Duke Institute for Brain Sciences Announces Seed Grants for Five Interdisciplinary Teams

2020 Research Incubator or Germinator Awards.

Five interdisciplinary teams have received 2020 Research Incubator or Germinator Awards from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS). The awards are designed to promote high-risk/high-return neuroscience research that is collaborative, crosses disciplinary boundaries, and is likely to draw external funding.

The research teams will address health issues affecting millions, including spinal-cord injuries, the relationship between tobacco use and chronic pain, how changes in the gut are communicated to the brain, the use of novel technologies to understand the neural mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease, and the effects of toxins on the developing brain. They represent multiple departments and schools, including the Duke School of Medicine, the Pratt School of Engineering, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, and the Nicholas School of the Environment.

Three of the Incubator Award teams will receive $75,000; a fourth will be funded at $100,000 through the generosity of the DIBS External Advisory Board. Previous awards have brought in significant external grants after the initial seed funding, resulting in a seven-to-one return on investment over the past six years. The follow-on grants typically come from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and private foundations. The fifth is a Germinator Award of $25,000 that will support a study led by a graduate student with support of faculty mentors.

“We are pleased to be able to make these awards and highlight the value of interdisciplinary research,” said DIBS Director Geraldine Dawson, PhD, in announcing the award recipients. Even during these financially challenging times, Dawson noted, “we remain strongly committed to supporting collaboration and innovation in the neurosciences at Duke. We were especially pleased to see the breadth of departments and schools that received funding.”

Dawson also expressed gratitude for the generosity of the External Advisory Board. “Our board members are very enthusiastic and generous supporters of the Incubator program, and we thank them for making a fourth Incubator Award possible for 2020-2021.”

Following is information about all award recipients and their research projects:

DIBS External Advisory Board Incubator Recipient, $100,000

Timothy Dunn, PhD

Neurosurgery, School of Medicine

Michael Tadross, PhD, Biomedical Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering

 

 Parkinson’s Advance with DART and DANNCE

Parkinson’s disease is caused by a degeneration of brain areas controlling movement. However, while we know which area of the brain degenerates, we have not yet understood exactly how this degeneration leads to movement defects such as tremors and slowing/stiffening of body motions. If we understand this mechanism in animal models, we will be one step closer to next-generation therapies that mitigate the disease without debilitating side effects and without a loss in effectiveness over time. Two fundamental obstacles to this goal have been (1) that relevant brain areas contain intermingled neuron types that have been hard to individually manipulate with clinical drugs, and (2) movement impairments are complex and diverse, so we have not yet been able to measure these defects quantitatively. Our collaboration unites two different technologies, creating a novel framework for understanding Parkinson’s. The first, Drugs Acutely Restricted by Tethering (DART), enables delivery of any clinical drug to a specific brain-cell type in an animal. DART has already shown a novel causal link between the neurotransmitter glutamate signaling onto one neuron type and Parkinson’s disease. The second technology, 3-Dimensional Aligned Neural Network for Computational Ethology (DANNCE), uses deep learning to track the fine details of body movement in 3D. This technology allows us to more precisely identify the movement defects in Parkinson’s. With DIBS Incubator funding, we will pair DART with DANNCE to discover new relationships between neurons and movement defects and identify potential therapies.

Incubator Recipients, $75,000 each

Timothy Faw, PhD

Orthopaedic Surgery, School of Medicine

Daniel T. Laskowitz, MD, MHS, Neurology;

Muhammad Abd-El-Barr, MD, PhD, Neurosurgery;

Haichen Wang, MD, Neurology, School of Medicine

 A Novel Apolipoprotein E (apoE)-mimetic Pentapeptide to Improve Recovery in Acute Spinal Cord Injury

 Novel therapies that improve mobility after spinal cord injury (SCI) could lead to better quality of life and save billions of dollars in lifetime costs. Targeting the early inflammatory response to SCI is appealing, as it is the main cause of tissue damage after the initial injury. Apolipoprotein E (apoE) plays a critical role in mediating this neuroinflammation after nervous system damage. However, systemic delivery of the intact protein is ineffective as a therapeutic because it fails to cross the blood-brain barrier. As such, we have developed small, apoE-based peptides that mimic the function of the intact protein, cross the blood-brain barrier, and have few side effects. Here, we will test the hypothesis that early treatment with an apoE-mimetic peptide, CN-105, reduces inflammation, tissue damage, and improves recovery in a clinically relevant animal model of SCI. This peptide, developed at Duke, has received Investigational New Drug and Orphan Drug designations from the Food and Drug Administration, which will facilitate translation to early clinical trials.

Maggie Sweitzer, PhD

Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine

Katherine Martucci, PhD, Anesthesiology; F. Joseph McClernon, PhD, and Alison Adcock, MD, PhD, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine

Neural Mechanisms Underlying Tobacco Withdrawal-Induced Hyperalgesia

Chronic pain and cigarette smoking influence one another, in that smokers are more likely to have pain, and individuals with pain are more likely to smoke. People with chronic pain have more difficulty quitting smoking, in part, because temporarily going without smoking (early withdrawal) leads to increased pain sensitivity. The goal of this study is to examine the brain’s response to heat pain stimuli among smokers in early withdrawal, to better understand the reasons for increased pain sensitivity. Daily smokers will complete two fMRI sessions, one after smoking as usual, and one after not smoking for 24 hours. During the scans, participants will experience heat pain delivered through an electrode and will provide ratings of their pain response. It is expected that participants’ ratings of pain in response to heat stimuli will be greater during the withdrawal session, and that this increased pain will be associated with greater activation throughout a network of brain regions involved in perceiving pain. This approach will allow us to determine which brain regions are most involved in pain sensitivity during withdrawal, which will help to identify targets for treatment. In addition, these processes might differ among smokers who also have chronic pain, compared to those who do not. As such, half of the participants will be those diagnosed with chronic pain, while the other half will be pain-free. We anticipate that the effects of smoking withdrawal on pain-related brain function will be more pronounced among those with chronic pain.

Eva Naumann, PhD

Neurobiology, School of Medicine

John F. Rawls, PhD, Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, School of Medicine

Gut-to-Brain Sensory Conduction in Zebrafish

Debilitating neuropsychiatric conditions such as autism, obesity, depression, and epilepsy can all be improved by changing diet and microbiome in the gut. Yet, it is largely unknown how these changes originating in the gut are communicated to the brain. Recent studies have revealed that gut-to-brain communication begins with a special cell type in the lining of the gut called enteroendocrine cells (EECs). For decades we have known there are different types of EECs that sense and respond to chemicals from diet and microbes by releasing hormones and neurotransmitters to influence the brain and other organs. Recent studies at Duke have revealed that some EECs also directly contact the vagal nerve, which serves as a key entry point to the rest of the brain. What we don’t know is whether EECs are able to communicate with deeper regions of the brain in general, and whether distinct chemical stimuli and distinct EEC types in the gut evoke distinct patterns of brain activity. Here, we propose to address these gaps in knowledge by combining the skills of a gut specialist, Dr. Rawls, and an expert in brain imaging and anatomy, Dr. Naumann, to establish a powerful vertebrate system to examine this gut-to-brain communication.

Germinator Recipient

Carina Fowler, Graduate Student, Psychology & Neuroscience, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Michael Gaffrey, PhD, and Aaron Reuben, PhD, Psychology & Neuroscience

Heather Stapleton, PhD, Environmental Ethics and Sustainable Environmental Management, Nicholas School of the Environment

Neural Correlates of Multi-toxicant Exposure in Preschool-age Children

Animal studies show that certain chemicals, called toxicants, may change our brains. Exposure to flame retardants, pesticides, air pollutants, and second-hand smoke appears to harm parts of the brain involved in learning, memory, coordination, emotion regulation, and long-term planning. Children are particularly vulnerable to these types of changes because they have greater exposure and fewer biological defenses than adults. This is particularly problematic because early childhood is a period of major neurobiological growth, and changes that occur during this critical developmental period can become permanent. However, many of the toxicants that could harm children’s brain development have yet to be studied in children directly, and no research to date has tested whether exposure to multiple toxicants produces greater harm—even though children are routinely exposed to multiple toxicants at once. Our study will help us understand the association between children’s brain structure and (1) exposure to individual toxicants and (2) combined exposure to multiple different toxicants at once. We believe that this work can help parents, pediatricians, and policymakers protect the developing brain.

 

By Kathy Neal; originally posted on the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences website

Pilot Grants from Duke Global Health Institute Support Innovative Pandemic Projects

Research will address key issues such as vaccine distribution, pathogen detection and the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prof. Eroglu

Nine months after the novel coronavirus began to spread among human populations, the world still faces critical challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 40 DGHI faculty have pivoted to conduct research related to this global health crisis, in many cases launching projects outside of their existing research and with minimal or no external funding.

During summer 2020, DGHI awarded pilot grants to support several teams working to understand key questions related to the pandemic. Wendy Prudhomme-O’Meara and Kelly Deal, DGHI’s associate and assistant director of research, respectively, recently talked with researchers on each f these projects about their goals and progress.

Preparing for a COVID-19 Vaccine

DGHI’s pilot grants are supporting two important efforts led by the Center for Policy Impact in Global Health (CPIGH) to identify the most effective strategies to ensure that global allocation of a COVID-19 vaccine achieves maximum public health impact and equity.

In one project, CPIGH director Gavin Yamey, professor of the practice of policy and global health, and David McAdams, a professor in Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, are working with the World Health Organization and Gavi, the global vaccine alliance, to map out strategies for deploying an effective COVID-19 vaccine worldwide. Fundamental to their work is defining strategies that prevent high-income countries from monopolizing effective vaccines and instead ensuring that all countries have equal access.

At the same time, DGHI assistant professor Osondu Ogbuoji is leading efforts to help countries prepare for vaccine deployment by making key investments to strengthen their national health systems. Ogbuoji is leading a diverse, interdisciplinary team including physicians, health finance experts, engineers, policymakers, economists and infectious disease epidemiologists from several countries to identify concrete, actionable steps that can strengthen health systems to deal not only with COVID-19, but health challenges beyond the pandemic.

New Ways to Support Mental Health in a Pandemic

Many families are experiencing unprecedented stress and isolation during this pandemic, even as access to mental health and family services is restricted. DGHI’s global mental health research group has been working for years to develop alternative interventions that can provide support in places where formal mental health services are scarce – strategies that may prove effective to aid families during the pandemic.

Eve Puffer, an assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and global health, and Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, an associate professor of global health, are working to implement such interventions to help support caregivers in the Durham community. Their work centers on promoting a healthy, hopeful outlook even while confronting the stresses of the pandemic. They plan to share ideas and results with researchers worldwide.

DGHI also awarded a pilot grant to support an assessment of the economic and mental health burden of the COVID-19 pandemic in three low- and middle-income countries, led by professors Christine Gray, Kathryn Whetten and Nathan Thielman.

Early Detection of Novel Infectious Diseases

DGHI is supporting two projects seeking to create a global network to discover and detect novel pathogens like the coronavirus behind COVID-19 as soon as they begin to infect humans.

Led by DGHI professors and infectious disease experts Gregory Gray and Gayani Tillekeratne, this project involves testing samples from patients with pneumonia at hospitals in several countries, including Malaysia, Kenya and Sri Lanka. Samples will be evaluated on site, and through further testing at Duke labs, for the presence of several different viruses, including the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The goal of the study is to establish a network of hospitals for surveillance of emerging viral respiratory pathogens, which would serve as an early warning system to identify novel zoonotic pre-pandemic viruses.

Central to this program is building capacity for virus detection in partner laboratories in a sustainable way that provides actionable information for local clinicians and public health experts.

Originally posted on the Duke Global Health Institute website

2020 ReMed Fellows Will Address Medical and Ethical Challenges of COVID-19 Pandemic

ReMed logo.

Reimagine Medicine is an innovative summer fellowship for rising juniors and seniors preparing for health professions. The goal of ReMed is to foster the character, imagination, and practices needed to work effectively in contexts of human suffering and healing. The curriculum uses graphic art, music, expressive writing, embodiment and puppetry, improvisation, mindfulness and non-traditional hospital shadowing to explore themes often ignored in traditional medical education.

In the historic summer of 2020, the program will be conducted virtually and will also address COVID-19 and the medical and ethical challenges highlighted by the global pandemic.

ReMed is a collaboration among the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine, Science & Society, Duke Divinity School: Theology, Medicine and Culture, and the FHI Health Humanities Lab.

Congratulations to the 2020 ReMed Fellows! Learn more about each student on the Kenan Institute for Ethics website.

ReMed Fellows 2020.

Energy Research Seed Fund Awards Six Grants to Duke Faculty to Kickstart Projects

Energy Research Seed Fund.
The Energy Research Seed Fund has a strong track record of investing in early-stage projects that go on to secure external support.

In 2020-2021, the Duke University Energy Initiative’s Energy Research Seed Fund will support projects addressing renewable energy’s integration into the grid, battery performance, electrochemical catalysts, utilities’ decision-making, the energy-water nexus, and energy’s connections with war and health.

The program will award six grants to projects involving thirteen faculty members from five Duke schools, investing a total of $249,590 in promising new energy research.

In this—the seventh annual round of funding—the Energy Initiative awarded five seed grants for new interdisciplinary projects and one stage-two grant to support the next phase of a previously funded project.

The first six rounds of funding from the Energy Research Seed Fund totaled $1,458,491. As of fall 2019, those rounds had generated more than three times their value in follow-on awards for Duke research.

“Even as we experience a period of social distancing, scholarly collaboration is still thriving at Duke, as these promising projects demonstrate,” notes Dr. Brian Murray, director of the Energy Initiative. “We look forward to the continued progress—and the potentially transformative outcomes—of these early-stage efforts to address our world’s energy challenges.”

The 2020 round of awards is co-funded by the Energy Initiative, the Office of the Provost, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, and the Pratt School of Engineering.

Funded Projects in 2020-21

Seed Grants

Generating Virtual Inertia through Crowds of Photovoltaic Inverters
More electric power systems are relying on renewable energy coupled with power electronics, which has led to the retirement of synchronous generators. The resulting loss of inertia (energy stored in a rotating mass) threatens power systems’ stability and renewables’ continued growth. This project will develop a novel distributed control framework that operates on existing photovoltaic (PV) inverters to contribute virtual inertia and other grid-supportive functions. A 100% renewable, proof-of-concept microgrid will be used to demonstrate the framework’s effectiveness.

Project Team:
Stefan Goetz: Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke University School of Medicine and Electrical and Computer EngineeringPratt School of Engineering [Member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences]
Miroslav Pajic: Electrical and Computer EngineeringPratt School of Engineering and Computer Science, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
Jingyang Fang: Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University School of Medicine

Developing Computed Tomography-Based 3D Temperature Mapping for Battery Failure
Overheating of lithium-ion batteries can lead to premature degradation and catastrophic failure, including explosions. But current methods of measuring battery temperature are far from ideal. This project will develop a new method—X-ray thermal computed tomography— to more accurately map the temperature profile of lithium-ion batteries at the resolution of tens of microns.

Project Team:
Po-Chun Hsu: Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Pratt School of Engineering
Cristian Badea: Radiology, Duke University School of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering

The Energy-Health Nexus in Wars in the Middle East
The destruction of civilian infrastructure, particularly energy infrastructure, is a prevalent feature of war-making in protracted conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. This project will examine health impacts of the destruction of energy infrastructure as well as efforts to restore and rebuild it. The project will advance understanding of the connection between energy access and health outcomes and will identify best practices for energy infrastructure maintenance and reconstruction in countries affected by conflict.

Project Team:
Erika Weinthal: Nicholas School of the Environment and Sanford School of Public Policy [Affiliate of Duke Science and Society]
Jeannie Sowers: Political Science, University of New Hampshire

AI-Assisted Design and Synthesis of High-Entropy Materials
High-entropy materials offer unique, otherwise unattainable surface atomic structures that can help solve long-standing catalysis problems. This project will combine rapid synthesis and AI-based materials design to demonstrate the use of high-entropy materials as electrochemical catalysts, with the potential to impact a broad class of chemical reactions.

Project Team:
Jie Liu: Chemistry, Trinity School of Arts & Sciences
Stefano Curtarolo: Mechanical Engineering and Material Science, Pratt School of Engineering and Physics, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

The Energy-Water Nexus in India
Electricity is crucial to economic development but expanding its use can lead to severe environmental issues. This is especially true in countries like India, where a primarily coal-based electrical system contributes to air pollution (from the emission of fly ash) and water contamination (from acid mine drainage). This project will address some of these key issues by evaluating the potential uses of natural gas found in shallow groundwater, of geothermal groundwater for heating, and of coal ash to neutralize and remove toxic metals from acid mine drainage.

Project Team:
Avner Vengosh: Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke Global Health Institute, and Duke Kunshan University
Adrian Bejan: Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Pratt School of Engineering

Stage-Two Grants

Enabling Better Energy Decisions through Better Interpretable Causal Inference
As power grids age, demand grows, and power becomes less reliable, power companies must adapt legacy grids and create new programs to cope with changing times. But those companies are currently struggling to determine what types of changes will produce their desired outcomes. This project builds on a previous seed grant to combine causal inference methods with ideas from machine learning to produce an approach for matching in causal inference that is substantially more accurate, interpretative, and scalable than any other method.

Project Team:
Cynthia RudinComputer Science and MathematicsTrinity College of Arts & SciencesElectrical and Computer Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering
Sudeepa Roy: Computer ScienceTrinity College of Arts & Sciences
Alexander Volfovsky: Statistical Science, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Originally posted on the Duke University Energy Initiative website

Duke Ph.D. Students Receive Grants to Enhance Their Training through Remote Internships

GSTEG grantees.
Top row: Axel Berky, Brianna Elliott, Rachel Coyte, Brooks Frederickson, Jaime Gonzalez; bottom row: Keqi He, Hannah Ontiveros, Julianna Renzi, Dana Wright

Nine Duke University doctoral students have received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) for Summer 2020 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies.

The goal of this grant competition is to expand the opportunities for graduate students to augment their core research and training by acquiring skills, knowledge, or experiences that are not available at Duke and that will enhance their capacity to carry out original research. In light of constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Summer 2020 request for proposals was revised to focus on doctoral students with only partial or no summer funding; applicants could propose remote internships with a community organization, government agency, NGO, or cultural institution.

Axel Berky, Ph.D. in Environment

Host: Environmental Protection Agency
Faculty Advisor: William Pan

Berky will remotely intern with the EPA’s Center for Public Health and Environmental Assessment. In the first of two main projects, he will join a multidisciplinary team that is developing a platform for the public to interact with information related to the risk of wildfires and smoke exposure. This will consist of helping create interactive maps of human health risk from wildfire smoke that can be easily interpreted and updated to reflect real-time monitoring. In the second project, Berky will contribute to a manuscript on the effect of ambient temperature on end-stage chronic kidney disease patients from the U.S. Renal Data System.

Brianna Elliott, Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation

Host: U.S. Department of State, Office of Marine Conservation
Faculty Advisor: Andrew Read

Considered the largest global threat to marine mammals, bycatch is the incidental capture of non-target species in fisheries. For the past year, Elliott has been leading an initiative in partnership with the International Whaling Commission to research the policy response of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) to reduce marine mammal bycatch in their fisheries. After presenting her research to the IWC’s Scientific Committee this month, Elliott will continue developing this research and a report with recommendations to the IWC to work with RFMOs to address marine mammal bycatch, particularly in the Indian Ocean region. Since the U.S. is an IWC member, Elliott will collaborate with the Department of State through a remote internship focused on the bycatch report and other fisheries-focused policy tasks.

Rachel Coyte, Ph.D. in Earth and Ocean Sciences

Host: Earthjustice
Faculty Advisor: Avner Vengosh

Coal combustion residues (CCRs), including fly ash, are some of the largest industrial solid wastes in the United States. Coyte will work to connect the science behind CCR environmental contamination with the impact that such contamination could have on real communities. She will write a report with findings and produce two literature reviews for Earthjustice. The first literature review will look at the chemistry of ash pond pore water; the second will focus on research that works toward answering the question, how long will coal ash continue to leach contaminants into the water?

Brooks Frederickson, Ph.D. in Music Composition

Host: So Percussion
Faculty Advisor: John Supko

The So Percussion Summer Institute (SoSI) is an international gathering of college-aged percussionists and composers. Normally held over two weeks at Princeton University, SoSI exposes young musicians to the thinking and practices of some of the contemporary-classical music scene’s most lauded composers, percussionists, actors, choreographers, and artists. An alumnus of SoSI, Frederickson will develop an online curriculum. He will create materials for synchronous and asynchronous learning that cover a wide variety of topics connected to the creation and performance of new music. He will also create an online environment that encourages collaboration among participating SoSI students.

Jaime Acosta Gonzalez, Ph.D in Literature

Host: nonsite.org
Faculty Advisor: Michael Hardt

nonsite.org is an academic journal that features writing on aesthetics, politics, and art. Contributors often explore such issues as the relationship of the work of art to the spectator, matters of intention and interpretation, and the social ontology of the work of art. Acosta Gonzalez will serve as an editorial assistant during his remote internship. For the book review section, he will identify new and noteworthy books in the fields of art history, philosophy, literary criticism, and critical theory, then assign reviewers and collate the responses into a readable form for a scholarly audience.

Keqi He, Ph.D. in Earth and Ocean Sciences

Host: U.S. Department of Agriculture
Faculty Advisor: Wenhong Li

Wetlands protect our shores, reduce the impact of floods, absorb pollutants, improve water quality, and provide habitat for animals and plants. However, wetlands are threatened by climate change. In order to understand the processes and driving factors of wetland degradation in the southeast United States, He will remotely intern at the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, part of the Forest Service under the USDA. He will examine locations and time of the degradation at a regional scale, using Forest Inventory and Analysis data, vegetation indices from satellite data, and vegetation characteristics from LiDAR data.

Hannah Ontiveros, Ph.D. in History

Host: CWS Durham
Faculty Advisor: Nancy MacLean

Humanitarian organization Church World Service (CWS) is one of nine refugee resettlement agencies in the United States. The Durham office focuses on supporting immigrant and refugee new arrivals in the Triangle area. As a remote intern, Ontiveros will undertake two interconnected research projects. First, she will compile data on CWS Durham activities, funding streams, and spending, as well as on the state of immigrant and refugee populations in the region. Second, she will carry out qualitative research aimed at aligning CWS Durham’s requests for funds with the desires of individual and institutional donors.

Julianna Renzi, Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation

Host: National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
Faculty Advisor: Brian Silliman

To increase understanding of reef ecosystems, the Smithsonian launched the Global ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) program. ARMS are stacks of PVC plates that have been deployed around the world to describe invertebrate diversity. This summer, Renzi will use data from ARMS in Mo’orea to determine the impacts of large-scale coral loss on invertebrate communities in French Polynesia. She will synthesize DNA metabarcoding data (sequences of a small section of organisms’ genomes that is taxonomically distinct), invertebrate survey data, and environmental data that may be influencing invertebrate recruitment.

Dana Wright, Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation

Host: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Faculty Advisor: Andrew Read

The eastern population of North Pacific right whale (NPRW) is the most endangered population of large baleen whale. The few remaining whales are thought to feed predominantly on zooplankton on the southeastern Bering Sea (SEBS) shelf. The Bering Arctic Subarctic Integrated Survey (BASIS) contains a rich time-series (1992-2016) of zooplankton and forage fish count data on the Bering shelf during the seasonal period of presumed NPRW foraging. Wright will use the BASIS dataset to investigate which environmental-species interactions (ESI) govern zooplankton community structure on the SEBS shelf, with the ultimate goal to assess whether the ESI conclusions support the current Oscillating Control Hypothesis that describes lower trophic level dynamics in the region.

Seven Interdisciplinary Projects Receive Catalyst Program Seed Grants for 2020-21

Catalyst Program.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University is pleased to announce that it has awarded funding to seven research projects for Fiscal Year 2020–2021 through the Catalyst Program.

Now in its fourth year, the Catalyst Program aims to build on the Nicholas Institute’s mission by increasing engagement with Duke faculty to incubate and advance new partnerships, enhance policy-relevant knowledge, and create innovative policy solutions based on new creative synergies.

“More than ever this year, the Catalyst Program promises to live up to its name,” said Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute. “When our current public health crisis eases and the world is able to safely open up again, we hope that these projects will be in the pipeline and ready to accelerate with our colleagues around the university. We are also proud that more than 80 percent of this year’s funding will go directly to Duke students.”

2020–2021 Catalyst Program Awardees

Mapping Solar Photovoltaic Arrays Using Unpiloted Aerial Vehicles

The team for this project is led by experts in machine learning, interpretation of remote sensing data, and energy access. The project will investigate the use of high‐resolution imagery collected by drones for identifying energy infrastructure—such as small solar panels, diesel and gasoline generators, and distribution lines—to support public policy and private investments in sustainable energy access.

Collaborators: Rob Fetter, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; Jordan Malof, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Kyle Bradbury, Duke University Energy Initiative and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Jay Rineer and Robert Beach, RTI International

Challenges of Using Environmental Social Governance Data to Motivate Action on Climate Change and Planetary Health

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data is material for investment firms seeking to leverage capital to promote and privilege sustainable businesses. However, ESG data is, in general, neither reliable, nor transparent. This pre-catalyst grant is intended to design a larger project to 1) understand the underlying issues in producing, reporting, and applying ESG data to motivate business and financial action on climate change, and 2) develop a framework for an ESG Lab at Duke.

Collaborators: John Virdin, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; Deb Gallagher and Joseph Bachman, Nicholas School of the Environment; John Buley and Cathy Clark, Fuqua School of Business; Tyler Felgenhauer, Pratt School of Engineering; Lee Reiners, Duke School of Law

Integrating Policy into Duke Restore

Duke Restore is a new initiative of the Nicholas School of the Environment with ambitions to make the school a global leader in ecosystem restoration and cultivation so that this conservation intervention can become a realistic recovery strategy for all ecosystems and economies in the face of intensifying global stress. This project aims to connect the applied research conducted by the Duke Marine Lab through the Restore initiative with the work underway at the Nicholas Institute with policy makers, resource managers, and funders in North Carolina and elsewhere. The goal is to build collaboration to enhance the impact Duke can have on the resiliency of coastal communities to flooding and sea level rise while also enhancing fisheries productivity and biodiversity.

Collaborators: Lydia Olander, John Virdin, and Amy Pickle, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; Brian Silliman, Carter Smith, Liz Demattia, Pat Halpin, Dan Rittschof, Grant Murray, and Andy Read, Nicholas School of the Environment and Duke Marine Laboratory; Curt Richardson, Nicholas School of the Environment and Duke Wetland Center; Dave Johnston, Nicholas School of the Environment Drone Lab; Steve Roady, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Duke School of Law; Dan Vermeer, Fuqua Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment

Cross-Disciplinary Policy and Technology Solutions for the Plastic Pollution Pandemic: Creating Connections and Community

This project seeks to build and advance new collaborations to create policy and technology solutions for reducing plastic pollution through a Plastic Pollution Working Group of Duke faculty and students. The idea builds on a pre-catalyst grant awarded to the project team for the 2019–2020 academic year that allowed for production of a manuscript detailing technologies that either prevent plastic leakage or remove plastic from waterways. The report is part of the Nicholas Institute’s upcoming Global Plastics Policy Analysis for the Pew Foundation, providing insight into plastic remediation innovation occurring in the private sector.

Collaborators: John Virdin and Amy Pickle, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; Meagan Dunphy-Daly, Nicholas School of the Environment; Richard Di Giulio, Nicholas School of the Environment and Duke Superfund Research Center; William Eward, Department of Orthopaedics and Duke Comparative Oncology Group; Kathinka Furst, Duke Kunshan University Environmental Research Center; Andy Read, Dan Rittschof, and Thomas Schultz, Nicholas School of the Environment and Duke Marine Laboratory; Steve Roady, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Duke School of Law; Jason Somarelli, Department of Medicine and Duke Comparative Oncology Group; Dan Vermeer, Fuqua Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment

Early Stage Development of a Solar Geoengineering Board Game

With climate scientists warning of serious global impacts if greenhouse gas emissions are not quickly curtailed, some nations may forego attempts at international cooperation and instead seek to address climate change using geoengineering technology, such as solar radiation management (SRM). Because it is expected to be relatively cheap and fast-acting, solar geoengineering could be deployed by a single nation desperate to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but this action may be detrimental to other nations and may undermine the global motivation for emissions abatement. This project will design and beta test a board game that will give players the opportunity to experience the complexities that solar geoengineering introduces into the geopolitical dynamics of climate policy.

Collaborators: Mark Borsuk, Jonathan Wiener, and Tyler Felgenhauer, Duke Center on Risk; Billy Pizer, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Sanford School of Public Policy; Shai Ginsburg, Duke Game Lab; Max Cawley, Museum of Life and Science; Christine Ogilvie Hendren, Team Helium LLC; Chris Cummings, Decision Analytica LLC

An Analysis of the Industrial “Opt-Out” Challenge

The Energy Information Administration reports that in 2018 industrial customers consumed 33 percent of all primary energy and 26 percent of electricity in the United States, representing a large energy efficiency resource opportunity. This project will utilize a combination of non-public microdata from the U.S. Census and publicly available data to compare the energy usage of industrial customers that “opt-out” of electric utility energy efficiency programs with those that stay “opted-in” to determine the value and potential opportunity of utility-offered energy efficiency and demand response programs.

Collaborators: Gale Boyd, Duke Social Science Research Institute; Jen Weiss and Rob Fetter, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; Xirui Zhang, Economics Department

Understanding and Controlling Urban Soil Lead Contamination and Its Impact on Public Health

Lead exposure remains a significant public health concern, despite impressive reductions in the United States over the past 40 to 50 years. Regulatory efforts have limited exposures in workplaces, schools, homes, and in the outdoor urban environment, but challenges to curbing human lead exposure persist, including our limited understanding of lead contamination in urban soils. This project creates a diverse team with expertise in soil chemistry, toxicology, epidemiology, environmental health sciences, pediatric and family medicine, community health, and public policy to coproduce policy-relevant research and to identify best practices for governmental actors to address lead exposure hazards from urban soils.

Collaborators: Kay Jowers, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; Dan Richter, Anna Wade, and Kate Hoffman, Nicholas School of the Environment; Nancy Lauer and Michelle Nowlin, Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic; Nrupen Bhavsar, Department of Medicine, General Internal Medicine; Jillian Hurst, Children’s Health & Discovery Initiative at Duke University; Lloyd Michener, Family Medicine & Community Health; Christopher Timmins, Economics Department

Originally posted on the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions website

Four Students Receive 2020 Pathways of Change Fellowships

Pathways of Change.

The Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics offers summer internships with organizations looking to make business work for communities, not just bottom lines. As these organizations must be adaptive and responsive in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, so must these students. They will work remotely this summer, exploring the compromises, contradictions, and trade-offs between business needs and human rights within and outside of the corporate world. In addition to working with the partner organizations, students will profile a leader in their organization via a “virtual coffee” and write “letters from home” contemplating the best ways to affect change in corporate human rights practices from their remote vantage points. Visit the Pathways of Change Blog.

Ryan.Ryan Geitner

Ryan Geitner, placed with Business for Social Responsibility, is a rising Senior from Hickory, NC. She is majoring in Political Science and Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, while also pursuing a Certificate in Human Rights. She is spending her junior year  in Amman, Jordan studying Arabic and the interplay between the nation-state model and international human rights regime. At Duke, Ryan is involved in Bass Connections research, the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy, the Duke Political Review, and works as a literacy tutor through the America Reads/America Counts program.

Bhamini.Bhamini Vellanki

Bhamini Vellanki, placed with SAS, is a sophomore from Cary, NC pursuing an Interdepartmental Major in Neuroscience and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, a Computational Biology and Bioinformatics Minor, and the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate. She is passionate about the applications of intersectionality in human rights and the way in which corporate social responsibility can further women’s rights and women’s health advocacy. On campus, she is a Research Assistant at the Center for Research to Advance Health Equity, a part of the Penny Pilgrim George Women’s Leadership Initiative, a mentor in the Kenan Institute of Ethics Global Migration Program, and a member of the Student Founders Program.

Alice WuAlice.

Alice Wu, placed with Business for Social Responsibility, is a rising junior from Cleveland, Ohio. She is studying Public Policy and pursuing a certificate in Markets and Management. Alice is passionate about advancing social good by promoting collaboration between businesses, NGOs, governments, and other organizations. She is a freshman small group leader for Asian InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a council member for American Grand Strategy, and works remotely for a NYC-based startup.

Zac JohnsonZac.

Zac Johnson, placed with Accountability Counsel, is majoring in Public Policy and History and planning to earn the Human Rights Certificate. From Hillsborough, North Carolina, he attended school in Chapel Hill until coming to Duke. On campus, he sit on the Services and Sustainability Committee in Student Government and works at the FHI Human Rights Center. He is primarily interested in studying systems of power and their propagation through legal frameworks.

Originally posted on the Kenan Institute for Ethics website

Ten Groups of Faculty Receive Intellectual Community Planning Grants for 2020

Campus in winter.

The Provost’s Office has awarded Intellectual Community Planning Grants to ten groups for the 2020 calendar year.

A key goal of Together Duke is to invest in faculty as scholars and leaders of the university’s intellectual communities. To foster collaboration around new and emerging areas of interest, Intellectual Community Planning Grants (ICPG) ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 are available to groups of faculty. Recipients can use the funds to support the exploration of new collaborations, covering the cost of meeting venues, food, external speakers or other meeting costs, and research to identify potential collaborators at Duke and elsewhere.

The 2020 grants include faculty from all of Duke’s schools as well as the University of North Carolina, NC State University, and NC Central University.

Bridging Social Determinants of Health with Clinical Extensions of Care for Vulnerable Populations

Bridging team members.

This group will establish a partnership between Duke’s Clinical Translational Science Institute and the Social Science Research Institute in order to develop a portfolio of scholarly activity that tackles the interplay of social determinants of health, clinical health outcomes, and the advancement of health equity. Members will develop a compilation of resources to facilitate interdisciplinary and collaborative research and take advantage of short-term synergies that allow for additional coauthored publications. They will also develop research proposals to design and test one or more interventions.

Developing a Neuroethics and Theological Studies Network

Developing Neuroethics team members.

What can theological studies contribute to neuroethics, and vice versa? How can the engagement of theological studies with neuroethics best be facilitated? How can further interdisciplinary collaboration at Duke shape such dialogue? This group seeks to foster and expand the work of an emerging international cohort of scholars working at the intersection of theological studies and neuroethics.

Duke SciReg Center: Science in Regulation, Law, and Public Policy

Duke SciReg ICPG members.

Bringing together Duke faculty and students from STEM disciplines, law, and policy, this group will seek to facilitate the provision of timely comments from Duke experts to state and federal agencies on pending regulations that implicate scientific and technical issues. Following a series of conversations and planning events, members hope to establish a center at Duke that would create a unique model for interdisciplinary education in science, law, and policy through actual participation in the regulatory process.

Entity Resolution with Applications to Public Policy and Business

Entity Resolutions ICPG members.

This collaboration will enable the formation of a multidisciplinary lab of social scientists, public policy analysts, business scholars, mathematicians and statisticians who seek to understand the practical issues related to entity resolution (ER)—the processes of removing duplicates from large databases and engaging in accurate record linkage across databases. There will be regular meetings of the member research groups to explore applications of ER tasks in public policy and business; one Ph.D. student will work on a project to implement members’ developed tools into software for public distribution and a working paper.

Housing and Health: A Multisector Community-driven Approach to Achieving Health Equity

Housing ICPG members.

Combining a community engagement process with interdisciplinary expertise, these faculty hope to address social, economic, and environmental influencers of health, with the eventual goal of transforming Durham into a healthier place for its most vulnerable residents. Members will participate in an interactive, facilitated pre-planning meeting and four design-thinking workshops with community partners, followed by a post-workshop debrief and a meeting to determine next steps and future directions.

Human Rights Futures

Human Rights ICPG members.

This community of human rights scholars plans will discuss a new temporal framing for human rights: one that remains aware of past grievances and the need for reparations, but that places such awareness in the service of a sustainable and desirable future. Involving graduate and undergraduate students, the group will explore a number of ideas for how this multiyear project might come to life. Following several working lunches, the group plans to launch a “speculative fiction book club,” host a guest speaker, and convene a day-long workshop.

  • Lead: James Chappel, History, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Kathi Weeks, Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Robin Kirk, Cultural Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Adam Rosenblatt, International Comparative Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Liliana Paredes, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Marion Quirici, Thompson Writing Program, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Jen Ansley, Thompson Writing Program, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Emily Stewart, Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute

Light-based Methods in Neuroscience and Biology

Light-based ICPG members.

This group aims to cross-pollinate ideas among neuroscientists, engineers, and data scientists. Each meeting focus on related questions requiring interdisciplinary engagement (e.g., How can we use light-based methods, such as scanless holography, adaptive optics, computational optics approaches, and genetically encoded activity sensors and actuators such as bacterial opsins, to investigate neural function?) Members will share information about resources for addressing these questions and communicate across Duke to strengthen imaging infrastructure.

North Carolina Saltwater Intrusion and Sea Level Rise

NC Saltwater ICPG members.

Predicting the impacts of sea level rise and the accompanying saltwater intrusion on freshwater coastal wetlands is a complex challenge. While the formation of “ghost forests”—the rapid death of trees due to salt stress—is gaining attention, our understanding remains fragmented. This group will convene a one-day workshop to develop an overarching research framework, with the goals of then pooling resources, sharing data, and submitting joint grant proposals.

Opioid Detection Technologies and Their Application to Addressing Various Aspects of the Opioid Crisis

Opioid ICPG members.

How can novel detection technologies be brought to bear on the opioid crisis? Members of this group will explore that question by undertaking two parallel activity streams: monthly collaboration meetings to share information; and acquisition of initial compound signatures on two fundamental detection technologies (X-ray diffraction and mass spectrometry). These faculty will pursue increased cross-disciplinary understanding of the opioid crisis and its detection needs; a baseline signature library of relevant compounds to support future analysis and design; and one or more joint proposals on topics related to detection and the opioid crisis.

Transformative Learning: A Shared Intellectual Interest across the University

Transformative Learning ICPG members.

This group’s primary goal is to identify transformative learning moments among Duke students. Members will meet monthly to develop a shared knowledge of transformative learning practices and assessment. They will host a dinner with Dr. Stacey Johnson of Vanderbilt University, a renowned expert in transformative learning in language education, convene two campus-wide discussions, and invite a nationally recognized speaker to give a public talk. The group will create a shared toolkit of assessment tools for transformative learning and develop conference proposals and a publication to showcase this work.

  • Co-lead: Cori Crane, Germanic Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Co-lead: Deb Reisinger, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Co-lead: Joan Clifford, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Jennifer Ahern-Dodson, Thompson Writing Program, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Alessandra Dinin, Office of Assessment, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Jennifer Hill, Office of Assessment, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • David Malone, Program in Education, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Liliana Paredes, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Melissa Simmermeyer, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Read about the 2019 recipients of Intellectual Community Planning Grants and view the 2018 summary report.

See all initiatives in the Together Duke academic strategic plan, including the current RFP for Collaboratories for Research on Immigration or on Science, Technology & Ethics (deadline: January 24, 2020; to learn more, attend an information session on Thursday, January 9, from 3:00 to 4:00 in the Karl E. Zener Auditorium, 130 Sociology-Psychology).