DURHAM, N.C. – Nishad Jayasundara has been named the Juli Plant Grainger Assistant Professor of Global Environmental Health, effective July 1.

A faculty member at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment with secondary appointments at the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) and School of Medicine, Jayasundara’s research focuses on shedding new light on the adverse ecological and human health impacts of chemical pollution and climate change.

Known for his innovative studies using fish species as sentinels to measure the biochemical and physiological consequences of exposure to chemical and physical stressors, he recently has been working with an interdisciplinary team of environmental and health researchers to unravel how climate change and water contamination may be driving a rise in kidney disease among rice farmers in Sri Lanka.

He is also principal investigator of a new study on lithium contamination, an emerging public health concern linked to the increased mining, use and disposal of lithium for the manufacture of clean energy technologies such as electric car batteries and solar panels.

The goal of that study is to develop new ways to monitor lithium contamination in soil, water and air using vascular plants such as ferns and pine trees as sentinel species, and, armed with this information, create a lithium toxicity map for the state of North Carolina.

“The quality of Nishad’s research speaks for itself. Though still in the early stage of his career, he’s already tackling complex challenges and doing work that could have far-reaching beneficial impacts on the health of people and our planet,” said Toddi Steelman, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School.

“Climate change and its impacts on extreme heat are emerging as critical new threats in global health. This is why we’re delighted at DGHI to be joining the Nicholas School in appointing Nishad as the new Granger Chair. His work is on the vital intersections of health and climate, and he is already a leader in this new field,” said Chris Beyrer, director of DGHI. 

Jayasundara’s named chair is a joint Nicholas School-DGHI chair, funded through gifts from the Grainger Family Descendants Fund and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support critical research and teaching on global environmental health and promote increased collaboration between the school and the institute. The chair was last held by Randall Kramer, a renowned environmental economist who held joint faculty appointments at the Nicholas School and DGHI before retiring in 2021.  

Jayasundara came to Duke in 2021 from the University of Maine, where he had been an assistant professor of marine sciences since 2017. Prior to that, he worked for four years as a postdoctoral researcher at the Nicholas School, where he conducted studies at the Duke Superfund Research Center and co-authored numerous peer-reviewed studies with school faculty.

He earned a doctoral degree in biological science from Stanford University in 2012. In recognition of his early-career work on the consequences of exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), he received the prestigious Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in 2015.