Investigator Spotlights


Dartmouth researchers were awarded $6.3 million during March, including $1.8 million in new and competing awards. View the complete list of awards, as reported by the Office of Sponsored Projects. Here, Dartmouth Now spotlights three investigators and their work.


Donna Coch (photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

Donna Coch, associate professor of educationNational Institute of Child Health and Human Development “Development of Word-Level Reading and the N400 Component of the ERP”

Tales from fourth grade: Coch observes that education theory and practice—academic literature and elementary school curricula—both suggest a marked shift in reading skills around the fourth grade. Fourth grade students are thought to move, she notes, from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” But, she says, “to our knowledge, there are no neuroscience studies of the fourth-grade shift.” This project addresses that gap: “We will use brain wave measures of single word reading in third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders to investigate possible neural correlates of the fourth-grade shift.”

Moving up: This project expands current work in the Department of Education’s Reading Brains Lab to focus on reading development in older elementary school students, says Coch.

Teamwork: Undergraduate research assistants are essential to Coch’s project. “I could not do it without them,“ she says. And, she points out, “We depend heavily on families in the local community to participate in our research projects.” Coch invites local families with third, fourth, and fifth graders to learn about the project and take part.

Punam Keller (courtesy Tuck School of Business)

Punam Keller, Charles Henry Jones Third Century Professor of ManagementThe Rand Corporation “Social Marketing Activities to Support the Financial Literacy Research Consortium”

Social marketing: Keller is currently the social marketing director for the Financial Literacy Center. With support from the Social Security Administration, the center was established in October 2009 by the RAND Corporation, Dartmouth College, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to develop educational tools and programs that help individuals gain financial literacy.

Planning ahead: Keller is developing a strategic marketing plan for the center, designing user-friendly financial literacy products for each project team, and improving the website as a platform for displaying and disseminating projects. “A strategic marketing plan is necessary to guide the process for setting objectives, allocating resources, creating marketing materials, and assessing the effectiveness of the marketing initiatives for different audiences in the American public, the practitioner community, the policy community, and the media,” says Keller.

Teamwork: The Financial Literacy Center’s director is Annamaria Lusardi, the Joel Z. and Susan Hyatt Professor of Economics.

Lorenzo Torresani (photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

Lorenzo Torresani, assistant professor of computer scienceNational Science Foundation “CAREER: Learning Models for Scalable Content-Based Image Retrieval”

A new kind of search: “My research aims to create a radically new type of image search engine,” Torresani says, creating “algorithms that can search, match, and retrieve images from enormous collections of photos, like those on the Internet.”

Make a match: Traditional search engines rely on keywords and tags to find images; it’s the words linked to a picture that allow it to be found, rather than attributes of the image itself. Torresani’s algorithms will use a photo, chosen by the user, as an example to find images with similar visual content in the database. “I will design methods for a machine to learn efficient visual similarity models,” he says. “The algorithms will learn from user-provided labels indicating the presence of similar visual content.” He anticipates creating a search process “requiring a minimal amount of human supervision.”

Teamwork: Torresani’s collaborators include researchers at Microsoft Research Cambridge (United Kingdom). He looks forward to welcoming Dartmouth doctoral students to his research group soon.

Kelly Sundberg Seaman