Weekly Update: Field Day Wrap, Nic-Related Startups Score Big, A Mid-Autumn's Moon Festival and more ...

September 21, 2017
Courtney Bell headshot story

"Ungraded Produce," a company launched by undergrad alum Courtney Bell, an environmental sciences major, scored big
in the Duke Startup Challenge. See the entry below. Photo by Amy Chapman Braun.

Hi Everyone,
Were you at Field Day on Saturday? It was a beautiful day to be at Couch Farm with our students, staff and faculty. There must have been more than 200 people there.
Plus, I was impressed by all the talent on display: our exec ed students from Huadong Engineering assisted our MEM/MF students in preparing bbq; and the MEM student band, An Inconvenient Tune, took the stage with some wonderful contemporary tunes.
In a Field Day first, the tug-of-war between 1st and 2nd years ended in a draw. (The rope broke!) Our student body evidently is not only talented but perfectly balanced, too. (All right, I heard your groaning!)  If you missed Field Day, be sure and check out the photos and video.
There is a lot of news this week, so read on.

  1. Two Nicholas School-related startups scored big in this year’s Duke Startup Challenge. Ungraded Produce, a company launched by undergrad alum Courtney Bell T’17 to find new and profitable markets for “ugly” produce, took home the top prize and a check for $50,000. It also won the Audience Choice Award, which carried a $1,000 award. Perle Converter, a startup co-led by MEM/MBA student Chris Dougher also was a winner: It took home the $10,000 Clean Energy Prize for developing an efficient and cost-effective DC-to-AC electrical current conversion technology that can be used with solar panel systems, for battery storage, and in electric vehicles. These are great examples of the environmental innovation and entrepreneurship coming out of the Nic School. Kudos, Courtney and Chris, and the leader of our EI&E program, Jesko von Windheim!
  2. Joel Meyer is lead investigator of a new $1.6 million, five-year grant from NIH to study whether pre-natal exposures to environmental chemicals that target mitochondria lead to altered mitochondrial functions and adverse health effects later in life. Altered mitochondrial function has been implicated in a wide range of chronic diseases, including cancers, reproductive disorders and metabolic diseases. The new NIH grant will enable Joel and his co-investigators Ryan Baugh and Susan Murphy to zero in on the mechanisms responsible for these adverse outcomes, and to determine if they’re mediated by epigenetic changes. 
  3. Nic School Board of Visitors member Brad Stanback T’81 has been selected to receive the 2017 James S. Dockery Jr. Southern Environmental Leadership Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center. The award committee selected Brad for the honor in recognition of his leadership at the American Chestnut Foundation; his service on the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission; and his long-standing support of the Nicholas School and a broad array of other environmental institutions and organizations. Please join me in congratulating Brad on this richly deserved honor! 
  4. The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is one of the most important holidays of the Chinese year. We’ll celebrate it here at the Nic School from 6 to 8 p.m., Oct. 4, with a community celebration in the Environment Hall rooftop garden. Come share moon cakes and non-alcoholic beverages with us under the moon and stars!  Everyone’s welcome. 
  5. Rich Di Giulio has been appointed to serve on the Science Advisory Board for the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health and Human Services. He’ll draw upon his years of experience as director of our Superfund Research Center to help the state devise better regulatory standards and testing protocols for monitoring and assessing the impacts of contaminants on environmental and human health. It’s important work, and I can’t imagine anyone better qualified to do it than Rich. 
  6. PhD student Tess Leuthner was awarded Best Student Platform Presentation for her presentation, “Adaptation to Cadmium Reveals Mechanism and Susceptibility to Mitochondrial Genotoxicity” at the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society’s  annual meeting in Raleigh last week. Joel Meyer is Tess’s faculty advisor. 
  7. The DUML Community Science Initiative is looking for people interested in coming up with creative ideas to incorporate water quality research into the local school curriculum. On Sept. 29, the program will hold a workshop that will bring together educators, local stakeholders and scientists to brainstorm possible opportunities and activities. You can register for the workshop here. At their last workshop, the initiative came up with its marine debris project, which is now up and running in 25 fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms. This is yet another example of the great outreach being done in Beaufort! 
  8. Avner Vengosh is guest editor of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology’s new special issue on Environmental and Human Impacts of Unconventional Energy Development. The issue highlights recent advances in a wide range of fields, from the development of new technologies to identify and trace fugitive methane emissions, to new policy approaches for risk assessment and governance.  
  9. Sonia Silvestri has been awarded a prestigious Marie Slodowska-Curie Fellowship. The two-year fellowship, which is funded by the European Commission, will support Sonia’s work on carbon pools in peatlands and help her pursue hands-on training in advanced geospatial data analysis technologies. You can learn more here
  10. As I announced at the faculty-staff plenary meeting on Sept. 8, our school now has a unisex bathroom open to people of all genders and identities. The multi-stalled private bathroom is located in room A145T on the first floor of the LSRC. Please join me in thanking John Robinson, our assistant dean for facilities and IT, for all the hard work he did to make this a reality, and the many students, staff, and faculty who contributed to the year-long effort to make our school more inclusive in this important way.
  11. Keep me up to date on what you are doing so I can share it with the community. Submit your items here.