Duke University has awarded Distinguished Professorships, among the university’s highest academic honors conferred on faculty, to two renowned scholars at the Nicholas School of the Environment. Joel Meyer, an international expert on how environmental stressors damage mitochondria and the resulting links with disease, was named the Sally Kleberg Distinguished Chair in Environmental Toxicology. Erika Weinthal, an award-winning researcher in global environmental politics whose scholarship spans water and energy, as well as conflicts over natural resources and international cooperation to mitigate them, was named John O. Blackburn Distinguished Chair.

Meyer has uncovered how various stressors, including pollutants like mercury, damage mitochondria (central to generating energy in cells); processes that help repair DNA; genetic – and age – differences that influence susceptibility; and links between mitochondria damage and neurological disease. His research has both clarified how – and improved protocol to quantify how much – stressors damage DNA.

The incoming John O. Blackburn Distinguished Chair, Weinthal, has analyzed conflict, cooperation and the governance of transboundary water resources. Her work was featured in an award-winning book on the Aral Sea Basin, which spans Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan. Weinthal recently completed a two-year term on the Academic Council, one of Duke’s chief instruments of faculty governance.

Stanback Dean Lori Bennear recommended the Distinguished Professorship appointments, which Provost Alec Gallimore and Duke’s Board of Trustees approved. A total of 32 distinguished professorships were approved across Duke University in 2024, and four in 2023. Both years’ honorees will be recognized on May 23, 2024 at the Washington Duke Inn at an invitation-only event.