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).

Thirteen Faculty Seek Out New Skills and Experiences to Enhance Teaching and Research

FTREG grantees.
Top row: Angrist, Bennett, Furtado, Guevara, Hartemink; middle: Maren, Mestyan, Miles, Shapiro-Garza, Starn; bottom: Stein, Weinthal, Vadde

Thirteen Duke University faculty members have been awarded Faculty Teaching/Research Enhancement Grants (FTREG) to acquire skills, knowledge, or experiences outside or beyond their main disciplines in 2020-2021.

A key goal of Together Duke is to invest in faculty as scholars and leaders of the university’s intellectual communities. Now in its second year, FTREG is intended to enhance faculty members’ capacity to carry out original research and provide transformative learning experiences for students.

Plain People, Modern Medicine: Gene Therapy Trials in Amish and Mennonite Patients in Lancaster, PA

Misha Angrist, Social Science Research Institute; Initiative for Science & Society

Angrist will spend time in Lancaster observing and chronicling the experiences of Anabaptist patients participating in gene therapy trials to treat their rare genetic diseases. Building on previous trips to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, this experience will inform a proposal for a book that will shed light on a new biomedical, social, and cultural phenomenon and prompt caregivers, researchers, policymakers, and patients to think about healthcare in new ways. This research will also enhance Angrist’s Focus course (Patient Activism and Advocacy) as well as his science writing course (Science and the Media) and the course he coteaches for NIH-funded trainees (Responsible Conduct of Research).

Distributed Computational Techniques for Machine Learning

Victor Bennett, Fuqua School of Business

Bennett will pursue a two-course sequence on tools—Scala and Spark—related to machine learning in distributed computing environments offered by Databricks in McLean, VA. His current project about the future of work requires matching three million establishments to 22 million shipments of automation technology, which would take years of computing on the Fuqua server. Knowledge of parallelization techniques will allow him to make use of code that would get the match down to within a day, and will enhance his ability to serve as a resource for doctoral students and faculty at Fuqua and across the university.

Mapping the Amazonian Moving Image: Territoriality, Media, and the Senses

Gustavo Furtado, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Furtado’s research project explores the ways in which visual and audiovisual media participate in efforts by competing sociocultural groups to appropriate the Amazon region symbolically and materially. In order to finish gathering materials, he will visit museums, cultural institutions, and film collections in three Amazonian cities: Iquitos, Belém, and Manaus. This research will contribute to a book-length monograph and enhance his undergraduate course, “Perspectives on the Amazon.”

Training in Biomarker Analysis to Enhance Integrative Research on Evolution of Aging

Elaine Guevara, Evolutionary Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Under the expert guidance of Virginia Kraus and Janet Huebner, Guevara plans to train in biomarker analysis at the Biomarkers Shared Resource Core in the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute. This training will assist her in developing a more integrative research program with methodological, analytical, and theoretical approaches drawn from evolutionary biology and basic aging research. Mastering new methods will help her train students in this area and foster interdisciplinary interactions among the Duke Lemur Center, Arts & Sciences, and the Molecular Physiology Institute.

Visiting Rhodes House to Learn About Character, Service, and Leadership Program

Alexander Hartemink, Computer Science and Biology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Hartemink will undertake a trip to Rhodes House at Oxford University in order to learn more about its Character, Service, and Leadership Program. He intends to visit during a three-day retreat for scholars-in-residence, and engage in conversations with program staff the following day. This experience will strengthen his first-year seminar, “The Examined Life,” by providing new and/or better methods for allowing students to reflect on their values, build a meaningful life, and be prepared to lead in the world. It will also enhance his contribution to the Office of University Scholars and Fellows, where he serves as faculty director, as well as his capacity to mentor and advise all his students.

A Cultural, Social, and Political History of Barbed Wire

Mesha Maren, English, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Maren will undertake fieldwork to scope out a new direction that will take her research, writing, and teaching deeper into the field of creative nonfiction writing. To inform a monograph that is part personal essay and part cultural, social, and political history, she will travel to several World War I battlefields where barbed wire first played a significant role. Maren will conduct research in the museums, memorials, archives, and guided tours at battlefields in Italy and France as well as museums in Rome, Florence, and Paris.

The Power of Land Survey: A History of British Surveying in Occupied Egypt, 1890s-1950s

Adam Mestyan, History, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

During a trip to London, Mestyan will conduct preliminary research for a book on the history of land survey in the early 20th-century British Empire. Marking a new research direction, this project will help him understand the British use of land survey, the mechanisms of metropolitan and imperial land survey, and the history of imperial British surveyors in occupied Egypt. This research will also enhance his course, “Engineering the Global Middle East,” and contribute to the development of a new course on land and law in modern Islam.

On Guard for Peace and Socialism: The Warsaw Pact, 1955-1991

Simon Miles, Sanford School of Public Policy

To jump-start the archival research process for a book, Miles will travel to Kyiv to consult the KGB’s in-house journal containing articles by intelligence community leaders and analyses of major issues, and to Prague to work in four key repositories. His grant will also support initial archival research carried out by a research assistant in Moscow. A broader archival scope is likely to amplify the book’s impact on the field, burnishing Duke’s standing as a top destination to study these questions. It will also inform his teaching of courses such as “American Grand Strategy” and “The Global Cold War.”

Global Environmental Justice: Scholarship, Teaching, and Practice

Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, Nicholas School of the Environment

To support the incorporation of environmental justice concepts and case studies into her teaching and enhance her scholarship on how these issues are impacting communities in North Carolina, Shapiro-Garza will participate in a workshop, “Bridging Research, Policy and Activism for Environmental Justice in Times of Crises,” at the University of Freiburg. She will also serve as a scholar-in-residence at the University of Barcelona’s Institut de Ciéncia i Tecnologia Ambientals, a center for research on global environmental justice issues and the social movements addressing them. These experiences will deepen her understanding of global environmental justice issues, strategies to address them, and the methods to analyze their dynamics and outcomes.

Understanding Peru’s Moche Civilization

Orin Starn, Cultural Anthropology and History, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

At its height around 700 A.D., the Moche’s achievements included adobe pyramids as large as those in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and highly advanced irrigation systems to water their desert lands. During a trip to Peru, Starn will join local excavation teams at new sites in the Chiclayo and Trujillo areas. Learning more about the process of archaeological research and deepening his knowledge of Moche culture will enhance his teaching by incorporating more material on indigenous civilizations. It will also serve as the basis for a book about the quest to understand the Moche.

Jerusalem: Human Rights in a Contested City

Rebecca Stein, Cultural Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Erika Weinthal, Nicholas School of the Environment

Stein and Weinthal will take a joint trip to Jerusalem establish partnerships with Israeli nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups that will benefit future teaching on the Israel/Palestine conflict. The Shufat refugee camp will provide the basis for on-site learning modules in the course, which will include an examination of the ways that Palestinian refugees residing in the camp navigate access to services. This experience will also benefit the professors’ scholarship by providing an opportunity to consider refugee issues within the broader context of environmental issues, rights, and mobility.

We the Platform: Contemporary Literature in the Sharing Economy

Aarthi Vadde, English, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

To enhance her research and writing on the ways in which social media platforms configure contemporary literary and popular culture, Vadde plans to gain knowledge of how programmers and artists think about data, network architecture, and human-computer interaction. Pursuing training in information science and media archaeology, she will incorporate new knowledge and tools into a research program that links the history and future of the web to the sociology of literature. Increased computational literacy will strengthen her sociotechnical approach to analyzing literary works and readerships and inform a new course that connects humanistic criticism with responsible computing.

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).

Duke Incubation Fund Awards Support Seven Promising Innovations

Congratulations to the 2019-20 Duke Incubation Fund Awardees.

The winners of the Fall 2019 Duke Incubation Fund awards have been announced, representing promising innovation happening across the University. Seven projects will receive funds totaling $129,000.

The Incubation Fund, run by Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (I&E), supports early-stage ideas from Duke’s innovation ecosystem with the potential to go to market. Whereas many resources exist at Duke to support research and commercialization, the Incubation Fund is among the only opportunities for innovations still in the ideation stage. The Fund is made possible by a gift from I&E advisory board member Jeffrey Citron and his wife, Suzanne.

One goal of the Fund is to foster innovation in all corners of Duke. While previous awards have supported faculty, staff, and students representing schools and departments ranging from the Nicholas School, to the School of Nursing, all the way to the Dance Program, this year’s awardees represent the Department of Pathology, the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, the Department of Radiology, the Department of Chemistry, and the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Incubation Fund Awardees for 2019-2020

Soman Abraham | Pathology Faculty

Mast cells are responsible for a wide range of inflammatory disorders, from mild skin rash to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. This team is exploring a novel mast cell inhibitor molecule to treat non-clonal mast cell activation syndrome (nc-MCAS), for which there are currently no FDA-approved treatments. In addition to potentially preventing nc-MCAS-related anaphylaxis and symptoms, this molecule could lead to the development of therapeutics to treat other mast cell-mediated diseases.

Mattia Bonsignori | Duke Human Vaccine Institute Faculty

Using an antibody type from a Zika-infected pregnant woman who bore a healthy infant—an antibody type that doesn’t cross the placenta or cross-react with the Dengue virus like other antibodies capable of neutralizing the Zika virus—this team seeks to generate critical data needed for preclinical studies that would pave the way for clinical vaccine trials.

Charles Kim | Interventional Radiology Faculty and Division Chief

Ultrasound probes were designed for diagnostic use and are thus limited when it comes to their use in needle guidance; this project seeks to develop a dedicated interventional ultrasound probe that utilizes a novel approach to image acquisition and processing, thereby optimizing needle guidance.

Maciej Mazurowski | Radiology Faculty

Using software based on an algorithm developed and tested by Duke scientists and clinicians, this team will work to create a clinical-use software prototype to evaluate knee radiographs in order to grade the severity of knee osteoarthritis. 

Samira Musah | Biomedical Engineering Faculty

Through the design and engineering of a novel microfluidic device that mimics the tissue structure and filtration system of a human kidney, Fixoria Biomimetics seeks to develop a vascularized 3D in vitro kidney model that can be used to discover novel therapeutics for human kidney disease.

Jesus del Carmen Valdiviezo Mora | Chemistry Graduate Student

Evolutionary Microfluidics looks to use AI algorithms to design, manufacture, and patent microfluidic devices that act as efficient analyzers and microreactors of biological samples, eventually commercializing these devices within the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to reduce the time needed for research and development.

Zohair Zia | Biomedical Engineering Undergraduate Student

Neptune Access makes modifications to an IV port so it can be used to obtain blood samples, reducing the need for numerous blood draws through repeated venipuncture, especially for those patients who may require multiple attempts for each successful blood sample.

Tapping into Resources and Guidance

Many of these projects have already benefited from the support of innovation- and entrepreneurship-related resources across Duke. Zohair Zia’s work on an adapted IV port won the Duke Institute for Health Innovation’s annual Innovation Jam supporting pragmatic health innovations with the potential for immediate application or possible commercialization. Soman Abraham’s new venture focused on mast cell inhibitor therapy is receiving coaching and business strategy support from a mentor-in-residence and an MBA student through the New Ventures Program run by the Office of Licensing & Ventures.

These resources, as well as the early-stage support provided by the Incubation Fund, can prove decisive in whether progress continues on a project. Charles Kim, who received an award for an interventional ultrasound probe, said, “This will provide funding for the materials and expertise needed for the crucial step of formal prototype development, without which further progress would not be possible.”

Tracking Success

Now that the Fund, which was established in 2017, is entering its fourth funding cycle, “We’re starting to be able to track the success of previous awardees, which is exciting,” says Dr. Sharlini Sankaran, Director of Translational Programs at Duke I&E.

Duke spin-out inSomaBio has gone on to receive funding from the Duke Angel Network, whereas others are in various stages of obtaining follow-on funding from investor groups or local and federal entrepreneurial funding programs.

Michael Kliën, an Associate Professor of the Practice of Dance, received an Incubation Fund award last year for his work on the Hydrean, a unique physical meditation device that encourages embodiment and teaches a systematic practice of mindfulness. The Hydrean was featured at this year’s Invented at Duke celebration—and undergraduate students in the I&E Certificate, intrigued by Kliën’s product, decided to do a business development project for their capstone class focused on getting the Hydrean adopted into mainstream media.

“The Incubation Fund fills a critical funding need for early-stage projects that need a lift to get off the ground, whether that be prototype building, early-stage market research, or obtaining critical equipment and supplies,” said Sankaran. “In keeping with Duke I&E’s mission of being a catalyst and an enabler for innovation at Duke, we’re happy to provide support to these promising projects so they can ultimately benefit society at large.”

Originally posted on the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship website

Nicholas Institute Welcomes Inaugural Cohort of Duke Environmental Impacts Fellows

Group of fellows.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions announced the selection of 19 doctoral students from Arts & Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment, Pratt School of Engineering, and Sanford School of Public Policy as the inaugural Duke Environmental Impacts Fellows. These students have diverse backgrounds and come from a wide range of doctoral programs, but they share a common passion for protecting, managing and improving our environment.

The Duke Environmental Impacts Fellow Program (EIF) is a new, professional development opportunity for Duke Ph.D. students keen on making a high impact in their careers. This pilot program aims to fill a gap in traditional Ph.D. training by providing an opportunity for students to consider the full variety of potential career paths they might follow, including nonacademic or nontraditional academic positions. The program offers trainings focused on leadership, teaching, communication, and engagement to enhance students’ critical thinking and leadership skills. At the completion of the program, participants will have a broadened view of their career options, and be prepared to be thought-leaders inside and outside the academy.

The program has been funded by and developed in cooperation with faculty from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, Sanford School of Public Policy, Pratt School of Engineering, Divinity School, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The Office of the Provost contributed funding.

2020 Fellows

Hussain Alshammasi, Nicholas School of the Environment

Axel Berky, Nicholas School of the Environment

Alice Carter, University Program in Ecology

Travis Dauwalter, Public Policy & Economics

Kimberley Drouin, Earth & Ocean Sciences

Jacqueline Gerson, University Program in Ecology

Kathleen Horvath, Electrical Engineering

Brandon Hunter, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Faye Koenigsmark, Environmental Engineering

Anna Lewis, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Reshma Nargund, Nicholas School of the Environment

Anna Nordseth, University Program in Ecology

Ekta Patel, Environmental Policy

Erika Smull, Nicholas School of the Environment

Margaret Swift, Nicholas School of the Environment

Emily Ury, University Program in Ecology

Michael Valerino, Environmental Engineering

Paige Varner, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Dana Wright, Marine Science & Conservation

Ten Students Named 2019-2020 Graduate Fellows in Religions and Public Life

Graduate fellows.

This year’s Religions and Public Life Graduate Student Working Group focuses on the theme of “Church and State.” Ten master’s and doctoral students were selected out of a competitive application pool, representing nine different departments and degree programs, three schools, and two universities (Duke and UNC). Graduate Fellows will develop their research interests and discuss recent scholarship during monthly meetings. Throughout the year, they will also practice writing for a public audience and take part in an end-of-year symposium. Several scholars are also supported by generous collaborations with the Center for Jewish Studies, the Duke University Middle East Studies Center, and the Program for American Values and Institutions.

Religions and Public Life at the Kenan Institute for Ethics explores the role of religions in historical and cultural context as they influence the lives of their adherents, interact with each other across time and geography, and contribute to the formation of institutions that make up the public sphere. A joint endeavor with the Duke Divinity School, it is an interdisciplinary platform that puts scholars, students, and practitioners in conversation with one another through collaborative research, innovative teaching, and community engagement. Funding for the graduate scholars also comes from generous support from the Duke Center for Jewish Studies (CJS).

2019-2020 Fellows

Matthew Elmore

Matthew is a Doctor of Theology student at Duke Divinity School. His work is focused on consent theory, especially as it pertains to medieval theology, modern political philosophy and medicine.

Isak Tranvik

Isak is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Duke University specializing in Political Theory with a secondary specialization in Law and Politics. His dissertation, situated at the intersection of political philosophy, religious studies, and comparative political theory, intervenes in ongoing debates about civil disobedience and social and political pluralism. More broadly, his research and teaching interests include modern and contemporary political theory, religion(s) and politics, post-colonial political theory, and civic education. His work has appeared or is forthcoming inPerspectives on Politics and Comparative Political Studies. He also co-authored a chapter in an edited volume on popular education, Awakening Democracy Through Public Work: Pedagogies of Empowerment.

Luke Olsen

Luke Olsen is a masters student at Duke Divinity School. A Theology, Medicine, and Culture Fellow (’17-’18), Luke is interested in theological anthropology, especially as it relates to urgent moral, political, and aesthetic issues at the intersection of technology, medicine, and ecological crises. This Kenan Fellowship supports Luke’s current research on transhumanism as a political and religious movement in the United States.

Devran Koray Ocal

Devran is a political geographer at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. His dissertation research engages with identity formation, citizenship and belonging ties of the Turkish-Muslim diaspora in Germany. His area of interest covers migration, geographies of state, feminist geopolitics and diaspora studies.

Hannah Ridge

Hannah is a PhD candidate studying the effect of popular understandings of democracy on support for democratization. Her research focuses on Middle Eastern politics, public opinion on democracy, and religion and secularism politics. She has a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago.

Shreya Parikh

Shreya is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. In her dissertation project, she explores the intersections of race and religion in the immigrant-origin communities in France. Her work has appeared in Maydan and ThePrint.

Elsa Costa

Elsa is an intellectual historian concentrating on Spain and its possessions in the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Her dissertation, a study of the Spanish Empire during the Enlightenment, explores how political economy emerged from moral philosophy during the transition from Habsburg to Bourbon rule. Originally from Chicago, Elsa has a BA in Latin American studies from Bennington College and an MA in Ibero-American history from Duke. Her other interests include twentieth-century French, German and Brazilian philosophy, medieval theories of pedagogy, and women’s writing in contemporary Latin America. She has published or presented papers on all these topics. Her dissertation research took her to Madrid and to Mexico City, where she read the political theories of monks, priests, scientists, lawyers, royal advisors, dilettante scholars, aristocratic women, and others on a Fulbright-Hays grant. Far from the medieval notion it is sometimes assumed to be, the divine right of kings belongs to the Renaissance and early Enlightenment. Elsa has watched it emerge chronologically through these texts. Elsa is also a Humane Studies fellow and is at present involved in the founding of a new literary review. In her spare time, she enjoys watching the new TV series she discovered in Spain, like Élite, The Mysteries of Laura, Madrid is Burning and Just Before Christ.

Mao Wei

Mao is an artist currently based in Durham, USA and Shanghai, China. Her artwork creates realms that explore mediation and representation in the real world and critique the functions of various media production approaches through photography, sculpture, installation and mixed media. These artificially include her reflections on the virtual reality, dream and uncertainty. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts at Duke.

Anna Holleman

Anna is a second year graduate student in the sociology PhD program at Duke. She is interested in the sociology of religion, specifically the ways that religious organizations function in relation to the larger culture

Armani Porter

Armani is currently a second year master’s student studying Bioethics and Science Policy (concentration: philosophy) at Duke University. He is also a graduate of the University of Notre Dame where he double majored in theology and neuroscience. Armani is currently involved in a collaborative study between Duke and Northwestern University, which aims to address the legal and ethical implications of the use of DNA in missing migrant identification. He generally interested in issues at the intersection of immigration policy, international relations, and religion and after finishing his master’s degree, Armani will pursue a JD/PhD as he wishes to pursue a career as a legal academic.

By Niall Schroder; originally posted on the Kenan Institute for Ethics website

Duke Institute for Brain Sciences Announces Research Incubator Awards for Six Teams

DIBS Awards 2019 Research Incubator Grants.

Interdisciplinary Program Leverages Seed Funding into 7-to-1 Return on Investment

Six interdisciplinary teams have received 2019 Research Incubator Awards from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS). The $100,000 awards are designed to promote high-risk/high-return neuroscience research that is collaborative, crosses academic boundaries, and is likely to draw external funding. The projects also help train the next generation of scientists by involving graduate students and postdoctoral associates.

“We were really pleased with the breadth and depth of the Research Incubator proposals we received this year,” said DIBS Associate Director Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, who administers the program. “This year’s awardees are addressing transformational issues such as better autism screening, enhanced artificial speech, and new ways to understand and treat movement and memory disorders.” Awardees represent three schools (Medicine, Pratt School of Engineering, and Trinity College of Arts & Sciences) and a dozen different departments within those schools, she added.

Five teams are supported through DIBS; a sixth was funded through the generosity of the DIBS External Advisory Board. Geraldine Dawson, who directs the Institute, stressed the positive return on investment of the Incubator Award program. “Between 2013 and 2018, Incubator projects have generated a seven-to-one return on investment,” she noted. That is, for every $1 it costs to fund the awards, $7 are returned to the university through federal grants and other external funding.

Teams must be composed of faculty leaders who represent at least two different departments at Duke. Projects that include investigators from multiple schools within the University (e.g., School of Medicine, Arts & Sciences, Pratt School of Engineering) are encouraged. Criteria for awards included innovation, interdisciplinarity, significance to the brain sciences, quality of the approach, feasibility, and potential to lead to external funding. Following is a list of this year’s team members and their projects:

2019 DIBS Research Incubator Grants

Team MembersTitle & Lay Summary
PI: Greg Cogan, PhD
School of Medicine

Also School of Medicine:
Saurabh Sinha, MD, PhD, Neurology
Derek Southwell, PhD, Neurosurgery
John Pearson, PhD, Biostatistics & Bioinformatics

Jonathan Viventi, PhD
Biomedical Engineering
Pratt School of Engineering
Decoding of Speech for Neural Prostheses Using High-density Electrocorticography and Machine Learning

Language allows us to express our thoughts and understand the thoughts of others. People who lack this ability feel isolated, lonely, and frustrated. Patients who suffer from debilitating neuromuscular disorders have difficulty communicating through language.

Current technologies that provide some ability to communicate are slow and cumbersome. This group will explore a promising new technology that constructs speech directly from the brain. The team will develop pattern analysis techniques to extract speech and language information directly from brain signals, while also measuring the brain signals at much higher resolution than previously done.

The team hopes to use this information to create better-quality speech sounds for patients with neuromuscular disorders, helping them speak more clearly, allowing them to communicate more effectively.
PI: Jenna McHenry, PhD
Psychology & Neuroscience
Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Diego Bohórquez, PhD
School of Medicine
Functional Interrogation of Reproductive Peripheral-brain Circuits for Controlling Social and Affective States

Many human neuropsychiatric disorders have differing prevalence in males versus females. For example, autism spectrum disorders are four times more common in males, whereas mood disorders are twice as common in females. Sex biases are clues to the underlying neurobiological mechanisms, yet the neural circuits involved remain undefined. Sexual differentiation of the brain and reproductive system occurs early in life, but it is unknown how sensory inputs in adulthood traverse the reproductive-brain-axis to modulate behavior and moods.

Traditionally, it was thought that communication between these systems occurred only through hormones that travel through the blood. However, the Bohórquez Lab recently discovered that information can travel directly from the gut to the brain. The reproductive system likely operates through similar mechanisms, but those mechanisms remain undefined. The goal of this study is to look for such direct links between the reproductive system and the brain. The McHenry Lab has expertise using novel circuit techniques to study how reproductive hormonal systems coordinate neural activity for social and emotional behaviors. These researchers will combine their expertise to map out the circuits that link the brain and reproductive organs.
PI: Marc Sommer, PhD
Biomedical Engineering
Pratt School of Engineering

Elika Bergelson, PhD
Psychology & Neuroscience
Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

John Pearson, PhD
Biostatistics & Bioinformatics
School of Medicine
Computational Links between Visual and Linguistic Perception

The brain converts sensory input into “percepts” that are meaningful for thought and action. For example, when we look at a glass of orange juice on a table, our eyes receive a disjointed collection of contrast levels and light wavelengths, but our brain perceives this information as a glass that can be picked up. How does the brain do this?

Theories of perception either assume that the brain constructs a model of the world that merges past experiences with current evidence, or that it relies on simple, flexible systems to classify patterns. This research group has recently shown that for visual perception, humans switch between the two strategies. This switch in strategies might be special to vision or general to all perception. The group will therefore perform similar experiments in the domain of language. Finding computational commonalities between vision and language will help reveal general principles of brain function and provide insight into perceptual disorders.
PI: Elena Tenenbaum, PhD
Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
School of Medicine

Also School of Medicine:
Geraldine Dawson, PhD, and Kathryn Gustafson
Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences

Kimberley Fisher, PhD, and William Malcolm, MD
Using Computer Vision to Screen for ASD in Toddlers and Infants Born Premature

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder with symptoms emerging in infancy. Despite this early onset, many children with ASD are not diagnosed until they approach school age. This delay is greater among children of color and those living in under-resourced communities.

Formal diagnosis of autism is time-consuming and requires a specially-trained provider, which limits availability. Furthermore, current methods are not designed for use with infants. To improve on current screening methods, researchers at Duke designed SenseToKnow, a tablet-based application (app) that was designed to assess for risk of ASD and can be administered during a standard doctor’s office visit, making it widely accessible. This group will test the app with toddlers who were born premature to determine whether it can distinguish risk for ASD from risk for other developmental disorders. The group will also test the app with infants born premature to determine whether it can be used effectively in infancy. If we can identify children at risk for ASD early and accurately, we can improve access to diagnostic assessments and intervention and thereby improve outcomes.
PI: Huanghe Yang, PhD
Biochemistry & Neurobiology
School of Medicine

Mohamad Mikati, MD
School of Medicine
Targeting BK Calcium-activated Potassium Channel to Treat Epilepsy & Dyskinesia

Epilepsy and dyskinesia are two types of neurological disorders that feature seizures and involuntary movements. They affect millions of people, who often face higher frequency of depression and other mood disorders, challenges in education and social life, and higher risk of early death. About one-third of epilepsy patients live with uncontrollable seizures due to lack of effective medication. It is thus urgent to better understand the pathophysiology of these conditions, so that we can develop new therapeutics.

Dr. Yang is an expert in the physiology of “BK”-type ion channels. Dr. Mikati is a pediatrician who has identified patients with epilepsy and dyskinesia who have mutations in these types of ion channels. Together, they will work to understand how these mutations cause the neurological symptoms and how to design new precision therapeutics, using a mouse model with the human mutation in the channel.
Junjie Yao, PhD
Biomedical Engineering
Pratt School of Engineering

Wei Yang, PhD
School of Medicine
Head-mounted Photoacoustic Imaging of Deep-brain Neural Activities in Freely-Behaving Animals

The brain is an incredibly powerful information-processing center, responding to millions of inputs each day. The best way to learn about brain activity is, of course, to have the brain be alert and active. Yet many of our evaluation techniques require subjects to lie still, often sedated, during the scans. This group will therefore work to develop tools to collect data from awake, behaving animals using photoacoustic imaging (PAM).

PAM is based on the photoacoustic effect: When laser (light) pulses are sent into brain of freely moving animals, they generate soundwaves that can be transformed into images that represent how neurons are firing at the time. These methods can be used in many applications, including during cognitive tasks or when stroke happens. This new methodology could become a powerful tool to help scientists unlock the brain’s inner workings.

Originally posted on the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences website

Four Teams Receive Germinator Awards to Grow New Ideas in Neuroscience Research

DIBS Germinator Awards.

Four interdisciplinary research teams will conduct innovative neuroscience research with support from 2019 Research Germinator Awards from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS). The teams are focused on:

  • Reducing post-operative cognitive decline for people with dementia
  • Understanding biofeedback at the neural level, through advanced imaging and computational analysis
  • Exploring the cognitive and neural mechanisms that update knowledge and beliefs
  • Developing more accurate and cost-effective technology to guide Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, a treatment method used with a wide range of brain disorders

“I am excited to see the breadth of topics and technologies that are represented in 2019 Germinator applications,” said DIBS Director Geraldine Dawson. “We also appreciated the wide representation across Duke University.” The 14 researchers on this year’s Germinator teams represent seven departments from three schools: Arts & Sciences, Medicine, and Pratt School of Engineering.

This is the second year for DIBS Research Germinator Awards, which are designed to support requests for training, pilot data, non-faculty salary, and/or equipment that would jump start new research and, if successful, lead to external funding. Graduate students, postdoctoral associates, and faculty are eligible to submit proposals for up to $25,000. Lead investigators of the 2019 awards represent the full range of eligibility, including a postdoctoral fellow, two graduate students, and faculty members.

Please see following chart for more information about the 2019 Germinator Award projects. The call for Letters of Intent for the 2020 Germinator Awards will go out this spring. More information may be found on the DIBS website: https://dibs.duke.edu/research/awards/schedule-application

2019 Germinator Award Recipients & Project Synopses

Investigators Germinator Award Project Synopses
Ravikanth Velagapudi, PhD, Anesthesiology, School of Medicine; and William Huffman, PhD, and David Bradway, PhD, both of Biomedical Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering  

Targeting Autophagy with Non-Invasive Vagal Nerve Stimulation to Treat Delirium Superimposed on Dementia

People living with dementia often need common surgical interventions such as knee replacement or hip-fracture repair. These patients are at risk for experiencing further cognitive decline after surgery. This research project will address this serious public health concern by providing fundamental knowledge to help reduce the burden of neurologic complications after common surgical procedures and improve the quality of life for these high-risk patients. The aims will implement a new non-invasive approach (stimulation of the vagus nerve) to regulate critical cellular processes involved in many neurological disorders, yet unexplored in the context of perioperative surgical recovery.


Rachael Wright, Psychology & Neuroscience (P&N), Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, and DIBS Cognitive Neuroscience Admitting Program (CNAP); Alison Adcock, MD, PhD, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine; Kevin LaBar, PhD, P&N, and John Pearson, PhD, Biostatistics & Bioinformatics, School of Medicine The Spatiotemporal Dynamics of Self-Regulation Learning in Real-time fMRI Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback is a promising method for examining the relationship between brain function and behavior. In neurofeedback, individuals are shown a graphical representation of a specific brain signal and learn to control that brain signal through practice. Scientists can then measure whether regulation of the targeted brain signal impacts thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Clinicians have also applied neurofeedback to help remedy symptoms of psychiatric or neurological disorders, yet scientists still lack an understanding of the neural mechanisms by which the process occurs. To answer this important question, it is critical to investigate how different regions throughout the brain interact during training to help individuals learn to control a specific brain signal. In this project, we develop a new approach to understand how brain states change during neurofeedback learning using advanced brain imaging technology and computational analysis tools. Ultimately, this project will improve our understanding of how neurofeedback works and promote advances in its design and application.


Alyssa Sinclair, CNAP, DIBS, and Arts & Sciences; Alison Adcock, MD, PhD, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine; and Gregory Samanez-Larkin, PhD and Elizabeth Marsh, PhD, both Psychology & Neuroscience in Arts & Sciences Learning From Error: Cognitive, Motivational, and Neural Mechanisms

Learning from error is a fundamental part of real-world cognition. Students must learn from mistakes to gain knowledge. We all draw on past experience to predict the future, but our predictions are not always accurate. In such situations, we must dynamically update our knowledge and strategies. It is clear that learning from error is important for success, but humans can be resistant to change. When new information challenges our beliefs, we often find it difficult to reconcile with our existing knowledge. What are the conditions that make us receptive to feedback, allowing us to learn from error? This group will investigate ways to encourage and support learning from error. They will consider the motivational and emotional factors that shape how we respond to feedback, predicting that learning about how memories integrate with experience will make participants more receptive to feedback. They aim to uncover the cognitive and neural mechanisms of knowledge and belief updating, bearing implications for both educational practices and the pervasive spread of misinformation in the media.


Angel V. Peterchev, PhD, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine; Guillermo Sapiro, PhD, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering; Dennis A. Turner, MD, Neurosurgery, School of Medicine; Stefan M. Goetz, PhD, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine Accurate, Affordable, and Easy-to-Use Navigation for Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses magnetic fields sent from a “wand” placed on the head to safely improve brain function without drugs or surgery. TMS is approved for treatment of brain disorders such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and migraine. It also holds promise for studying and treating other psychiatric and neurological illnesses. TMS interventions rely on precise targeting of areas of the brain that may not be functioning well. However, existing TMS devices have limited utility because they require the user to wear expensive and uncomfortable equipment, in order to accurately target the proper brain regions. This group will develop a cheaper, simpler, and more comfortable tool to position the stimulator over the correct brain target. Drawing on recent developments in computer vision and smart cameras, the group will develop technology could enable better brain research and clinical treatments.


Originally posted on the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences website

Three Students Awarded Karen L. Wrenn Alzheimer’s Disease Travel Prize

Grant recipients.

Two medical students and one doctoral student to attend scientific conferences

Two graduate medical students and one doctoral student in cognitive neuroscience have received 2019-2020 Karen L. Wrenn Trust Travel Awards. The awards, given each year to Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) graduate students, are made possible through the generosity of the Wrenn Trust, named for Duke alumna Karen L. Wrenn, who died of Alzheimer’s Disease. Along with the Trust, the awards are supported by visionary Duke Alumni leader Marjorie Thomas.

Award recipients used the funding to attend and present research at key scientific conferences such as the annual Society for Neuroscience event, one of the foremost neuroscience events of the year. It allows them to benefit from presentations, exhibit posters, and network with other professionals.

This year’s awardees:

  • Tracy Darbeloff, doctoral student in the Cognitive Neuroscience program, who is identifying mid-life risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. She is working in the laboratory of Dr. Hamad Hariri.
  • Deborah Oyeyemi, graduate medical student, who is studying the shared risks between dementia and post-operative cognitive decline. She is working in the laboratories of Drs. Heather Whitson and Miles Berger.
  • Cason B. Robbins, graduate medical student, who is working on the Duke Neurodegeneration Retinal Imaging Repository. He is working in the laboratories of Drs. Sharon Fedrat and Dilraj Grewal.

Originally posted on the DIBS website