Weekly Update: Hoffman & Stapleton-led Study Honored, Duke Spring Breakthrough, Students Vie for XPRIZE and more....

March 22, 2018

A weekly roundup of Nicholas School news, awards and grants from Dean Jeff Vincent

weekly update Emily Klein and EOS PhD students

Emily Klein, and EOS PhD students (standing from left) Rachel Coyte and Nancy Lauer, did a Marvelous Minerals activity with students as part of FEMMES

(Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering and Science) program. Chantal Reid led a separate activity. See story #10 below. 

Hi Everyone,
Welcome back from spring break, and an early welcome to the more than 150 admitted professional master’s students who will be joining us tomorrow for Admitted Students Visitation Weekend.
I’m grateful to the Nicholas School faculty, staff and students who have planned or will participate in the many activities that we’ve arranged for the admitted students on Friday and Saturday. I’d like to add a special thanks to all those who are helping to personalize the experience for our visitors by serving as hosts.
Visitation Weekend is admitted students’ best opportunity to learn about our school, and we hope that what they learn will convince them to join our community in the fall. See the stories below for the latest evidence that the Nic School is an exciting place for future environmental leaders to learn and launch their careers.

  1. The editors of Environmental Science & Technology Letters have selected a study led by Kate Hoffman and Heather Stapleton as the journal’s best paper of 2017. Kate and Heather’s research, which was published Feb. 8, 2017, revealed that levels of organophosphate flame-retardants in Americans’ body tissue have risen sharply since the start of the century. In some cases, samples collected in 2014 and 2015 were more than 15 times higher than those collected in 2002. Organophosphate flame-retardants are increasingly being used in a multitude of consumer products, from baby toys to upholstered furniture. Scientists are still uncertain what health risks they may pose. Kate and Heather conducted their study in collaboration with researchers from the Duke Medical Center and public health schools from across the country. 
  2. Last week, some of our faculty members skipped their spring breaks to teach undergrads as part of the Duke Spring Breakthrough program. Emily Bernhardt and Brian Silliman’s five-day seminar in Beaufort explored the diversity of coastal wetlands, their ecological functions and the critical services they provide humans, while Alex Glass’s class studied the interaction between science and faith in a time of skepticism, alternative facts and fake news. You can watch videos about both courses here, or check out this article
  3. Curt Richardson will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science this spring by the University of Waterloo in recognition of his significant contributions to wetland science, his years of leadership at the Duke University Wetland Center, and his advocacy for science-based policymaking and wetland protection. He’s also been asked to give the convocation speech at Waterloo’s spring graduation ceremony in June. Please join me in congratulating Curt on this well-deserved honor!
  4. A new study led by Drew Shindell finds that up to 153 million premature deaths linked to air pollution could be avoided worldwide this century if nations agree to reduce carbon emissions and limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C in the near future rather than postponing the biggest emissions cuts until later, as some governments have proposed. The study is the first to project the number of lives that could be saved, city by city, in 154 of the world’s largest urban areas. PhD student Karl Seltzer and Duke undergrad Cary Shindell were co-authors. Check out our story for more details. 
  5. Brian Silliman has been awarded a 2019-20 Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Science, Technology and Innovation. Distinguished Chairs are among the most prestigious honors the Fulbright Program bestows. Brian is one of only 30 scholars this year, out of more than 9,000 applicants, to receive the honor. He will use his six-month appointment to work with researchers from Australia’s CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) and University of Queensland to explore a better approach for restoring coastal ecosystems by harnessing mutualistic species interactions. Read our story for more. 
  6. A team of students in the Ocean Engineering course taught by Doug Nowacek and his colleagues at the Pratt School of Engineering, Martin Brooke and Tyler Bletsch, has been named a finalist in the $7 million Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE competition. They’ll square off against eight other teams this fall to see whose robotic technology can best map 250 square kilometers of the deep-ocean seabed at depths of up to 4,000 meters in less than 24 hours. Making the finals – where they will compete against six teams of professional engineers and only one other student team – is a huge accomplishment. Kudos all around! 
  7. A new paper by John Poulsen has found that the widespread killing of forest elephants poses dire consequences not only for the species itself but also for Central Africa’s forests. Researchers predict that as much as 96 percent of forests in the region could be at risk. That’s because elephants help create and maintain forest habitat by dispersing seeds, recycling and spreading nutrients, and clearing understories. Coauthors also included recent graduates Cooper Rosin, Emily Mills, Emily Blanchard, Sarah Moore and Mark Sowers as well as PhD students Amelia Meier and Chase Nunez, undergraduate Jennifer Callejas, and former postdoc Sally Koerner. Read more about the findings here
  8. A team led by Nicolas Cassar has developed a new method that allows scientists to conduct rapid and nearly continuous analysis of dinitrogen (N2) fixation in the ocean. The team, which includes PhD student Weiyi Tang and former postdoc Kuan Huang, published a peer-reviewed paper in January detailing their novel method. 
  9. Former Dean Alan Townsend will be joining Colorado College as its new provost and professor of environmental science in June. Alan served as the Nic School’s dean from 2014 to 2016 and helped guide the school through a period of significant challenge and change. Since 2017, he has been serving as associate vice chancellor for research at the University of Colorado. Please join me in wishing him well in his newest post! 
  10. Emily Klein, Chantal Reid and PhD students Nancy Lauer and Rachel Coyte took part in the Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering, and Science (FEMMES) capstone event at Duke on Feb. 17. FEMMES is a pipeline program designed to encourage more girls to pursue studies and careers in STEM fields. Nearly 200 fourth through sixth graders attended this year’s event. Emily, Nancy and Rachel led a learning activity on minerals, while Chantal led a session on ecosystem services. The following week, Emily headed west to the Girls in Ocean Science Conference in California to lead a session for middle- and high-school girls on how to map the ocean floor using acoustic technology. Outreach programs like these are vital for the future of our school and field. It’s great to see our faculty and students so highly engaged in them.

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