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Seven COVID-19 research projects receive over $500,000 in funding from U.

Grey and brick building with reflective window at dusk. Large abstract grey and orange sculpture in front.
The Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

A week after University researchers submitted proposals related to COVID-19, the Office of the Dean for Research announced funding for seven “rapid, novel and actionable” projects on Friday, totaling $587,000 worth of grants.

As announced in the original call for proposals, the selected initiatives seek to address “crucial questions in biomedical, health-related and fundamental science, as well as policy, social and economic topics.”


The new research projects will be led by faculty from the School of Architecture, the Lewis-Sigler Institute of Integrative Genomics, the Woodrow Wilson School, and the Departments of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Computer Science, Economics, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Molecular Biology. The projects were chosen via a “competitive application process” from a total of 35 submissions. According to Dean for Research Pablo G. Debenedetti, the committee took into consideration the quality of the science and the potential for positive impact in combating the pandemic.

Special consideration was also given to projects addressing the “unique needs facing the state of New Jersey” — which currently ranks second nationally in both number of confirmed cases and number of deaths — as well as “broader needs arising from the pandemic.”

“I am grateful to our research community for its enthusiastic response to this initiative. The quality of the proposals we received was excellent, making the selection very difficult,” Debenedetti told The Daily Princetonian. “I am very grateful to the selection committee, and am very excited about the potential for impact for each of the selected projects.”

A joint initiative by affiliates of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department Andrea Graham, Bryan Grenfell, C. Jessica Metcalf, and Julien Ayroles will seek to evaluate the immune response of individuals in Princeton to better understand the asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

A project led by Alexander Ploss, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology, will seek to develop a less dangerous strain of SARS-CoV-2 to broaden researchers’ abilities to study the virus, as well as evaluating the therapeutic efficacy of FDA-approved reagents in hopes of establishing a model that can be used to test potential drugs and vaccines.

Kyle Jamieson, Associate Professor of Computer Science, will be developing a novel contract-tracing approach relying on information from a cellular network’s control channel, instead of GPS, to retroactively determine the amount of time people have spent near a confirmed COVID-19 case.


Research exploring the redesigning of cities to address the urban distancing during pandemics will be led by architecture professors Paul Lewis and Guy Nordenson. The project will address the challenges of physical distancing in an urban setting during peak infection and explore strategies that minimize the effects of potential resurgences of COVID-19 and other future pandemics.

The four projects above have on-campus components and the faculty members involved are currently in the process of submitting access requests to University facilities in exemption of the campus-wide suspension of non-essential research. In addition, three more research projects will be conducted entirely off-campus.

Natalie Bachas and Arlene Wong, both assistant professors in economics, will conduct an analysis of the effects of social distancing on health outcomes and economic consequences — in hopes of guiding policy debate on flattening the infection curve while minimizing economic impact.

In a project led by Maria Micaela Sviatschi, Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, researchers will study the impacts of working at home, financial strain, and emotional duress on domestic violence. The project will evaluate pathways to aid victims, including one that provides labor market opportunities for women, and provide information on identification and response to domestic violence cases.

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Researchers will receive half of their requested amount at the onset of their research. They will be then required to submit a progress report after three months which, upon approval by a committee of peers, will release the remainder of the funds.