Weekly Update: Trivia Night, Selenium News, Humans of the Year and more ...

February 9, 2017

Hi everyone,

A stunning victory ... no, not the New England Patriots' come-from-behind Superbowl win with live Gaga at halftime, but rather an upset in the African-American History Trivia Night contest at the Nic School last evening. Not only was the winning team short a player, but it had to carry a player well beyond his prime. I am relieved that I didn't cost my talented teammates a victory, but I have a sneaking suspicion that our opponents threw the match to avoid humiliating their dean.
It was a learning experience for me. I now know who coined the term "environmental racism," and where the environmental justice movement began. Do you?  Thanks to the members of the Nic School Black & Latino Club for organizing such a great event.
Our students are indeed talented, and in ways that are most definitely not trivial. Read about the latest achievements of some of our remarkable undergrads and doctoral students below.



Watch: Undergraduate Michaela Stith

Undergrad Michaela Stith took top honors in a national poster contest. Read about it below and click on this video to hear her talk about her experience at the Duke Marine Lab.

  1. A new study led by PhD student Jessica Brandt has found high levels of selenium --exceeding EPA thresholds for aquatic health -- in fish in two North Carolina lakes receiving coal ash waste from power plants. Jessica's study, co-authored by Emily Bernhardt, Gary Dwyer and Rich Di Giulio, provides added evidence that selenium, which is concentrated in the coal ash, can persist and bio-accumulate in fish and other aquatic species, even long after any coal ash inputs into a lake are slowed or stopped. You can learn more here
  2. Environmental Science & Policy (ESP) major Michaela Stith won top honors in the undergraduate poster competition at a National Council for Science and the Environment conference in Washington, D.C., last month for her research investigating ways to reduce cruise ships' environmental footprint in Iceland.  Michaela interviewed leading Icelandic policymakers and other national stakeholders to assess whether imposing a per-passenger "cruise tax" could help limit carbon emissions, water pollution and other impacts linked to increased ship traffic in Iceland's increasingly popular northern port of Ísafjörður. She conducted her research while studying abroad there last fall.  
  3. ESP senior Bryce McAteer also has big news to report. A working paper on groundwater management that he co-authored with Mike Young at Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions has been published! The paper, which was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, explores how communities in water-scarce basins in California can employ allocations, water shares, use permits and other management tools to meet mandated conservation goals and use their limited groundwater resources more equitably and sustainably through a robust sharing system. 
  4. One more news item about our outstanding undergrads: Morgan Irons, a senior ESP major, has been named by Motherboard, a popular online news site, as one of its 2017 Humans of the Year. Morgan was selected for the honor because of the start-up company, Deep Space Ecology, that she's launched to pioneer and market closed ecological systems that can support human communities in inhospitable settings, both on our own planet and others that we may one day explore. Cool stuff!
  5. I've just received word that PhD student Yanlan Liu has been awarded the Outstanding Student Paper Award in the biogeosciences category from last fall's annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Yanlan won for her presentation, "Increasing Atmospheric Humidity and CO2 Concentrations Alleviate Forest Hydraulic Failure Risk," which examined risks in 13 forest biomes worldwide. Mukesh Kumar, Anthony Parolari, Cheng-Wei Huang, Gaby Katul and Amilcare Porporato co-authored the research.
  6. PhD student Rose Schrott has received a Summer Research Fellowship Award from the Endocrine Society. She'll use the $4,000 stipend that comes with the award to support her research on links between exposure to flame-retardant chemicals and thyroid cancer. Heather Stapleton and the Duke Med Center's Julie Ann Sosa will serve as her mentors for the research. Kudos all around!

Please share your goods news. Submit your items here.