Duke Forestry Celebrates its Roots in 75th Anniversary

Photo Credit: Duke Environment

Duke Forestry started off its 75th anniversary on Oct. 17 with a morning walk in the Duke Forest, for those brave enough to endure the week’s low temperatures. For everyone else, panel discussions were held throughout the day in Environment Hall covering a variety of topics relevant to forestry today, from its importance in modern society to the latest innovations in the field.

Forestry education at Duke began in the 1930s, when the program was established as the Duke School of Forestry. Over the years, the department evolved, and in 1990 the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies combined with the Duke Marine Laboratory to form the symbiosis that is now the Nicholas School of the Environment.

Alumni panel discussions were held by Nick Diluzio, M.E.M’10, M.F.’10, Katie Rose Levin, M.E.M.’12, M.F.’12,  Gary Myers, M.F.’77, and Meyer M. Speary, M.F.’92. The four alums have worked in various sectors of the forestry industry, and had much to share.

Discussions on the importance of forestry included its impact on capital structure and public policy, with Myers explaining how a tax law in 1979 on timberland lowered the government’s tax revenue, Diluzio tackling the importance of ecosystem services beyond the production of paper products, including clean water and carbon, and Rose considering the social benefits of forests.


Photo by Karduelis via Wikimedia Commons

Diluzio and Rose both talked about the subject of urban forestry, and its increasing relevance in today’s society. Urban forestry can be combined in a variety of ways with cities to help with infrastructure, stormwater management, and even hunger, as Diluzio brought up fruit trees being planted in Atlanta to feed the homeless. Rose discussed how urban forestry can provide a moral value in cities, as a source of recreation and stress management.

On innovation, the panelists agreed that the latest technology centered around data gathering, and its essential role in making informed decisions. Speary discussed the increasing use of drones in managing forest fires and reducing risk for firefighters, from picking up hotspots, to carrying water, smoke modeling, and examining where lightning occurs. Diluzio addressed web-GIS tools, and applying technology from other sectors to forestry.

They’ve changed the old forestry department to the Nicholas School of the Environment, but no matter what happens in forestry technology, Duke will help pave the way, with 75 years of leadership behind its back.

Devin_Nieusma_100By Devin Nieusma, Duke 2019

A fireside chat with Marc Jeuland

Living in Few dorm has its perks, aside from being right beside the bus stop. My faculty-in-residence, Dr. Hwansoo Kim had kindly hosted a reception in his residence, where he invited Dr. Marc Jeuland for a talk about the development of water infrastructure to help improve health. A Chat with Dr. Jeuland
I was immediately captivated when I saw the email invite – as I personally had worked with affordable water filtration, in the developing world, so this was right in my field of interest.

Jeuland is an assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Duke Global Health Institute. He shared his experience working on one of his most recent, major projects, which was of his water infrastructure improvements in Zarqa, Jordan. For a long time, Jordan has been experiencing a water crisis. For the residents of Zarqa, water often has to be purchased from other areas, and then carefully preserved for days, or weeks, and even up to a month. The piped water infrastructure that currently existed in Zarqa was very inefficient, and was a major source of the shortages.

Jeuland, who is an environmental engineer, said that as much as 70 percent of this water can be lost from pipelines as the water reaches the citizens of Zarqa. Jeuland worked to assess inefficiencies within the current water supply systems and tried to design and implement improvements to remedy the faults.


Marc Jeuland is an assisstant professor of global health and public policy

Aside from his work in Zarqa, Jeuland has been involved with countless other projects and studies that have ultimately benefited underserved communities around the world. He has characterized the effects of contaminated groundwater on inhabitants in Rift Valley, Ethiopia and done a detailed analysis of the correlation between water quality and kidney disease in Sri Lanka.

Jeuland’s work shows the real-world applicability of interdisciplinary fields. His work has encompassed the field of not only environmental science, but also behavioral science, economics, and engineering.

For those of you interested in learning more about the interdisciplinary fields of global health and environmental sciences/policy, it would definitely be a great idea to take a look at the classes Jeuland teaches, which include “ENVIRON 538: Global Environmental Health: Economics and Policy” and “GLHLTH 531: Cost Benefit analysis for Health and Environmental Policy”.

It was an honor to get to meet Professor Jeuland. I could tell he was a very busy man. By the time you read this, he is probably off traveling somewhere else in the world, working to improve more lives.

Thabit_Pulak_100By Thabit Pulak, Class of 2018



Marine Lab Hosts 500+ at Open House

In what was a record high turnout, more than 500 people made their way to Pivers Island on Saturday Aug. 1, for the Duke University Marine Lab’s annual open house. Visitors listened to whales, peered at plankton and sea urchin larvae through microscopes, and learned how salinity gradients and wind can drive ocean currents at 16 research stations scattered throughout the campus. Kids of all ages also got to meet horse conchs, pen shell clams, tulip snails, fiddler crabs, slipper snails and other creatures in the marine lab’s touch tanks. “We don’t think of snails as having teeth but they really do; that radula is quite a weapon. It’s like a cross between a chainsaw and a tongue,” said Duke visiting professor Jim Welch. Photos by Amy Chapman-Braun, Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke.

Bringing a Lot of Energy to Research

By Karl Leif Bates

The Duke Energy Initiative‘s annual research collaboration workshop on May 5 was an update on how the campus-wide alliance of more than 130 faculty has been pursuing its goals of making energy  “accessible, affordable, reliable and clean.” In short, they’ve been busy!

energy posters

Energetic discussion swirled around research posters from graduate student projects and Bass Connections. (Photo: Margaret Lillard)

At the afternoon session in Gross Hall, David Mitzi, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, led a panel of five-minute updates on energy materials including engineered microbes, computational modeling of materials, solar cells built on plastic rather than glass, and a nanomaterial-based sheet of material that would combine photovoltaics with storage on a single film.

Kyle Bradbury, managing director of the new Energy Data Analytics Lab that works with the ‘big data’ folks at iiD and the social scientists at SSRI, led a panel on the lab’s latest projects. As smart meters and Internet-enabled appliances enter the market, energy analysts will be flooded with new data, Bradbury explained. There should be great potential to improve efficiency and provide customers with useful real-time feedback, but first the torrent of information has to be corralled and analyzed.

energy panel

Kyle Bradbury (standing) moderated a data analytics panel with Leslie Collins and Matt Harding (right).

For one example of what big energy data might do, Bradbury and Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Leslie Collins (his former advisor) have done a pilot study to see if computers could be taught to  pick out roof-top solar arrays in satellite photos.  Nobody actually knows how many arrays there are or how much power they’re producing, Collins said. But without too much fussing around, their first visual search algorithm spotted 92 percent of the arrays correctly in some hand-picked images of California neighborhoods. Ramped up and tweaked, such an automated search could begin to identify just how much residential solar there is, where it is, and roughly how much energy it’s producing.

The third group of researchers, moderated by Energy Initiative associate Daniel Raimi, is working on energy markets and policy, including energy systems modeling and the regulation of green house gasses through the Clean Air Act.

Energy Initiative director Richard Newell said there were 1,400 Duke students enrolled in energy-related courses this year. A first round of six seed-funded research projects was completed and seven new projects have been selected. Eight Bass Connections teams in the energy theme were very productive as well, examining smart grids, solar energy and household energy conservation with teams of undergraduates, graduate students and faculty.

Touring Duke’s Biggest Laboratory

Sari Palmroth

Sari Palmroth and the 130-foot research tower in the Blackwood Division of Duke Forest.

By Karl Leif Bates

You may think of Duke Forest as a nice place to run or walk your dog, but it’s actually the largest research laboratory on campus, and probably the oldest too.

Last week, Duke Forest director Sara Childs and operations manager Jenna Schreiber took about a dozen interested stakeholders on a whirlwind tour to see three active research installations tucked away in areas of Duke Forest the public often doesn’t see.


We had to hunt a little to find UNC Biology grad student Jes Coyle in the Korstian division off Whitfield Road, but at least she wasn’t 30 feet up in an oak tree like she usually is. Jes showed the group some of her cool climbing gear while explaining her work on figuring out which part of a lichen, the fungus or the algae, is more responsible for the lichen’s adaptation to microclimates.

She does this by climbing way the heck up into trees to affix little data loggers that track temperature and sunlight at various places on the trunk.

Coyle is looking at 67 lichen species in 54 sampling locations, which is a lot of climbing and a lot of little $50 loggers.

The whole time Jes was talking, we were eyeing her six-foot-tall slingshot and waiting for it to come into play.

Jes Coyle

UNC grad student Jes Coyle shows off her climbing gear.

Indeed it did, as she let three participants, including Sara Childs, have a go at shooting a ball on a fine string over a likely-looking branch to start a climbing rope. (None succeeded.)


Abundant data was the theme at our second stop too, where Sari Palmroth, an associate research professor in the Nicholas School of the Environment, explained how she measures how much water goes into and out of a tree.  Her installation is in the Blackwood Division off Eubanks Road, tucked behind the old FACE experiment.

Standing next to an imposing 130-foot scaffolding tower studded with active and abandoned instruments of all sorts, Palmroth said a square meter of Duke Forest exhales about 700 mm of rainfall a year, which is about half of what falls on it. “How do I know these numbers? Because it’s my job.”

In addition to being a lovely place to get away from the world and sway with the treetops, the tower measures CO2 levels at different heights throughout the canopy.

Sari Palmroth

Palmroth reveals where probes go into a tree trunk.

The tower also hosts a big white box stuffed with wires that capture data streaming in from sensors embedded in the tree trunks all around the tower.

Palmroth and her colleagues are seeing the trees breathe. During the day, when the tiny pores on the underside of their leaves – called stomata — are open and exhaling water and oxygen, roots in the top 40 centimeters of soil are pulling in more water. When the sun sets and the stomata close, then the tree’s deeper roots pull water up to the top level for tomorrow’s drinking.  Unless it doesn’t get cool at night and the stomata don’t completely close, which is the prediction for some climate change scenarios. What then?


Aaron Berdanier

Back in the vans and even deeper into the Blackwood division, we come upon an intrepid young man in a flannel shirt sitting in a sunny spot by the side of the two-track. He’s Aaron Berdanier, a doctoral candidate at Duke who is also looking at water use by taking  automated measurements of 75 trees every minute for four straight years.

His work is part of a larger research project established by Nicholas School professor Jim Clark 15 years ago. Every one of the 14,000 trees in this sloping 20-acre stand of the forest — from spindly saplings to giants —  is labeled and has its data regularly collected by a platoon of undergrads armed with computer tablets.

Other data flows automatically on webs of wiring leading to data loggers situated every few yards. Some of the trees wear a stainless steel collar with a spring that measures their circumference constantly and precisely. They change noticeably both seasonally and by the year, Berdanier says.

The forest is alive and its trees are breathing and pulsing. Berdanier likens his detailed measurement of water consumption to taking a human patient’s pulse. “We’re trying to determine winners and losers under future climate conditions.”

Duke Forest Q&A

Aaron handled a wide-ranging Q&A with the curious visitors as the sun set and the temperature fell.

Joining the Team: Duncan Dodson

duncandodsonHello world! My name is Duncan Dodson. I am a senior from Tulsa, Oklahoma, pursuing a BS in Environmental Science with a focus on Energy and Sustainability. Though my interests and academic pursuits at Duke have shifted over the course of my undergraduate career (I spent over half of it pursuing a mechanical engineering degree), a constant passion has been conservation of the environment. From age six I was involved in the Boy Scouts of America, received my Eagle Scout Award at sixteen, and have been an avid backpacker for five years. I recently co-directed Duke’s experiential education and backpacking based pre-orientation trip, Project WILD, and have been involved with various outdoor and environmental organizations the past three years.

Two things draw me towards exploring environmental issues: the impetus to think selflessly – environmental justice – and the necessity to approach problems on a larger scale – global climate change. Duke and my selective living group Ubuntu have challenged me to explore how we interact with the world around us in both wonderful and destructive ways.

My other budding passion at Duke is education. Challenging knowledge and ideas by informing and listening is a key part of learning. Transitioning from a more homogeneous community in Oklahoma to the vibrant and varied Triangle Area has framed my education in this respect. This is why I applied to write for the Duke Research Blog. Informing others of energy and sustainability research at Duke excites me; having an open forum where exposure to contrary opinions is expected impassions me.

Hopefully my exploration is as intriguing for readers as it is for me!