Nicholas School of the Environment Adds Six New Faculty Members

September 10, 2009
Contact:

Tim Lucas, 919-613-8084, tdlucas@duke.edu

DURHAM, N.C. – Dean William L. Chameides has announced the recent appointments of six new faculty members at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

The new faculty are Xavier Basurto, assistant professor of sustainability science; James Hench, assistant professor of oceanography; Zackary Johnson, assistant professor of biological oceanography and marine biotechnology; Wenhong Li, assistant professor of climate; Lee Ferguson, associate professor of environmental engineering; and Nicolas Cassar, assistant professor of biogeochemistry.

“These six young scholars represent a new generation of Nicholas School leadership in some of the most critical environmental fields today – sustainability, marine science, climate and environmental toxicology,” Chameides says. “They bring with them a wealth of research experience and a passion for teaching.”

A marine biologist by training, Basurto studies community management of natural resources, grassroots conservation, and other human processes that affect biodiversity. He recently published an investigation of the resilience of small-scale fisheries in Mexico’s Gulf of California. His doctoral dissertation, completed in 2007 at the University of Arizona, examined Costa Rica's 20-year-old experiment to decentralize biodiversity management in the species-rich Guanacaste Conservation Area.

Basurto joined the faculty at the Duke University Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, N.C., earlier this year. He previously was a visiting scholar at the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University.

Hench, a physical oceanographer, has applied his expertise in shallow-water circulation and marine technology to a wide range of important issues, including coral bleaching, blue crab ecology, and the effects of the North Atlantic’s western boundary currents on wave fields off the Southeast Florida coast. His ongoing research interests include wave-driven circulation and exchange in coral reef, lagoon, and pass systems, and the impact of stratification on circulation and tidal exchange in a freshwater tidal river.

Prior to joining the faculty at the Marine Lab this fall, he was a research associate at Stanford University’s Environmental Fluid Mechanics Laboratory. He received his PhD in 2002 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Johnson, a biological oceanographer, studies how microbial genetic diversity, primarily among phytoplankton and other single-celled plants, influences the functioning of large, complex marine ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles. He has contributed to recent papers, published in Natureand The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, that shed important new light on photosynthesis in marine viruses and the response of Southern Ocean phytoplankton to iron.

Prior to joining the faculty at the Duke Marine Lab, Johnson was assistant professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii. He received his PhD from Duke in 2000.

A climate scientist and modeler, Li’s research focuses on the role the hydrological cycle plays in climate and how future changes in rainfall patterns associated with global change might shape the fate of the Amazonian rainforest and other tropical terrestrial ecosystems. Her research has been published in Science and other leading journals.

Li joined the faculty in the Nicholas School’s Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences earlier this year. Before that, she was a research scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she received her PhD in 2003.

Ferguson uses his expertise in high-performance mass spectrometry to develop new tools for environmental toxicology. Among other projects, he is working to develop methods for broadband qualitative and quantitative analysis of polar organic contaminants, and new proteome analysis techniques for investigating chemical stress in aquatic organisms.

He holds a joint appointment at the Pratt School of Engineering and the Nicholas School. Prior to coming to Duke, he was assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of South Carolina. He received a PhD from Stony Brook University in 2002.

An expert on algal physiology, Cassar studies the biogeochemical cycle of carbon in the ocean, with a special interest in marine ecosystems’ response to iron deposition in the Southern Ocean and phytoplankton’s response to rising carbon dioxide and acidification. He received his PhD in 2003 from the University of Hawaii and currently is an associate research scholar in geosciences at Princeton University.

He will join the faculty in the Nicholas School’s Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences later this academic year.

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