Four Groups of Duke Faculty Receive Collaboratory Grants for Research on Issues Affecting North Carolina and Global Communities

Yadkin River, NC; solar panels; summary ejectments per square mile in Durham; Bass Connections research in Madagascar.
Yadkin River, NC; solar panels; summary ejectments per square mile in Durham; Bass Connections research in Madagascar

Four groups led by Duke University faculty have been awarded Collaboratory grants for research into pressing local and global challenges.

“From investigations in our own backyard into evaluating water safety and lessening the impact of evictions on child development, to research aimed at increasing solar energy efficiency and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases on a global scale, these proposals speak to our dedication to improving the human condition,” said Provost Sally Kornbluth. “Supporting faculty research is an essential way to advance the fundamental learning and discovery at which we excel, and those investments provide ripple effects that benefit teaching and service.”

The grant period is one year with a possibility of renewal.

Drinking Water Contamination in North Carolina: Water Use, Human Health, and Going Beyond GenX

  • Principal Investigators: Heather M. Stapleton, Nicholas School of the Environment; Lee Ferguson, Pratt School of Engineering and Nicholas School of the Environment

Changes in water availability, increases in pollution, and policy regulations are resulting in substantial challenges for water protection, and consumers bear the social and economic burden when drinking water sources are contaminated. One of the most relevant threats to public drinking water in the U.S. is a class of chemicals called poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). These chemicals made local headlines in 2017 when news stations reported contamination of drinking water wells with “GenX” in New Hanover and Brunswick counties.

In 2018, the state legislature appropriated several million dollars for testing all surface waters across the state. Despite the broad documentation of PFAS contamination, no funding was included to evaluate health impacts on affected communities or to identify sources.

This collaboratory will build a water model to help identify potential point source(s) of PFAS contamination, and underlying variables influencing the water levels, in the Piedmont region. In addition, the researchers will examine the relationship between water levels and biological PFAS levels, and conduct geospatial analyses to determine if poorer health outcomes at birth are associated with areas of higher PFAS contamination. The group will also investigate effects of PFAS on birth outcomes using an animal model, and integrate environmental and human health knowledge into management and policy recommendations regarding water use policies.

Minimizing the Influence of Air Pollution on Solar Energy Production

Particulate matter, including air pollution and dust, has dramatic impacts on both climate and human health. It also reduces solar energy production by about 15% on a global average and as much as 40% in some regions. This current loss in efficiency is estimated to account for the loss of power output valued in the tens of billions of dollars annually, dramatically affecting cost effectiveness and renewable energy access. The problem is not well understood and few studies are available that quantify the impacts, although it will become increasingly important with solar power production expected to increase globally by nearly four-fold over the next 20 years.

This collaboratory will assess the regional impacts of air pollution on solar energy production, determine cost-effective strategies to minimize the influence of particulate matter on solar energy production, and develop and test novel surfaces and coatings that hold great promise in minimizing the influence of deposited particulate matter on solar energy production.

Evaluating and Mitigating the Impact of Evictions and Other Housing Insecurity Issues over Health and Child Development in North Carolina

  • Additional Team Members: Jillian Hurst, School of Medicine; Sarah Dickerson, postdoctoral associate, Sanford School of Public Policy; graduate and professional students

In the U.S., 10-15% of households experience housing insecurity. For families with young children, this number is much higher. Lack of secure housing is associated with a host of health consequences including psychological distress and exacerbating chronic conditions. For children, housing instability is associated with increased problem behaviors, respiratory conditions, infectious diseases, and decreased access to healthcare. In Durham, 16% of children aged 0-8 live in a household where housing costs exceed 50% of the household income—leaving few resources for other needs such as food, clothing, and transportation.

This collaboratory brings together a multidisciplinary team to study how housing insecurity affects children’s health and education and what policy solutions may be implemented to mitigate the associated harms. To inform evidence-based policies and help communities promote population-level health, this study will assess patterns of population movement in Durham County and the relationship of these patterns with housing insecurity, examine the effects of housing insecurity and evictions on the education of children across North Carolina and in Durham County specifically, and investigate the effects of housing insecurity and evictions on children’s healthcare utilization and health status in Durham County.

Identifying Infectious Disease Transmission Pathways for Improved Population Health and Pandemic Preparedness

  • Principal Investigators: Charles L. Nunn, Evolutionary Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Randall Kramer, Nicholas School of the Environment; James Moody, Sociology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Linfa Wang, Duke-NUS Medical School
  • Additional Team Members: Alma Solis, Ph.D. student in Evolutionary Anthropology; other graduate students

The title of a recent high-profile Commentary in Nature proclaimed, “Pandemics: Spend on surveillance, not prediction.” If resources and time were unlimited, scientists would exhaustively sample wild animals, domesticated animals, and humans, and they would fully investigate the ecological contexts in which transmission occurs; all of these foci are crucial for predicting disease emergence. Given the reality of limited resources, new approaches are needed to deepen understanding of disease transmission pathways from animals to humans.

This collaboratory will use new surveillance tools and apply analytical frameworks from network epidemiology to disentangle the drivers of disease transmission at the human-animal ecological interface. The group’s research takes place in rural Madagascar. Members will collect and analyze blood samples and expand socioeconomic data collection; this research will provide crucial pilot data to increase the competitiveness of external grant submissions, while also providing opportunities for students involved in the research to publish early findings and present those findings at conferences. In addition to collecting data in the field and shipping samples to Singapore for analysis, funding will enable us to develop new analytical pipelines for network epidemiological analyses, including with graduate students on Duke’s campus.

About the Collaboratory Grants

Part of the Together Duke academic strategic plan, Collaboratory grants provide support for groups of faculty seeking to provide solutions to targeted problems in three areas:

  • Energy and water resources
  • Race, religion, and citizenship
  • Population health.

Over time, these thematic areas will likely evolve. Project funding ranges from $20,000 to $200,000 annually. The offices of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs oversee this seed grant program.

The first round of Collaboratory grants was announced in April 2018. The six groups and principal investigators were Decisions, Risks, and Governance of Geoengineering (Mark Borsuk, Jonathan Wiener, Billy Pizer, Drew Shindell); Innovations in Infrastructure (Megan Mullin, Amy Pickle); The Duke Polarization Lab (Christopher Bail); Understanding the Transforming U.S. South (Kerry L. Haynie, John Aldrich, Linda Burton, Adriane Lentz-Smith, Mark Anthony Neal, Donald Taylor); The Duke University Precision Health and Wellness Initiative (Geoff Ginsburg, Susanne Haga); and A Road Map for Affordable Healthcare in the 21st Century (Nimmi Ramanujam).

Migration’s Many Forms: Finding Creative Ways to Examine the Movement of Populations

Migration Lab faculty and student photos.
Directors, teaching and graduate assistants, and fellows of the Representing Migration Humanities Lab (top row: Charlotte Sussman, Tsitsi Jaji, Domenika Baran, Jarvis McInnis, Corina Stan; second row: Sasha Panaram, Karen Little, Sonia Nayak, Catherine Lee, Isabella Arbelaez; third row: Jessica Covill, Kelsey Desir, Nicole Higgins, Jared Junkin, Dana Johnson; bottom row: Andrew Kim, Trisha Remetir, Hannah Borenstein, Grant Glass, Anna Tybinko)

A few years ago, two associate professors in Duke’s English Department started a reading group to explore their shared interest in human mobility and its cultural expressions. Building on their discussions, Charlotte Sussman and Tsitsi Jaji teamed up with fellow faculty members Dominika Baran, Jarvis McInnis, and Corina Stan to direct the Representing Migration Humanities Lab.

The lab received support from Humanities Unbounded, a five-year initiative funded by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant.

“We were lucky to have some great graduate students as part of the group convening the lab,” Sussman says. “They made me really enjoy working collaboratively.”

Sussman is the author of Consuming Anxieties: Consumer Protest, Gender, and British Slavery, 1713–1833 and Eighteenth-Century English Literature. Based on her positive experience with the lab, she says she “started looking for different kinds of pedagogies and also opportunities for graduate students.”

Fifteen students have served as Representing Migration fellows, teaching assistants, or graduate lab assistants. Others have taken part in courses and research with faculty.

One of the lab’s projects explored Migration Memorials. Around the same time, over at the Duke Marine Lab, Cindy Van Dover’s lab was studying the impact of seabed mining. “It occurred to them that [mining] grants from the International Seabed Authority were close to the path of the Middle Passage,” Sussman says. Van Dover’s lab became interested in proposing a memorial to victims of the trans-Atlantic voyages that brought enslaved Africans to the New World.

Phillip Turner, a Ph.D. student in Marine Science and Conservation, convened a meeting with a wide range of experts, including Sussman. “They knew about the geography but were curious how the Middle Passage was recorded or memorialized,” she says.

Phillip Turner (second from left) with Aline Jaeckel, Diva Amon, and Jessica Perelman at the 25th Session of the International Seabed Authority in Kingston, Jamaica.
Phillip Turner (second from left) with Aline Jaeckel, Diva Amon, and Jessica Perelman at the 25th Session of the International Seabed Authority in Kingston, Jamaica

Turner organized a coauthored article on ways to commemorate the enslaved people who came to rest on the Atlantic seabed. In 2018, he received a Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant to attend a meeting of the International Seabed Authority, where he networked and discussed the Middle Passage project. “The project was positively received,” he reported, “and it will hopefully be discussed in more detail at subsequent ISA sessions once the manuscript has been published.”

Kaylee Alexander.
Kaylee Alexander

Sussman had an idea to explore the Middle Passage from a new angle and involve more students through a Data+ summer research project. To help prepare the project, doctoral student Kaylee Alexander (Art, Art History & Visual Studies) worked with Duke Libraries’ Data and Visualization Services as a Humanities Unbounded Graduate Assistant.

“One of the original goals of the project was to use data representing nearly 36,000 transatlantic slave voyages to see if it would be possible to map a reasonable location for a deep-sea memorial to the transatlantic slave trade,” Alexander reflected. “The promises of these data were great; we just had to figure out how to use them.”

Sussman’s Data+ team set out to locate where and why enslaved Africans died during the sea voyage and analyze patterns of these mortality rates.

Chudi Zong, Ethan Czerniecki, Daisy Zhan, Charlotte Sussman, and Emma Davenport at the Data+ poster session.
Chudi Zong, Ethan Czerniecki, Daisy Zhan, Charlotte Sussman, and Emma Davenport at the Data+ poster session

“It’s been really interesting to fill in the gaps of the Middle Passage and search for patterns,” said Chudi Zhong, a master’s student in Statistical Science. “There is a lot of missing data, and we’ve used current technology to fill gaps. For example, using the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, we can find records on how many enslaved people died. The Climatological Database for the World’s Oceans has other kinds of data for ships. We merged the two databases and found 35 matching voyages. Then we used our own model to make predictions.”

Dutch Slaving Voyages (1751-1795): The height of each bar corresponds to the average number of deaths per 150km2 grid. The color of the bar corresponds to the number of ship locations recorded in each grid. [From the Data+ team’s executive summary].
Dutch Slaving Voyages (1751-1795): The height of each bar corresponds to the average number of deaths per 150km2 grid. The color of the bar corresponds to the number of ship locations recorded in each grid. [From the Data+ team’s executive summary]
As an undergraduate majoring in Philosophy and Global Cultural Studies, Ethan Czerniecki said the Data+ project “gave me a different way of approaching these topics outside the humanities that proved to be expansive,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought to treat these individuals as data points, but [the data science approach] opens up new areas like data visualization. Combining a humanities project with data science is really interesting, and the methodologies interact well.”

Prediction of 2,164 trans-Atlantic voyage paths that ended in the northern hemisphere based on the LSTM model; inset map:  prediction of 36 trans-Atlantic voyage paths based on the LSTM model, all of which have reasonably smooth lines. [From the Data+ team’s executive summary].
Prediction of 2,164 trans-Atlantic voyage paths that ended in the northern hemisphere based on the LSTM model; inset map:  prediction of 36 trans-Atlantic voyage paths based on the LSTM model, all of which have reasonably smooth lines. [From the Data+ team’s executive summary]
English Ph.D. student Emma Davenport served as project manager for the Data+ team. “This was my first experience in a real mentorship role,” she said. “It’s different than being part of a team doing the research. Being a mentor calls for a different set of skills and a different orientation.” Davenport is going on the job market this year. “Job committees want to see that you have a set of skills for guiding undergraduate research,” she said, “and both academic and nonacademic jobs are looking for candidates with a well-rounded skillset. I couldn’t have gotten this experience from traditional teaching and research.”

This fall, a Bass Connections project team is continuing the work of the Representing Migration lab and the Data+ project. Doctoral students in English and Romance Studies and undergraduates representing at least six majors are collaborating with faculty and librarians. Some students are creating a map showing where the deaths occurred in the Atlantic; their original data will support a proposal for the Middle Passage memorial.

Also in this academic year, six graduate and undergraduate students will serve as Representing Migration Humanities Fellows.

“I think these opportunities are really great,” says Sussman. “Duke is not a heavy teaching school, at least for English, relative to other Ph.D. programs, but I think what Duke can offer grad students is more unique. This kind of work is useful to them professionally, whether they go into academia or not.”

In addition to the opportunities she has found to engage students in research on migration, Sussman has tapped into other Duke programs as well.

Undergraduates Clifford Haley, Eli Kline, and Bailey Bogle present “Pirating Texts” at the 2019 Story+ Research Symposium. Photo: Jennifer R. Zhou.
Undergraduates Clifford Haley, Eli Kline, and Bailey Bogle present “Pirating Texts” at the 2019 Story+ Research Symposium. Photo: Jennifer R. Zhou

Grant Glass used a Data Expeditions grant to create a data visualization module for Sussman’s course, Queens of Antiquity. A doctoral student at UNC Chapel Hill, Glass also served as project manager on Sussman’s 2018 Data+ project, Pirating Texts, and as graduate mentor on the 2019 Story+ summer research project of the same name.

Most recently, English Ph.D. student Kimberley Dimitriadis received an Archival Expeditions grant to create a module for Sussman’s medical humanities course, Doctors’ Stories.

“Using this [kind of approach] in your classroom setting involves letting go of authority, and sometimes that works better than others,” says Sussman. “You have to be willing to let go.”

Learn more at a free lunchtime event on December 4 at the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, featuring Charlotte Sussman and colleagues.

Current Opportunities and Deadlines

Collaborative Research Drives Classroom Learning in Grad Students’ Innovative Courses

Tom Cinq-Mars, Ashton Merck.

Tom Cinq-Mars and Ashton Merck are Ph.D. students in Duke’s History Department. As they advanced through their doctoral training, they took part in research projects through Duke’s Bass Connections program, working with faculty and other students to tackle complex challenges such as regulating and managing ocean energy and animal waste.

Last year, Cinq-Mars and Merck received Bass Instructional Fellowships, which support graduate students to design and teach their own courses and build knowledge in digital instruction. As Bass Instructors of Record, they chose to integrate the Bass Connections model of collaborative, interdisciplinary research into their undergraduate courses.

Extractive Economies

Students in Tom Cinq-Mars’s Fall 2018 undergraduate seminar analyzed the development of large-scale natural resource recovery from prehistory through the present. Employing a modular structure, Cinq-Mars divided the course into three units: a survey of extractive industry writ large; Dutch disease; and pollution.

“Most importantly,” he said, “the course revolved around a collaborative research project. Rather than write an individual term paper aimed solely at the instructor, students worked together in teams to design community college courses. Each team crafted a detailed encyclopedia entry, a literature review, and a case study on their own about a single extractive industry.”

In the process, students incorporated material from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library as well as insights from Professor Barak Richman, an expert on the diamond trade.

Students drew up a team charter to clarify their direction, set expectations, and establish boundaries. At the end, each person submitted a personal and peer review; Cinq-Mars encouraged critical reflection by offering bonus points for thorough and introspective reviews.

For Cinq-Mars, teaching this course “represented a watershed moment in my personal and professional development.” He praised the fellowship for improving his preparation for a career as an academic historian.

“Designing the course enabled me to hone a distinct pedagogical style early in my career,” he said. “Planning the component classes enhanced my research capabilities, and sharing material with colleagues reinforced the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration.”

Two students went on to apply what they learned in the course to summer internships in the energy sector. Economics major Charlie Daniel ’20 consulted on oil and gas projects, and Computer Science major Heeya Sen ’21 worked for a startup company that builds solar-powered shelters for displaced persons.

The Modern Regulatory State

Drawing on her experience with two prior Bass Connections project teams, Ashton Merck used her Bass Instructional Fellowship to integrate team-based research into her undergraduate course in Spring 2019.

“My Bass Connections experience showed me that students are very interested in ‘research’ but often don’t know how to craft a research question, how to find sources, or how to use the sources they find,” said Merck. “When I had an opportunity to teach my own course, I structured the final paper with the goal of fostering these crucial research skills.”

Students worked in pairs or small groups to investigate solutions to an emerging regulatory problem of their choice, drawing on historical case studies. “Because the class is heavily cross-listed, students inadvertently found themselves in groups where they had to talk across disciplines or areas of expertise,” Merck said. The students addressed such timely issues as dockless bikes in cities, antitrust actions against large technology firms, legalization of cannabis products, assault weapons bans, and policing content on social media.

“I asked students to work in groups for the final paper because I had experienced first-hand the value of collaborative research and writing as part of a Bass Connections team. It can be enormously challenging to coordinate research findings and writing with other people, but as several students told me later in the semester, it was far more rewarding than a standard term paper.”

Before finalizing their papers, the teams presented their research in a workshop format and received feedback from a dozen graduate students and faculty members from Law, Business, History, Economics, Public Policy, and Philosophy.

Professor Lawrence Baxter congratulated the class on their thought-provoking presentations. “This got me thinking about some elements of regulation that I haven’t thought about before,” he said, “and I teach this stuff.”

Apply for a Bass Instructional Fellowship

Created through an endowment gift from the family of Anne T. and Robert M. Bass, the Bass Instructional Fellowship Program supports high-quality teaching experiences for Ph.D. students where normal means of funding are unavailable. It also helps students become more knowledgeable in digital teaching and learning. The program offers fellowships for instructors of record, instructional teaching assistants, and digital education fellows. The application opens on October 1 and closes on November 18.

Propose a Bass Connections Project

Named in honor of founding donors Anne T. and Robert M. Bass, the Bass Connections program exemplifies Duke’s commitment to interdisciplinary, collaborative inquiry. Graduate students may propose year-long projects for the 2020-2021 academic year in collaboration with at least one faculty team leader. The deadline is November 4.

Emily Bernhardt on Interdisciplinary Collaboration

“I am engaging in a wholly new set of important questions about how mercury is being added to and cycling through the Peruvian Amazon”

Emily Bernhardt at a creek outside the Phytotron Building on Duke’s campus (Photo: Megan Morr).
Emily Bernhardt at a creek outside the Phytotron Building on Duke’s campus (Photo: Megan Morr)

Emily S. Bernhardt is interested in how humans affect the movement of water, chemicals, and energy through ecosystems. She’s the Jerry G. and Patricia Crawford Hubbard Professor in Duke’s Department of Biology and Professor of Environmental Sciences and Policy.

In the Peruvian Amazon, humans’ gold-mining activities are resulting in mercury pollution and deforestation. Bernhardt is leading a Bass Connections project team to study the impacts of this mining; other faculty members include Bill Pan, Ernesto Ortiz, and John Terborgh, joined by an interdisciplinary team of graduate and undergraduate students. Recently, she reflected on her involvement in this collaborative research project. Below are excerpts from her comments.


Engaging a Diverse Team of Students

Our Bass Connections team is really an amazing collection of people. Jackie Gerson [Ph.D. student in Ecology] is an incredibly capable lead and she did a great job recruiting and selecting students.

We have three global health/environmental health-focused undergraduate students. Two [Kelsey Lansdale and Eliza Letourneau] are seniors and both are conducting their honors thesis on component research projects within this study. Our sophomore student Melissa Marchese is conducting an independent study and already thinking about how to return for a second trip and use the data collected for her senior thesis.

Kelsey Lansdale, Jackie Gerson, and Melissa Marchese (Photo: courtesy of Jackie Gerson)
Kelsey Lansdale, Jackie Gerson, and Melissa Marchese (Photo: courtesy of Jackie Gerson)

These three great undergrads are complemented by three really impressive professional students. Tatiana Manidis is a MEM student who is interested in the human exposure part of this study. Chris Lara is a Public Policy master’s student from Colombia with 15 years of experience working at the UN on behalf of South American environmental policy issues. Natalia Rivadeneyra heard about our group and asked to join us. We were thrilled because Natalia is a practicing environmental lawyer in Peru who is at Duke earning her law LLM degree. She has started an environmental nonprofit in Peru and is assisting us with a comparative analysis of the legal and policy frameworks governing (or failing to govern) this illegal and highly polluting form of gold mining.

We are providing a truly unique and interdisciplinary educational experience for seven students from five degree programs, and I can honestly say I am learning a ton from all seven of them.

I am also realizing that my role is to facilitate. I am good at helping set agendas and priorities for groups and that is the one skillset this group collectively lacks. They are individually impressive and quite collaborative but need help pointing their considerable energies into a single direction.

A New Research Effort

This [Bass Connections project] has introduced an entirely new research effort for my lab group, allowing us to apply our tools in biogeochemistry and ecosystem science to a new problem of the Anthropocene.

I hope we will follow the same trajectory as our work on mountaintop removal coal mining, in which a small amount of seed money led to a decade of work and a major foundation and NSF grant as well as real impact on the science and policy arena surrounding this important environmental issue.

Data to Guide Policy Decisions

I am engaging in a wholly new set of important questions about how Hg [mercury] is being added to and cycling through the Peruvian Amazon. This would not have been possible without Bass Connections’ support. I think we are already generating vitally important information to guide management and policy—we are providing the first ever measures of soil and water methyl mercury (the bioavailable form) in Peru—and we are poised to provide far more.

A gold-mining operation on the Madre de Dios river (photo: courtesy of Jackie Gerson).
A gold-mining operation on the Madre de Dios river (Photo: courtesy of Jackie Gerson)

Data collected from this summer’s field work is accumulating. We expect to generate several high-profile papers and to have sufficient information to go after a much larger grant to continue and expand upon this research on Hg pollution associated with artisanal gold mining in one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots—Peru’s Madre de Dios river.


See other faculty profiles, and learn more about Bass Connections.

From Improv to Book Design, Five Faculty to Broaden Skills through New Grant Program

FTREG.

Five 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.

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

iO Summer Five-Week Intensive in Improvisation

Jody McAuliffe, Theater Studies and Slavic & Eurasian Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

To deepen her knowledge of improvisation, McAuliffe will take part in the Summer Five-Week Intensive offered by the iO Theater in Chicago. Each week, a different iO teacher will instruct the class in a particular aspect of the curriculum. The program culminates in a performance in the iO Theater. This intensive experience will enhance McAuliffe’s ability to teach improvisation to undergraduate and graduate students at Duke, including Master of Engineering students enrolled in the Design Thinking course. She will also offer a new course in improvisation to undergraduates in Theater Studies.

Alexander Technique Training Workshops

Eric Pritchard, Music, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Pritchard will attend workshops on the Alexander Technique at Holy Names College in Spokane and the Barstow Institute at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. He has been offering an Alexander Technique course for performing musicians, MUS 116, every semester since Fall 2017, and would like to open the class to undergraduates who are studying dance and theater. The workshop in Washington will give him access to a team of distinguished instructors grounded in multiple artistic disciplines. The Nebraska workshop will provide access to a different group of teachers than the ones he has worked with before.

Book Design and Typography

Christopher Sims, Center for Documentary Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

A monograph of Sims’ photography project, Theater of War: The Pretend Villages of Iraq and Afghanistan, will be published in Spring 2021. To leverage this opportunity and gain insights into the field of book design and print publication, Sims will attend two workshops. The San Francisco Center for the Book “Introduction to Book Arts” course is a two-day intensive workshop designed for experimentation across disciplines. Lensculture’s “Book Design Masterclass” in Amsterdam is a six-day collaborative workshop covering the practical aspects of book-making as well as how to solve the challenge of the printed book medium—shifting from singular images to the book as an object.

Linking Community Forest Carbon Management and Wildlife Movement with Geospatial Technologies

Jennifer Swenson, Environmental Sciences and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment

Swenson plans to explore how her research can be applied in a unique indigenous land management context. In Mexico, she will meet with a nongovernmental organization, Integrator of Indigenous and Campesino Communities of Oaxaca (ICICO), and community leaders. Together they will consider how to complement their current field efforts for wildlife (e.g., camera traps) with geospatial models of connectivity. Using data gathered through previous monitoring, she will help the communities select species for conservation efforts. Then, using geospatial analysis combined with participatory land use planning techniques, they can determine the siting of biological corridors or conservation areas for these species. If their efforts are successful, this will be Mexico’s first wildlife corridor that is based on community lands. Swenson, Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, and John Poulsen have assembled a group of three master’s students to contribute to this work.

Enhancing Teaching of Marine Science and Ethics through Faculty Collaboration

Rebecca Vidra, Environmental Sciences and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment

The grant will support a two-week summer residency at the Duke Marine Lab, where Vidra will meet with colleagues, visit their classrooms, and participate in some of their research projects. Drawing on the strengths of Marine Lab faculty, Vidra will develop a three-week module on marine issues for ENVIRON 102: Introduction to Environmental Science and Policy, and will prepare a course proposal for an undergraduate/graduate seminar on the ethics of marine conservation and policy. Vidra will also forge new collaborations that build on her research on community-based fisheries management in Kauai, in order to bring this work into her teaching.


See all current initiatives in the Together Duke academic strategic plan.

Image, left to right: Jody McAuliffe, Eric Pritchard, Christopher Sims, Jennifer Swenson, Rebecca Vidra

Faculty to Pursue Collaborations through 2019 Intellectual Community Planning Grants

ICPG 2019.

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) are available to groups of faculty.

These grants cover the cost of food, meeting venues, external speakers or other meeting costs, and exploratory research into potential collaborators at Duke and elsewhere. The offices of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Executive Vice Provost oversee this seed grant program.

For the 2019 calendar year, eight groups received Intellectual Community Planning Grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

Big Data and Social Interactions

Big Data and Social Interactions faculty members.

This group will facilitate interactions among faculty who want to learn how technological advancements and big data can improve our understanding of the ways in which social norms and interactions affect individuals’ and firms’ behavior. The primary goal is to produce sustained interactions and research papers capable of being published in leading scholarly journals. A kick-off event will include a visiting speaker. Subsequent meetings will invite faculty to provide overviews of recent research and discuss new ideas; review colleagues’ early-stage research ideas; and share early work with a guest speaker who is a pioneer in the field.

  • Lead: Jillian Grennan, Fuqua School of Business
  • Chris Bail, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Ines Black, Fuqua School of Business, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Ofer Eldar, Law School, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Sarah Gaither, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Sharique Hasan, Fuqua School of Business, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Rachel Kranton, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • David Robinson, Fuqua School of Business, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative

Building Duke’s Community of Theoretical Chemists via a Summer Undergraduate Research Program

Building Duke’s Community of Theoretical Chemists via a Summer Undergraduate Research Program faculty members.

An emerging community of theoretical chemists at Duke is spread across schools and departments. This group has begun to organize a Summer Undergraduate Research Program in Theoretical Chemistry, which will help strengthen the pool of graduate student applicants from North America. The Intellectual Community Planning Grant will enable the participation of more faculty (those who could not fully fund a student on their own) and support team-building excursions. All faculty will present multiple seminars and mentor the summer undergraduate researchers.

  • Lead: David Beratan, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, Duke University Energy Initiative
  • Hashim Al-Hashimi, School of Medicine
  • Volker Blum, Pratt School of Engineering, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke University Energy Initiative
  • Patrick Charbonneau, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Stephen Craig, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke University Energy Initiative
  • Bruce Randall Donald, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology
  • Jianfeng Lu, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Michael Rubinstein, Pratt School of Engineering, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Warren S. Warren, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine
  • Weitao Yang, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke University Energy Initiative

Exploring STEAM (Science, Arts, and Humanities) at Duke

Exploring STEAM at Duke members.

A working group of Duke faculty, staff, administrators, and students will explore overlapping and complementary interests in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, arts, and humanities (broadly referred to as STEAM), and promote more robust interdisciplinary research, coursework, and public engagement in this space, both within and beyond Duke. The group will organize a half-day forum to catalog and describe innovative STEAM activities occurring at Duke and spark new collaborations among faculty, students, staff, and administrators.

  • Lead: Misha Angrist, Social Science Research Institute, Duke Initiative for Science & Society, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Co-lead: Jory Weintraub, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Project manager: Ariana Eily, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Nicolette Cagle, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Aria Chernik, Social Science Research Institute, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Claudia Gunsch, Pratt School of Engineering, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University Energy Initiative
  • Jules Odendahl-James, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Nimmi Ramanujam, Pratt School of Engineering, School of Medicine, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke Initiative for Science & Society, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Nina Sherwood, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Kearsley Stewart, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Victoria Szabo, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative

Health as an Ecosystem: Expanding Our Imaginations of Health

Health as an Ecosystem faculty members.

In ecology, an ecosystem is a community of living organisms and their interactions with the abiotic environment. Dynamic and complex, they may flourish in settings of balance, diversity, and responsive resilience, or they may flounder in contexts of deficit and disruption. This group will apply the ecosystem concept to health and explore new perspectives on health systems, population health, well-being, and disease. During monthly meetings, members will consider a range of questions and engage in activities whose focus will encompass capstone projects, seminars, and future grant proposals.

  • Lead: John Moses, School of Medicine, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Co-lead: Jennifer Lawson, School of Medicine, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Charles Nunn, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Richard Di Giulio, Nicholas School of the Environment, Pratt School of Engineering
  • Alice Ammerman, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
  • Eliana Perrin, School of Medicine
  • Eric Richardson, Pratt School of Engineering
  • Jan Holton, Divinity School
  • Brett McCarty, Divinity School
  • Bill Walker, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Peter English, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Gopal Sreenivasan, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Norman Wirzba, Divinity School, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Jon Fjeld, Fuqua School of Business, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Ray Barfield, School of Medicine, Divinity School, School of Nursing, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Warren Kinghorn, School of Medicine, Divinity School, Duke Initiative for Science & Society

Launching a Triangle-Wide Seminar in the Economics of Education

Launching a Triangle-Wide Seminar in the Economics of Education faculty members.

Currently, there is no regular forum for economists from the Triangle to discuss new empirical work on the economics of education. This group will change that by organizing a one-day workshop. Hosted by the Center for Child and Family Policy, the event will include invited presenters, discussants, and a keynote speaker. It will also serve as a means to explore the possibility of launching a year-long seminar series in 2019-2020 on the economics of education.

Marine Medicine: Multidisciplinary Research at the Nexus of the Environment and Human Health

Marine Medicine faculty members.

Marine medicine is focused on research that cuts across disciplines, including cross-species comparative analyses of cancer protective mechanisms, understanding the risk of disease from exposure to environmental toxins, and discovery of new drugs from marine compounds. This working group will convene monthly and invite guest speakers to provide critical feedback on papers and proposals. Members will also host an annual symposium with a keynote speaker and a networking event to establish collaborations between faculty across the School of Medicine and the Nicholas School of the Environment, and create a long-term strategy for sustained interactions.

Parasite-Host Evolution Network Optimization (PHENO) Working Group

Parasite-Host Evolution Network Optimization (PHENO) Working Group faculty members.

Better methods are needed to identify new pathogens or known animal pathogens with the potential to infect humans and cause disease. Given that pathogens transmit through chains of contact, network-based approaches that represent these epidemiological pathways offer great promise. Through regular meetings, this group of faculty and postdocs will investigate the application of network approaches to a wide range of disease systems and aim to develop new and fundable research projects.

  • Lead: James Moody, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Social Science Research Institute
  • Charles Nunn, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Craig Rawlings, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Gregory Gray, School of Medicine, Duke Global Health Institute
  • Chris Woods, School of Medicine, Duke Global Health Institute
  • Meira Epplein, School of Medicine
  • James Herrera, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Dana Pasquale, Duke Network Analysis Center

Social Studies of Science Working Group

Social Studies of Science Working Group faculty members.

The social study of science, often referred to as science and technology studies, is an interdisciplinary field whose scholars explore topics ranging from the ethical implications of data hacking and the politics of nuclear power to questions of personhood emerging from neuroscience. This group will bring together faculty who are interested in the rapid scale-up of research in the biomedical sciences, data and computational sciences, and environmental sciences as well as the increasing overlap of science and technology studies, medical humanities, and environmental humanities. Members aim to build a network of Duke and Triangle faculty and foster linked research endeavors.

  • Lead: Harris Solomon, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Nicole Barnes, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Global Health Institute
  • Nima Bassiri, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Paul Bendich, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke
  • Mark Olson, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Initiative for Science & Society, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Cate Reilly, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Gabriel Rosenberg, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Priscilla Wald, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Ara Wilson, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Initiative for Science & Society

Christopher Bail on Interdisciplinary Collaboration

“My network has expanded dramatically, and I have been able to pursue new avenues of research”

Christopher Bail and a student.

At a moment when issues related to race, religion, and citizenship are sharply dividing Americans, Christopher A. Bail’s research on political polarization and social media feels especially timely.

Bail is the Douglas and Ellen Lowey Associate Professor of Sociology and Public Policy and the director of the Polarization Lab at Duke. The lab brings together scholars from the social sciences, statistics, and computer science to develop new technology to bridge partisan divides.

A key component of the Together Duke academic strategic plan is to provide faculty with new avenues of support for research and to extend collaborative efforts. In April 2018, Bail and five colleagues received a Research Collaboratory grant for the Polarization Lab.

Members of the Polarization Lab at Duke (Bail, Alexander Volfovsky, Katherine Heller, Sunshine Hillygus, James Moody, Guillermo Sapiro).“My network has expanded dramatically, and I have certainly been able to pursue new avenues of research as a result of the Provost’s [seed funding] initiatives,” he said. “In particular, my collaborations with Sunshine Hillygus, Alex Volfovsky, and Guillermo Sapiro have influenced my research trajectory considerably.”

Over the past year, Bail received grants from the National Science Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation related to his work as director of the Polarization Lab. And in December, Bail and his colleagues learned that they will receive a grant from Facebook’s Foundational Research program to help support the lab.

“The Polarization Lab is a one-of-a-kind entity that has not only raised considerable extramural funding and conducted top-notch research, but it has also allowed me to dramatically expand my work toward the broader public,” he reflected. “Twenty-four major media outlets have covered our research thus far, and our article ranks #10 in public interest among all articles published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the same age.”

To expand the lab’s outreach, Bail arranged visits to Facebook and Twitter as well as a number of nonprofit organizations. He and his colleagues have also forged new ties to government. Bail serves on the Advisory Council to the National Science Foundation’s Social Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate.

On campus, Bail incorporated the research agenda of the Polarization Lab into numerous lectures in the Data Scraping and Text Analysis course he teaches in Duke’s Master in Interdisciplinary Data Science (MIDS) program. An open-source version of his MIDS class on social media data and text analysis is available. Bail is contemplating creating a course on political polarization and social media for undergraduates. Currently, four undergraduates are participating in Polarization Lab research.

Bail at the Summer Institute for Computational Social Science held at Duke in June 2018.Bail has taken advantage of other strategic funding opportunities. In 2017, he and several colleagues received an Intellectual Community Planning Grant for their project, Forum for Innovative Collaborations in the Empirical Study of the Social Sciences (FICESS). “The FICESS group is closely tied to my ongoing research helping to build the field of computational social science,” Bail said.

He noted that the FICESS group enriched his approach to hosting the second annual Summer Institute in Computational Social Science (SICSS) at Duke in June 2018. He cofounded this series of free training events, held concurrently at multiple universities, to introduce junior scholars to the field. Bail received related grants from the Sloan Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation.

“We have open-sourced the entire curriculum for the Summer Institutes in Computational Social Science,” Bail said, “including video of all lectures, code, slides, and teaching materials.” In 2019, SICSS will run in 10 different locations, including Capetown, South Africa and Istanbul, Turkey.

Bail has also been involved in Duke’s Bass Connections program as a team member of SSNAP: Scientific Social Network Analysis Project and a recipient of course development funds for SOCIOL 347: Managing Networks.


See all current initiatives in the Together Duke academic strategic plan, and learn more about these seed funding opportunities:

  • Research Collaboratories (see RFP for projects in Energy and Water Resources; Race, Religion, and Citizenship; and Population Health, due February 15)

Images from top: Courtesy of Christopher Bail; members of the Polarization Lab at Duke (Bail, Alexander Volfovsky, Katherine Heller, Sunshine Hillygus, James Moody, Guillermo Sapiro); Bail at the Summer Institute for Computational Social Science held at Duke in June 2018

Seven Projects Receive 2018 Germinator Research Awards

Photo: SeedlingbyNik@Unsplash

Interdisciplinary projects involve new approaches to neuroscience topics

Seven projects involving nearly two dozen Duke clinical and basic-science faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students have received the inaugural Germinator Research Awards from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS), the Institute’s Faculty Governance Committee Chair, Geraldine Dawson, announced today.

The awards grew out of DIBS Town Hall discussions, part of the strategic-planning process completed in February 2018. “We heard from the DIBS community the need to augment our larger grant program, the Incubator Research Awards, with support for small, targeted funding requests open to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows as well as faculty.” Dawson said. The Germinator Research Awards program was the result.

“These funded projects offer exciting new ways to encourage interdisciplinary approaches to important questions,” she added. Germinator projects receive up to a maximum of $25,000 and may go to single investigators. They must catalyze new research or collaboration and/or enhance chances of obtaining external funding.

2018 Germinator Award Recipients

Toward a Computational Psychiatry of Transdiagnostic Deficits in Cognitive Control
  • Christina Bejjani and Tobias Egner, Psychology & Neuroscience (P&N), Center for Cognitive Neuroscience (CCN); John Pearson, Biostatistics & Bioinformatics and CCN; Terrie E. Moffitt, P&N, Psychiatry & Behavioral  Sciences, Center for Genomic & Computational Biology (CGCB); Social Behaviour & Development, King’s College, London; Avshalom Caspi, P&N, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, CGCB; Social Behaviour & Development, King’s College, London; and R. Alison Adcock, P&N, CCN, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences

This research project brings together the fields of psychiatry, developmental psychology, machine learning, biostatistics, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience with a goal of improving diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders. The team will use computational psychiatry, a relatively new field described by the National Institute of Mental Health as “analytical approaches for the prediction of risk and treatment response and the understanding of the pathophysiology underlying mental disorders.” This could provide alternative methods of diagnosis, currently based primarily on external observed behaviors and self-reporting.

Effect of Connectivity-based rTMS and State-Dependency on Amygdala Activation
  • Lysianne Beynel, Nathan Kimbrel, Greg Appelbaum, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Simon Davis, Neurology

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is can be highly debilitating, with low response rates to pharmacological treatment. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), which uses magnetic fields to affect the brain, has demonstrated only modest efficacy. The shallow penetration of rTMS is insufficient to directly affect deep brain structures such as the amygdala, the brain area affected in PTSD. This team seeks to improve the therapeutic efficacy of rTMS for PTSD by reaching the amygdala indirectly, through its connections to other brain regions. Successful completion of this project could lead to significant long-term contributions to both clinical applications and mechanistic understanding of brain/behavior relationships. The project will involve Duke School of Medicine and the Durham VA Health Care System.

Eulemur as a Primate Model for Oxytocin System Evolution and Function
  • Nicholas Grebe and Christine Drea, Evolutionary Anthropology

Among closely related group-living primates of the genus Eulemur (lemurs, native to Madagascar), some male and female lemurs form monogamous pair bonds; others mate with multiple partners. This unique behavior may be related to the mammalian neuropeptide oxytocin, which facilitates formation and maintenance of social bonding. Being able to assess the comparative neuroendocrinology of pair-bonding in Eulemur will offer significant insights on how this neuropeptide works. This non-invasive research is a collaboration involving Evolutionary Anthropology and Biology and the Research Division of the Duke Lemur Center. It represents a new program of lemur brain science with potential implications for human behavior.

Testing a Neurocognitive Model of Emotional Distancing Using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Kevin LaBar, P&N, CCN; Simon Davis, Neurology; Andrada Neacsiu, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; John Powers, P&N

Emotion regulation is a core component of therapeutic approaches to alleviate distress associated with psychiatric disorders. Distancing is an emotion regulation strategy that relies on self-projection, or the ability to shift perspective from the here and now to a simulated time, place, or person. The team has developed a new model of the neurocognitive processes that contribute to distancing as a successful emotion regulation strategy. We aim to test this model using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in healthy adults.

A Flexible Neural Framework for Decision-Making Across Human Development:  Testing the Influence of Information and Arousal
  • Rosa Li, Duke Center for Interdisciplinary Decision Science, DIBS

Prevailing neural models of decision-making across human development propose that risk-taking peaks in adolescence due to a unique adolescent imbalance between cognitive control via the prefrontal cortex and reward-processing via limbic regions. Though such dual-systems models seem to fit neural data, they have not generated behavioral predictions borne out in the laboratory. One theory is that they fail to account for differences between laboratory and daily decisions related to relative levels of information available and arousal, or attentiveness. Dr. Li, a postdoctoral fellow, hypothesizes a more flexible neural model would yield better information to help understand adolescent neural circuitry and decision-making.

Virally Mediated Transduction of Light-Sensitive Ion Channels in Brainstem Motoneurons of Macaques
  • Marc A. Sommer and Martin O. Bohlen, Biomedical Engineering

This project will apply optogenetics, a biological technique to control neurons by using light, to non-human primates, with a goal of understanding more completely how nerve cells drive muscle activity. That could lead scientists to the ability to manipulate neuromuscular circuitry in non-human primates, an outcome that holds potential benefit to humans with neuromuscular diseases such as multiple sclerosis. The project also has a substantial education component for graduate students and medical students studying “Brain and Behavior” at Duke.

Restore Tactile Sensation and Proprioception in Lower Limb Amputees Using Epidural Spinal Cord Stimulation
  • Amol Yadav, postdoctoral associate, Muhammad Abd-El-Barr, and Nandan Lad, Neurosurgery; Tim Sell, Orthopedic Surgery; Paul Howell, Durham VA Health Care System, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Services

Amputation of a lower limb hinders movement significantly. Modern prosthetic leg technology helps, but cannot duplicate the ability of the human leg to relay vital sensory information to the brain about the body’s surroundings, nor can it address the often-intense “phantom pain,” which is pain felt in missing limbs, likely generated by the brain and spinal cord. A team of neurosurgeons, physical therapists, and rehabilitation medicine experts will work with amputees using spinal-cord stimulation to generate missing sensory information. The goals are to improve rehabilitation and control phantom pain. The project will involve the Duke School of Medicine and the Durham VA Health Care System.

Duke Schools and Programs Represented by 2018 Germinator Award Recipients

Pratt School of Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
School of Medicine
  • Biostatistics & Bioinformatics
  • Neurology
  • Neurosurgery
  • Orthopedic Surgery
  • Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Biology (Center for Genomic & Computational Biology; Duke Lemur Center)
  • Evolutionary Anthropology
  • Psychology & Neuroscience
Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
  • Center for Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Duke Center for Interdisciplinary Decision Science
Durham VA Health Care System
  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Services

Learn more about DIBS research awards.