Seven Interdisciplinary Projects Receive Catalyst Program Seed Grants for 2020-21

Catalyst Program.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University is pleased to announce that it has awarded funding to seven research projects for Fiscal Year 2020–2021 through the Catalyst Program.

Now in its fourth year, the Catalyst Program aims to build on the Nicholas Institute’s mission by increasing engagement with Duke faculty to incubate and advance new partnerships, enhance policy-relevant knowledge, and create innovative policy solutions based on new creative synergies.

“More than ever this year, the Catalyst Program promises to live up to its name,” said Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute. “When our current public health crisis eases and the world is able to safely open up again, we hope that these projects will be in the pipeline and ready to accelerate with our colleagues around the university. We are also proud that more than 80 percent of this year’s funding will go directly to Duke students.”

2020–2021 Catalyst Program Awardees

Mapping Solar Photovoltaic Arrays Using Unpiloted Aerial Vehicles

The team for this project is led by experts in machine learning, interpretation of remote sensing data, and energy access. The project will investigate the use of high‐resolution imagery collected by drones for identifying energy infrastructure—such as small solar panels, diesel and gasoline generators, and distribution lines—to support public policy and private investments in sustainable energy access.

Collaborators: Rob Fetter, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; Jordan Malof, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Kyle Bradbury, Duke University Energy Initiative and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Jay Rineer and Robert Beach, RTI International

Challenges of Using Environmental Social Governance Data to Motivate Action on Climate Change and Planetary Health

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data is material for investment firms seeking to leverage capital to promote and privilege sustainable businesses. However, ESG data is, in general, neither reliable, nor transparent. This pre-catalyst grant is intended to design a larger project to 1) understand the underlying issues in producing, reporting, and applying ESG data to motivate business and financial action on climate change, and 2) develop a framework for an ESG Lab at Duke.

Collaborators: John Virdin, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; Deb Gallagher and Joseph Bachman, Nicholas School of the Environment; John Buley and Cathy Clark, Fuqua School of Business; Tyler Felgenhauer, Pratt School of Engineering; Lee Reiners, Duke School of Law

Integrating Policy into Duke Restore

Duke Restore is a new initiative of the Nicholas School of the Environment with ambitions to make the school a global leader in ecosystem restoration and cultivation so that this conservation intervention can become a realistic recovery strategy for all ecosystems and economies in the face of intensifying global stress. This project aims to connect the applied research conducted by the Duke Marine Lab through the Restore initiative with the work underway at the Nicholas Institute with policy makers, resource managers, and funders in North Carolina and elsewhere. The goal is to build collaboration to enhance the impact Duke can have on the resiliency of coastal communities to flooding and sea level rise while also enhancing fisheries productivity and biodiversity.

Collaborators: Lydia Olander, John Virdin, and Amy Pickle, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; Brian Silliman, Carter Smith, Liz Demattia, Pat Halpin, Dan Rittschof, Grant Murray, and Andy Read, Nicholas School of the Environment and Duke Marine Laboratory; Curt Richardson, Nicholas School of the Environment and Duke Wetland Center; Dave Johnston, Nicholas School of the Environment Drone Lab; Steve Roady, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Duke School of Law; Dan Vermeer, Fuqua Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment

Cross-Disciplinary Policy and Technology Solutions for the Plastic Pollution Pandemic: Creating Connections and Community

This project seeks to build and advance new collaborations to create policy and technology solutions for reducing plastic pollution through a Plastic Pollution Working Group of Duke faculty and students. The idea builds on a pre-catalyst grant awarded to the project team for the 2019–2020 academic year that allowed for production of a manuscript detailing technologies that either prevent plastic leakage or remove plastic from waterways. The report is part of the Nicholas Institute’s upcoming Global Plastics Policy Analysis for the Pew Foundation, providing insight into plastic remediation innovation occurring in the private sector.

Collaborators: John Virdin and Amy Pickle, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; Meagan Dunphy-Daly, Nicholas School of the Environment; Richard Di Giulio, Nicholas School of the Environment and Duke Superfund Research Center; William Eward, Department of Orthopaedics and Duke Comparative Oncology Group; Kathinka Furst, Duke Kunshan University Environmental Research Center; Andy Read, Dan Rittschof, and Thomas Schultz, Nicholas School of the Environment and Duke Marine Laboratory; Steve Roady, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Duke School of Law; Jason Somarelli, Department of Medicine and Duke Comparative Oncology Group; Dan Vermeer, Fuqua Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment

Early Stage Development of a Solar Geoengineering Board Game

With climate scientists warning of serious global impacts if greenhouse gas emissions are not quickly curtailed, some nations may forego attempts at international cooperation and instead seek to address climate change using geoengineering technology, such as solar radiation management (SRM). Because it is expected to be relatively cheap and fast-acting, solar geoengineering could be deployed by a single nation desperate to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but this action may be detrimental to other nations and may undermine the global motivation for emissions abatement. This project will design and beta test a board game that will give players the opportunity to experience the complexities that solar geoengineering introduces into the geopolitical dynamics of climate policy.

Collaborators: Mark Borsuk, Jonathan Wiener, and Tyler Felgenhauer, Duke Center on Risk; Billy Pizer, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Sanford School of Public Policy; Shai Ginsburg, Duke Game Lab; Max Cawley, Museum of Life and Science; Christine Ogilvie Hendren, Team Helium LLC; Chris Cummings, Decision Analytica LLC

An Analysis of the Industrial “Opt-Out” Challenge

The Energy Information Administration reports that in 2018 industrial customers consumed 33 percent of all primary energy and 26 percent of electricity in the United States, representing a large energy efficiency resource opportunity. This project will utilize a combination of non-public microdata from the U.S. Census and publicly available data to compare the energy usage of industrial customers that “opt-out” of electric utility energy efficiency programs with those that stay “opted-in” to determine the value and potential opportunity of utility-offered energy efficiency and demand response programs.

Collaborators: Gale Boyd, Duke Social Science Research Institute; Jen Weiss and Rob Fetter, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; Xirui Zhang, Economics Department

Understanding and Controlling Urban Soil Lead Contamination and Its Impact on Public Health

Lead exposure remains a significant public health concern, despite impressive reductions in the United States over the past 40 to 50 years. Regulatory efforts have limited exposures in workplaces, schools, homes, and in the outdoor urban environment, but challenges to curbing human lead exposure persist, including our limited understanding of lead contamination in urban soils. This project creates a diverse team with expertise in soil chemistry, toxicology, epidemiology, environmental health sciences, pediatric and family medicine, community health, and public policy to coproduce policy-relevant research and to identify best practices for governmental actors to address lead exposure hazards from urban soils.

Collaborators: Kay Jowers, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; Dan Richter, Anna Wade, and Kate Hoffman, Nicholas School of the Environment; Nancy Lauer and Michelle Nowlin, Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic; Nrupen Bhavsar, Department of Medicine, General Internal Medicine; Jillian Hurst, Children’s Health & Discovery Initiative at Duke University; Lloyd Michener, Family Medicine & Community Health; Christopher Timmins, Economics Department

Originally posted on the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions website

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Offers Summer 2020 Fellowships

Summer Fellowships.

During the summer of 2020, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University will fund up to 10 PhD students for full or partial fellowships to participate in data analysis and/or literature aggregation in support of its five core areas of interest, including the:

  • Climate and Energy Program
  • Ecosystem Services Program
  • Ocean and Coastal Policy Program
  • State Policy Program
  • Water Policy Program

These fellowships are merit-based and intended to initiate new collaborations with laboratories in Sanford School of Public Policy, Trinity School of Arts and Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment, and Pratt School of Engineering, whose work is of relevance to the Institute and its programs.

Each fellowship is structured as a paid internship. PhD students are expected to complete their assigned project between June-August 2020. Salary (up to $7,950) and fringe (up to $1,152.75) will be transferred to the appropriate school to cover the fellowship.

How to Apply

To apply, PhD students should find a match between their interests and the work of a Nicholas Institute senior staff member who will then submit the request for funding. See the full article, including a list of Nicholas Institute senior staff members and their contact information.

Dividing Lines and Common Ground between Rural and Urban Voters on Environmental Policy

Cows in field at sunset.

Rural and urban Americans are divided in their views on the environment, but common ground does exist, says a new report led by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Report cover.“The urban/rural divide on the environment is real, but it centers not on differences in how much people value environmental protection but on divergent views toward government regulation,” said lead author Robert Bonnie, executive in residence at the Nicholas Institute and a former undersecretary for natural resources and environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Rural Americans, across party lines, are less supportive of governmental oversight on the environment than their urban/suburban counterparts.”

The study was conducted over two years by the Nicholas Institute with assistance from the University of Rhode Island, the University of Wyoming, Hart Research Associates and New Bridge Strategy. It involved extensive outreach to rural constituencies, including a national survey of more than 2,000 registered voters, focus groups with more than 125 rural voters and in-depth interviews with 36 rural leaders.

Rural Americans have an outsized impact on national environmental policy, from strong representation in the halls of Congress to management of vast swaths of lands and watersheds, the authors note.

Polling results indicated broad support for conservation and environmental protection among both rural and urban/suburban voters. The study also found rural voters to be relatively knowledgeable about environmental policies and the potential economic trade-offs that come with them.

“Americans living in rural communities showed a powerful commitment to protecting the environment, motivated in large part by a strong place identity and desire to maintain local environmental resources for future generations,” said study co-author Emily Diamond, assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island.

Rural voters significantly diverged from urban and suburban voters over attitudes toward federal regulation, the study found. In the polling, rural voters across political parties expressed more skepticism for government policies. Participants in focus group conversations often voiced strong support for conservation and environmental protection in the abstract but raised concerns about the impacts and effectiveness of specific policies.

Climate change proved to be another dividing line between rural and urban/suburban voters.

“Our focus groups and interviews echoed this sense that rural opposition to climate change policies may be tied to negative experiences they have had with other federal environmental regulations,” Diamond said.

“Climate change is a polarizing issue in rural America, but there is a path forward that can win rural support,” Bonnie added. “Our study shows that engagement and collaboration with rural stakeholders will be important to winning over rural support.”

There is no quick fix to bridging the urban/rural divide on environmental policies, the authors said. They recommend that policymakers, environmentalists and conservation groups engage more with rural communities when developing policies that could affect them. The authors also suggest federal policies — especially for addressing climate change — are more likely to gain rural voters’ support if they allow for state and local partnerships and collaboration with rural stakeholders.

Other key recommendations include:

  • Working with trusted messengers, such as farmers, ranchers, and cooperative extension services, to convey information about environmental policies to local stakeholders
  • Improving scientific outreach to rural communities
  • Offering opportunities to address environmental policy priorities in a way that is compatible with rural economies

Support for the study was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Wilburforce Foundation and the Rubenstein Fellows Academy at Duke University. The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions contributed seed funding through its Catalyst Program to get the project started. The full report, “Understanding Rural Attitudes Toward the Environment and Conservation in America,” is available at nicholasinstitute.duke.edu/publications/understanding-rural-attitudes-toward-environment-and-conservation-america.

The study was led by Bonnie with co-authors Diamond and Elizabeth Rowe, a master of environmental management student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Jay Campbell at Hart Research Associates and Lori Weigel at New Bridge Strategy conducted focus groups and polling for the study.


Originally posted on the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions website; members of the media interested in speaking with Robert Bonnie should contact Jeremy Ashton, jeremy.ashton@duke.edu or 919.613.4361.

Proposals for 2020-2021 Catalyst grants are due March 16, 2020. Learn more and see the full request for proposals.

Nicholas Institute Invites Duke Faculty to Apply for 2020-21 Catalyst Grants

Catalyst grant.

Deadline: March 23, 2020 (extended)

Launched in 2017, the Catalyst Program aims to prompt and support expansions of existing partnerships between Duke faculty and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions staff on research and workshops. Through the program’s seed funding, these researchers develop new or emergent ideas related to environmental policy challenges at the federal, state, and local level.

The Nicholas Institute’s mission is to help decision makers create timely, effective, and economically practical solutions to the world’s critical environmental challenges. The Nicholas Institute engages local, state, and federal governments, international agencies, NGOs, companies, and communities through convening, providing legal, economic, and policy analysis, and supporting the process of taking policy concepts and turning them into practice. The vision for the Catalyst Program is to build on this mission by increasing engagement with Duke University faculty to incubate and advance new partnerships, enhance policy-relevant knowledge, and create innovative policy solutions based on new creative synergies. The program will invest in policy-relevant proposals that catalyze Nicholas Institute and faculty collaborations in new or emergent areas of shared interest. The program’s intent is to create collaborations that will continue past the grant and become central components of the Institute’s work in the years ahead.

Eligible Participants

Each proposal must be co-chaired by at least one person from the Nicholas Institute’s senior staff (see list below) and a Duke faculty member from any discipline. Priority will be given to proposals submitted by faculty representing schools that have had limited participation in the program in past grant cycles.

Funding and Project Types

Awards will be given out for use during the 2021 fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, in two categories:

  • Pre-catalyst planning grants of up to $5,000. These proposals should be used to investigate the possibility of a collaboration that could result in a catalyst proposal in the next fiscal year.
  • Catalyst grants of up to $25,000. Award funding can be used for applied research, workshops, course development, and events, including the cost of food, meeting venues, travel, external speakers, and post-doctoral and research assistant support. Note: On the basis of project performance and interest, these projects may be considered for renewal for additional funding in FY22.

Project Requirements

Projects must connect Nicholas Institute senior staff with Duke faculty, building on the core competencies of the co-chairs, and develop new or emergent ideas related to environmental policy challenges at the federal, state, and local level. Projects can be new initiatives or expansions of existing partnerships. They can include broad, multi-part projects, of which this funding is a piece, as well as smaller, intensive scoping or pilot projects. Additional considerations for project eligibility include (1) the project’s alignment with the Nicholas Institute’s mission, (2) the project team’s ability to leverage additional resources and secure future funding (with a particular interest in aligning with funding priorities of the Together Duke strategic plan), and (3) potential for long-term impact.

Review and Selection

Proposals are due no later than 5 p.m., March 23, 2020. Proposals will be reviewed by the Nicholas Institute Strategic Advisory Committee and final award decisions will be made no later than May 4, 2020. Please direct questions to to Colette Watt.

Proposal Template

By 5 p.m., March 23, 2020, an electronic PDF of your proposal should be submitted to Colette Watt, colette.watt@duke.edu.

Please limit your proposal to four pages inclusive of the following information:

  • Project Title and One-Sentence Summary
  • Project Co-Chairs and Senior Personnel
  • Proposed Budget: Provide an overall budget for your project, including a description of requested support and its anticipated uses. Identify other sources of funding, including funding already obtained or requested. List any funding opportunities that you intend to pursue.
  • Proposal Narrative (maximum 2 pages): Provide an overview of your project that articulates (1) the question or problem that the project proposes to explore; (2) the project goals; (3) proposed activities or work plan, including timeframes; and (4) anticipated outcome or impact.
  • Evaluation Plan: Describe the metrics that will be used to effectively demonstrate and quantify the project’s outcomes or impact. If the proposal requests a continuation from a prior grant, please also provide an evaluation of how the prior year’s grant met its proposed metrics.
  • Sustainability Plan: If you can anticipate how this project will continue after the Catalyst Program support concludes, provide a future funding plan.
  • Engagement Plan: If you anticipate your project will include public outreach or engagement with decision makers, describe the relevant plans and timelines.

Nicholas Institute Senior Staff

Robert Bonnie
Executive in Residence
Jennie Chen
Senior Counsel
Climate and Energy Program
Martin Doyle
Director
Water Policy Program
Jackson Ewing
Faculty Fellow
DKU Research and Engagment
T. Robert Fetter
Senior Policy Associate
Energy Access Project
Liz Losos
Senior Fellow
Lydia Olander
Director
Ecosystem Services Program
Jonathan Phillips
Director
Energy Access Project
Amy Pickle
Director
State Policy Program
Billy Pizer
Faculty Fellow
Tim Profeta
Director, Nicholas Institute for
Environmental Policy Solutions
Steve Roady
Faculty Fellow
Martin Ross
Senior Research Economist
John Virdin
Director
Ocean and Coastal Policy Program
Jen Weiss
Senior Policy Associate
Climate and Energy Program

PDF: Catalyst Program 2020-21 RFP

See 2019-20 awardees

Protecting the State’s Drinking Water: Research Team Maps North Carolina Infrastructure

A team of students from the Nicholas School of the Environment and Pratt School of Engineering has been working for more than a year to create a single digital map of the service boundaries of North Carolina’s drinking water systems. Developed as part of a interdisciplinary project known as Innovations in Infrastructure, the map will inform research into policies that can help the state better manage risks to local water supplies.

An interdisciplinary group from two universities is taking a data-driven approach to help protect North Carolina’s drinking water supply.

The Innovations in Infrastructure project is using the state’s drinking water systems as a lens to examine policies for better building and maintaining infrastructure necessary for delivery of basic public services. Funded by a multiyear Collaboratory grant from Duke University’s Office of the Provost, the project brings together Duke faculty and students with the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“There are a lot of platitudes about an infrastructure crisis in the United States and sweeping indictments that list 20 problems to explain why our infrastructure is failing,” said co-principal investigator Megan Mullin, associate professor of environmental politics at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “Our suspicion was that all of those 20 indictments hold, but they hold for different systems under different conditions. As long as we’re bundling everything together, we’re not going to be able to help improve infrastructure in particular places at particular points in time.”

The Collaboratory team has since narrowed its focus to policies affecting how drinking water is provided in North Carolina. As in much of the United States, it is “an expensive public service that’s supported locally and is extremely fragmented,” Mullin said. Some systems deliver water to just a few hundred paying customers. That is a small revenue base to support maintaining “capital-intensive infrastructure,” which can include building treatment plants, repairing or replacing aging pipes, or tapping new sources of water.

These water systems can face numerous challenges—increases or decreases in population, changing economic conditions, or impacts related to climate change, such as droughts or floods. How the local governments and utilities that operate these water systems see the risk from these challenges can differ from how the state or private sector sees them, said co-principal investigator Amy Pickle, director of the State Policy Program at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Co-principal investigator Megan Mullin (right) reviews the mapping project with Carolyn Rossman (foreground) and Jannette Morris (top).

“The overarching question for me is: How well does North Carolina assess the risks that impact the sustainability of local water supply and then prepare for those risks with either funding, education, or other policy solutions?” Pickle said.

They needed a critical piece of information, however, to get the right level of detail for the research.

“We have to understand the areas these water systems are serving, and no one knows that,” Mullin said.

Like most states, North Carolina does not have a single digital map showing where every local water system is located. So the project team would have to build one.

To get started, the researchers turned to the North Carolina Division of Water Resources, which has become an invaluable partner in the project. In 2009, the General Assembly passed a law to help prepare for droughts that requires communities to submit water supply plans to the Division’s Bureau of Public Water Supply. As part of that reporting, the Bureau received PDF maps of service boundaries for each of the more than 500 community water systems in the state.

The trove of system maps came with varying degrees of quality. While some were generated with pinpoint accuracy by mapping software, many others were drawn by hand.

Walker Grimshaw (left) and Shawn Li refine the service boundaries for one local drinking water system in North Carolina. Students worked in pairs during the mapping process to learn from each other and provide added accountability.

For more than a year, a team of eight student assistants from the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Pratt School of Engineering has been incorporating those system maps into a single digital statewide map. The challenging work gave the students an opportunity to learn new skills from each other, an important part of the educational component of the project.

“The team structure is amazing on an interdisciplinary level,” said Katy Hansen, a PhD student in the University Program in Environmental Policy who serves as the research lead for the project. “Lots of people are operating on the edge of their learning curves.”

The student team has been directed by Hansen and lead project manager Rachel Gonsenhauser, a master of environmental management (MEM) student in the Nicholas School. Bringing different backgrounds and levels of mapping expertise, they spent months refining a process for digitizing the water system maps. With a procedure in place, they have worked in pairs to incorporate the system boundaries into the larger map, checking each other’s work and sharing ideas as they go.

Kartik Pathak, a master of engineering management student in the Pratt School, is among the students who benefited from the pairs approach. Pathak came to the project with an interest in the topic but little GIS experience. His knowledge has grown from working with his “mapping buddy.”

Among the key members of the team has been Walker Grimshaw, who is working toward both an MEM degree from Duke and a master’s in environmental sciences and engineering from UNC. Grimshaw brought both GIS experience and an understanding of why the map was so vital based on his time with the Environmental Finance Center at UNC.

“I would keep meeting people who wanted what our end product will be—a tool showing where the water utilities are serving people,” Grimshaw said.

Example of water system map digitization process
Example of water system map digitization process

State agencies and researchers are excited to have that information, Mullin said. Once the students’ work on the map is complete, the Division of Water Resources will be able to go back to individual water systems to reduce any measurement errors in their boundaries. And this summer a new set of students will build an online tool to make that process easier for local governments and utilities, through Duke’s Data+ program.

Among the next steps for the project is an informal workshop in the spring with Division of Water Resources staff to go over the map and data related to risks that water systems are facing. The project team will also discuss policy innovations that can improve the flow of water supply information, both from local governments to the state and between different parts of the state bureaucracy.

By Jeremy Ashton; originally posted on Duke Today


Request for Proposals: Collaboratories for Research on Immigration or on Science, Technology & Ethics

Deadline: January 24, 2020

Through funds from Together Duke, the Provost established a program to support groups of faculty whose engaged research targets selected societal challenges in alignment with Duke’s strategic priorities. After the first two cycles, the Provost’s Office has selected two new themes for the 2020 grant competition: Immigration; and Science, Technology & Ethics.

Project funding ranges from $40,000 to $200,000 annually. Proposals may request funds for one, two, or three years; the project budget should match the horizon of the proposal.

Please see the RFP for eligibility, selection criteria, review process, proposal requirements, timeline and contact information.

Nicholas Institute Welcomes Inaugural Cohort of Duke Environmental Impacts Fellows

Group of fellows.

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

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

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

2020 Fellows

Hussain Alshammasi, Nicholas School of the Environment

Axel Berky, Nicholas School of the Environment

Alice Carter, University Program in Ecology

Travis Dauwalter, Public Policy & Economics

Kimberley Drouin, Earth & Ocean Sciences

Jacqueline Gerson, University Program in Ecology

Kathleen Horvath, Electrical Engineering

Brandon Hunter, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Faye Koenigsmark, Environmental Engineering

Anna Lewis, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Reshma Nargund, Nicholas School of the Environment

Anna Nordseth, University Program in Ecology

Ekta Patel, Environmental Policy

Erika Smull, Nicholas School of the Environment

Margaret Swift, Nicholas School of the Environment

Emily Ury, University Program in Ecology

Michael Valerino, Environmental Engineering

Paige Varner, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Dana Wright, Marine Science & Conservation

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).

Nicholas Institute Launches Duke Environmental Impacts Fellow Program

Apply by Oct. 1

Deadline: October 1, 2019

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

Learn about the EIF program purpose, traininglogistics, and enrichment activities.

Application and Selection Timeline

  • Applications due: October 1, 2019
  • Notification of selected fellows: by November 8, 2019
  • Fellow acceptance: by November 15, 2019
  • Announcement of fellows: Week of November 19, 2019
  • Initiation event: November 21 & 22, 2019
  • Program duration: January – December 2020

Eligibility

Students who have completed at least two full years of any Duke PhD program will be eligible to apply.

To Apply

Go to the EIF application page at https://nicholasinstitute.duke.edu/eif/apply and follow instructions.