NanoEarth Training Gets Doctoral Student Deeper into Water Research

Mark River

Mark River is a Ph.D. candidate at the Nicholas School of the Environment working in the Duke University Wetland Center. For his dissertation research on how phosphorus is transported by particles in stormwater, he wanted to tap into the resources at Virginia Tech’s National Center for Earth and Environmental Nanotechnology Infrastructure (NanoEarth).

River was among 19 Duke students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2016-17 for training beyond their core disciplines. His faculty mentor was Curtis J. Richardson. He shared a quick update on his experience:

I traveled to Virginia Tech and learned hands-on transmission electron microscopy (TEM) on two different instruments: elemental analysis using Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS); and High Angle Annular Dark Field (HAADF) and Electron Energy Loss Spectrometry (EELS). I learned a lot about these high-tech tools, which I had no exposure to previously. Using the data I obtained in the two full days at Virginia Tech, I am working towards a nice publication that I would not otherwise have the data for.

Last month River and Duke alumnus Scott Winton published a study in Water Research on the transport of phosphorus and nitrogen into surface waters from seagulls at landfills.

Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories. This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate 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.

See who received these grants for 2017-18, and read about other 2016-17 recipients’ experiences:

Image: Mark River and examples of data stemming from his Virginia Tech training

Marine Conservation Student Brings a Social Science Angle to Coral Reef Project

Elizabeth Shaver GSTEG

What do managers of coral reefs need to know about coral restoration methods before they start new restoration projects? Elizabeth Shaver, a Ph.D. candidate in Marine Science and Conservation at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, set out to answer this question in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Nature Conservancy.

Shaver was among 19 Duke students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2016-17 for training beyond their core disciplines. Her faculty mentor is Brian Silliman. She shared an update on her experience:

I worked alongside staff from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Restoration Center and The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Reef Resilience Program to conduct a global survey of coral reef managers to determine their interests in coral restoration. TNC and NOAA have a partnership that funds an online, science-based resource for managers on how to build resilience into their local reef habitats. Coral restoration is increasing significantly in interest and practice by managers; thus, TNC would like to expand the section on coral restoration on this educational website (www.reefresilience.org) from 2-3 web pages to an entire module of guidance.

To determine the knowledge gaps and needs of managers in terms of coral reef restoration and guide the process of creating this new module, I worked with TNC and NOAA staff to create an online questionnaire through Qualtrics. This obtained over 140 respondents worldwide – much more than we anticipated.

From the data collected, I created a summary of results that I shared amongst NOAA and TNC staff. I also presented these findings at a NOAA Workshop to Advance the Science and Practice of Coral Restoration in Fort Lauderdale in November 2016 to an audience of 80 coral restoration practitioners and scientists. In addition to the report and presentation, the most important outcome of this work is that I was able to use this survey to create an outline and plan for the creation of this coral restoration module, which I have decided to undertake over the next year with the help of my new NOAA and TNC mentors.

Elizabeth Shaver and group at NOAA workshop

In the process of creating and implementing the survey, I learned valuable skills in the social sciences that I otherwise would not have obtained in my graduate work, including training on the wording of surveys, the Institutional Review Board process and pre-testing, to name a few. The NOAA workshop I attended was a small and selective group of practitioners and scientists that I was only able to attend because of my role in this project. This workshop provided countless networking opportunities that I have since used to develop a postdoctoral proposal on coral restoration.

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate 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.

See who received these grants for 2017-18, and read about other 2016-17 recipients’ experiences:

Images: Elizabeth Shaver snorkeling over one of the main coral species restored; NOAA workshop in Fort Lauderdale

Tapping into Big Data to Learn More about a Superhighway for Migratory Birds

Danica Schaffer-Smith GSTEG

Danica Schaffer-SmithDanica Schaffer-Smith, a Ph.D. candidate in the Nicholas School of the Environment, received a grant to participate in a week-long workshop on environmental data analytics in Boulder, Colorado, offered by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The technical knowledge she gained will inform her dissertation on spatiotemporal variability of inland waterbodies along the Pacific flyway. More than a billion birds use this flyway every year as a north-south migration route.

She was among 19 Duke students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants in 2016-17 for training beyond their core disciplines. Her faculty mentor was Jennifer Swenson. Recently she reflected on her experience:

The workshop brought together 25 graduate students and senior scientists in environmental statistics and related fields to explore contemporary topics in applied environmental data modeling with the intent to “prepare the next generation of researchers and practitioners to work within, and contribute to, the data-rich era.”

Students and organizers engaged in hands-on computing and modeling tutorials focusing on climate data analytics, Bayesian statistics and modeling for environmental and ecological data and hierarchical models for spatiotemporal data. Students applied the workshop material to group projects using real environmental datasets and presented preliminary findings at the end of the week.

We visited the NEON facility in Boulder. The visit consisted of presentations from researchers engaged in data collection and analysis as well as tours of different parts of the facility, which is responsible for maintaining consistency across the nationwide network of NEON including calibrating all sensors used in the research program.

Participants also had the opportunity to network during and after workshop hours. Additional activities included a group walking tour of Boulder, visiting the public exhibits at the NCAR Boulder Mesa Facility and hiking in the Flatirons above Boulder.

Participating in the workshop assisted me in developing new modeling and computing skills, including an emphasis on big data and integrating diverse datasets in a unified analysis framework. The tutorials on Bayesian data analysis and spatiotemporal data analysis have proven to be directly applicable for my own work and I am currently using these methods in two chapters of my dissertation. Activities also provided insight into the wealth of data and resources available through NCAR and NEON, which I may be able to leverage in future research endeavors.

Furthermore, the workshop permitted me to work closely with instructors from NCAR, Oregon State University and Michigan State University in addition to a multidisciplinary cohort of 24 students from other institutions, with whom I may have opportunities to collaborate.

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate 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.

See who received these grants for 2017-18, and read about other 2016-17 recipients’ experiences:

Image: Demonstration sensor array at NEON facility in Boulder; payload for NEON’s aerial remote sensing data collection, including LiDAR, and high-resolution aerial photography

From North Carolina to the Venice Lagoon, Student Wades into Wetlands Research

Fateme Yousefi Lalimi and colleagues

Fateme Yousefi Lalimi, a doctoral student in Environmental Science at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, received a grant to visit Dr. Andrea D’Alpaos’s lab at the University of Padova and conduct fieldwork in the Venice Lagoon, in order to strengthen her dissertation on coastal wetlands.

She was among 19 Duke students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants in 2016-17 for training beyond their core disciplines. Her faculty mentor was Marco Marani. She shared an overview of her experience:

During my visit at Dr. Andrea D’Alpaos’s lab at the University of Padova in Italy, I had a great opportunity to develop skills necessary to advance my Ph.D. research. In particular, I was able to extend a hydrodynamic model of coastal wetlands to larger scales with the use of robust numerical modeling techniques.

Furthermore, I had a chance to conduct fieldwork in the Venice Lagoon marshes, which gave me an excellent opportunity to widen my field experience in one of the paradigmatic and charismatic examples of highly-impacted tidal environments. Visiting and working in Venice marshes expanded my observational perspective beyond the study sites I was familiar with in North Carolina and Virginia.

Besides the academic training and research aspect of this experience, I could extend my professional network and scientific collaborations with leading scientists in my field. I am currently working on a scientific paper that is the result of my trip last fall. I will soon submit the paper to a peer-reviewed journal.

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate students to step away from their core research and training to acquire additional 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.

See who received these grants for 2017-18, and read about other 2016-17 recipients’ experiences:

Image: Fateme Yousefi Lalimi (center) collaborating with Italian scientists doing fieldwork in Venice Lagoon marshes

Environmental Genomics Training Informs Work on Organisms’ Response to Pollution

Tess Leuthner and fellow participants in Environmental Genomics

Tess Leuthner, a doctoral student in the Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program at the Nicholas School of the Environment, received a grant to attend the 2016 Environmental Genomics training program at the renowned Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.

She was among 19 Duke students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2016-17 for training beyond their core disciplines. In brief, here’s what she learned:

This was a unique course, in that we learned how to make cDNA libraries in the lab at the research station with our own samples in our own hands. These were then sequenced at a nearby facility overnight, so that we had our own sequence data to analyze.

The samples that I worked with were isolated from the ubiquitous freshwater crustacean, Daphnia. There were two populations of Daphnia that we investigated: one that is adapted to cadmium from mine smelting runoff, and a reference population from a clean lake that did not receive any runoff. We looked at the change in gene expression of these two populations after they were exposed to cadmium in order to investigate how the different populations respond to a stressor.

For example, as you can see in the heatmap below that I created during the course in the program R, there is variation in gene expression as a response to cadmium based on whether or not the Daphnia are adapted to cadmium.

Tess Leuthner figure

This course and these data continue to contribute to questions relevant to my thesis work, and I am currently using these same data for a Computational Biology course to dive deeper and answer more questions about how organisms are adapting and responding to pollution. I hope to use these data to create a model to better understand and predict how populations respond to anthropogenic stressors on the genomic level.

I gained the knowledge to create, manage and analyze genomics datasets, but I also met new colleagues and collaborators. I continue to communicate and collaborate with scientists and peers that I met during this course.

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate students to step away from their core research and training to acquire additional 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.

See who received these grants for 2017-18, and read about other 2016-17 recipients’ experiences:

Images: Tess Leuthner (seated at far right) and her fellow participants in Environmental Genomics 2016; Leuthner’s heatmap showing variation in gene expression as a response to cadmium

Duke Graduate Students Receive Grants to Expand Training beyond Core Disciplines

GSTEG

Eighteen Duke University students—16 from The Graduate School, one from the School of Nursing and one from the Divinity School—received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) for 2017-2018 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies.

Stretching beyond their core disciplinary training, these doctoral and master’s students will spend up to one semester acquiring skills, knowledge or experiences that will enhance the approach to their original research.

Hands-on Training

Sarah (Sally) Bornbusch, Ph.D. in Evolutionary Anthropology, Arts & Sciences

Sally BornbuschFaculty mentor: Christine Drea

Work at North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ Genomics & Microbiology Research Lab to learn how to assess antibiotic resistance in bacterial microbiomes of nonhuman primates, to inform dissertation on relationship between primate gut microbiomes and host health (see update)

Amelia Meier, Ph.D. in Environment, Nicholas School of the Environment

Amelia MeierFaculty mentor:  John Poulsen

Train at Institute for Research in Tropical Ecology in Gabon to learn genetic analysis methods necessary to identify individual forest elephants, which will inform dissertation on elephant tracking in Gabon (see update)

Seth Sykora-Bodie, Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment

Seth Sykora BodieFaculty mentors: Lisa Campbell and Andrew Read

Participate in Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey to inform dissertation on comprehensive approaches to Antarctic resource management and conservation (see update)

Kate Thomas, Ph.D. in Biology, Arts & Sciences

Katie ThomasFaculty mentor: Sönke Johnsen

Conduct coding-intensive research at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, drawing on its database of millions of deep-sea animal sightings, to inform research on vision and bioluminescence in deep-sea cephalopods (see update)

Anna Wade, Ph.D. in Environment, Nicholas School of the Environment

Anna WadeFaculty mentor: Daniel Richter

Train at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in use of silicon-32, a radioisotope serving as a novel dating tool for environmental processes, which will support dissertation research on legacy sediment (see update)

Jillian Wisse, Ph.D. in Ecology, Arts & Sciences

Jillian Wisse

Faculty mentor: Douglas Nowacek

Learn a novel analysis technique (liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry) at National Institute of Standards and Technology, to support a preliminary analysis using remote blubber biopsy samples from pilot whales (see update)

Internships

Emily Cherenack, Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, Arts & Sciences

Emily CherenackFaculty mentor: Kathleen Sikkema

Volunteer with Femme International to implement reproductive health intervention for adolescent girls in Tanzania, and receive training from Dr. Adam Carrico at University of Miami on how to use biological measures in research with women, which will further ability to conduct research on reproductive and sexual health among adolescent girls in Tanzania (see update)

Mercy DeMenno, Ph.D. in Public Policy, Sanford School of Public Policy

Mercy DeMennoFaculty mentor: Frederick Mayer

Gain hands-on experience working with policymakers and civil society organizations on research related to the theory and practice of effective regulatory governance in the financial sector (see update)

William Gerhard, Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering

Billy GerhardFaculty mentor: Claudia Gunsch

Intern with Danish Hydraulic Institute in Singapore to incorporate antibiotic resistance genes and pathogens into a global ballast water movement model, which will support dissertation research and potentially inform policy and regulatory decisions under debate by the United Nations (see update)

Courses

Dustin Benac, Doctor of Theology, Divinity School

Dustin BenacFaculty mentor: Craig Dykstra

Attend Qualitative Research Methods Intensive Seminar at University of North Carolina’s Odum Institute for training in qualitative data collection and interpretation, to be applied to a pilot study examining patterns of connection among five church-related educational institutions in Pacific Northwest (see update)

Lok Chan, Ph.D. in Philosophy, Arts & Sciences

Lok ChanFaculty mentor: Kevin Hoover

Take part in Udacity Machine Learning Program to develop skills needed to produce a web-based application for logic education and, through practice, a deeper understanding of philosophical differences between Bayesian and Frequentist statistical methods, which will inform dissertation on learning and testing through lenses of philosophy and statistics (see update)

William Cioffi, Ph.D. in Ecology, Arts & Sciences

William CioffiFaculty mentor: Andrew Read

Attend course at University of Utah on stable isotope biogeochemistry and ecology, which will support dissertation proposal to use baleen from fin whales to reconstruct individual life histories and assess changes in foraging ecology, reproduction and stress (see update)

Sophie Galson, M.S. in Global Health, Duke Global Health Institute

Sophie Galson Faculty mentor: Catherine Staton

Take part in residential immersive Swahili course at The Training Centre for Development Cooperation in Eastern and Southern Africa in Tanzania, to support research project on hypertension in emergency department of Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center (see update)

Allison Lewinski, Ph.D. in Nursing, School of Nursing

Allison LewinskiFaculty mentor: Allison Vorderstrasse

Attend course at University College London on applying principles of behavior change in behavioral research interventions, which will help in characterizing social interaction and support among individuals with type-2 diabetes who are interacting in a computer-mediated environment (see update)

Stephanie Manning, M.A. in Digital Art History, Arts & Sciences

Faculty mentor: Sheila Dillon

Attend course at Sotheby’s Art Institute on finance and art market to deepen understanding of art market industry, including financial aspects behind valuing and appraising art, to prepare for career as specialized art consultant or investment analyst (see update)

Bria Moore, Ph.D. in Medical Physics, School of Medicine

Bria MooreFaculty mentor: Terry Yoshizumi

Attend course on radiation emergency medicine at Oak Ridge Associated Universities to learn practical aspects of handling contaminated patients in a hospital setting, which will improve ability to communicate effectively with medical professionals in emergency situations (see update)

Ryan Peabody, Ph.D. in Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment

Ryan PeabodyFaculty mentor: Susan Lozier

Take course at Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences on modern observational oceanography with a focus on carbon and nutrient sampling, to support research employing oceanographic data, satellite remote sensing data and models to examine linkage of large-scale ocean circulation and ocean productivity (see update)

Research Materials

Kirsten Overdahl, Ph.D. in Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health, Nicholas School of the Environment

Kirsten OverdahlFaculty mentor: P. Lee Ferguson

Purchase software licenses for cheminformatic programs Schrodinger and Py Mol, which are required for a UNC course on research in pharmaceutical sciences, which will inform dissertation on chemical pollutant structure/occurrence and biological effects (see update)

About GSTEG

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

A January 2017 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 an ad hoc committee convened by the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies with representation from faculty, institute directors and graduate students, representing all divisions of knowledge.

The first cohort of GSTEG recipients (2016-2017) included Selcan Aydin (Biology), Nathan Bullock (Art, Art History and Visual Studies), Christopher Catanese (English), Jung E. Choi (Art, Art History and Visual Studies), Adela Deanova (Philosophy), Zoie Diana (Environmental Management), Daanish Faruqi (History), Brenna R. Forester (Environment), Joelle Hathaway (Theology), Alisha Hines (History, African and African American Studies), Zhiqin Huang (Electrical and Computer Engineering), Travis Knoll (History), Stephanie Gehring Ladd (Religion), Fateme Yousefi Lalimi (Environmental Science), Tess Leuthner (Environment), Mark River (Environment), Danica Schaffer-Smith (Environment), Elizabeth (Schrack) Shaver (Marine Science and Conservation) and Banafsheh Sharif-Askary (Medicine). Learn about some of their experiences:

Six Graduate Student Groups Receive Interdisciplinary D-SIGN Grants

The Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies has awarded Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) grants to six graduate student groups for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Desarrolla México

  • Student organizers: Ruxandra Popovici, Ph.D. in Environment, Nicholas School of the Environment; Emilio Blanco Gonzalez and Adam Cullen, Master of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering

Desarrolla México is one of five projects developed by Duke Desarrolla. This group will conduct a summer project in Ejido Playa Grande, helping a rural community develop a renewable energy strategy and a formal business plan for its environmentally sustainable ecotourism business. In doing so, the group aims to promote a consultant-based approach to international development, connecting community members to business, marketing and engineering experts who can help them reach their particular business goals. This project is part of a research study on the obstacles faced by rural residents when attempting to reinvest funds received from Payments for Ecosystem Services programs into a community business. (See update.)

Global Energy Access Network (GLEAN)

  • Student organizers: Yating Li, Ph.D. in Environmental Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment and Sanford School of Public Policy; Muye Ru, Ph.D. in Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment; Faraz Usmani, Ph.D. in Environmental Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment and Sanford School of Public Policy; Heidi Vreeland, Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering

GLEAN includes more than 50 graduate and professional students from across Duke. The group received a D-SIGN grant last year and will use this follow-on grant to elevate the prominence of the global energy access challenge on campus; foster an interdisciplinary community of graduate and professional students wanting to engage with this challenge in their work; and offer opportunities to this community to do so. Activities will include an energy access and air quality survey, engagement with two keynote speakers, case studies on energy and development and an “Imagine Energy” photo contest and exhibition. (See update.)

The Global South after 2010

  • Student organizers: Renee Ragin, Ph.D. in Literature, Arts & Sciences; Giulia Ricco, Ph.D. in Romance Studies, Arts & Sciences

This group will explore the aesthetics, ethics and politics of transnational violence in the Global South. Are there systematic trends in the types of sociopolitical violence that have characterized social movements after the Arab Spring? How has this violence been represented in the media and in popular culture? What are the legal and political consequences of such representations? Activities will include three seminars with guest facilitators and a graduate student conference. Student participants will come from humanities and social science programs in the Graduate School, as well as from Fuqua, Sanford and Law. The organizers aim to create an edited anthology at the conclusion of this working group. (See update.)

Lowndes County Sanitation Access Network

  • Student organizers: Emily Meza, Master of Environmental Management, Nicholas School of the Environment; Katy Hansen, Ph.D. in Environmental Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment and Sanford School of Public Policy; Ryan Juskus, Ph.D. in Religion, Arts & Sciences

Students from Divinity, Law, Nicholas, Pratt and Sanford will undertake a community-based research project to improve wastewater treatment in Lowndes County, Alabama, where 90% of households have inadequate or no access to sanitation. More than 80% of households cannot connect to the municipal sewerage and must finance their own septic systems. With a median household income among the lowest in the U.S., many households cannot afford to do so. In addition, half of the septic systems are failing. Poor sanitation poses serious health risks (including hookworm, found in fecal samples from Lowndes County residents). The group will take the lead in diagnosing the interlaced physical, financial, legal and political barriers to sanitation access and evaluate potential solutions. (See update.)

Modeling Health & Environment Graduate Working Group

  • Student organizers: Shashika Bandara, Master of Science in Global Health, Duke Global Health Institute; Varun Mallampalli, Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering

A working group of graduate students from diverse backgrounds will design a course for undergraduates on systems thinking and modeling in health and environment. Graduate students with backgrounds in energy, environmental studies and health will collaboratively develop instructional models based on real-world case studies that will serve as course materials for the undergraduate course. Through their interdisciplinary collaboration and the process of contributing to the course, the graduate students will acquire system dynamics modeling skills as well as relevant subject matter knowledge on global health, the environment and the interconnections between the two. (See update.)

Network to Enrich GALS Summer Science Program

  • Student organizers: Jacqueline Gerson, Ph.D. in Ecology, Arts & Sciences; Emily Levy, Ph.D. in Biology, Arts & Sciences

This summer, the Girls on outdoor Adventures in Leadership and Science (GALS) group is piloting a free two-week summer camp for girls aged 15-18 from underrepresented backgrounds to encourage them to pursue STEM fields. The D-SIGN grant will be used to improve the training of GALS leaders and foster a community of environmental educators for a broad array of disciplines. Activities include facilitating interdisciplinary working groups to improve lesson plans and the structure of GALS; expanding resources for GALS leaders and increasing the number of leaders; sharing the curriculum and logistics to encourage similar programs across North Carolina; and creating mentorship programs between Duke students from underserved communities and GALS participants. (See update.)

About D-SIGN

This internal funding mechanism encourages graduate students to explore beyond disciplinary lines, both in research and coursework. The goal is to enable graduate students to build or extend their networks and to integrate collaborative, cross-school experiences into their programs, thereby increasing the number of individuals whose graduate training reflects Duke’s commitment to interdisciplinarity and knowledge in the service of society.

A January 2017 RFP invited all current Duke graduate students (including master’s, professional and Ph.D. students) to propose an interdisciplinary project, training or experience lasting up to a year.

Proposals were reviewed by an ad hoc committee convened by the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies with representation from faculty, institute directors and graduate students.

The first cohort of D-SIGN grantees (2016-2017) included Duke Conservation Society; Global Alliance on Disability and Health Innovation – Children and Adolescents Project; Global Energy Access Network (GLEAN); Rethinking Regulation – Graduate Student Working Group; and A STEM Researcher-Educator Network to Improve K-12 Science Literacy.

Duke Global Health Institute Awards Environmental Health Pilot Grants

With $25,000 pilot grants from the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI), two Duke research teams are collaborating with partners in China and Sri Lanka on global environmental health projects.

One study will explore the effect of maternal exposure to electronic waste on birth outcomes in Guiyu, China, and the other will investigate whether pollutant mixtures in well water may cause chronic kidney disease in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

How Does Maternal Exposure to Electronic Waste Affect Their Babies?

DGHI affiliate faculty member Liping Feng, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, is leading the study on maternal exposure to electronic waste in China.

In many low and middle income countries, handling and disposal of discarded electrical or electronic equipment (e-waste) is unregulated. E-waste contains hazardous elements such as lead, mercury, chromium and flame retardants. Concern about health effects related to contamination in air, soil, and water for people working and living near e-waste processing sites is increasing, and pregnant women and children are among the people most vulnerable to this contamination.

Efforts have been underway to move toward a more sustainable, environmentally secure e-waste disposal process in Guiyu, China. By the end of 2015, all unregulated electronic-waste workshops were moved to a new industrial park in Guiyu. This change paves the way for a comparative study of the effect of e-waste contamination on birth outcomes between 2001-2008 and 2009-2016.

The team hypothesizes that the e-waste exposure level among pregnant women in this region is decreasing and birth outcomes are improving. To explore this hypothesis, they plan to:

  • Initiate a birth cohort from three hospitals in Guiyu to evaluate the e-waste exposure among pregnant women and birth outcomes for those women
  • Collect and analyze drinking water, water from Lian River (the major river in Guiyu), soil, food, air and industrial indoor dust for pollutants
  • Develop a local education program to improve the awareness of the adverse health effects of e-waste exposure and prevention strategies among women

Feng is collaborating with Jim Zhang, professor of global and environmental health at Duke and Duke Kunshan University, and Xia Huo, professor of environmental medicine and developmental toxicology at Jinan University in Guangzhou, China. The team hopes the pilot funding will help them build a long-term collaboration with China and provide a foundation for securing external funding to continue their work.

Are Chemical Mixtures a Toxic Recipe for Chronic Kidney Disease?

Richard Di Giulio, professor of environmental toxicology at Duke, is leading the study on the potential link between pollutant mixtures in well water and chronic kidney disease in Sri Lanka.

Chronic kidney disease, a growing global health concern, typically results from disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, environmental contaminants and other factors. But in some instances, the etiology of the disease remains unknown. Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) has become a serious public health epidemic in Sri Lanka over the last ten years. The disease is most prevalent in the country’s Anuradhapura district—or “dry zone”—where it affects about 15 percent of adults.

Ingestion of environmental contaminants is thought to contribute to CKDu, but a specific role for individual chemicals has been repeatedly tested without compelling positive results. The research team hypothesizes that the synergistic and interactive toxic effects of chemical mixtures may cause CKDu.

To explore this hypothesis, they’ll investigate the biological effects of chemical mixtures derived from drinking water wells used by CKDu patients in Anuradhapura. They’ll compare these results with wells belonging to families who are not affected by CKDu from Anuradhapura and from a distant region (Galle district), in collaboration with researchers at the University of Ruhuna, one of DGHI’s priority partnership locations. Ninety families will be identified, with 30 wells per group. The researchers will test well toxicity using zebrafish assays followed by cell culture studies at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura in Sri Lanka.

The overall project goals are to test the plausibility of chemical mixture effects as drivers of CKDu and ultimately help mitigate this critical, yet poorly understood, health problem.

Di Giulio’s co-investigators include:

  • Nishad Jayasundara, postdoctoral researcher, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Truls Ostbye, professor of community and family medicine, nursing and global health
  • Joel Meyer, associate professor of environmental toxicology and DGHI affiliate faculty member
  • Kamani Wanigasuriya, professor of nephrology at the University of  Sri Jayewardenepura

This pilot funding will enable the team to build on their past work in this area, strengthen and expand DGHI’s and Duke’s partnerships in Sri Lanka, and—they hope—secure external funding to expand the study. The project will also provide important training opportunities for Jayasndara and for graduate students at the Duke Global Health Institute and the Sri Lankan universities involved in the study.

 

Originally posted on the Duke Global Health Institute website. Photo: Worker dismantling toner cartridges, covered with toner. Guiyu, China. Credit: Basel Action Network