Economics Professor Daniel Yi Xu Leads the Triangle Research Data Center at SSRI

Daniel Yi Xu
Daniel Yi Xu (Professor, Department of Economics, and Director, Triangle Research Data Center)

The Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) recently welcomed Professor Yi (Daniel) Xu to the SSRI team where he oversees the Triangle Research Data Center (TRDC). The TRDC consists of one secure computer laboratory, located at Gross Hall, where researchers can perform statistical analysis on non-public microdata from the Census Bureau’s economic and demographic censuses and surveys.

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I am currently a Professor of Economics at Duke University and also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. This is my tenth academic year at Duke. My research expertise is the analysis of firm and industry performance using large-scale micro-level data. In particular, I contributed to the understanding of the key determinants of firm dynamics and innovation as well as their implication for aggregate economic development and growth. My work is highly empirical and often involves the use of novel data sources from a broad range of countries in addition to the U.S.

Why economics? Why Duke?

I believe Economics is fundamentally a subject about people. I like Economics because it provides a quite systematic framework for us to think about various important social phenomena, such as how we engage in the production process, how individuals interact in the marketplace, and how we organize ourselves into different forms of governance. To that extent, Economics is rigorous but also highly versatile.

Duke is obviously an excellent academic institution on multiple fronts. But for me, the most attractive part is a highly collegial Economics department, where we encourage works that break the boundaries of narrow disciplines and make fundamental contributions to push the frontier.

What interests you about data?

As my work is very much empirical, data is often one of the most important piece of my research. But more generally, I believe high quality data is the necessary condition for any scientific inquiries. On the other hand, the data does not speak for itself. One of the more interesting parts of our work as social science researchers is to interpret the data through the lens of our own narratives.

As an economist, what excites you about interdisciplinary research?

I believe Economics has the potential to be highly interdisciplinary. One of the exciting aspects of Economics is that we model and investigate individual behaviors. (Even firms are no more than just a technology that organize people collectively.) Economics has been evolving in terms of its methodology over the past decades, often borrowing heavily from scientific fields like math, stats, and engineering. But I believe at the core it shares the most fundamental topics with other social science disciplines for queries of technology, people, and our society.

How is the TRDC an important resource for Duke faculty, researchers, and students?

Great question. Part of the reason that I agreed to direct the TRDC is exactly its potential of engaging a broad range of Duke faculty, researchers, and students. The TRDC houses the confidential U.S. Census micro data, which are the building blocks for most of the public social and economic indicators. A potentially less known fact is that TRDC also hosts projects using non-public data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. These all substantially broaden the potential user base and purpose of the projects that can be conducted within the center. While these data all provide exciting research opportunities, they often require a somewhat cumbersome application process. One of our primary task here is to promote the utilization of this unique resource and help our Duke community to smooth out the access process as much as possible.

Our more ambitious long-run goal is to leverage on the unique position of TRDC and provide a platform for our faculty, researchers, and students to exchange ideas and build up collaborative projects. The fact that our data spans across a broad range of subjects like demography, firms, and health also would make these collaborations potentially interdisciplinary by definition.

Originally posted on the Social Science Research Institute website

Open Design+ Course Asks Students, How Might We Use the Pandemic to Transform Learning?

Aria Chernik.

Aria Chernik (Associate Professor of the Practice, Social Science Research Institute) will co-lead Open Design+ in Summer Session II. Open Design+ is a new summer program offered through the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative and is part of Bass Connections.

This summer, students will work through the open design thinking process to create a prototype in the problem space: In light of COVID-19, how might we transform learning at Duke?

Why is this course a good fit for summer during the pandemic?

Open Design+ teaches students how to ideate, create, test, and iterate impactful solutions to real-world, complex problems. The pandemic, of course, is an example of just this kind of problem. We need to be able to think big and act creatively—and above all with empathy—to find solutions that can propel communities forward. That’s what students will be doing this summer.

Why did you want to teach this course?

This course combines some of my most strongly-held professional and personal interests and passions. It combines student-driven education innovation with the ethics of open source values and design thinking methodologies.

Can you give us an overview of what you’ll be teaching?

Students will use design thinking to develop innovative solutions to complex, real-world problems. This summer, the challenge space is how might we use the experience of COVID-19 to transform learning at Duke?

Working in small, interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate and graduate students, participants in Open Design+ will gain an understanding of open design, a variation of design thinking that emphasizes the ethical implications of how and what we design.

Students will learn qualitative research skills and conduct extensive interviews with stakeholders in the challenge area, including Duke students, faculty, and administrators to ideate solutions for sustained learning innovation at Duke; they will also learn critical skills and mindsets such as: brainstorming ideas and creating prototypes, testing and iterating solutions, communicating across audiences and media, thinking divergently and convergently, and collaborating and problem-solving in uncertain situations.

How important is collaboration?

Collaboration is absolutely essential. The open design process requires deep and thoughtful collaboration across myriad learning contexts, such as interviewing stakeholders, brainstorming sessions, testing and evaluating prototypes, defining problems, and communicating results. Very little work is done alone. The challenge for us is to create a virtual environment in which the team can collaborate authentically, meaningfully, and frequently, but we are optimistic that we can do this!

What do you hope the students gain from taking this course?

Competencies and mindsets that are critical and applicable across all learning disciplines, careers, and even civic life: listening and creating with empathy, robust collaboration, convergent and divergent thinking, compelling communication across media and audiences, resilience in the face of uncertainty and frustration, creative problem-solving, failing forward, and iterative creation.

Why is social science research so important?

Social science research asks us to reach across disciplines and engage skills ranging from qualitative ethnographic research to quantitative data-driven research. In our increasingly complex world, interdisciplinarity is critical if we are to understand and solve problems that have direct positive social impact.

Originally posted on the Social Science Research Institute website

MIDS Program Invites Proposals for Doctoral Fellowships in 2020-21

MIDS logo.

Deadline: June 1, 2020 (priority), June 15, 2020 (final)

The Duke Master in Interdisciplinary Data Science (MIDS) program is excited to invite proposals from Duke doctoral students interested in deepening their data-related skills, gaining experience working on applied data science teams, and learning to manage projects.

Through an NSF Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) grant, six Ph.D. students will be selected as IGE Doctoral Fellows to engage with MIDS students throughout the 2020-2021 academic year in collaborating to address a hard data problem that requires both data science skills and specialized field knowledge. IGE Doctoral Fellows propose their own MIDS capstone project that is directly related to their thesis and will help serve its completion.

The main objective of the IGE fellowship is to allow students to work on their thesis in a collaborative, team-based, environment while learning from the various strengths of their teammates and sharing their own expertise. IGE fellows will also learn how to manage their project and teams to ensure success.IGE fellows may also request to join an existing capstone project team that will allow the student to work with an external client working with MIDS. In these cases, fellows must obtain the consent of their advisor as well as demonstrate how the fellowship may contribute to their education and/or career development.

  • IGE Doctoral Fellows must participate throughout 2020-2021 in all MIDS program classwork and activities designed to ensure Capstone Projects succeed, including meetings with stakeholders, meetings on team management, teamwork and leadership workshops, analysis plans, milestone reports, and mid-year reviews.
  • IGE Doctoral Fellows must complete all assignments designed to ensure that students understand the ethical issues related to their project, and have reflected on the larger impact their project may have on society.
  • IGE Doctoral Fellows are invited (but not required) to participate in any other professional development activities provided by the MIDS program (such as job fairs, interview preparation sessions, and seminars with non-academic data science partners).
  • IGE Doctoral Fellows may take any of the MIDS core courses with the incoming MIDS class.

Each IGE Capstone Project receives $3,000 in research/travel funds, will work on a team with a number of MIDS students, and receive guidance from a project director and support from project managers. The costs of the data curation, storage, and processing for each selected project will be covered by MIDS and provided through the MIDS/SSRI established procedures for sensitive data.

Proposed projects must:

  1. Be substantial and take at least 1 academic year
  2. Address an important problem and allow MIDS students to contribute meaningfully to the solution
  3. Have an important deliverable to a partner or stakeholder, including a company, a government agency, an internal Duke organization or a nonprofit, who will be available throughout the year to evaluate the project.
  4. Incorporate domain expertise from at least one Duke researcher.

To apply to become an IGE Fellow who proposes his/her own MIDS capstone project, please prepare a proposal that follows the directions in the RFP. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis.

Ph.D. students will need a letter of recommendation from their advisor; a Ph.D. student’s submission of the proposal form automatically generates a request to their advisor for a letter.

Learn more and see the full RFP.

Ten Groups of Faculty Receive Intellectual Community Planning Grants for 2020

Campus in winter.

The Provost’s Office has awarded Intellectual Community Planning Grants to ten groups for the 2020 calendar year.

A key goal of Together Duke is to invest in faculty as scholars and leaders of the university’s intellectual communities. To foster collaboration around new and emerging areas of interest, Intellectual Community Planning Grants (ICPG) ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 are available to groups of faculty. Recipients can use the funds to support the exploration of new collaborations, covering the cost of meeting venues, food, external speakers or other meeting costs, and research to identify potential collaborators at Duke and elsewhere.

The 2020 grants include faculty from all of Duke’s schools as well as the University of North Carolina, NC State University, and NC Central University.

Bridging Social Determinants of Health with Clinical Extensions of Care for Vulnerable Populations

Bridging team members.

This group will establish a partnership between Duke’s Clinical Translational Science Institute and the Social Science Research Institute in order to develop a portfolio of scholarly activity that tackles the interplay of social determinants of health, clinical health outcomes, and the advancement of health equity. Members will develop a compilation of resources to facilitate interdisciplinary and collaborative research and take advantage of short-term synergies that allow for additional coauthored publications. They will also develop research proposals to design and test one or more interventions.

Developing a Neuroethics and Theological Studies Network

Developing Neuroethics team members.

What can theological studies contribute to neuroethics, and vice versa? How can the engagement of theological studies with neuroethics best be facilitated? How can further interdisciplinary collaboration at Duke shape such dialogue? This group seeks to foster and expand the work of an emerging international cohort of scholars working at the intersection of theological studies and neuroethics.

Duke SciReg Center: Science in Regulation, Law, and Public Policy

Duke SciReg ICPG members.

Bringing together Duke faculty and students from STEM disciplines, law, and policy, this group will seek to facilitate the provision of timely comments from Duke experts to state and federal agencies on pending regulations that implicate scientific and technical issues. Following a series of conversations and planning events, members hope to establish a center at Duke that would create a unique model for interdisciplinary education in science, law, and policy through actual participation in the regulatory process.

Entity Resolution with Applications to Public Policy and Business

Entity Resolutions ICPG members.

This collaboration will enable the formation of a multidisciplinary lab of social scientists, public policy analysts, business scholars, mathematicians and statisticians who seek to understand the practical issues related to entity resolution (ER)—the processes of removing duplicates from large databases and engaging in accurate record linkage across databases. There will be regular meetings of the member research groups to explore applications of ER tasks in public policy and business; one Ph.D. student will work on a project to implement members’ developed tools into software for public distribution and a working paper.

Housing and Health: A Multisector Community-driven Approach to Achieving Health Equity

Housing ICPG members.

Combining a community engagement process with interdisciplinary expertise, these faculty hope to address social, economic, and environmental influencers of health, with the eventual goal of transforming Durham into a healthier place for its most vulnerable residents. Members will participate in an interactive, facilitated pre-planning meeting and four design-thinking workshops with community partners, followed by a post-workshop debrief and a meeting to determine next steps and future directions.

Human Rights Futures

Human Rights ICPG members.

This community of human rights scholars plans will discuss a new temporal framing for human rights: one that remains aware of past grievances and the need for reparations, but that places such awareness in the service of a sustainable and desirable future. Involving graduate and undergraduate students, the group will explore a number of ideas for how this multiyear project might come to life. Following several working lunches, the group plans to launch a “speculative fiction book club,” host a guest speaker, and convene a day-long workshop.

  • Lead: James Chappel, History, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Kathi Weeks, Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Robin Kirk, Cultural Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Adam Rosenblatt, International Comparative Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Liliana Paredes, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Marion Quirici, Thompson Writing Program, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Jen Ansley, Thompson Writing Program, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Emily Stewart, Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute

Light-based Methods in Neuroscience and Biology

Light-based ICPG members.

This group aims to cross-pollinate ideas among neuroscientists, engineers, and data scientists. Each meeting focus on related questions requiring interdisciplinary engagement (e.g., How can we use light-based methods, such as scanless holography, adaptive optics, computational optics approaches, and genetically encoded activity sensors and actuators such as bacterial opsins, to investigate neural function?) Members will share information about resources for addressing these questions and communicate across Duke to strengthen imaging infrastructure.

North Carolina Saltwater Intrusion and Sea Level Rise

NC Saltwater ICPG members.

Predicting the impacts of sea level rise and the accompanying saltwater intrusion on freshwater coastal wetlands is a complex challenge. While the formation of “ghost forests”—the rapid death of trees due to salt stress—is gaining attention, our understanding remains fragmented. This group will convene a one-day workshop to develop an overarching research framework, with the goals of then pooling resources, sharing data, and submitting joint grant proposals.

Opioid Detection Technologies and Their Application to Addressing Various Aspects of the Opioid Crisis

Opioid ICPG members.

How can novel detection technologies be brought to bear on the opioid crisis? Members of this group will explore that question by undertaking two parallel activity streams: monthly collaboration meetings to share information; and acquisition of initial compound signatures on two fundamental detection technologies (X-ray diffraction and mass spectrometry). These faculty will pursue increased cross-disciplinary understanding of the opioid crisis and its detection needs; a baseline signature library of relevant compounds to support future analysis and design; and one or more joint proposals on topics related to detection and the opioid crisis.

Transformative Learning: A Shared Intellectual Interest across the University

Transformative Learning ICPG members.

This group’s primary goal is to identify transformative learning moments among Duke students. Members will meet monthly to develop a shared knowledge of transformative learning practices and assessment. They will host a dinner with Dr. Stacey Johnson of Vanderbilt University, a renowned expert in transformative learning in language education, convene two campus-wide discussions, and invite a nationally recognized speaker to give a public talk. The group will create a shared toolkit of assessment tools for transformative learning and develop conference proposals and a publication to showcase this work.

  • Co-lead: Cori Crane, Germanic Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Co-lead: Deb Reisinger, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Co-lead: Joan Clifford, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Jennifer Ahern-Dodson, Thompson Writing Program, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Alessandra Dinin, Office of Assessment, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Jennifer Hill, Office of Assessment, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • David Malone, Program in Education, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Liliana Paredes, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Melissa Simmermeyer, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Read about the 2019 recipients of Intellectual Community Planning Grants and view the 2018 summary report.

See all initiatives in the Together Duke academic strategic plan, including the current RFP for Collaboratories for Research on Immigration or on Science, Technology & Ethics (deadline: January 24, 2020; to learn more, attend an information session on Thursday, January 9, from 3:00 to 4:00 in the Karl E. Zener Auditorium, 130 Sociology-Psychology).

Thirteen Faculty Seek Out New Skills and Experiences to Enhance Teaching and Research

FTREG grantees.
Top row: Angrist, Bennett, Furtado, Guevara, Hartemink; middle: Maren, Mestyan, Miles, Shapiro-Garza, Starn; bottom: Stein, Weinthal, Vadde

Thirteen Duke University faculty members have been awarded Faculty Teaching/Research Enhancement Grants (FTREG) to acquire skills, knowledge, or experiences outside or beyond their main disciplines in 2020-2021.

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

Plain People, Modern Medicine: Gene Therapy Trials in Amish and Mennonite Patients in Lancaster, PA

Misha Angrist, Social Science Research Institute; Initiative for Science & Society

Angrist will spend time in Lancaster observing and chronicling the experiences of Anabaptist patients participating in gene therapy trials to treat their rare genetic diseases. Building on previous trips to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, this experience will inform a proposal for a book that will shed light on a new biomedical, social, and cultural phenomenon and prompt caregivers, researchers, policymakers, and patients to think about healthcare in new ways. This research will also enhance Angrist’s Focus course (Patient Activism and Advocacy) as well as his science writing course (Science and the Media) and the course he coteaches for NIH-funded trainees (Responsible Conduct of Research).

Distributed Computational Techniques for Machine Learning

Victor Bennett, Fuqua School of Business

Bennett will pursue a two-course sequence on tools—Scala and Spark—related to machine learning in distributed computing environments offered by Databricks in McLean, VA. His current project about the future of work requires matching three million establishments to 22 million shipments of automation technology, which would take years of computing on the Fuqua server. Knowledge of parallelization techniques will allow him to make use of code that would get the match down to within a day, and will enhance his ability to serve as a resource for doctoral students and faculty at Fuqua and across the university.

Mapping the Amazonian Moving Image: Territoriality, Media, and the Senses

Gustavo Furtado, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Furtado’s research project explores the ways in which visual and audiovisual media participate in efforts by competing sociocultural groups to appropriate the Amazon region symbolically and materially. In order to finish gathering materials, he will visit museums, cultural institutions, and film collections in three Amazonian cities: Iquitos, Belém, and Manaus. This research will contribute to a book-length monograph and enhance his undergraduate course, “Perspectives on the Amazon.”

Training in Biomarker Analysis to Enhance Integrative Research on Evolution of Aging

Elaine Guevara, Evolutionary Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Under the expert guidance of Virginia Kraus and Janet Huebner, Guevara plans to train in biomarker analysis at the Biomarkers Shared Resource Core in the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute. This training will assist her in developing a more integrative research program with methodological, analytical, and theoretical approaches drawn from evolutionary biology and basic aging research. Mastering new methods will help her train students in this area and foster interdisciplinary interactions among the Duke Lemur Center, Arts & Sciences, and the Molecular Physiology Institute.

Visiting Rhodes House to Learn About Character, Service, and Leadership Program

Alexander Hartemink, Computer Science and Biology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Hartemink will undertake a trip to Rhodes House at Oxford University in order to learn more about its Character, Service, and Leadership Program. He intends to visit during a three-day retreat for scholars-in-residence, and engage in conversations with program staff the following day. This experience will strengthen his first-year seminar, “The Examined Life,” by providing new and/or better methods for allowing students to reflect on their values, build a meaningful life, and be prepared to lead in the world. It will also enhance his contribution to the Office of University Scholars and Fellows, where he serves as faculty director, as well as his capacity to mentor and advise all his students.

A Cultural, Social, and Political History of Barbed Wire

Mesha Maren, English, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Maren will undertake fieldwork to scope out a new direction that will take her research, writing, and teaching deeper into the field of creative nonfiction writing. To inform a monograph that is part personal essay and part cultural, social, and political history, she will travel to several World War I battlefields where barbed wire first played a significant role. Maren will conduct research in the museums, memorials, archives, and guided tours at battlefields in Italy and France as well as museums in Rome, Florence, and Paris.

The Power of Land Survey: A History of British Surveying in Occupied Egypt, 1890s-1950s

Adam Mestyan, History, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

During a trip to London, Mestyan will conduct preliminary research for a book on the history of land survey in the early 20th-century British Empire. Marking a new research direction, this project will help him understand the British use of land survey, the mechanisms of metropolitan and imperial land survey, and the history of imperial British surveyors in occupied Egypt. This research will also enhance his course, “Engineering the Global Middle East,” and contribute to the development of a new course on land and law in modern Islam.

On Guard for Peace and Socialism: The Warsaw Pact, 1955-1991

Simon Miles, Sanford School of Public Policy

To jump-start the archival research process for a book, Miles will travel to Kyiv to consult the KGB’s in-house journal containing articles by intelligence community leaders and analyses of major issues, and to Prague to work in four key repositories. His grant will also support initial archival research carried out by a research assistant in Moscow. A broader archival scope is likely to amplify the book’s impact on the field, burnishing Duke’s standing as a top destination to study these questions. It will also inform his teaching of courses such as “American Grand Strategy” and “The Global Cold War.”

Global Environmental Justice: Scholarship, Teaching, and Practice

Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, Nicholas School of the Environment

To support the incorporation of environmental justice concepts and case studies into her teaching and enhance her scholarship on how these issues are impacting communities in North Carolina, Shapiro-Garza will participate in a workshop, “Bridging Research, Policy and Activism for Environmental Justice in Times of Crises,” at the University of Freiburg. She will also serve as a scholar-in-residence at the University of Barcelona’s Institut de Ciéncia i Tecnologia Ambientals, a center for research on global environmental justice issues and the social movements addressing them. These experiences will deepen her understanding of global environmental justice issues, strategies to address them, and the methods to analyze their dynamics and outcomes.

Understanding Peru’s Moche Civilization

Orin Starn, Cultural Anthropology and History, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

At its height around 700 A.D., the Moche’s achievements included adobe pyramids as large as those in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and highly advanced irrigation systems to water their desert lands. During a trip to Peru, Starn will join local excavation teams at new sites in the Chiclayo and Trujillo areas. Learning more about the process of archaeological research and deepening his knowledge of Moche culture will enhance his teaching by incorporating more material on indigenous civilizations. It will also serve as the basis for a book about the quest to understand the Moche.

Jerusalem: Human Rights in a Contested City

Rebecca Stein, Cultural Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Erika Weinthal, Nicholas School of the Environment

Stein and Weinthal will take a joint trip to Jerusalem establish partnerships with Israeli nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups that will benefit future teaching on the Israel/Palestine conflict. The Shufat refugee camp will provide the basis for on-site learning modules in the course, which will include an examination of the ways that Palestinian refugees residing in the camp navigate access to services. This experience will also benefit the professors’ scholarship by providing an opportunity to consider refugee issues within the broader context of environmental issues, rights, and mobility.

We the Platform: Contemporary Literature in the Sharing Economy

Aarthi Vadde, English, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

To enhance her research and writing on the ways in which social media platforms configure contemporary literary and popular culture, Vadde plans to gain knowledge of how programmers and artists think about data, network architecture, and human-computer interaction. Pursuing training in information science and media archaeology, she will incorporate new knowledge and tools into a research program that links the history and future of the web to the sociology of literature. Increased computational literacy will strengthen her sociotechnical approach to analyzing literary works and readerships and inform a new course that connects humanistic criticism with responsible computing.


See all initiatives in the Together Duke academic strategic plan, including the current RFP for Collaboratories for Research on Immigration or on Science, Technology & Ethics (deadline: January 24, 2020).

Graduate Students Can Propose Data Expeditions for Undergraduate Courses

Data Expeditions.

Deadlines: August 5, 2019 for Fall 2019; October 10, 2019 for Spring 2020

The Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke (iiD) invites graduate students to submit a Fall 2019 or Spring 2020 Data Expeditions proposal.

Rhodes iiD, in partnership with the Social Science Research Institute, will support pairs of graduate students to prepare a data set for use in an undergraduate class and then assist the faculty instructor by supervising the data expedition within the class. Another useful approach is to prepare several data sets for use in illustrating the ideas behind a particular data analysis technique.

Graduate students who participate receive a (tax-free) grant of $1,500 for academic-related travel (such as conferences or workshops), texts, certain hardware (as long as it does not have a hard drive) and software, and more.

Review past Data Expeditions projects.

See details and apply for Fall 2019 undergraduate Data Expeditions.

See details and apply for Spring 2020 undergraduate Data Expeditions.

Doctoral Scholars Preparing to Lead Emerging Field of Energy Data Analytics

Bohao Huang, Qingran Li, Tianyu Wang, Edgar Virguez.

The last decade has ushered in astounding growth in the amount of energy-related data, along with game-changing developments in machine learning and other innovative data science techniques. The result? Unprecedented opportunities to analyze and make better decisions about how we generate, transmit, and consume energy.

At Duke University, a new program is pushing past traditional disciplinary boundaries to develop scholars prepared to seize these opportunities, deftly using data and advanced quantitative methods in pursuit of accessible, affordable, reliable, and clean energy systems.

The Energy Data Analytics PhD Student Fellows program, designed to support a cohort of four doctoral students in 2018-2019 and a second cohort of four in 2019-2020, is funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The Fellows Program is an effort of the university’s Energy Data Analytics Lab, which is working to position Duke University as an international leader in the emerging area of energy data analytics. The Lab is a collaboration among three of Duke’s signature interdisciplinary units: Duke University Energy Initiative, Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke, and Social Science Research Institute (SSRI).

Dr. Kyle Bradbury, managing director of the Energy Data Analytics lab, convenes monthly meetings where the fellows share work-in-progress and offer brief talks on specific data analytics tools and skills.

“The massive increase in data from energy system offers potentially transformational opportunities to address some of the most daunting energy challenges our world faces,” observed Dr. Kyle Bradbury, managing director of the Lab. “The fellows program actively engages young scholars in that work, as they propose and tackle projects that bring together energy domain expertise with data science tools and research. They work with faculty from diverse corners of the university—beyond their own degree programs—as they learn to navigate interdisciplinary collaboration over the course of nine months.”

In addition to funding equivalent to one-half of a full fellowship for an academic year, fellows receive conference travel support and data acquisition support up to $2,000, as well as priority access to virtual machines, storage, and other computational resources. The scholarship of the first two cohorts of fellows will be highlighted at a symposium hosted by Duke University in Spring 2020.

A Look at This Year’s Fellows

The inaugural cohort of four fellows in 2018-2019 includes doctoral students in electrical and computer engineering, environmental policy, and computer science. This year’s fellows affirm the value of a multidisciplinary approach to their research, reporting that the program has strengthened dissertation chapters, encouraged them to present their work at conferences, provided computational resources, and driven their engagement with real-world energy problems.

Bohao Huang is a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. He is part of the Applied Machine Learning Lab at Duke and focuses on the translation of advanced machine learning techniques into practical solutions for challenging real-world problems. Specifically, Huang is developing algorithms to automatically extract useful energy systems information from large volumes of aerial imagery.

Huang reflected on the invigorating, interdisciplinary nature of the fellowship: “Even though the fellows and faculty are all doing research related to the energy field, the fact that we are coming from different departments gives us very unique skill sets. This helps me to expand my scope and rethink my research problems, considering them from different perspectives.”

Qingran Li is a Ph.D. student in the University Program in Environmental Policy (economics track) offered jointly by Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Sanford School of Public Policy. Her research includes using analytical tools to understand behavioral responses to policies and developing interdisciplinary solutions to energy and environmental issues. Li is using smart meter data and behavioral surveys to develop a new algorithm to better identify residential usage patterns and estimate demand more precisely.

With financial support from the fellows program, Li traveled to the Southern Economic Association’s November 2018 meeting to present preliminary findings from her research. She reported that conversations she had with others at the conference—including feedback on her research—have strengthened her sense that the fusion of data science techniques and energy applications will be increasingly crucial to successful work in energy economics.

Tianyu Wang is a PhD student in the department of computer science at Duke. His general research interests are in machine learning and applications of machine learning algorithms. Wang is using a reinforcement learning (“multi-armed bandit”) approach to efficiently design the architecture of neural networks for energy domain problems such as energy demand prediction.

The cohort format, bringing together a wide range of disciplines, skills, and perspectives, has enriched the fellowship experience for Wang. At monthly meetings, fellows alternate in presenting on their areas of expertise, from energy systems and power markets to GitHub and integrating version control tools into the research pipeline. Wang shared, “My fellow students are all very good teachers. I learn a lot from sitting with them in a discussion and they always have inspiring and sharp ideas.”

Edgar Virguez is a student in the doctoral program in environment at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. He is interested in contributing to the understanding of market mechanisms that facilitate the integration of variable energy resources. Virguez is designing quantitative tools that support the process of assessing policy and market approaches, promoting an increased penetration of variable energy resources in the energy matrix.

As Virguez looks towards his future path in academia, he said he “will assign a higher value to programs that recognize the intrinsic value of multidisciplinary education,” which he’s come to believe is “essential to stay at the forefront of innovative training.”

Energy Initiative director Brian Murray welcomed students interested in the fellows program to a recent info session. Another session is scheduled for Feb. 22.

Brian Murray, director of the Duke University Energy Initiative, reflected, “For decades, Duke has advanced an interdisciplinary approach to putting scholarship to use in service of society. This program applies that idea to doctoral training for those exploring important problems in energy.”

He noted that the job market for PhD students is broader than ever, so it makes sense for doctoral study to evolve with those changes: “This kind of cross-training will help equip scholars to make important contributions to addressing energy challenges whether they ultimately land in academia, government, nongovernmental organizations, or the private sector.”

Apply for 2019-2020

Applications for the 2019-2020 cohort of Energy Data Analytics PhD Student Fellows are due March 1, 2019 at 11:59 p.m. PhD students from any degree program at Duke can apply. Interested students are invited to attend an information session on Feb. 22, or to direct questions to Kyle Bradbury, managing director of Duke’s Energy Data Analytics Lab.

Originally posted on the Duke University Energy Initiative website

Photos: Bohao Huang, Qingran Li, Tianyu Wang, Edgar Virguez

Faculty to Pursue Collaborations through 2019 Intellectual Community Planning Grants

ICPG 2019.

A key goal of Together Duke is to invest in faculty as scholars and leaders of the university’s intellectual communities. To foster collaboration around new and emerging areas of interest, Intellectual Community Planning Grants (ICPG) are available to groups of faculty.

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

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

Big Data and Social Interactions

Big Data and Social Interactions faculty members.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring STEAM at Duke members.

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

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

Health as an Ecosystem: Expanding Our Imaginations of Health

Health as an Ecosystem faculty members.

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

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

Launching a Triangle-Wide Seminar in the Economics of Education

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

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

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

Marine Medicine faculty members.

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

Parasite-Host Evolution Network Optimization (PHENO) Working Group

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

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

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

Social Studies of Science Working Group

Social Studies of Science Working Group faculty members.

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

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