Weekly Update: Graduation, Leopards, Meerkats and more...

May 11, 2016

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

Hi Everyone

I’m looking forward to seeing all of our students and their families at graduation ceremonies this weekend. What a special time it is for those graduating and for those of us who get to help celebrate our students’ successes and wish them well on their next journeys. (I don’t want to jinx anything by saying it out loud, so I’ll whisper it: The weather folks are calling for a party cloudy, less humid day for our outdoor ceremonies!) A special note from our Communications team: Please share your graduation photos with us. When you post them this weekend on social media, use the tag #NewNicAlumni so we can share them on our Instagram and Facebook feeds. Members of our off-campus school community want to celebrate your happy day too! Now on to the news.


  1. Find out more about this weekend's graduation activities here. (Photo of 2015 Recognition Ceremony by Duke Photography.)
  2. The leopard, one of the world’s iconic big cats, has lost as much as 75 percent of its historic range, according to a study published this month by an international research team led by MEM alum Andrew Jacobson. Andrew’s now a researcher at the Zoological Society of London and the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative. Three other MEM alums – Joseph Lemeris Jr. and Rebecca Schoonover, also of Nat Geo’s Big Cats Initiative, and Corey Anco, now on the faculty at Fordham University – co-authored the study, as did PhD alum and adjunct faculty member Luke Dollar. Learn more here.
  3. A recent paper by Avner Vengosh and PhD student Nancy Lauer shows that radium isotopes in impacted soils can be used to determine the age of oil and gas wastewater spills. The three new isotopic age-dating methods developed by Avner and Nancy could be especially useful for identifying the source of a spill in areas where there is uncertainty if contamination stems from recent unconventional oil and gas drilling or from older, conventional oil and gas operations in the same watershed.  Learn more here.   
  4. Subhrendu Pattanayak has been awarded a month-long residency at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy. He’ll use the time to work on a new book examining ways governments and international organizations can identify and implement timely policy responses that help safeguard human health by protecting the health of the planet. The residency and the book build upon Subhrendru’s ongoing work on this topic through the Lancet-Rockefeller Commissions. 
  5. Bill Schlesinger has two new papers out this month. The first, published in Global Change Biology, evaluates whether abiotic carbon sinks in deserts play a significant role in offsetting fossil fuel emissions, as some scientists have speculated. The second study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, documents rising levels of nitrate in Chinese croplands and the potential risk this accumulation poses to downstream drinking water supplies. 
  6. Charlotte Clark has been appointed a member of the governing board of the North American Association for Environmental Education, one of the world’s largest professional organizations dedicated to the advancement of environmental education and civic engagement. Anyone who’s worked with Charlotte on these issues knows she’ll bring great experience and enthusiasm to the post. 
  7. Research by PhD student Kendra Smyth is shedding light on links between social status and health among meerkats. Her work, which is supported by a National Science Foundation grant, finds that meerkat matriarchs experience greater immune system deficiencies than subordinate females, suggesting there may be a trade-off between dominance and health. Although Kendra’s studies are focused on meerkats, her findings could have application for understanding links between social position and health in similar species of mammals, as well.    

There's one more Weekly Update before we start the summer schedule, so get your news in now by submitting it here.