New Blogger: Meet Devin Nieusma

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Hi! I’m Devin, one of the newest members of the Duke Research Blog team, as well as the Duke community as a whole. I’m thrilled to be given the opportunity to write about some of the research going on at this incredible school. It amazes me to think that some of the people I’ve jostled with for a spot on the C-1 bus may be involved in cutting-edge investigations into biomedical engineering, education, animal behavior, economics, and much more.

I hail from a variety of places, including Michigan, Tennessee, and Belgium, but most recently Reston, Virginia. Now, Pegram is the place I call home.

Two adult guinea pigs, from Wikimedia Commons

Two adult guinea pigs, from Wikimedia Commons

Back at home, I was involved in a project working on developing a sustainable agriculture system for my high school. I also volunteered as a foster parent for a guinea pig rescue for several years.  While I miss working for that noble cause, I’ve swapped out guinea pigs for lemurs by becoming a member of the Roots & Shoots club here on campus. Other activities I’m involved in are the Outing Club, the Environmental Alliance, and most recently, the eco-representative organization for my residence hall.

I’m pretty much all over the map at Duke, both in terms of my academic interests and the amount of times I’ve gotten hopelessly lost. However, I am strongly considering a double major in environmental science and French.

I can’t wait to help share the research projects that my fellow Blue Devils are working on!

Aspiring data scientist & cow mascot joins Duke Research Blog

I’m YunChu. In my former (read: pre-Duke) life, I was a dashing cow mascot/enthusiast, sousaphone player, and preschool teacher.

Charming a bride who desperately needed a Chick-fil-A milkshake after her wedding party

Charming a bride who desperately needed a Chick-fil-A milkshake after her wedding party

Since then, I’ve played the bassoon with my professor at a local Durham bar, drank my fair share of subpar Turkish beers in the beautiful city of Istanbul, and spent a disproportionate amount of my college career standing in front of the extensive chocolate bar selection in our beloved campus café, Bella Union. Now a senior at Duke, I’m scrambling to figure out the meaning of life along with my thesis topic and slowly coming to terms with my (appalling) recent discovery of the fact that you cannot spell YunChu without the “unc”.

Sometimes I get to do cool things like write briefs for congressmen or explore data management options for the White House Switchboard. This time, as you might have inferred from the title of this post, I’ve acquired the newest and coolest job on campus where I’ll be going around bugging friends, professors, and strangers alike about blogging their research—I’ve finally found a good excuse!

Join me as I document my last year of exploring this rich community that is Duke Research, brought to you in cocktail conversation-esque snapshots. We’ll be marveling over elegant solutions, chuckling over quirky explanations, and having a grand ole’ time appreciating just how diverse and incredible our friends and colleagues really are.

headshot_yunchuBy YunChu Huang, Duke 2016


New Blogger: Madeline Halpert


Madeline Halpert, Duke 2019

Hi! My name is Madeline Halpert and I am a freshman at Duke this year. I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, so I’m very excited about the Durham weather, and to be a writer for the Duke research blog!

Although I do not have an extensive background in science, besides the typical high school science courses, I look forward to the many opportunities to learn about the scientific field here at Duke. I have some experience in journalism, as I was an editor-in-chief of my high school newsmagazine. I have also written an op-ed in The New York Times as well as a piece for Scholastic’s Choices Magazine about teenagers who have struggled with depression. In the past I have enjoyed writing in-depth feature stories about topics such as the pressures of the high school educational system, mental health and incarceration. This year, I am excited to broaden my areas of expertise and try a different style of writing. I think the Duke research blog will be the perfect place to do that.

Over the next four years I plan to take a variety of science courses, and try out some of the wonderful research opportunities Duke has to offer.

Although I am not certain of my major, I am leaning towards studying English and perhaps obtaining a certificate in journalism. In my free time, I enjoy long distance running and playing guitar, and am happy to be a part of The Chronicle and the running club this year.

I’m very much looking forward to learning about different types of research and researchers, and sharing my experiences via blogging!

Student Ideas Have a Place to Call Home

Student project teams have become an important part of engineering education at Duke and elsewhere in recent years, but our campus wasn’t always the easiest place for them to work.


DukeMakers showed off a 3D-printed replica of Duke Chapel in the same blue as its construction tarping.

When the robotic submarine team needed to test for leaks in their craft, “we used to roll a bin down the hallway at CIEMAS and fill it up at the water fountain,” said Will Stewart, a junior on the club.

Stewart was showing off his team’s shiny new workroom in The Foundry, a purpose-built 7,600-square-foot space on two levels in the basement of Gross Hall. It has a huge industrial sink.


The Foundry’s airy main workspace was once the home to grimy, ugly machinery that sustained Gross Hall.

Throughout the Foundry, lockers for gear double as whiteboards and sturdy butcher block tables stand ready to take any pounding, grinding and soldering the students can dream up.

In addition to the dedicated spaces for the larger project teams. there is plenty of meeting space and shop space for optics and electronics and some light machining.

Originally the home to big, ugly utilities for the one-time chemistry building, the Foundry space was converted for student use with input from students and faculty representing the Pratt School of Engineering, the Innovation Co-Lab, Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Nicholas School of the Environment, the Physics Department, and Gross Hall neighbors the Energy Initiative and the Information Initiative.

“It’s amazing that what was actually an ugly space in the basement could turn into a beautiful space for students,” Interim Engineering Dean George Truskey said in brief remarks.


Owen Chung demonstrated IEEE’s robo drink mixer that can combine six different fluids on command from an iPhone app.

The Electric Vehicle Club is looking forward to having one good space, rather than six cramped rooms spread around Hudson Hall to build their super-efficient carbon fiber prototypes. “So far, what we have fits, but we’re actually looking for more space,” said club president Charlie Kritzmacher. “We’re a pretty big club.”

Karl Leif Bates

By Karl Leif Bates, Director of Research Communications

Brain Camp Makes ‘Aha Moments’

Final presentations for the Neuroscience and Neuroethics Camp were held in the new headquarters of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.

Final presentations for the Neuroscience and Neuroethics Camp were held in the new headquarters of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. (photo by  Jon Lepofsky)

Given just two weeks to formulate a hypothesis about brains, Duke’s Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroethics Camp students spoke with impressive confidence as they presented at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) on July 16.

The high school students had designed experiments using the concepts and methods of cognitive neuroscience to demonstrate what is unique about human brains.

“It was good to see the curiosity, energy, and critical thinking that was present throughout the students’ projects,” said Jon Lepofsky, Academic Director for the Cognitive Neuroscience & Neuroethics camp, the Duke Youth Programs summer program of hands-on, applied problem-solving activities and labs was developed in partnership with DIBS.

Campers dissected sheep brains

The campers dissected real sheep brains

Lepofsky said he was pleased to start the first year of the camp with an engaged, diverse, and thoughtful group of 22 students.

Andie Meddaugh, Xi Yu Liu, Emily Lu and Anand Wong were working on a project involving the logic and the emotion of the human brain. Their hypothesis was that the ability to combine logic and emotion to create a subjective logic shows the difference between human brains and other intelligence processing systems, like artificial intelligence.

Meddaugh said she liked thinking about the brain and logic.

“I enjoy thinking about the problem of what makes us special,” said Meddaugh.

Another group of students presented a project involving the social construct and morality of the brain.

Nicolas Douglass, Abigail Efird, Grace Garret and Danielle Dy are using a hypothesis that suggests if organisms are presented with an issue of resource availability how they respond is a matter of survival.  They proposed using birds, humans, and monkeys to test the reactions of each organism as it is placed outside of its comfort zone.

Abigail Efird said teamwork and “aha moments” were the best way to conduct this project.

“It took human ingenuity and scientific development in order for us to come up with different strategies,” said Efird. “It was surprising to see that humans are not as special and are very much similar to other organisms. “

The group's final "class picture" before heading home to High School.

The group’s final “class picture” before heading home to High School.

Lepofsky said at the end of the program, students will leave with a new set of critical thinking tools and a better understanding of decision- making.

“I know the students will walk away with a deeper understanding of how to evaluate news stories celebrating neuroscience,” Lepofsky said. “They will know how to think like scientists and how to ask quality questions.”

Along with developing a hypothesis on the human brain, the students participated in interactive workshops on perception and other forms of non-conscious processing with Duke researchers. They’ve engaged in debates about topics in neuroethics and neurolaw. In addition to that they went on lab tours and visits to the DiVE.

For more information on Duke’s Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroethics Camp visit or call (919) 684-6259.

Warren_Shakira_hed100 Guest post by Shakira Warren, NCCU Summer Intern

Undergrads Share Results, and Lack Thereof

ashby and grundwald

Arts & Sciences Dean Valerie Ashby and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Research Ron Grunwald got the big picture of the poster session from an LSRC landing.

Dozens of Duke undergrads spent the summer working in labs, in part to learn why science is called “research” not “finding.”

“About a third of these students ended up without any data,” said Ron Grunwald, associate dean for undergraduate research, during a Friday poster session in the atrium of the LSRC building for three of the summer research programs.

Biology junior Eric Song gets it now. He spent the summer trying to culture one specific kind of bacteria taken from the abdomens of an ant called Camponotus chromaiodes, which he collected in the Duke Forest. All he got was

Eric Song

Eric Song’s poster featured a photo of the ant and the mysterious white stuff.

“this white stuff showing up and we don’t even know what that is.” His faculty mentor in the Genomics Summer Fellows Program, Jennifer Wernegreen, was hoping to do some genetic sequences on the bacteria, but the 10-week project never made it that far. “We’re only interested in the genome basically,” Song said good-naturedly.

Christine Zhou did get what she set out for, mastering the art of arranging E.coli bacteria in orderly rows of tight little dots, using a specially adapted ink jet printer. Working with graduate student Hannah Meredith and faculty mentor Linchong You, she was able to lay the bugs down at a rate of 500 dots per minute, which might lead to some massive studies. “In the future, we’re hoping to use the different colored cartridges to print multiple kinds of bacteria at the same time,” she said.

Sean Sweat

Sean Sweat (left) discusses her mouse study.

Neuroscience senior Sean Sweat also got good results, finding in her research with faculty mentor Staci Bilbo, that opiate addiction can be lessened in mice by handling them more, and identifying some of the patterns of gene expression that may lie behind that effect.

Neuroscience senior Obia Muoneke wanted to know if adolescents are more likely than children or adults to engage in risky behaviors. Muoneke, who worked with mentor Scott Huettel, said her results showed the influence of peers. “Adolescents are driven to seek rewards while with a peer,” said Muoneke. “Adults are more motivated to avoid losing rewards when they are by themselves.”

The new dean of Trinity College, chemist Valerie Ashby, worked the room asking questions before addressing everyone from a landing overlooking the atrium. “How many of you wake up thinking ‘I want nothing to happen today that I am uncertain about?’” she asked. Well, Ashby continued, scientists need to become comfortable with the unexpected and the unexplainable – such as not having any data after weeks of work.

“We need you to be scientists,” Ashby said, and a liberal arts education is a good start. “If all you took was science classes, you would not be well-educated,” she said.

_ post by Shakira Warren and Karl Leif Bates


Karl Leif Bates