Weekly Update: Fracking, Awards, Papers and more...

April 27, 2017

With signs held high, nearly 30 Nic School students and staff shook off the rain
and cold and joined the March for Science in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
Photo by Sean Rowe.

The Nicholas School had a starring role in the gala celebration of the Duke Forward fundraising campaign Saturday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The celebration featured six stunning videos, with the stars of each video speaking to the crowd live after their videos. Two of the six videos featured Nicholas School faculty members: Bill Pan, who talked about his work on mercury exposure in Peru, and Jim Hench, who talked about his work on coral recovery in Moorea. No other school was featured so prominently. (We’ll share the videos as soon as they are posted online).
It was incredibly gratifying to see Bill and Jim’s smart, timely work recognized this way.
It was also gratifying to hear Duke Forward campaign co-chair Ann Bass refer in her remarks to our school’s admissions success this year. The news has spread fast and has attracted attention at the highest levels of the university.
For our school to be singled out in these ways – before a VIP crowd that included President and Mrs. Brodhead, President-elect Vince Price, and hundreds of donors and board members – signifies that the work we are doing, and the strides we are making, are inarguably viewed as central to Duke’s mission.
This is something we should all take pride in.  Onward and upward!
Now, let’s get on with this week’s news.



  1. study led by newly minted PhD Jennifer Harkness reveals that fracking has not contaminated groundwater in an area of intensive shale gas development in northwestern West Virginia, but accidental spills of fracking wastewater do pose a threat to surface water there. Jennie conducted the research – using an integrated suite of geochemical tracers developed here at the Nic School – with Avner Vengosh and a team of scientists from Ohio State, Penn State, Stanford and the French Geological Survey. You can learn more here
  2. A team comprised of PhD student Edgar Virguez, MEM Colin Walkerand MEM/MBA Jenna Weiner beat out 15 other teams from universities around the world to earn a top honor in the recent NRG Energy Case Study Competition. They won the People’s Choice Award and a $3,000 cash prize for their financial model outlining how an incentive-based community-industry partnership could underwrite the costs of a 40-megawatt distributed energy system that uses a mix of renewables to deliver power to an urban grid. You can learn more here
  3. Please join me in congratulating alums Katherine Kollins MEM/MBA ’09 and Charlotte Mitchell MEM ’05, who will receive Advocate Leaders of the Year honors at the 2017 Energy Leadership Awards on May 12 in Charlotte. Katherine will be honored for her work as president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition. Charlotte, who has a private environmental law practice in Raleigh, is being recognized for work representing clients in conservation, energy and land-use cases. 
  4. BrownFlynn Consulting was at the Nic School last week to lead a workshop on the Global Reporting Initiative, the leading sustainability reporting framework for organizations looking to enhance transparency and engage stakeholders in sustainability initiatives. Eighteen MEM students participated in the two-day event on April 20-21. The Business and Environment Club-Net Impact student groups  sponsored the event, which was organized by Maurita Denley MEM’17 and Emily True MEM’18. 
  5. Daniel Dunn has been selected to serve on the Marine Conservation Institute’s Global Ocean Refuge System Science Council. The interdisciplinary council is comprised of 23 marine scientists with broad geographic and technical expertise in marine protected areas (MPAs). It helps decide which MPAs will be awarded Global Ocean Refuge status. Daniel is an assistant research professor at our Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab
  6. An editorial in Nature Ecology & Evolution about how the scientific community can better engage with the public cites the efforts of PhD student Varsha Vijay and professor Stuart Pimm to create a K-12 school lesson plan to accompany their recent paper on the global environmental impacts of oil palm production. It’s great to see our school’s commitment to public outreach being recognized in such a prestigious scientific journal. 
  7. MEM student Brianna Elliott won the Archie Carr Best Student Poster Award at the 37th annual International Sea Turtle Symposium in Las Vegas, Nevada, last week.  Her poster reported on her work analyzing sea turtle bycatch trends in North Carolina’s southern flounder commercial gillnet fishery. Michelle Nowlin JD-MA’92, supervising attorney at the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, and Andy Read, director of the Duke Marine Lab, served as her advisors on the research. 
  8. Our Weekly Update readership is growing!  Starting this week, we’ll be sending the updates to our Board of Visitors and Alumni Council, to help them keep up with all the great things happening at our school. We hope they’ll share news of their own with us, too.  

I always want to hear about the good things your are doing. Submit your items here.