June Update: Drones, Sharks, Urban Forests and more....

June 1, 2016

A weekly roundup of what's new and noteworthy around the Nicholas School

It’s summer, but there’s been no slowdown of great news to report!  Photo by Dave Johnston: Staff members from the Marine Lab’s Unoccupied Systems Facility working with local Carteret County high school students this summer on a drone-centered science outreach project.


  1. Dave Johnston and his crew at the Duke Marine Lab Unoccupied Systems Facility have garnered national attention this month for their work to develop drones that can detect sharks in coastal waters – not only as a means of alerting swimmers of the animals’ presence, but also to give scientists new tools for studying shark behavior. Facility staff members Rett Newton and Julian Dale have also worked with AP environmental science students from East Carteret High School (pictured above) to use drones to detect marine debris in the Rachel Carson Reserve and help local communities identify best practices to reduce the pollution.
  2. Third-year PhD student Wout Salenbien has received a Young Explorers Grant from the National Geographic Society. He’ll use the grant to support his field research on the geological, biological and climatological evolution of the Amazon rainforest. Please join me in congratulating Wout on this honor!
  3. Research scientist Daniel Dunn heads to Capitol Hill next Tuesday, June 28, to present findings from his research on how dynamic closures can improve the efficacy and efficiency of sustainable fisheries management. Daniel’s presentation in D.C. is part of the influential COMPASS Capitol Hill Briefing series, designed to inform legislative staffers and federal managers about the latest advances in policy-relevant environmental research.
  4. A new study led by PhD student Jennifer Harkness finds that coal ash ponds near 21 power plants in five southeastern states are leaking high levels of arsenic, selenium and other contaminants into nearby surface waters and groundwater. At some of the sites, Jennie’s analysis showed that contamination continued to occur long after the ponds themselves were retired and coal ash was no longer being deposited there. Avner Vengosh co-authored the study. You can learn more here.
  5. Three 2016 MEM/MF graduates are receiving well-deserved attention for their Masters Project on social inequity in urban forests within the city of Durham. Anne Liberti, Greg Cooper and Michael Asch found that there are far fewer mature trees in Durham’s low-income and minority neighborhoods than in other areas. They trace this inequity back to a racially motivated 1930’s citywide practice of “redlining”— or denying government services to minority neighborhoods. Anne, Greg and Michael presented their findings to Durham’s Environmental Affairs Board earlier this month, and have since helped raise awareness of the problem in news reports on WUNC-FM radio and in IndyWeek.
  6. Five Nic School students have received Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) grants for the coming year to fund programs and projects that spur greater cross-disciplinary research opportunities and educational experiences. PhD student Rob Fetter and Faraz Usmani and MEM student Hannah Girardeau will use their grant to launch the new cross-disciplinary Global Energy Access Network; MEM Priya Ranganathan will use hers to expand the interdisciplinary focus of the Duke Conservation Society; and PhD student Rebecca Lauzon will use her to create the new STEM Researcher-Educator Network to Improve K-12 Science Literacy.
  7. 2016 MEM graduate April Christensen has been awarded a 2016 Rudd Meyer Memorial Fellowship by the Women of Wind Energy. The highly competitive fellowships are awarded annually to the most promising young women in the wind energy field to help promote a more diverse and inclusive work force. Kudos, April!
  8. Seven Nic School students have received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants to support career-relevant training outside their core disciplines. PhD students Brenna Forester, Danica Schaffer-Smith, Mark River, Tess Leuthner, Fateme Yousefi Lalimi and Elizabeth Schrack, and 2016 MEM graduate Zoie Diana were among 19 students university-wide, awarded the grants. To learn more about the grants – and how our seven outstanding recipients will put them to use – go here.

I’ll be sharing another update in late July, so keep sending me your good news and letting me know what you are doing! Submit your items here.