Weekly Update: Happy 25th, Zackary Johnson's MAGIC, Students win big, and more...

November 23, 2016

Hi Everyone,

It’s Thanksgiving. And, despite the roller coaster ride we’ve been on these past few weeks, we have a lot to be thankful for.

As your dean, I’m thankful for the hard work, dedication, and creativity I see on display every day from our faculty, staff and students.

I’m thankful for our deep sense of purpose and community – for the way we pulled together the day after the election, for our selfless response to the Team Matthew challenge to aid people affected by the hurricane and its flooding; and for the way we’ve all come together this fall to celebrate our 25th anniversary as a School of the Environment.

I’m thankful for the amazing support we receive from our alumni and Board.

And I’m thankful that we work and study at a university with a longstanding and unwavering commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive community of leaders and learners. Earlier this year, Duke issued an institutional statement affirming this commitment, and it’s one that we at the Nicholas School strongly and wholeheartedly endorse:

Duke aspires to create a community built on collaboration, innovation, creativity, and belonging. Our collective success depends on the robust exchange of ideas- an exchange that is best when the rich diversity of our perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences flourishes. To achieve this exchange, it is essential that all members of the community feel secure and welcome, that the contributions of all individuals are respected, and that all voices are heard.  All members of our community have a responsibility to uphold these values.”

These are truly words to live by  –  and I’m proud (and thankful) that we do.


Celebrating 25 Years as a School of the Environment

nic at 25 video




  1. Zackary Johnston and his team at the Marine Algae Industrialization Consortium (MAGIC) in Beaufort have a new paper this month in Oceanography about the far-reaching climate, energy and food security benefits that could be achieved by cultivating microalgae for food and fuel on a commercial scale. This is one of the first major papers stemming from the research now being done through MAGIC, which Zackary established at the Marine Lab last year with a $5.2 million grant from the Department of Energy. It’s a great example of the kind of high-impact research we do here. Watch for lots more major papers to follow.


  1. Please join me in congratulating Nic School alum Rob Thieler (MS’93, PhD’97) on his recent appointment as chief scientist and program director at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center. Rob is widely cited for his research on the geologic framework and evolution of the coastal zone. His work has significantly advanced our understanding of the relationships between geology, sediment transport, climate, sea-level change and coastal erosion. Kudos on the well-deserved new appointment, Rob!


  1. MEM students Rui Shan, Mauricio Hernández and Sunzhe Cao have won first place – and a nearly $3,000 cash prize – in the 4th annual eoYouth Summer Field Trip student competition, hosted at Duke Kunshan University, for their research on energy demand disaggregation in Queretaro, Mexico. Rui, Mauricio and Sunzhe beat out 10 other international student teams for the top honor, which was awarded following final presentation in late October. Dalia Patiño-Echeverri served as their advisor on the project.


  1. Two weeks ago, I announced that a team of three MEM students – Isshu Kikuma, Lina Khan and Nicole Miller – from Jay Golden’s “Sustainable Systems” class was selected as one of six North American semi-finalists in the Unilever Case Competition for sustainable business ideas. Isshu, Lina and Nicole are now waiting to learn if they’ll advance to the global finals in London. One way they can reach the final round is to have people vote for their video pitch, online here. Let’s all pitch in and vote, so they can make the Nic School proud by making it to the finals!  


  1. PhD student Claudia Gonzalez-Hunt from Joel Meyer’s lab won first prize in the poster competition at the Genetics and Environmental Mutagenesis Society of North Carolin’a meeting last week for her presentation, “Mechanism of Rotenone Mitotoxicity in C. Elegans: Role of the Glyoxylate Pathway.” Congratulations, Claudia! 


  1. Here’s a nice example of the mentoring our PhD students do, and the impact it can have.  Jordan Pitt, currently a junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry was selected to attend NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates Symposium this fall in recognition of the outstanding research she conducted last summer working with Nic School PhD student Jordan Kozal in Rich Di Giulio’s lab as part of our Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program. At the NSG meeting, she presented preliminary results from her Duke-based research on the toxic effects of nanoplastics on developing fish. She plans to return to Duke next summer to continue her work.


  1. In case you haven’t seen it already, take a few minutes to watch this superb video celebrating our 25th anniversary as a School of the Environment. It had it’s world premier last week at our 25th anniversary gala. Kevin McCarthy and his team in our Office of Development and Alumni Relations did a great job telling our story.


  1. Duke Forest Director (and MEM alum) Sara Childs and her husband Rush are the proud parents of a beautiful baby girl, Marion Abigail Childs, born November 15.  Marion weighed 8 pounds, 11 ounces and was 19 inches long.  She and Mom are both doing fine. 


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