web and Electronic Resources.
  • Christopher S. Reynolds (UMD College of CMNS), and Jeffrey E. McClintock (SI SAO Center for Astrophysics)
    Measuring the Spin of Black Holes.


  • Michael Cummings (UMD College of CMNS and UMIACS), and Sean Brady (SI, National Museum of Natural History)
    Bringing the Next Generation Phylogenomics to the Washington Area Phylogenetics Consortium.
  • William Fagan and Katerina Thompson (UMD College of CMNS), James Tucker and Ralph Dubayah (UMD College of BSOS), and Peter Leimgruber (SI, Smithsonian’s Conservation GIS Lab, National Zoological Park)
    How Vegetation Dynamics Drive Ungulate Movements: Transforming Single Species Studies to Global Comparisons.
  • Leslie Felbain (UMD College of ARHU) and Rebecca Kasenmeyer (SI, National Portrait Gallery)
    American Voices: Uncovering the mystery of the American experience.
  • Carol Keefer (UMD College of AGNR), and Pierre Comizzoli and Budhan Pukazhenthi (SI-NZP, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)
    Preservation of rare genotypes through innovative stem cell technologies.
  • Dan Gruner (UMD College of CMNS), and Ilka Feller and John Parker (SERC)
    Adjustment of Coastal Ecosystems to Climate Change Driven Range Expansions and Biological Invasions.

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