For the 2018-2019 academic year, the Duke Graduate School awarded 346 competitive fellowships to incoming and continuing Ph.D. students, totaling nearly $5 million. Here is a look at some of the recipients and their research.
Art, Art History and Visual Studies
My dissertation studies the market for funerary monuments in 19th-century Paris, looking at consumer preferences and production in the aggregate. With this, I investigate the difference between ‘commercial’ and ‘artistic’ tomb production, and the tension between the marbriers funéraires (funerary marble workers) and the architect. Whereas the marbriers were highly skilled craftsman, operating vertically integrated businesses wherein the design, execution and sale of a given monument was undertaken by a single entity, the architect designed on commission and outsourced the production. Since the 19th century, studies of the cemetery have been oriented exclusively towards architect-designed tombs, which were already in that time conceived of as high art, while tombs produced by funerary marble workers were disregarded as lack-luster commercial goods of as little social value as they were low in price. Using newly available archival material, my research examines the complete production chain for funerary monuments in 19th-century Paris beyond the realm of elite society alone. Specifically looking at both the cost of these monuments and the various design options and ‘add-ons’ (i.e. stone choices, inscriptions, plaques, gardens, wreaths, etc.) that were available to the consumer, my research critically revives old questions about the cemetery and attitudes towards death and commemoration in 19th-century France.
Marine Science and Conservation
My research focuses on understanding how acoustic disturbances are affecting marine mammal populations. Sub-lethal impacts like boat noise can have cumulative effects, which ultimately impact population level metrics like survival and reproduction. I’m interested in trying to quantify those sub-lethal impacts, using short term, high resolution tags that attach via suction cups to dolphins and whales. Like a human fit-bit, the tags record how the animals move. Of course, this just gives an indicator of relative activity, such as if the dolphin swam faster or slower. I’m interested in how many calories they burn when they move away from a boat, and how it ultimately impacts their daily calorie budget. To calibrate the tags so we can estimate this in wild populations, we work with trained dolphins in accredited zoological facilities. There we ask the animals to wear the tags and swim laps at different speeds, while only breathing into a device that measures their exhaled gases. From the amount of oxygen consumed, we calculate the calories they burned. Zoos are aquariums are essential to validating these tools. We then use this proxy on wild tagged animals, to estimate the energetic impacts of anthropogenic disturbances. The goal is to inform science-based management of marine mammal populations, putting policies in place to reduce disturbances where needed.
Molecular Cancer Biology
My thesis work to date has broadly focused on using functional genomics approaches to pursue three distinct avenues for targeting cancer associated vulnerabilities: 1) Dissecting novel biology related to intrinsic and acquired resistance in cancer, 2) Uncovering targetable dependencies that arise as a consequence of dysregulated cell biological processes in cancer, 3) Improving strategies for molecular credentialing of cancer dependencies and drug mechanisms of action.
Public Policy Studies
Immigration enforcement in the U.S. interior increased dramatically in the last ten years in both scale and scope. Between 2008 and 2011, nearly twice as many immigrants were removed from the interior of the country per year as compared to the number of removals per year in the early 2000s. Immigration enforcement affects not only immigrants themselves but their families. An estimated 5.1 million children living in the U.S. have at least one unauthorized parent, who is potentially a target of immigration enforcement. Approximately 79 percent of these children are U.S.-born and therefore U.S. citizens. In my dissertation, I examine the effects of immigration enforcement on one important child outcome, educational achievement. I examine this question at two levels: using individual-level achievement data in North Carolina and using district-level achievement data across the United States. I use quasi-experimental methods, taking advantage of staggered implementation of two key immigration enforcement policies: 287(g) programs and Secure Communities. These programs, which are partnerships between local law enforcement and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have been responsible for dramatic increases in immigration enforcement in the U.S. interior during the past 10 years. These methods allow me to identify the effects of these programs on children. These evidence is crucial to understanding the full costs of these policies.
Sickle cell disease is a debilitating condition that requires complex disease self-management to maintain optimal health and quality of life. Patients with SCD often experience high levels of stigma which can be a barrier to adequate self-management and impede quality of life. My research will advance the understanding of the relationships between stigma, self-management, and quality of life in sickle cell disease in the United States and Jamaica.
I am an evolutionary biologist studying lemur speciation at the genomic level. In short, I am interested in using lemur genomes to explain how species form and why they are maintained. Additionally, working in Madagascar provides vital information for conservation efforts. Highlighting both lemur population changes over time and areas of high species richness can inform crucial conservation targets and goals. More specifically my thesis focuses on the over 20 species of Mouse Lemur found in natively in Madagascar (one of which is kept here at the Duke Lemur Center). I am studying the rate of novel mutations in these species, in the hopes of more accurately estimating species ages. It will also shed light on how the mutation rate differs within primates. Also, I study how change in families of genes, specifically those involved in sperm formation. These changes provide insight into what causes new species to form and diversify, one of the basic questions of evolutionary biology.
Public Policy Studies
My research tackles the development policy issues that arise when economic agents or institutions have unequal power. It contributes to three fields: International Political Economy; Industrial Organization; and Global Value Chain Analysis. Within this intersection I examine the institutional constraints to economic development created by global markets. I approach this question by mathematically modelling surplus distribution along Global Value Chains to simulate policy measures. My work shows that policy interventions shift surplus from developing countries to advanced economies in presence of market power asymmetries. This surplus shift occurs with environmental and labor standards and trade-based development policies. The models I develop provide a framework for further empirical investigation and policies that are better aligned with development goals.
My dissertation argues that the early English novel responded to and helped shape an emergent discourse of risk management in 18th-century England. Through the writings of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Adam Smith, and Jane Austen I trace how novelists, essayists, and moral philosophers thought about danger and how best to control it. Over the course of what scholars often call the long 18th century, which in fact stretches from the late 17th to the early 19th century, the concept of risk underwent a transformation. At the beginning of this time period new mathematical and scientific insights—like the emergence of probability and the earliest work in English on epidemiology—revealed a world that could be understood and even predicted in ways that had previously been beyond human reason. The novel was the tool for disseminating these practices to a broader audience, an audience of readers who found that the procedures of risk management were applicable not only to scientific questions but to their everyday lives. Thus over time the novel both dictated and reflected the aspects of life that readers felt compelled to control. As the reach of risk management spread, it became the way of making sense not only of economic questions but of morality, and even personal taste and judgment.
My dissertation explores the relationship between violence, community, and legal culture in New York City between 1785 and 1827. I use criminal cases to show how violence became a unifying agent in communities. Dragging friends, neighbors, and family to court over acts of violence created a venue for people to verbalize and define their expectations of one another and to enforce certain behavioral norms. While urban historians have viewed the city’s neighborhoods as too transient in the early 19th century to allow people to create community, court records point to the existence of common and intimate bonds among male and female workers from various ethnic backgrounds as well as their conceptions of order. I study these cases, and the community dynamics of legal proceedings, within the context of gradual emancipation in New York. I use the debates surrounding gradual emancipation and suffrage to show how violence on the ground became linked to broader ideas about who did and did not belong. Crime narratives became a popular means of disseminating a specific agenda by narrating legal proceedings in a way that portrayed African Americans as criminal and dangerous and, therefore, as a threat to white New Yorkers, eventually leading to their disenfranchisement. While scholars recognize New York’s time of gradual emancipation as pivotal moment, they have given very little attention to how violence was tied to political decisions at the local and state levels in the 1820s.
The evocative term "Brahmsnebel" (Brahms fog), coined by the late 19th-century German music critic Wilhelm Tappert, aptly described the pervasive influence of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) in fin-de-siècle Europe. Together with the “die Gluthitze" (white heat) of his antithesis, Richard Wagner, the conservative aesthetic of Brahms cast an undeniably long shadow of influence upon composers in the waning decades of the 19th century, as well as the early decades of the twentieth. Modern scholarship, however, has yet to precisely define the terms of Brahms's influence. My research therefore attempts to probe the nebulous fog, whose density can be measured not only by the near one hundred works dedicated to the composer during the final third of the 19th century but also by the sheer volume of compositions attempting to emulate aspects of the German master’s multi-faceted compositional technique. The thrust of my analysis falls in the latter category, specifically how later composers perceived, projected, and extended Brahms’s achievements in similar realms of symphonic, chamber, vocal, and keyboard genres. By analyzing a range of practices that find renewed precedence in the works of Brahms (e.g. the use of variation form, modes, contrapuntal and canonic practices), as well as considerations in style, formal design, and structure, my research provides a critical and substantive review of Brahms’s reception in the dusk of romanticism and dawn of a new modernism.
Psychology and Neuroscience
I am a fourth-year doctoral student in clinical psychology and a Duke Global Health Institute Doctoral Scholar mentored by Dr. Kathleen Sikkema. My research and clinical training are focused on health psychology, global mental health, and the development and delivery of coping interventions to reduce the impact of stress on health. I am currently working on a dissertation examining impact of stress and coping on mental health and reproductive health among adolescent girls transitioning through puberty in Moshi, Tanzania.
Public Policy Studies
My research focuses on the most harmful and helpful factors in police-community relations. I am particularly interested comparing the relationship between African American communities and police to the relationship between European Muslims and police. My dissertation research seeks to illuminate the internal calculations of civilians who have a high likelihood of contact with police due to where they live. I conduct 50-60 in-depth interviews of 18-29 year-old African American men in Durham, North Carolina and Muslim men in London, England residing in heavily surveilled neighborhoods. Main research questions explore what these young men want from police to ensure their safety, how they assess police performance, and what actions they take (or do not take) when expectations of safety are not met.
The time of the year when a plant begins to grow, produces flowers, and loses its leaves is important for successful reproduction, survival, and growth. Plants rely on environmental cues, such as temperature and the amount of sunlight, to time these life cycle events. Therefore, the time when a plant begins to flower can be very sensitive to climate change. For example, snow has been melting earlier in the season in subalpine regions than the recent past as a result of warming temperatures. Since the time of flowering for some plants occurs shorty after snowmelt, they track these warm temperatures and emerge or flower earlier in the season. Interestingly, not all plants respond similarly to the same environmental signals; some flowering species do not flower any earlier. As each plant species responds differently to earlier snowmelt, species that didn’t flower together in the past have the potential to overlap now. If plant species grow and flower at the same time, they could compete for resources (water, nutrients, soil). My research examines the link between climate change, the timing of life cycle events in plants, and how they compete for resources. The results from this research have the potential to help us predict how climate change may affect maintenance of local biodiversity in the future.
My research is conducted at ATLAS experiment on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) under the supervision of Professor Alfred T. Goshaw. The LHC provide extremely high energy protons colliding with each other, and the ATLAS detector collect the information from the outgoing particles, trying to reconstruct and reveal the potential underlying new physics. One of the most significant discovery of this century, the Higgs boson, is found on LHC. I am now searching for a new interaction (force) strongly related to electro-weak interaction. Since in modern physics, every interaction is carried by a propagator (gauge boson), this new interaction implies a new boson couples to the propagator of electro-weak interaction, namely photons and W/Z bosons. However, such a process must be rare or hard to detect, and the background is very noising since ATLAS detector will get huge amount of photons and other kinds of particle showers every second. In order to suppress this background, a lot of techniques are used, including but not restricted by Monte Carlo methods, Boosted Decision Tree (BDT) and neural networks. At its 50th anniversary, the Standard Model achieved such a success. Until the discovery of Higgs boson, every one of the particles predicted by Standard Model is observed. However, particle physicists are still looking for particles beyond Standard Model.
The hunting, consumption, and sale of wildlife across the tropics, known as the bushmeat trade, is one of the greatest global threats to biodiversity and human food security. Hunting is essential to rural livelihoods, protein access, and cultural integrity, but overharvest of prey species can fundamentally alter ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration. A key limiting factor to mitigating the negative effects of bushmeat hunting is the lack of rigorous scientific testing of conservation strategies. A review of conservation projects in Central Africa found that few collected sufficient data to evaluate whether their project succeeded. I will address this knowledge gap by testing whether participatory wildlife management rules can reduce levels of hunting of threatened species in Gabon. Participatory management is hypothesized to engender higher environmental sustainability because stakeholders feel greater ownership and thus responsibility over resources, but its ecological outcomes are rarely quantified. My dissertation is a collaboration with ten villages where we are setting up local participatory hunting management plans and studying their governance and consequences, social and ecological, over time. Our works strives to co-produce knowledge and empower local people.
I study dietary evolution in primates, specifically lemurs and the Eocene fossil primates of North America. I'm interested in the way the primate tooth-rows are organized to process food and how we can use the nested structure of the primate jaw to understand the morphological levels of selection important in creating dietary adaptation, whether that be whole tooth-rows, individual teeth, or parts of teeth. I'm also looking at dietary adaptation across spatial scales and the ways tooth shape varies with the temperature and precipitation of the environments lemurs inhabit. This may reflect differences in the diets of lemurs in different habitats. Finally, I'm interested in the relationship between the rates of morphological evolution in primate teeth and ecological opportunity as reflected in eco-space availability. Two foci for this project are the hypothesized evolutionary radiation of lemurs on Madagascar and the waxing and waning evolutionary diversity of North American fossil primates. Both radiation seems to have responded evolutionarily to periods of climatic amelioration and the novel opportunities presented by dispersal to a new land mass.
Nicole Y. Gaglia
Art, Art History and Visual Studies
My research focuses on the representational practices of modern public health that connected the state, the medical community, and the public in Japan from the 1910s to 1945. In my dissertation, tilted "Visualizing Bodies: Public Health and the Medicalized Everyday in Modern Japan," I examine the role of images in shaping modern Japanese public health discourse within four distinct spheres: hygiene exhibitions, enlightenment posters, prints of the active female body, and modernist painting. Through the encounter between medical science and the viewer, I address the themes of space, translation, and pleasure. How was public health visualized and transmitted in public and everyday space? How were abstract scientific concepts made legible for public consumption? How did these concepts change through consumption? How did sensuous experience operate within the visual language of public health? Little attention has been given to the translation of abstract medical knowledge into public health discourse. My dissertation contributes to interdisciplinary scholarship in the fields of art history, visual studies, and the history of medicine by investigating this gap. I focus on the visual culture of public health communication, located at the interstices between scientific knowledge production and popular reception, to uncover how the complexities of vision and its characteristics of mediation and resistance affected discourses on health, the body, and the individual.
Alejandro Garcia Lozano
Marine Science and Conservation
Small-scale fisheries (SSF) are important social-ecological systems or that support livelihoods, food security, and economies throughout the world. Mexico is one of the largest seafood producers in the world, directly supporting the livelihoods of more than 350,000 people. In Mexico, as in many other places, the sustainability and social benefits of SSF are threatened by widespread illegal fishing, ineffective centralized governance, and issues such as climate change. Historically, state-sponsored cooperatives have been an important form of organization for fishers in Mexico, but trends towards privatization compromise their role in production and well-being in local communities. Cooperatives have formed larger organizations – regional federations and national confederations – and also collaborate with non-governmental organizations (NGO) to influence policy and address management problems. However, the roles and political-economic influence of federated cooperatives and NGOs are not well understood. My dissertation project will address this gap by examining in detail the relationships between three environmental NGOs and one confederation of fishing cooperatives, which represents over 11,000 fishers. My work will focus on the partnerships between NGOs and fishers, their policy-oriented work, the narratives they produce about fisheries and environmental issues like climate change, and the role of cooperativist values on fishers' relationships with the Mexican state.
My work at Duke is on the history of neuroscience. The history of neuroscience studies developments in the history of brain science which led us to the theories we have now. In particular, I write about the neuroscience of the 17th and 18th centuries, following trends that arose in thinking about the body and mind after the scientific revolution.
My dissertation takes up the 18th-century figure of the rake and asks how the novel refigures the sexually profligate man. Although a character most commonly associated with poetry and drama of the Restoration, the rake did not disappear with the growing popularity of the novel in the middle of the century. Rather, the external displays of sexual desire that had been such identifying characteristics for the comic rakes of the stage were muted and internalized in the figure of the gentleman, while rakish characters as such remained to exemplify a more destructive form of masculinity. The redefinition of male sexual conduct during this period involved the creation of narratives in which male characters willingly rejected sexual promiscuity, ultimately serving to restrict women to monogamous (marital) desire by creating worlds in which “good” men opted for the same conservative sexual restrictions that were expected of women. Popular novels from the early 1750s through the Regency period, I argue, regulate and restrict women’s desires through the increasingly strict alignment of morality and chastity in men, ushering women into the marriage state by perpetuating concerns surrounding the threats of specifically male sexual conduct. And by idealizing male chastity (explicitly or implicitly), the novel not only worked to undermine ideas of female sexuality, but also simultaneously promoted notions of male hyper-sexuality via the concept of restraint.
German Studies (Carolina-Duke German Program)
My dissertation examines the interplay of language politics and sexual politics in literature that confronts the social dynamics of German-Jewish assimilation. This project asks: How does the policing of Jewish female sexuality align with the policing of language and literacy? A study of Jewish languages among Ashkenazi Jews reveals the gendered discourses on Yiddish versus Hebrew. So how does a legacy of gendered linguistic separation in the Jewish community influence the depiction of Jewish language? And how can these differences in language and literacy reveal both the potential and limits of female agency? My work considers how these two vehicles of power—linguistic and sexual control—intersect in the project of identity formation and the drawing of boundaries. This project brings into dialogue both German and Yiddish literature of the late 18th and the 19th centuries. I examine these texts’ shared intersection of language politics and sexual politics in the context of a transformation of German-Jewish identity. Policing language and female sexuality, I argue, encodes a broader anxiety toward the shift from Jewish tradition into the secular attitudes of modernity.
My research interests center on Christian theology, ethics, and ethnography. In my dissertation, I combine these disciplines and methodologies to inquire about the place of guns in American life. As a result, I have conducted over a year of ethnographic fieldwork among Christian handgun owners in the Triangle Region of North Carolina. With the support of the Domestic Dissertation Research Travel Award, I have been able to extend my fieldwork to include sites such as the 2018 NRA Annual Meeting in Dallas, Texas. My dissertation aims to develop a theological ethics of handgun ownership that takes as its point of departure the thick descriptions I have developed through participant-observation and qualitative interviews with my interlocutors.
I am a fifth year PhD student in Music Composition, currently in the dissertation writing phase of my program. My dissertation consists of two parts, as this is the norm in our discipline. The first part is a large-scale composition and the second part is a publication ready article. The dissertation research travel award I received will be funding an important part of my research for the large-scale composition. The composition is a 25-minute-long piece for clarinet/saxophone, percussion/drum set, piano/synthesizer, string quartet and electronics. The clarinet player lives in Washington, DC and he won't be able to attend any rehearsals before the recording session in April, 2019. Due to the integral role of electronics in the piece, I will travel to him, using the funds provided by the travel award, to conduct research regarding the interaction of live electronics with his instrument and the impact this will have on the final notation of the score. I am grateful for this award which will allow me to cover all bases with the performer before the recording session in Spring 2019, avoiding costly technical problems.
Psychology and Neuroscience
My research deals with modeling the emotion, disgust. Disgust finds its way into many parts of the human experience - it influences our mental health, our moral judgments, and our legal and political decisions. In spite of its importance, there is no consensus on the best way to think about disgust, in part because so many different things can be disgusting. If things as different as unusual-smelling food and political skullduggery might both be called "disgusting," what possible central function can disgust perform? Is disgust more than one thing? Using behavioral and psychophysiological data, in conjunction with insights from the field of data science, I work to evaluate the ways that past researchers from various disciplines have tried to tackle the problem of disgust's many domains, as well as to propose novel ways to think about this very messy emotion.
Bass Instructional Fellowship (Teaching Assistants)
My research brings the critical methodologies of literary analysis to bear on the narrative and textual aspects of the globalized economy, in particular on text-based forms of finance and money. Many economists now claim that the global economy is effectively sustained by a variety of writing practices: 95% of the money we use is written into existence by commercial banks drawing up loans; global accounting practice makes possible the "offshoring" of money as disclosed in public leaks like the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers; and finance is itself an essentially text-based practice, its "literary products" simply taking the forms of "swap," "option," or "future" rather than "essay," "manifesto," or "serial." My current work explores how more recognizably "literary" texts like novels have explored the literary aspects of economy. My next project will engage more directly with current economic thought--Robert Shiller's call for a "Narrative Economics," for example--to read global finance and accounting as a global form of literature.
Every living creature is characterized by an exquisite level of organization. The human body, for example, is lined by its largest organ called the skin, and its interior is further organized into incredibly complex networks of organs. On the microscale, even a single cell is made up of distinct structures that provide individual complementing functions. The beauty and complexity of living systems arise from this intricate cell organization. Cellular structures are further organized into smaller structures by forming membrane-less organelles. One interesting aspect of these organelles is that they behave as liquid-like droplets. They undergo a physical process known as phase separation, akin to the process by which vinegar and oil molecules separate after mixing. This allows them to self-organize quickly in a rapidly-changing cellular environment. I am studying a membrane-less organelle called histone locus body to address fundamental biological questions such as what this body’s function is, what controls the size of the body, and through what mechanism such size control can be achieved. Using my strong quantitative background gained through Duke’s undergraduate Biomedical Engineering program, I am approaching these questions through computational image analysis and mathematical models. The findings of my research will provide insights on how nuclear structures are regulated during development and ultimately how all life forms achieve such elegant complexity.
In several species, including humans, experiencing adversity early in life (early adversity) can dramatically reduce adult lifespan. We know little, however, about what is mediating the effect of early adversity on lifespan. I'm testing whether chronic inflammation and body size act as two such mediators. Specifically, I'm testing whether (1) higher early adversity is associated with increased adult inflammation, and (2) higher early adversity is associated with reduced growth and smaller adult body size. I'm testing these relationships in a wild baboon population that has been studied longitudinally since the 70's by the Amboseli Baboon Research Project. While baboon social groups have strong parallels to human society, they lack the typical confounds of human studies (e.g., unequal access to healthcare). Further, prior work in this population shows that baboons who experienced more early adversity experience both shorter adult lifespans and less offspring survival than baboons who didn't experience early adversity. I measuring chronic inflammation by measuring neopterin in baboon feces, and I hope to validate measurement of fecal c-reactive protein as well. I am measuring body size via parallel-laser photogrammetry, in which photographs of baboons include two lasers projected into the baboon a known distance apart, creating a within-photo scale. With help from the research team, I collect these data on baboons near Amboseli National Park, Kenya.
Combating climate change, reducing pollution, and integrating renewable energy are all big questions that call for policy solutions. To better facilitate the policy making tools, like Integrated Assessment Models, Cost-Benefit Analysis, etc., it is essential to learn the dynamics of different systems as well as choices of various decision makers. As an energy and environmental economist, my research focuses on using analytical tools to understand behavioral responses to policies and on modeling different responses and environmental factors to inform policy designs. My recent work covers a variety of topics in environmental policy designs, from how to choose the appropriate discount rate for climate change policy analysis, to exploring relationship between residential tariff design and consumers’ decisions about rooftop solar. Currently I am working on a 9-month project as a Duke University Energy Data Analytics Fellow. In this energy data project, I will apply the big data toolkit to answer the question: How can we estimate residential electricity demand more precisely?
Algae provide half the oxygen we breathe and for decades people have been researching how these microorganisms can produce energy. I am interested in how we can grow algae to produce biofuels in the most productive and economical way possible. Algae require large volumes of water to grow in, and my research specifically focuses on the cost-saving practice of reusing this water. Once algae are "harvested" (i.e., removed from the water), the leftover water could be reused to grow more algae. This saves both water and costs, which can help make algal biofuels more cost-competitive with other non-renewable fuels. However, the leftover water can contain bacteria, cell debris, viruses, and chemicals excreted by the algae, all of which may impact algae growth. I research how different cultivation and harvesting strategies affect the growth success of algae in recycled water, and how water recycling affects the accumulation of dissolved algae excretions. I also research how algae "crop rotation" (i.e., alternating the type of algae grown in the water) affects growth success, and how the bacteria community changes as a result of water recycling. Ultimately I want to know whether we can predict algae growth success in recycled water based on certain variables, so that we can design strategies to successfully reuse water in large-scale, long-term systems.
The goal of my research is to better understand how individuals living in communities affected by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) view both the regulations governing shale gas development, and the legal avenues available in the event of harm. That is, I am investigating whether people consider the rules governing fracking are sufficient to protect them, and whether they consider the legal system is adequate to compensate them, should they be harmed by fracking activities. Given the highly controversial nature of fracking, the competing narratives can obscure how individuals directly impacted by it perceive its riskiness. To gain a better understanding of individuals’ experiences and perceptions, I conducted interviews with people who live in communities affected by fracking. Interviewees were encouraged to discuss at length their experiences with fracking, as well as their opinions about state regulations and the legal system. After analyzing their responses, I hope to gain a richer understanding not only of how people perceive the risks posed by fracking, but of how law and policy might better serve individuals whose lives are impacted by this kind of industrial activity.
Computational Biology and Bioinformatics
KRas is a small protein and GTPase commonly implicated in several difficult-to-treat cancers such as pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the deadliest of solid tumors. KRas forms protein-protein interactions with other proteins in order to regulate various important signal transduction pathways inside cells. When mutated, KRas is constitutively activated, which leads to signal transduction pathway dysregulation that subsequently increases and sustains tumorigenicity and invasiveness. KRas has long been considered an "undruggable" target due to its picomolar affinity for its substrate, GTP. However, blocking the protein-protein interactions between KRas and its effectors eliminates these harmful downstream effects. My project seeks to implement computational structure-based protein design in conjunction with biochemical characterization to design a peptide inhibitor that binds to KRas and consequently blocks effector binding and kills cancer. To design and optimize the peptide inhibitor's inherent stability and affinity for KRas, OSPREY, Open Source Protein REdesign for You, a state-of-the-art software package for computational structure-based protein design (CSPD), is used along with iterative biochemical characterization. This work will validate the use of CSPD to target protein-protein interfaces of undruggable proteins while targeting KRas, a keystone of crucial signal transduction pathways that initiate and sustain difficult-to-treat cancers such as PDAC.
I study how societies and governments evaluate potential risks, and then manage those risks through laws and regulations. I am especially interested in risks where the hazard is either unknown or uncertain, which is often the case in matters of health and safety. In my dissertation, I focus primarily on the risks of unsafe or unwholesome food: what makes food “safe,” who determines such standards, and what are the potential consequences of those decisions? My dissertation outlines how modern food safety regulations developed over the course of the twentieth century, with a focus on meat and poultry. I explore how regulators, consumers, and businesses defined “safety” in terms of tradeoffs among cost, sanitation, and abstract notions of quality, which in turn changed over time. My research reveals that disagreements over what it meant for food to be “safe” and “wholesome” affected both the nature of domestic regulatory responses as well as the trajectory of international trade relationships into the late twentieth century. In spring 2019, I will be teaching an undergraduate course, “The Modern Regulatory State,” which is supported by a Bass Instructional Fellowship. In this course, students learn about the development of modern regulatory institutions and are introduced to some of the key debates about regulation – what it should do, who should be able to participate, and whether it promotes or undermines democratic institutions.
My dissertation is titled "Dramatic Impulse: Diegetic Music in the Operas of Giacomo Puccini." Drawn from film studies, diegetic music designates music that exists within a portrayed story. For instance, if a character turns on a radio, the music emanating from the radio is diegetic, whereas the background score of the film is not. My work focuses on how this concept manifests in opera, where it is complicated both by music’s ubiquity, and its intimate and pervasive role in conveying the opera’s dramatic plot. I argue that Puccini routinely steps into the shoes of a compositional character or entity within his operas to create diegetic music that is distinct from his own stylistic idiom, particularly through well-defined formal structures. This theory has the added benefit of providing an explanation for Puccini’s perceived inconsistency in compositional quality, for which his work has often been criticized and maligned in scholarly circles. In this view, the poorer quality of the diegetic music is not a failing of the composer but a manifestation of his dramatic impulse. My dissertation also proposes an analytical methodology for identifying and assessing diegetic music in Puccini’s works, using Manon Lescaut (1893) as a case study. I then examine his deployment of diegetic music in three other operas – La bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), and La rondine (1917) – to assess how Puccini uses this dramatic and compositional device to illustrate and augment each opera’s plot.
I am primarily interested in literature's power to enrich our understanding of politics, building on the idea that literary intellectuals constitute one of the cornerstones of the radical Left, I use novels to rewrite the history of American radicalism from the 1960s to the end of the Cold War. My dissertation reveals how left-wing writers have turned to the novel not only to express their utopian desires but also to think through concrete questions of political strategy. Ultimately, I hope to demonstrate that fiction can become a popular form of political theory that inspires social change.
Ever since I was a dual major in English and geological science, my research and writing have sought to place these two disciplines into conversation with each other. Before joining Duke’s English Department, this interdisciplinary conversation primarily took the form of science writing, as I wrote articles for the National Park Service, Earth magazine, Discover magazine, and The American Gardener. Studying at Duke has allowed me to deepen the conversation by giving me time to research American literature’s intersection with the history of geology. During the long 19th century, American geologists, among others, articulated the concept of deep time, which was a paradigm shift in the way humans related to each other and the earth. My project analyzes the way writers, both literary and geological, responded to this shift, and how this transformed perspective provided leverage for social reform in America. This project is titled “Manifesting Vertical Destiny: Geology, Reform, and the Stratified Earth in American Literature, Long Nineteenth Century.” Beyond my dissertation, studying at Duke has also provided me the time to reflect upon and write about my teaching experiences. In 2017, during the bicentennial of Henry David Thoreau’s birth, for instance, I gave an invited lecture at the Huntington Library reflecting on my experience of teaching Walden to students at Duke Kunshan University in China.
Historians once viewed the second half of the Soviet century (1953-1991) as an era defined by the “stagnation” of socioeconomic and cultural progress. In recent years, scholars have challenged this perception and instead stressed the persistence of change in Soviet history. To date, however, the history of labor has not been included in these reappraisals. Focused primarily on metropolitan elites, contemporary historiography of the Soviet Union has neglected the world of work. As a result, scholars are left with an image of Soviet labor that fails to evolve between the early and late twentieth century. My project interrogates this vision by focusing on the history of the enterprise where the most enduring of late twentieth century efforts to transform Soviet labor relations was first initiated: the Shchekino chemical combine. In taking up this task, my dissertation challenges long-established tropes used to interpret Soviet history and offers a new way to understand the parameters of Soviet socialism and the contours of industrial modernity.
Nicolaisen investigates multi-species relationships between Han and indigenous people, dogs, and monkeys in Taiwan through participant-observation, interviews, field observation, and textual analysis. His research contributes to new ways of thinking about and resolving these interspecies conflicts with the aim of benefitting all three species. By examining an animal advocacy group in Taiwan called Life Conservationist Association and its interaction with dogs, monkeys (Taiwanese macaques, Macaca cyclopis), and indigenous people, Nicolaisen's research challenges boundaries between what is wild and what is civilized by bringing non-human species into conversation with contemporary social issues in Taiwan. He considers how different ways of apprehending the world (ontologies) may provide new insights to global ecological challenges, and how they may support or challenge recent theories in political ecology and religious studies. To accomplish this, he uses transdisciplinary methods to integrate ethnographic, biological, and textual methods. While he explores alternative ecologies on the ground in Taiwan, he also analyzes the global influences and connections with countries such China, Japan, and the United States.
The population of older adults in the United States is growing, as is its ethnic diversity. The US Census Bureau estimates that by 2060, older Americans will number about 98.2 million, accounting for nearly 25% of Americans. More than half of Korean Americans living in the US are immigrants, implying that they hold unique cultural perspectives, including collectivism or filial piety. These values often dictate how older Korean immigrants perceive their health and lifecycle events, including death. As this ethnic immigrant group seeks healthcare in the United States, healthcare providers need to understand the older Korean immigrant perspectives on health care goals so that the providers can deliver patient-centered care. Every older adult has life experiences and background that build and shape their own wishes and values for health care goals. Older Korean immigrants in the US experienced the fast change of technological development in medical field for the last decades. My dissertation study is to investigate older Korean immigrants who are living with multiple chronic conditions. I am exploring how their life experiences influence the decisions that they make related to health care goals and care priorities. I am conducting an “ethnographic” type study, using in-depth qualitative interviews and life-course trajectory techniques, to explore the experiences of being a Korean immigrant and having multiple chronic conditions.
My dissertation explores the relationship between the Supreme Court and lower federal courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country and the way in which the Court resolves a case will set a precedent which all lower courts are expected to follow. In my dissertation, I focus on how law is crafted on the Supreme Court and implemented in lower courts. Lower courts resolve the bulk of cases in the federal judiciary. I study how the Supreme Court responds when lower courts are non-compliant with its precedents and what mechanisms are available for the Court to control lower courts. I argue that the Supreme Court is often constrained, due to limited resources and internal disagreement, from effectively supervising lower courts. In turn, I conclude that lower court judges are more empowered to craft law than previously theorized. Thanks to the Aleane Webb Dissertation Research Fellowship, I will be able to purchase records related to pre-WW2 decisions by the Supreme Court and develop an evolutionary perspective of the Court. My research has important implications for the operation of the federal judiciary.
Art, Art History and Visual Studies
With support from the Evan Frankel fellowship, I will complete my dissertation entitled “Transborder Anarchism: Visual Culture in Greater Mexico, 1890-1940.” My dissertation explores the influence of anarchism on the development of modern art in Mexico, the United States, and South America. Through expansive transnational networks and global projects, anarchists produced a visual culture promulgating radical images of nationhood, borders, and modernity. I analyze artistic and literary interventions with broad public circulation: prints, newspapers, widely exhibited paintings, and murals. I chart how the circulation and consumption of anarchist art production in the Americas transcended linguistic and cultural divides. Ultimately, my study reveals the anarchist ideas that guided aesthetic debates in the Americas and shows how artists developed alliances committed to global philosophies and art practices.
Pharmacology and Cancer Biology
Although genetics are known to play a role in shaping cancer cell metabolism, it has become increasingly appreciated that numerous factors, such as tissue type and nutrition, can also exert significant effects on the metabolic state of tumors. The intersection of these factors creates a high degree of variability between tumors, making the identification of patient populations that would benefit from specific therapies challenging; the characterization of gene-environment interactions in cancer has thus gained considerable interest as a potential avenue for novel treatment strategies. Using a metabolomics approach, my research investigates how environmental factors, particularly nutrient availability and energetic demand, influence diverse cancer types. One of my projects examines how various cancer cells exhibiting the same genetic deletion of a metabolic enzyme respond to nutrient restriction; surprisingly, I have found that each cancer cell type exhibits an entirely unique response to these environmental alterations. Given that nutrients can be highly variable in the human diet, these results further illustrate the challenges of predicting patient tumor biology. I am also investigating how energetic demand, via either the pharmacological inhibition of energy-consuming processes or the physiological stimulus of exercise, influences tumor metabolism. These projects aim to uncover potential biomarkers for patients that would benefit from specific lifestyle interventions.
Public Policy Studies
In my research, I explore the economic lives of women in developing countries. For example, in Pakistan, while female labor force participation has increased, many women report that they must seek family permission before working outside the home, and social norms prescribe that men and women should be separate in public spaces. There is a concern that such barriers unduly influence young women’s decisions about their career paths. In my dissertation, I conduct an experiment exploring the role of gender-related workplace attributes and perceptions of family job search advice, on young women’s labor supply decisions. I also study how women learn about workplace attributes related to gender (such as the ratio of men to women in the workplace), and whether gaining information about these attributes impacts the types of jobs that they choose to pursue.
Marine Science and Conservation
In recent decades, global concern about declines in biodiversity have led international environmental regimes to encourage the establishment of large-scale networks of marine protected areas (MPAs) to separate wildlife from the processes that threaten their persistence. One of these, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which governs the Southern Ocean, has been working to establish a representative network of MPAs to ensure the continued ecological integrity and function of the region. My research focuses on the designation and negotiation of these MPAs. In terms of design, conservation planners have long sought to incorporate non-ecological data into MPA design to reduce conflicts with human activities, to more efficiently use scarce conservation and management resources, and to improve the effectiveness of these sites. My work is investigating novel ways to also incorporate spatial measures of political feasibility into planning efforts. As for negotiation, little thought has gone into assessing the role of informal factors (e.g., trust, leadership, etc.) and their contributions to reaching agreement in consensus-based treaty organizations. My work focuses on these factors and their role in shaping outcomes.
My research focuses on trying to understand how the machinery that copies genetic material (DNA)—molecules called polymerases—makes mistakes. Evolution and disease are two sides of the same coin. If these molecular machines never made any mistakes, evolution would not be possible, while too many mistakes leads to disease, such as cancer. The central question of my dissertation asks what the underlying mechanism is for the frequency of these mutations, or the ‘mutational timer’. DNA is copied by reading the sequence of the original strand and pairing the correct complementary DNA base with it: A pairs with T, and G pairs with C. This pairing process to make a new strand makes a mistake (e.g., pairing G with T) about 1 in every 10,000 bases that are copied. Polymerases are tuned to recognize the shape of correct pairs and reject and discard mismatches which form with the incorrect shape. We’ve used a combination of approaches including nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), kinetic and computational modeling, and in-vitro assays to assemble a model that explains the frequency with which these mistakes are made. Through a chemical process called ‘tautomerization’, atoms on mismatched bases rearrange, allowing for incorrect pairs to look like correct pairs, much like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In our proposed model, the rare occurrence and short lifetimes of these ‘tautomeric’ shape-shifters is able to robustly predict the frequency of DNA incorporation mistakes.
Art, Art History and Visual Studies
From the 1930s through the 1980s, Chinese art was staged as a transnational performance in far-flung sites: São Paulo, Taipei, California, Dunhuang, Paris, Oxford, New York, London, and Singapore. My dissertation will evoke this fantastic theater of Chinese art as an emigré phenomenon. By reimagining audience favorites, classic stars, supporting characters that steal the show, and special effects to delight the senses, I argue that the category of Modern Chinese art was produced through the representation and self-representation of Chinese identity in a global context. These identities were mediated through the figure of the Oriental woman, the spaces of the home and public display, and the rituals of gift-giving and gathering. This extensive production, unevenly stretched across the world, was the vision of an ensemble cast comprised of Chinese and western art historians, artists, collectors, and hobbyists. This was the terrain on which Chinese and non-Chinese collaborated and clashed, learned and misunderstood. While the Chinese painter and Chinese painting are the subject of my project, I focus on the critical analysis of photographs, film, texts, domestic interiors, tourist sites, and personal narratives of the Chinese diaspora and their Western collaborators. As a counterpoint, I introduce little-known women artists, like Diana Kan (1926-2010), and unexpected destinations, like Carmel, California, to construct an alternate history of Modern Chinese art.
Earth and Ocean Sciences
The ocean is experiencing dramatic changes: becoming warmer, more acidic (ocean acidification), and more anoxic (deoxygenation). It is critical for us to understand how these changes will impact the organisms in the ocean and how these organisms will respond to such changes. I study a key group of microbes in the ocean called diazotrophs as a member of the research group of Dr. Cassar in the Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences. Diazotrophs, via nitrogen fixation, provide nitrogen nutrients to support the growth of phytoplankton that absorb carbon dioxide and eventually regulate the climate. With the support of the International Dissertation Research Travel Award, I will visit the laboratory of Dr. Julie Robidart at the National Oceanography Centre (Southampton, UK). I will learn and apply molecular methods to identify the types of diazotrophs in the North Atlantic Ocean and further explore how the distributions of diverse diazotrophs are controlled by different environmental factors (e.g. temperature, oxygen). In the end, we can evaluate how the diazotrophs may respond to the changing ocean and climate.
I am a political scientist studying the causes and consequences of political violence. My dissertation research focuses on barriers to peace-building in societies experiencing civil war and draws on original surveys, field work, and event data from the Colombian armed conflict.
The central focus of my dissertation is a body of literature produced by authors of African origin, living and writing in Spain. All of them choose to write in a Peninsular language, either Castilian Spanish or Catalan, and I am particularly interested in their works that deal with immigration. These pieces are my point of entry into a larger study of “precarity.” This term is often used in the Spanish context to describe in financial instability and a general sense of vulnerability after the European debt crisis which began in 2008. However, I argue that a corpus of that is usually treated as “immigrant fiction” we can identify earlier examples of a precarious existence that is the product of larger structural inequalities and institutionalized racism. This is an effort to underscore the relevance of the Spanish for understanding reactions to crisis and global migratory flows.
My PhD dissertation, “The Virtues of Intimate Relationships: Filial Piety and Friendship as Relational Virtues”, aims to analyze ideal intimate personal relationships in terms of the virtues involved in them, which I call relational virtues. Intimate relationships—such as parent-child relationships or friendships—are crucial for human flourishing. These relationships shape our lives as individuals and serve as a source of distinctive social value. Despite their importance, they have not been adequately addressed by moral philosophers, partly because they do not fall neatly under the timeworn dichotomy in ethics: self and happiness on the one hand, and others and morality on the other. In this sense, intimate relationships have been a topic in a ‘grey area’ elusive to those who base their view on this old dichotomy. In this sense, intimate relationships have been a topic in a ‘grey area’ elusive to those who base their view on this old dichotomy. In opposition to many contemporary philosophers who attempt to analyze norms in intimate relations in terms of special duties or obligations, I argue that they are better understood in terms of virtues, in particular, relational virtues.
Mass incarceration is one of the greatest social issues in society. Recently, scholars have introduced a new consequence of incarceration – system avoidance. Goffman (2009) first suggested that imprisonment alters social interactions and relationships by undermining ex-offender’s attachments to social institutions (e.g., work, family). Brayne (2014) extended this by introducing the concept of “system avoidance”, where individuals with prior criminal justice contact avoid surveilling institutions such as educational, financial, and medical institutions. Applying the concept of system avoidance to parental incarceration, scholars found that paternal incarceration hindered father’s involvement in their children’s schooling, and system avoidance partially explained the reduction in involvement. Given the novelty of the concept of system avoidance, few studies have directly attempted to extend this concept. Moreover, existing studies assume applicability across gender. However, this assumption may be incorrect because women are usually the primary caregivers of children prior to imprisonment and often resume their role following release. Given the socioeconomic status of many of these mothers, they often cannot opt out of interacting with surveilling institutions (i.e., public housing, schools, hospitals), especially when attempting to resume their role as the primary caregiver.
Civil and Environmental Engineering
My dissertation research focuses on optimizing mixed, fungal-bacterial biofilms for the degradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in sediment. This approach to remediation is economically and ecologically favorable to the invasive options usually utilized. In my work, I have isolated unique fungi and bacteria from contaminated sediment and hope to research how they coordinate within a biofilm structure and how this unique lifestyle improves living conditions and contaminant catabolism. This work will hopefully inform bioremediation strategies used for pollutant removal from the environment.
The abolition of slavery in the British Empire (including the British Caribbean) is often regarded as one of the most transformative moments in the history of the western world. It appears that in one swift imperial ruling, thousands of enslaved men, women, and children were formally notified that they were no longer chattel due to the generosity of British abolitionists in Parliament. While historical accounts on the contributions made by abolitionists are crucial to understanding the journey to emancipation, they tend to neglect the efforts made by enslaved people at interpreting and attaining their freedom. My dissertation will reveal the individual and collective thoughts, actions, and behaviors of enslaved men and women in Barbados to illustrate that freedom was a process of political, social, and economic transformation as opposed to a singular moment in time.
Medical Scientist Training
Within the last decade, immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer treatment. Immune checkpoint blockade, which releases a biological “brake” on the immune system to stimulate an immune attack against cancer cells, is the most widely used type of immunotherapy. As the efficacy of immunotherapy has been established, there has been tremendous excitement about combining radiation, which is used to treat over half of all cancer patients, with immunotherapy. My thesis work seeks to understand mechanisms of tumor resistance to radiation and immunotherapy and identify novel targets to improve patient responses to immunotherapy. I utilize complementary models of treatment-resistant primary tumors that arise de novo and treatment-sensitive transplant tumors injected as allografts to investigate the features that differentiate tumor response and resistance to radiation and immunotherapy. We have discovered that treatment-resistant primary tumors induce tolerance in immune cells responsible for tumor elimination, preventing them from recognizing tumor cells. Resistant tumors also differ from treatment-responsive allograft tumors at the transcriptional, mutational, and immunological level. Findings from these studies will not only lead to new insights into the interaction between cancer and the immune system, but also inform the field of cancer biology about the ability of preclinical models to recapitulate tumor development, immunobiology, and therapeutic responses that occur in patients.
Medical Scientist Training
Immunotherapies harness the patient’s own immune system to fight their cancer. Many immunotherapies aim to improve the function of T cells, the effector arm of the immune system. One way to improve T cell function is through checkpoint blockade, which targets inhibitory receptors on the surface of T cells that arise when a T cell becomes exhausted. Checkpoint blockade is an FDA-approved strategy in many solid tumors, yet has failed in glioblastoma, the most common primary malignant brain tumor. My research seeks to understand how glioblastoma elicits such severe T cell exhaustion in comparison to other tumor types. We have found that glioblastoma and other tumors elicit distinct and characteristic T cell exhaustion profiles that are particularly severe in glioblastoma. This severe T cell exhaustion may induce resistance to checkpoint blockade. We have furthermore discovered a potential immunotherapeutic strategy that may render glioblastoma sensitive to checkpoint blockade in preclinical models, and we ultimately hope to translate this strategy to patients not only with glioblastoma, but to patients with other tumors that do not respond to checkpoint blockade.
Marine Science and Conservation
The North Atlantic right whale was nearly extinct due to historical whaling. Now, it is one of the most endangered large whale species and still on the brink of extinction because these animals are highly vulnerable to human disturbances such as fishery. Therefore, my interdisciplinary research focuses on large whale entanglement in fishing gear and I am investigating this problem primarily with engineering techniques. For my dissertation, I aim to understand the mechanisms and consequences of North Atlantic right whale entanglement by 1) analyzing recent entanglement cases, 2) developing a computer solver to estimate forces on the animal added by fishing gear, 3) measuring hydrodynamic forces such as drag and pressure on the animal with computational fluid dynamics model, and 4) incorporating animal locomotive data collected by animal-borne tags and mouth entanglement cases to the model. With support from the Graduate School, I will be returning to Florida, which is right whale's calving ground, in their breeding season and conduct field survey in 2019.