Explore the 2017-2018 Bass Connections Projects

Bass Connections projects

Duke students from all levels and schools are invited to preview the new Bass Connections projects for 2017-2018. Applications will open on January 24 and run through February 17 at 5:00 p.m.

Bass Connections bridges the classroom and the real world, giving students a chance to roll up their sleeves and tackle complex societal challenges alongside faculty from across Duke. Working in interdisciplinary research teams, students at all levels collaborate with faculty, postdocs and outside experts on cutting-edge research that spans subjects and borders.

Most Bass Connections project teams engage with community partners outside Duke, including private companies, nonprofits, universities, school systems, hospitals and government agencies at the federal, state and local levels.

Forty-three projects across five themes will be offered in the 2017-2018 academic year. Most of these interdisciplinary teams last for two semesters; some have a summer component. Course credit and summer funding are available.

See the 2017-2018 projects by theme:

Through this intensive research experience, students and faculty work as a team to make a real-world impact. Each project team page contains a full project descriptions, anticipated outcomes, student opportunities, timelines and faculty team leaders.

Join Us at the Bass Connections Fair on January 24

Stop by the annual Bass Connections Fair on Tuesday, January 24 from 2:30 to 5:30 in the Energy Hub (first floor of Gross Hall).

Students of all levels can learn more about the Bass Connections project teams for 2017-2018 by talking with faculty team leaders and theme representatives. Tasty food and drinks will be available. Cohosted by the Energy Initiative.

Bass Connections Fair

Meet with an Advisor

For each student, discovering and developing a pathway through Bass Connections will be an individualized experience. Undergraduates can benefit from the guidance of Duke’s Directors of Academic Engagement, who offer individualized hour-long advising appointments to guide students through the process of integrating Bass Connections into their academic careers. Graduate students can access a number of resources to guide their pathways, and the professional schools offer tailored services to professional students.

Members of the Bass Connections Student Advisory Council are another resource for interested students.

Learn More

  • Check out examples of alumni who are pursuing further studies or working in a field related to their Bass Connections projects.

Data+ Projects Now Open for Student Applications


Deadline: February 20, 2017

Data+ is a 10-week summer research experience that welcomes Duke undergraduates interested in exploring new data-driven approaches to interdisciplinary challenges. Students join small project teams, working alongside other teams in a communal environment. They learn how to marshal, analyze, and visualize data, while gaining broad exposure to the modern world of data science. Data+ is part of the Bass Connections in Information, Society & Culture theme.

Participants will receive a $5,000 stipend, out of which they must arrange their own housing and travel. Funding and infrastructure support are provided by a wide range of departments, schools, and initiatives from across Duke University, as well as by outside industry and community partners. Participants may not accept employment or take classes during the program.

For some projects, human subjects research training may be required and will be provided in advance. With each project, we have attempted to list potential majors and/or interests that might be best suited for the project, but these should not be seen as requirements in any way. Quantitative STEM majors like mathematics, computer science, statistics, and electrical engineering are relevant to all.

For the Application, Please Submit:

  • Cover letter
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Transcript
  • Contact information for two references (note no letters are desired)
  • One paragraph (per project chosen) about how you can contribute to the project
  • And anything else requested in the program description

Browse the current projects, choose three you’re interested in, and send in your application. The program runs from May 22 until July 28, 2017. The application deadline is Feb. 20, 2017, but we will evaluate applications on a rolling basis. The first round of offers will go out January 25 and the second will go out February 25. For any questions, contact Paul Bendich.

Projects for Summer 2017

Data Viz for Long-term Ecological Research and Curricula

Electricity Access in Developing Countries from Aerial Imagery

Mapping the Ocean Floor

Open Data for Tobacco Retailer Mapping

Open Source Spatial Visualization for Public Health Intelligence

Marriage and Statistics through Space and Time

Visualizing Suffering: Tracking Photojournalism and the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Nutrition Dependent Growth in the Laboratory Rat

Quantifying Rare Diseases in Duke Health System

Quantifying Phenotypic Evolution during Tumor Growth

Validating a Topic Model that Predicts Pancreatic Cancer from Latent Structures in the Electronic Medical Record

Visualizing Real Time Data from Mobile Health Technologies

Ghost Bikes

Building a Duke SLED (Duke Surgery Longitudinal Education Database)

Comparing the Exploration of Academic Majors at Duke

Quantified Feminism and the Bechdel Test

Controlled Substance Monitoring Visualization

Classification of Vascular Anomalies

The Impact of Drones and Remote Sensing in Archaeology


By Anandita Ananthakumar

The room at the Rubenstein Library was packed. Even after the space was completely full, students were pouring in, which was a novel experience for me. At this point, I knew this workshop on drones was going to be one that I couldn’t miss.

Duke has been one of the leading institutions in research involving drones, to the point that the university has released a drone policy. At the Duke Drone Workshop on November 29th, Professor Maurizio Forte started off with the basics, giving us an overview on the general use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in archaeology.

To expect archaeologists to obtain data with physical collection alone is neither practical nor extensive. However, there’s a way to counter these unrealistic expectations and rising costs. With UAVs’ remote sensing capabilities, archaeologists can study sites and landscapes in a nondestructive manner in order to focus their limited resources on specific locations. In his work, Professor Forte utilized these devices for obtaining mapping, surveying land, applying data from remote sensing, 3D modeling and landscape reconstruction.

Professor Forte then launched into his two projects with drones. The first one was “Spreading Wings S 900,” a hexacopter with a flight time of 18 minutes. Based on camera alignment and flight height, archaeologists were able to process data from photos collected by this drone. The data was also used in creating digital terrain models, which are used for both mapping and creating prediction models. Through this technique, researchers were able to recognize unknown remains dating back to the late Neolithic era. Unfortunately, due to the coup attempt in Turkey and difficulty accessing excavation sites, much of the research involving drones in this area was suspended.

The second drone project that Professor Forte mentioned was a Vulci 3000. He commended Bass Connections, as some students involved in the data analytics were from an Information, Society & Culture project team. Most of this research was carried out in Rome, where the drones found some archaeological anomalies in Pozzatella. The team also discovered an abandoned Roman Hellenistic town as well as a Roman theater that was previously unknown.

In conclusion, Professor Forte stressed the advantages of using UAVs to study archaeology. This field of work is always generating new questions. Lastly, he noted that students who are interested in analyzing data are always welcome to work in his lab.

Anandita Ananthakumar, currently a Biomedical Engineering graduate student, grew up in Dubai and recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University at Buffalo, New York. She enjoys meeting new people, loves to travel and will never say no to chocolate. She is currently working as a student assistant in the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies.

Data+ Team Digs into National Transgender Discrimination Survey


A team of students in the Duke Data+ program learned about analyzing big data sets over the summer, but they also learned a few things about discrimination and public policy.

“I never thought I would be able to work on a project that intersects my personal and academic interests, and Data+ allowed me to do that,” said Parker Foe, a senior in mathematics and Spanish at Smith College and member of the Data+ research group that ran new analyses of the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey.

Structured as a 10-week summer program, Data+ is a research experience that brings students together in small groups to learn how to marshal, analyze and visualize data.

The discrimination survey the Duke students worked on had produced the largest dataset on transgender and gender nonconforming experience anywhere in the world by surveying 6,456 transgender and gender non-conforming respondents across the U.S., the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands from 2008 to 2009. The results are available online at “Injustice at Every Turn.”

“We wanted to look at things that weren’t present in the report released by the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, to see if we could find new insights,” said Tony Li, a senior majoring in math and music at Cornell University.

The 70-question survey measured the levels of discrimination faced in relation to a broad range of factors including race, class, employment, education, medical care, as well as asking about public accommodations, rates of incarceration and police violence, homelessness, and documentation status.

“We’ve looked at the relationships between several variables in the survey that we felt were most important,” Li said. “For instance, if there was any relationship between domestic violence and the likelihood one would experience harassment in a medical survey? “

The students also sought to make the data relevant to North Carolina’s current political situation. “Our team isolated the responses that detail discrimination faced by North Carolina respondents and we are presently testing that dataset for statistical significance,” said Cole Rizki, a PhD candidate in the Literature program at Duke who was the project manager for the team.

“The visualizations are interactive,” said Rizki. “It really makes it clear the types of discrimination that we’re grappling with as trans and gender nonconforming people.” The tableau data visualizations they built can be seen here: public accommodation, employment, and housing discrimination.

The team found that 2 out of every 5 North Carolina transgender and gender nonconforming residents delayed transition processes due to employment discrimination, while another 2 out of 3 hid their gender status or transition at work due to discrimination. Nearly 1 in 5 transgender and gender nonconforming college student respondents in North Carolina were not allowed gender appropriate housing based on their gender identification at the time of survey.

The team was able to turn this knowledge into action when the hot topic of House Bill 2’s impact on the transgender community came up in Raleigh.

“We were able to informally speak to some legislators to give some data-driven insight on the context of the political climate in North Carolina, and were able to present what we found in our in-depth analysis of the survey,” said Madelaine Katz, a member of the Data+ team who graduated from Duke in the spring with a degree in global health and cultural anthropology.

This expansive body of data has been not only a research project, but also a personal learning experience for Li.

“I have learned a great deal about the transgender community and the various issues transgender and gender nonconforming people face,” Li said. “I had previously been unaware of these topics, as I had never heard about transgender individuals anywhere but on the news, and I had yet to meet any transgender people.”

Two members of the research team know these issues firsthand. “I’ve experienced employment discrimination with past employers and have lost a job due to my transgender identification,” Rizki said.

“I’ve had to change classes due to being called my birth name repeatedly by my teachers,” Parker Foe said. “Being called my birth name can open me up to scrutiny and harassment, especially since it does not align with my masculine appearance. Being trans is hard.”

“We recently partnered with ACLU of NC,” Katz said. “They have specific themes they want us to analyze, so we’ve honed in on their specific needs for things they could use: discrimination in public accommodations, employment, housing, and things of that nature.”

Dr. Ara Wilson, associate professor of gender, sexuality and feminist studies, was the faculty sponsor of the project.

Madelaine Katz credited the structure of Data+ for helping her comprehension of data to grow.

“I am someone who came into this program with very little statistical and data science background,” Katz said, “but both through my work and the collaborative nature of the program, I have a brand new frame of understanding when it comes to tackling research questions with data science.”

Cole Rizki says that the group would like to raise awareness of the results of the survey and garner easier understanding of the discrimination faced by the trans- and gender nonconforming community. Interested parties can contact him at cole.rizki@duke.edu to learn more.

This year, the National Center for Transgender Equality will release results from the U.S. Trans Survey (2015), a follow-up survey with over 27,000 adult respondents. The results from the 2015 survey will become the definitive dataset on trans experience. Preliminary results detailing harassment of transgender people in bathrooms and the effects of avoiding bathrooms  are available online.

By Eric O’Neal; originally posted on Duke Today

Submit a Project Proposal for Data+


Deadline: November 20, 2016

Data+ is a ten-week summer research experience for Duke undergraduates and master’s students interested in exploring new data-driven approaches to interdisciplinary challenges. Students join small teams and work alongside other teams in a communal environment. They learn how to marshal, analyze and visualize data, while gaining broad exposure to the field of data science.

Submit a project proposal by November 20, 2016, to be considered for the Summer 2017 Data+ program.

Data+ is sponsored by Bass Connections, the Information Initiative at Duke, the Social Science Research Institute, the departments of Mathematics and Statistical Science, MEDx, and the Vice Provost for Research. Other Duke sponsors in 2016 included Duke Health, Sanford School of Public Policy, Parking and Transportation, Development and Alumni Affairs, Duke Network Analysis Center, Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, Professor Peter Lange, and the departments of Biology, Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, and Computer Science. Government funding comes from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Outside funding comes from Geometric Data Analytics, Inc., Sankofa, Inc., and RTI International. Community partnerships, data and interesting problems come from the Durham Neighborhood Compass, the North Carolina Justice Center, and the National Center for Gender Equality, the Smithsonian, Public Opinion Strategies, touringplans.com, the Triad Health Network, University of North Carolina–Greensboro, and the Dean of Academic Affairs.

Faculty Receive Bass Connections Awards to Develop Courses


Bass Connections has awarded four course development funds to groups of Duke faculty members whose pedagogical ideas will expand interdisciplinary curricular options for undergraduates as well as graduate and professional students.

This Spring an RFP invited Duke faculty, departments or schools to organize new courses or modify existing ones that align with one or more of the Bass Connections themes and are multidisciplinary, open to students at different levels and/or ask questions of societal importance. Such courses will augment theme leaders’ efforts to enrich the curricular pathways available to undergraduate and graduate students.

Managing Networks     

Submitted by Lisa Keister with Susan Alberts, Christopher Bail, Jonathon Cummings, James Moody, Martin Ruef

  • Faculty affiliations: Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (Biology, Evolutionary Anthropology, Sociology, Markets and Management Certificate Program); Fuqua School of Business; Nicholas School of the Environment (Marine Science and Conservation); Center for Population Health & Aging; Duke Institute for Brain Sciences; Duke Network Analysis Center; Duke Population Research Institute
  • Bass Connections theme: Information, Society & Culture

Networks are pervasive in the social, economic, political and natural worlds. Network data and methods – and concurrently our ability to conceptualize and analyze networks – have expanded dramatically in recent years, and Duke is a central location in which this research is being conducted. This course is about the role that networks play in organizations. It will involve multiple faculty from across schools, invite outside experts to provide guest lectures and include project-based assignments. Graduate students and post-docs from various disciplines will participate as assistants and project leaders.

Engineering and Anthropology of Biomedical Engineering (BME) Design in Uganda

Submitted by William Reichert and Kearsley Stewart

Dr. Reichert established the Duke-Makerere University in Kampala (MUK) BME Partnership in coordination with Duke BME, Duke Global Health Institute, Pratt School of Engineering, the Provost’s Office and the Duke Africa Initiative. The goal of this course is to integrate the design and anthropological elements of the Duke-MUK experience into a single course offered to both BME and global health undergraduate and graduate students. It will proceed pedagogically as a design class superimposed with the relevant anthropology of working directly with students in Uganda.

History of Global Health

Submitted by Nicole Barnes and Margaret Humphreys

  • Faculty affiliations: Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (History); School of Medicine; Duke Global Health Institute
  • Bass Connections theme: Global Health

The history of global health contains valuable perspectives for thinking through current health challenges. The course begins with the development of ancient medicine in Europe and China, and continues into the rise of biomedicine in the 19th and 20th centuries. It addresses particular diseases as case studies through which to explore important themes in global health history, and traces global circulations of people and commodities to show how international agencies, charities and governing bodies have spread both disease and the means to fight it.

Integrating Environmental Science and Policy

Submitted by Lori Bennear and Patrick Halpin

  • Faculty affiliations: Nicholas School of the Environment (Environmental Economics and Policy, Marine Science and Conservation); Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (Economics); Sanford School of Public Policy; Energy Initiative; Science & Society
  • Bass Connections theme: Energy

Environmental challenges are inherently multidisciplinary, drawing upon principles from ecology, earth sciences, biochemistry, economics, political science and ethics. Employing in-depth case studies, this course will explore the complex interactions that characterize current environmental problems. Course objectives include: exposing students to interdisciplinary approaches to environmental science and policy; allowing students to develop analytic tools to address environmental issues; and fostering collaborative group-based analytic experiences consistent with real-world environmental problem solving.

Faculty recipients of these course development funds will be invited to share their experiences at a luncheon or dinner at the end of year.

Learn how to get involved with Bass Connections.

Six Students Receive Grants to Extend Their Bass Connections Research


With grant funding from Bass Connections, three undergraduates and three graduate students will pursue faculty-mentored research projects this summer and next year.

These projects, which build on work begun in 2015-2016 through Bass Connections teams, explore a range of topics including Alzheimer’s disease, U.S. government regulations, intellectual property, migrant health, Arctic drilling and the care needs of senior citizens in China.

Kirsten Bonawitz ’17, a neuroscience major, will work on elucidating the role of genetics in the development of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. As a member of the Bass Connections project team Brain-immune Interactions in Neurodegenerative Disease, she collected neurons from normal and mild-cognitive impairment human brain samples, extracted RNA for the purpose of gene expression analysis and initiated the collection of neurons from mild and severe Alzheimer’s samples. “This project plays and will continue to play an important role in my academic and professional career,” Bonawitz said. “I plan to develop it into a senior thesis.” Her mentor is Ornit Chiba-Falek.

Mercy DeMenno is a Ph.D. student at the Sanford School of Public Policy. Her Bass Connections project team, Reviewing Retrospective Regulatory Review, examined the emergence and consequences of ex post assessment of regulations at the local, national and international levels. Taking this work further with the mentorship of Lori Bennear, DeMenno will analyze the role of public participation in U.S. agencies’ retrospective review processes. This research will serve as a pilot study for her dissertation on how bureaucratic institutional design can foster effective stakeholder participation, and in turn, better regulatory policy.

Kushal Kadakia ’19 will focus on developing novel incentive structures for pharmaceutical innovation. In his Bass Connections project team Innovation & Technology Policy Lab, he worked with the Global Health Innovation Alliances group to map the drug development partnerships formed in response to the Ebola and Zika outbreaks. Building on this research, Kadakia plans to create case studies and share findings about ways to develop incentives that can increase the rate of pharmaceutical innovation while decreasing the cost of medicine. His mentor is Julia Barnes-Weise.

Kristen Larson ’17 is a biology and global health major. Her research will focus on migration and illness narratives of mainland Hondurans who have moved to squatter communities (colonias) on the island of Roatán, fleeing mainland gang violence and seeking jobs in the tourism industry. “There has been no research conducted to formally describe the migration and illness experiences of the population living in las colonias,” said Larson, who is mentored by Dennis Clements. Her research, which she plans to use toward an honors thesis, will be conducted in coordination with her Bass Connections project team, Interculturally Competent Analysis of the Uptake of Routine Vaccination.

Megan Nasgovitz, who is pursuing a Master of Environmental Management in the Nicholas School of the Environment, will assess the economic, environmental and political implications of Shell’s decision to suspend drilling in Alaska. “This year in Bass Connections I have been fortunate enough to work with exceptional students and faculty across the Duke community as we dig into the topic of the History and Future of Ocean Energy,” she said. She plans to travel to Alaska to conduct interviews and administer a survey in small indigenous towns, and present findings at the Polar Law Symposium in October. She is mentored by Douglas Nowacek and Lori Bennear.

Yuting Song is a Ph.D. student in the School of Nursing. Mentored by Kirsten Corazzini, Bei Wu and Ellie McConnell, she will extend the target population of her Bass Connections project team, Community Care of Frail Elders in Cross-cultural Settings, to include frail elders in residential care facilities in China. Her research aims are to describe the care needs of Chinese older adults who live in residential care facilities and experience cognitive and/or physical decline, and to explore the feasibility of using the Chinese version of the Social Convoy Questionnaire to measure the residents’ social networks within the care facilities.

These grants are part of ongoing efforts to provide support to students who build on their Bass Connections experiences through capstone research projects. Learn how to get involved with Bass Connections.

Clockwise from upper left: Mercy DeMenno, Kushal Kadakia, Kristen Larson, Yuting Song, Megan Nasgovitz, Kirsten Bonawitz.

Bass Connections Team Brings Cutting-edge Technology to Live Performances

Machine Society Interface

As we go about our daily lives, who’s watching and why? Government institutions, for example, may be motivated to track individuals for a host of reasons, with far-reaching implications. An institution able to locate a lost Alzheimer’s patient is also able to follow dissidents.

Using live performance as way to explore these issues, a Bass Connections project team is investigating technological approaches to real-time tracking of individuals. Led by Duke faculty members Martin BrookeThomas F. DeFrantz and Guillermo Sapiro, the Machine Society Interfaces team is working in the SLIPPAGE: Performance | Culture | Technology Lab on state-of-the-art live multiperson tracking. The team developed a tracking algorithm with one of Professor Shapiro’s post-docs that uses one camera to track the position of a person on the stage.

Image from MATLAB

The project team split into five smaller groups to build various performance elements and motion-activated devices. Tracking performers on stage can influence the overall performance (music, lights, video, objects) and enable interactive and evolutionary performances, with the added benefit of a real-time digital archive. Students presented their work during the annual ChoreoLab.

Professor Brooke has been involved with this Bass Connections collaboration since 2013-2014. “I am amazed at how different it is every year,” he says. “We get radically different things from each year’s teams. I learn a lot from the students and use it in my engineering work.”

Machine Society Interfaces student team member

Libi Striegl began working in SLIPPAGE as an MFA student. After she graduated, she stayed involved as a technology consultant. The lab “is designed as a composition studio workspace where the class is divided into groups,” she explains, “and those groups collaboratively make different projects that lead up to a final presentation that covers all of the technologies that they’ve learned.”

That’s one of the greatest strengths of Bass Connections—the ability to make these otherwise impossible connections.

Striegl and the team contributed to a performance piece commissioned by the Detroit Institute of Arts. “We want to have a dancer on a stage in front of a green screen, and have the footage of that dancer be imported into another projection area that allows us to manipulate the footage,” she says. “My role is doing the Isadora patches and the live video streaming; Isadora is a program that allows you to do live manipulations of video.”

Libi Striegl

Participating on this project has been a rewarding experience for Striegl. “It allows me both to teach and work with undergrads in a collaborative environment as opposed to working individually, which is what my normal practice is. I think that’s one of the greatest strengths of the Bass Connections program—the ability to make these otherwise impossible connections.”

Next month, team members will lead workshops at Moogfest 2016, an annual conference that brings together artists, inventors, creators, designers, engineers and musicians. They will present an interactive performance, Live Processing and Ghost Dancing, on Thursday, May 19 at 4:00 p.m. And this summer, a visiting Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) student from India and a master’s student will continue to work on the tracking algorithm and integrate it into the repertoire for Duke’s Performance and Technology course.

Machine Society Interfaces student team members

Learn more