Molecular Modeling Techniques Aid Exploration of Environmental Contamination

Kirsten Overdahl

As a Ph.D. student in Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health, Kirsten Overdahl is exploring the occurrences and biological effects of emerging environmental contaminants in indoor environments. To further her dissertation research, she sought to purchase software to implement machine learning-based molecular modeling to predict chemical behaviors.

Overdahl was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-2018 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. Her faculty mentor for the grant was P. Lee Ferguson; she is currently co-mentored by Dr. Ferguson and by Heather M. Stapleton.

She provided an update on her GSTEG experience, excerpted below.

I spent Fall 2017 in the Molecular Modeling Lab in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at UNC-Chapel Hill three times per week, training on the modeling techniques that we have since begun to implement in our laboratory. This training was not only empirically valuable, but also financially valuable as well: we became aware of many freely available, public-domain modeling programs, and as a result, we were able to narrow our choice of a license that did require purchasing.

We spent Spring 2018 exploring how we could successfully implement public-domain programs; while we can do many things with these programs, we elected to purchase Schrodinger’s Materials Science Suite. This program will allow us to generate all possible 3-dimensional conformers of the 2-dimensional molecular structures we are able to identify in our search for emerging environmental contaminants. By generating 3-dimensional conformers, we aim to make great strides in our abilities to predict how emerging environmental contaminants may interact with receptors in the body.

We are currently preparing to purchase our Materials Science license. We expect to complete our purchase by the end of this summer, and we look forward to exploring new environmental contamination research moving from chemical identification to behavioral predictions.

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

  • Read other GSTEG updates from the 2017-18 grantees.
  • See who received GSTEG grants for 2018-19.

Training in Radiation Emergency Medicine Prepares Student for Role in Patient Care

Bria Moore

Bria Moore, a Ph.D. student in Medical Physics, enriched her training by attending a course on radiation emergency medicine at Oak Ridge Associated Universities. Learning about the practical aspects of handling contaminated patients in a hospital setting will improve her ability to communicate effectively with medical professionals in emergency situations.

Moore was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. Her faculty mentor is Terry Yoshizumi. She shared this update:

Bria Moore and classmates at Oak RidgeI attended a Radiation Emergency Medicine course at Oak Ridge’s Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site. This experience was invaluable. I got the chance to participate in a detailed radiation emergency simulation.

The opportunity to work hand in hand with experienced emergency medicine physicians, nurse practitioners and general physicians in an emergency room set-up was amazing. As one of only two physicists in the room, I enjoyed the chance to determine my niche in patient care for radiological events.

Beyond the hands-on experience, I got the chance to learn of historical radiation events and response strategies. I also got a chance to hear some physician concerns in treating radioactive patients. In the classroom, I had the chance to refer to another expert in this arena for advice on useful analogies and ways to effectively communicate.

I left Oak Ridge with a new confidence in my abilities to meld well in an emergency room, and a broad network of friends and colleagues in a variety of medical fields that I hope will be valuable resources later in my career.

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

  • Read other GSTEG updates from this year’s grantees.
  • See who received grants for 2018-19.

From Durham to Moshi, New Skills Strengthen Research on Hypertension and Emergency Care

Sophie Galson and colleagues

As a master’s student at the Duke Global Health Institute, Dr. Sophie Galson has been collaborating on a research project on hypertension in the emergency department of Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center in Moshi, Tanzania. To build her language skills and strengthen her contribution to this ongoing work, she enrolled in a residential immersive Swahili course at The Training Centre for Development Cooperation in Eastern and Southern Africa (TCDC).

Galson was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. Her faculty mentor is Catherine Staton. Now back at Duke, she shared an update:

Sophie Galson and colleaguesAs a current Global Health Emergency Medicine Fellow, I recently returned to the U.S. after completing seven months of fieldwork in Moshi, Tanzania, where I was studying non-communicable diseases in the Emergency Department under the mentorship of Dr. Catherine Staton and Dr. John Stanifer.

In addition to working clinically in the Duke Emergency Department, I published “Epidemiology of hypertension in Northern Tanzania: A community-based mixed-methods study” in BMJ OPEN earlier this year. I also just defended my master’s thesis at the Duke Global Health Institute on the burden of hypertension in the emergency department and linkage to care in Moshi, Tanzania.

Sophie GalsonIn April, I presented my thesis work at the European Cardiology Congress (Europrevent) conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and was awarded best oral poster presentation. In the next year I plan to write three to four additional manuscripts based on my thesis project. I also currently mentor one Tanzanian master’s student (Catherine Agustine) on research methods. A basic knowledge of Swahili was crucial to my success in integrating into the research collaboration in Tanzania and analyzing my qualitative results.

I have greatly enjoyed learning the KiSwahili language and Tanzanian culture throughout my time in Tanzania, and the weekly tutoring sessions have helped greatly to accelerate this process. The MS TCDC course was a perfect capstone experience and I was able to start at an intermediate level due to the tutoring. This grant has also had effects beyond myself. Our team has been motivated by my experience to slowly start to incorporate more Swahili into our weekly meetings.

I am thrilled to be staying at Duke and will be starting this July as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery, Division of Emergency Medicine!

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

  • Read other GSTEG updates from this year’s grantees.
  • See who received grants for 2018-19.

Biologist Builds Skills in Coding to Study Deep-sea Marine Animals

Kate Thomas

Kate Thomas, a Ph.D. student in Biology, was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. Her faculty mentor is Sönke Johnsen. She shared an update:

GSTEG funding allowed me to spend two months working on an interdisciplinary project that was outside the scope of my dissertation research. I wanted to improve my skills in coding and computational modeling, so I proposed to undertake a coding-intensive research project to work with a detailed record of over 30 years of deep-sea observations at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

I was mentored by Steve Haddock (coauthor of the book Practical Computing for Biologists) and Anela Choy at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in working with huge datasets using computational tools. I spent two months in residence at MBARI using physical oceanographic data collected at sea to model light levels in the deep ocean and test how these correlate to patterns of animal distributions.

Images courtesy of Kate Thomas

This project expanded the scope of my scientific training and how I think about my future research goals. In addition, it has turned into an ongoing collaboration across three institutions and a long-term effort to understand the variability of midwater light fields and their effects on deep-sea communities.

Thomas graduated this semester and will start a postdoc in August at the Natural History Museum in London.

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

Graduate Student Sees Clear Benefits of Observational Oceanography Training in Bermuda

Ryan Peabody

For Ryan Peabody, a master’s student in Earth and Ocean Sciences, a hands-on course at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences provided a vital supplement to his graduate training at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

He sought to learn more about modern observational oceanography, in order to support his research on the linkage between large-scale ocean circulation and ocean productivity.

Peabody was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) for 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. His faculty mentor is Susan Lozier. Recently he shared an update:

I used my GSTEG to travel to Bermuda and take a two-and-a-half-week course on observational oceanography at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS). At BIOS, I had the opportunity to learn about the capabilities of modern ocean observing platforms and to gain practical experience working with them in the field. It was a great chance to meet other oceanographers and oceanography students, and learn more about the field methods being developed in the field.

My work at Duke is primarily grounded in analysis of existing data, and I greatly enjoyed sampling in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, a region that I had never been to but plays a key role in my work.

Ryan Peabody and fellow students conduct sampling aboard the RV Atlantic Explorer off the coast of Bermuda

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

  • Read other GSTEG updates.
  • See who received grants for 2018-19.

Photo: Ryan Peabody and fellow BIOS trainees conduct sampling aboard the RV Atlantic Explorer off the coast of Bermuda

Fourteen Duke Graduate Students Receive Training Enhancement Grants

GSTEG recipients

Fourteen Duke University students received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) for 2018-2019 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. Stretching beyond their core disciplinary training, these doctoral students will spend up to one semester acquiring skills, knowledge, or experiences that will enhance the approach to their original research.

Hands-on Training

Patrick Gray

Patrick GrayPh.D. in Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment
Faculty mentor: David W. Johnston

Attend Rutgers University Marine Technology Glider Camp to gain experience using oceanographic gliders and intern with a team experienced in applying artificial intelligence data analysis techniques to ecology, to better design and answer novel questions about the ecology of marine mammals

Gray Kidd

Gray KiddPh.D. in History, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: John D. French

Engage in six weeks of professional training in the production of documentary films in Recife, Brazil, in order to produce a companion piece to dissertation, reach underrepresented publics in field research, and build skills as a public humanist

Christine Ryan

Christine RyanS.J.D. in Law, School of Law
Faculty mentor: Katharine T. Bartlett

Conduct fieldwork to examine the role of international human rights law in access to abortion in Kenya; collaborate with advocacy organizations, policymakers, healthcare workers, and grassroots organizations; assess relevance of international human rights law in tackling obstacles to implementing court judgments and national abortion laws

Weiyi Tang

Weiyi TangPh.D. in Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment
Faculty mentor: Nicolas Cassar

Collaborate with Dr. Julie Robidart’s laboratory at National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK, to acquire training on how to identify types of diazotrophs in North Atlantic Ocean and explore how the microbial community influences N2 fixation rates, to support research on marine N2 fixation

Internships

Siddharth Kawadiya

Siddharth KawadiyaPh.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering
Faculty mentor: Marc A. Deshusses

Intern at Firmenich in Geneva to learn analytical methods of headspace analysis of reinvented toilets (which are off the grid; without any connections to water, sewer, or electricity), and incorporate the methods into the lab-scale testing of odor elimination capacity of odor-removing pouches

Hillary Smith

Hillary SmithPh.D. in Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment
Faculty mentor: Xavier Basurto

Spend two months as a fellow of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome to learn more about the organization’s role in small-scale fisheries policy, to support dissertation on implementation of FAO’s first global policy instrument for the small-scale fishing sector

Phillip Turner

Phillip TurnerPh.D. in Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment
Faculty mentor: Cindy Lee Van Dover

Develop informational materials in collaboration with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and take part in the 24th Session of the ISA Council in Kingston, Jamaica, in July 2018, to introduce the seabed beneath the Middle Passage as a potential cultural heritage site

Courses

Torang Asadi

Torang AsadiPh.D. in Religion, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: David Morgan

Enroll in human computer interaction and user experience research courses at UC-Berkeley, Coursera, and Stanford in Summer 2018 to learn methods for studying ways in which humans and machines are intertwined in constituting humanity, to support research on healthcare among Iranians in northern California

Christina Bejjani

Christina BejjaniPh.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: Tobias Egner

Attend one of two Computational Summer Schools to acquire computational analytic skills, learn how to incorporate novel and innovative themes within human neuroscience research, and network with leading researchers and fellow attendees

Morine Cebert

Morine CebertPh.D. in Nursing, School of Nursing
Faculty mentors: Rosa M. Gonzalez-Guarda and Eleanor Stevenson

Attend three courses at Odum Institute’s Qualitative Research Summer Intensive at UNC-Chapel Hill in July 2018 and complete online Nurse Certificate Course for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, to support research on reproductive endocrinology care among African-American women

Yanyou Chen

Yanyou ChenPh.D. in Economics, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: Christopher Timmins

Take part in week-long Railway Operations module of Railway Executive Development Program at Michigan State University, to learn about such topics as how a rail network is formed and operated, how locomotive and car leasing works, and how carpooling and fleet management is conducted

Zachary Levine

Zach LevinePh.D. in Cultural Anthropology, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: Diane M. Nelson

Enroll in plant medicine course at the Jardim Botânico of Rio de Janeiro in Spring 2018 to develop a more rigorous understanding of science-based fundamentals of plant healing, in support of research on Brazil’s state-sanctioned use of ayahuasca

Adrian Linden-High

Adrian Linden-HighPh.D. in Classical Studies, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: Mary T. Boatwright

Attend International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) workshop at University of Victoria, Canada, in June 2018, to build skills in using ultra-high-resolution photographic reproductions of cultural heritage objects

Julia Notar

Julia NotarPh.D. in Biology, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: Sönke Johnsen

Take part in two-week Sensory Ecology Course at Lund University, Sweden, in October 2018, to learn about multiple topics in the field of sensory ecology and support dissertation research on visual ecology

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

A January 2018 RFP invited all current Duke graduate students (including master’s, professional, and Ph.D. students) to propose graduate training enhancement activities lasting up to one semester. Proposals were reviewed by a panel of faculty and graduate students from across the university.

See previous recipients (2017-2018 and 2016-2017) and review the 2016-2017 summary report.

Photo, first row: Torang Asadi, Christina Bejjani, Morine Cebert, Yanyou Chen; second row: Patrick Gray, Siddharth Kawadiya, Gray Kidd, Zachary Levine; third row: Adrian Linden-High, Julia Notar, Christine Ryan, Hillary Smith; fourth row: Weiyi Tang, Phillip Turner

What’s in the Soil? Student Heads to IsoCamp to Learn New Skills for Analyzing Forests

Anna Wade

Anna Wade, a Ph.D. student at the Nicholas School of the Environment, was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. Her faculty mentor is Daniel Richter. She shared an update:

With support from GSTEG, I’ll attend a two-week intensive training workshop on stable isotopes this June at the University of Utah. The program, called IsoCamp, trains Ph.D. students and postdocs how to use stable isotopes to model environmental and ecological processes. Jim Ehleringer at the University of Utah is a leading researcher in applications of stable isotopes, and has run the program for over 20 years.

I’ll be trained on how to use a ThermoElectron isotope ratio mass spectrometer (pictured below), how to collect and prepare environmental samples, and how to use isotope-mixing models to interpret the results. This workshop draws in various experts in the field, and will give me a network of professionals to support me in my work on stable isotopes.

ThermoElectron isotope ratio mass spectrometer

The workshop will further my dissertation research on lead (Pb) in southeastern forest soils. Because of this training experience, I’ll have a much better grasp of how to use stable isotopes of Pb to delineate between natural and contaminant sources of lead. The tools and connections I make at IsoCamp will provide solid groundwork for my isotopic research at Duke.

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

  • Proposals for 2018-19 were due on February 16; those grantees will be announced shortly.

Learning New Skills to Study Girls’ Mental and Reproductive Health in Tanzania

Emily Cherenack, GSTEG grant, Femme International

To enhance her dissertation on mental and reproductive health among adolescent girls, Emily Cherenack volunteered with a nonprofit in Tanzania and received specialized training at the University of Miami.

Cherenack, a Ph.D. student in Clinical Psychology, was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. Her faculty mentor is Kathleen Sikkema. She shared an update:

Emily CherenackI spent the summer learning interdisciplinary methods to conduct research on reproductive health among adolescent girls globally and in the United States. For half the summer, I worked with Dr. Adam Carrico at the University of Miami to learn how to use biological markers in research with HIV-positive women. The time I spent in his lab was instrumental in learning more about psychoneuroimmunology and the collection and analysis of biological data from participants and medical charts.

For the other half of the summer, I lived in Moshi, Tanzania and worked with the NGO Femme International, which provides menstrual education and sustainable menstrual solutions to girls in Tanzania and Kenya. With Femme International, I learned how to conduct research on menstruation with adolescent girls in schools and saw how to implement education interventions with girls.

From these experiences, I refined my dissertation, which focuses on mental health and reproductive health among adolescent girls in Tanzania. Funding from the GSTEG grant was essential for me to gain these experiences and work with experts at the University of Miami and in the field in Tanzania to develop an interdisciplinary dissertation that merges the fields of clinical psychology and reproductive health.

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.