Weekly Update: Drones, Rankings, Duke Fish and more...

September 22, 2016

Hi Everyone

As we head into the heart of the fall semester, we all get busy (an understatement) and it can be easy to overlook some of the great free talks and symposia offered here at the Nic School. So let me bring two upcoming ones to your attention.

On Oct. 3, Bill Pan and his students will lead a symposium, “Health & Environmental Research Partnerships & Progress in the Peruvian Amazon,” to celebrate a decade of Duke research dedicated to improving public and environmental health in one of the world’s poorest and most biodiverse regions. It’s in Field Auditorium and runs through the afternoon and evening.

On Oct. 18, biologist Paul Ehrlich will present the 2016 Ferguson Family Distinguished Lectureship in the Environment and Society. Paul, whose talks are always thought-provoking and sometimes controversial, will discuss “Surviving the Sixth Mass Extinction.” He is the author of the 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb, which along with Silent Spring by Rachel Carson helped launch the environmental movement in the United States. Paul’s lecture will be in Love Auditorium, starting with a light reception at 5:15 p.m.

Hope to see you at both of these great events.

Now, on to this week’s news.


  1. Dave Johnston and his team at our Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Laboratory (aka the Drone Center) have received two grants totaling $580,000. A $310,000 grant from NSF will allow the center to modernize and upgrade its research, computing and teaching facilities. A $270,000 grant from the Oak Foundation will let it expand its operational capacity by funding a two-year postdoctoral fellowship and hiring an engineer. You can learn more here.
  2. Hot off the presses: U.S. News & World Report has just issued its new list of the Best Global Universities for Environment/Ecology and Duke ranks sixth. We tie with Oxford, and are ahead of Yale, Michigan, UC-Santa Barbara, Princeton, Cambridge and other top competitors. (This is largely based on research papers and research reputation from several Duke academic units and isn't a ranking of individual programs.) I’m generally not a big believer in these types of rankings – their methodology is often skewed – but they have their uses for recruitment, so please share this news with any prospective students who might be interested. If you know undergrads already at Duke who might be interested in taking Nic School courses, you might also send them a link to this story we recently posted on our homepage about the broad range of classes we offer, and how they can benefit students in nearly every major. 
  3. A new study led by MEM alum Ben Carlson finds that logged forests in Central Africa may contain more than three times as much carbon-emitting deadwood—or woody debris—than previous estimates have suggested. Ben’s study, which he conducted with John Poulsen, also finds that vast underestimation of the amount of deadwood is likely to have occurred in the logged forests of tropical America. This has broad implications for global REDD policies and practices. You can read more about the study here.  
  4. Our student group DukeFish is looking for volunteers to help staff its booth at the N.C. Seafood Festival in Morehead City on Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. The students will be selling their famous fish and shrimp tacos (sourced locally by Walking Fish) to fund club activities. All volunteers get a free DukeFish t-shirt and (I’m guessing) first dibs on any leftover tacos. You can email MEM student Caitlin Starks for more info, or sign up for specific times here.   
  5. Postdoc Andrey Massarsky is lead author of a new paper that shows how exposure to the particulate matter from cigarette smoke may affect early development in zebrafish embryos and increases their risk of neurological disorders and physical deformities. The effects of this toxicity—which include malformed blood vessels and brain hemorrhages—can be reduced by blocking the production of a key receptor gene, the study finds. Zebrafish are a widely used model species for studying human genetics and disease. Dave Hinton and Rich Di Giulio co-authored the study with Andrey. Learn more here.

Keep sharing your good news with me so I can help spread the word! Submit your items here.