Fellowship Snapshots 2020
For the 2020-2021 academic year, the Duke Graduate school awarded 331 competitive fellowships to incoming and continuing Ph.D. students, totaling more than $5.22 million. Here is a look at some of the recipients and their research.
Also, check out the roundup of graduate student research supported by The Graduate School's Summer Research Fellowships during summer 2020.
Art, Art History and Visual Studies
My dissertation studies the market for funerary monuments in Paris following the Napoleonic cemetery reforms of 1804, which instituted a highly regulated system of burial throughout the French Empire. While past studies of French cemeteries have been primarily concerned with works designed by architects and sculptors (or the tombs of notable figures), this project considers the role and reputation of marbriers (stonecutters) as the primary producers of funerary monuments. Rather than being subordinate to the architect by simply executing his designs, the marbrier played a central and autonomous role in the visual culture of commemoration in the 19th century. Offering clients a multitude of options for customization at nearly any price point, the marbriers promoted individuality and social distinction on a larger scale than was typical of architects and sculptors. Using data-driven research methods to compensate for gaps in the material record, this dissertation calls to attention the various survival biases that have complicated material and visual cultural studies of French cemeteries and seeks to further develop our understanding of memorial practices in the 19th century as they affected the larger public of Paris.
In my dissertation, I use economic methods to study the impacts of air pollution. Through the use of large data sets, I investigate how exposed individuals respond to air pollution and how we can infer an economic value from their observed behavior. In my work, I find that individuals increase their expenditures on goods that protect them from air pollution exposure such as masks and air filters. I also find that individuals are less likely to use bikes and more likely to choose cars for their transportation on polluted days. This kind of evaluation is important in applications of public policy and cost-benefit analysis. These findings also allow me to estimate the economic benefits of clear air. This kind of evaluation is important in applications of public policy and cost-benefit analysis. In my research, I also study the inequality in pollution burdens, which is relevant to policymakers. One of the interesting results I find is that low-income households spend proportionally less on avoiding air pollution than high-income households.
I am a historian of the United States South, interested in issues of race, gender, and sexuality. My dissertation, tentatively titled, “Red Light Relations: Prostitution and Power in Charleston, 1850-1945,” explores relations of Charleston’s sex workers, black and white, with each other as well as with men of diverse social class and status. I argue that uncovering and foregrounding these relations allows historians to explore the lived experiences of sex workers, which highlight sex workers as prominent social actors, intimately tethered to the larger economic, structural, and social life of the city and its citizens. Emphasizing connections between individual lives, my work illustrates how large-scale changes in understandings of gender, race, sexuality, and class played out on the local level, and centers Charleston within the broader network of the Atlantic world.
Marine Science and Conservation
I applied to the Dissertation Research Travel Award (International) to partially fund a month-long, return trip to my primary dissertation field-site in Mtwara, Tanzania. The purpose of this return trip was to share preliminary research findings with key stakeholders to garner direct feedback and to check the accuracy of my results. I had spent the previous academic year (2019-2020) collecting 140 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with small-scale fishers. Each interview was then transcribed and translated from Kiswahili to English and qualitatively coded to pull out major themes and findings. The goal of my dissertation research is to examine how small-scale fisher’s well-being, focusing on relational values and place identity, is affected by the implementation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA). It adapts existing approaches to better understand how MPAs can change the relationship between one’s wellbeing and the environment by focusing on select small-scale fisher communities living in and around Mnazi Bay-Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park, Tanzania. A key step in my research is to return to each interview participant with initial findings to ensure accuracy. However, due to the global pandemic, this step of research is temporarily on hold. In the meantime, I continue to analyze my results and findings, communicate with my Tanzanian partners, and to write as much as I can. Yet, I'm looking forward to when I can travel back to my field-site to complete my dissertation research.
Bacterial infections are treated with drugs known as antibiotics; resistance to these antibiotics among disease-causing bacteria has been a growing global problem. Among the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has labeled as the most urgent threats to public health are Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Escherichia coli. Strains of these bacteria can become resistant to multiple antibiotics through the overexpression of multidrug efflux systems, which export antibiotics and other harmful substances from the bacteria. The expression of these systems is often tightly controlled by DNA-binding proteins. My research focuses on two DNA-binding proteins called MtrR and MprA, which regulate multidrug efflux systems in Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Escherichia coli, respectively. Intriguingly, unlike other regulators of multidrug efflux systems, MtrR and MprA regulate other stress response genes beyond their target multidrug efflux systems. I seek to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that allow these two proteins to regulate multiple genes as well as to sense many different types of molecules.
My work investigates the intersection between novels and economics. Both create worlds that are plausible but not quite real, whether it is the world of perfect competition or the island of Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe has served as an inspiration for the most famous fictional character of economic thought throughout its history: homo economicus. Accordingly, I argue that economic theory as it dominates the profession today could not exist had it not been for novels, which first taught us that counterfactual worlds can explain something about the real world. As economics relies on fiction, fiction, in turn, articulates its own economic theories. I read novels by authors ranging from Henry James and Edith Wharton to W.E.B. DuBois and Pauline Hopkins alongside the debates in U.S. economics departments during the late 19th and early 20th century. The economists and the novelists in my selection asked the same question: How do we theorize human behavior, especially concerning choice? While economics increasingly adopted a theory of choice based on rational, utility-maximizing behavior, novelists argued for a broader understanding of how people make decisions. Their theories point to various other factors in the process of choosing, ranging from rigid social norms to the continued impact of slavery. utility-maximizing behavior, novelists argued for a broader understanding of how people make decisions. Their theories point to various other factors in the process of choosing, ranging from rigid social norms to the continued impact of slavery.
Art, Art History and Visual Studies
North Korean overseas art studio Paekho Trading Company has been responsible for building national monuments and museums throughout the Middle East over the past five decades. My dissertation concentrates on the monuments and museums built by North Korean artists in Egypt from the late 1980s throughout the 1990s. My dissertation focuses on Egypt as a case study to question the conditions and nature of such architectural representations in the construction of national identity, and further asks what the strategic goals of importing such memorial sites. North Korean monuments and museums across the postcolonial world represent alliances between North Korea and nations that hold their memorials, established through the cultural and financial exchange, not force or domination. North Korean nationalistic monuments and museums shape domestic and international perceptions of the nations in which they are situated. Significantly, North Korean overseas art studios challenge commonly held characterizations of the North Korean state as diplomatically isolated. My research asserts that examining current debates about counter-memory and counter monuments require a deeper reflection on postcolonial monuments and museums’ intertwinement with Cold War and Non-alignment politics. My selected case study of North Korean built memorial architecture in Egypt is but one example of a complicated period of memorialization for nations with a colonial past.
Marine Science and Conservation
My research addresses social equity concerns in environmental policy and management. I am interested in how decisions in fishery governance and management can incorporate stakeholders' knowledge and values to benefit both coastal ecosystems and human communities. My research focuses on the salmon fisheries on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada (WCVI). Salmon are economically important to recreational and commercial fishers and culturally important to local coastal communities, especially Indigenous First Nations. Salmon has long been a conservation and sustainable management concern and a point of contention between WCVI stakeholder groups. Recent changes place new challenges on fishery managers. The rights of some Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations to commercially fish salmon were recently recognized by Canada, and new policy requires that Canada's fishery governance office, DFO, incorporate Indigenous rights and knowledge into fishery management plans. I study interactions between DFO and First Nations in the context of these changes. I focus on how indigenous and scientific knowledge and Nuu-chah-nulth values are integrated into or excluded from WCVI salmon fishery management. I hope to identify mechanisms for effective knowledge integration in fishery governance and management and consider how this process is supporting First Nations' paths to self-determination by disrupting relationships of power and affirming agency in resource management. cus on how indigenous and scientific knowledge and Nuu-chah-nulth values are integrated into or excluded from WCVI salmon fishery management. I hope to identify mechanisms for effective knowledge integration in fishery governance and management and consider how this process is supporting First Nations' paths to self-determination by disrupting relationships of power and affirming agency in resource management.
Marine Science and Conservation
My dissertation work aims to understand the control that the cardiorespiratory physiology of a cetacean (whale, dolphin, or porpoise) exerts on its diving behavior. Because cetaceans are obligate air breathers, there are limits on their dive duration after which they must return to the surface to conduct the gas exchange. The behavior of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems governs an individual’s ability to conduct gas exchange efficiently thereby minimizing their time at the surface. By measuring how physiological rates like heart rate, stroke volume, and breathing rate change during long breath-holds and before and after dives, we can begin to understand the thresholds on the cardiorespiratory physiology of a cetacean that determine the extent of its intermittent breathing lifestyle. In addition to informing our understanding of the basic physiology of these animals, my work also takes an applied approach to 1) understand how anthropogenic disturbance may affect these cardiorespiratory parameters that could change thresholds on diving behavior and 2) relate physiological changes that support the intermittent breathing lifestyle of a cetacean to molecular mechanisms to inform novel avenues in translational medicine.
I am interested in explaining how our universe works by studying the particles it is composed of. Specifically, I am studying particles called neutrinos. Neutrinos are the most numerous particles in the universe after photons (particles of light). They are produced in the reactions that make our sun burn, make massive stars explode (creating a significant portion of elements in the periodic table). Unlike many other particles, they barely interact, about a trillion neutrinos are passing through your fingernail every second, usually without a single interaction! Neutrinos carry crucial information about what is going on within our sun or supernovae that we cannot obtain in any other way, but only if we can overcome their low interaction rate to detect them. As an experimental neutrino physicist, I work on an experiment called Super-Kamiokande, which is a huge detector with 50,000 tons of water in it, to overcome the low interaction rate of neutrinos. By observing the transformation of one neutrino species to another (Yes, there are not 1 but 3 types of neutrinos), Super-Kamiokande discovered that neutrinos must have mass! I am currently studying neutrino interactions on oxygen nuclei (in water) to measure the interaction rate precisely. This measurement is necessary for us to figure out how many and what types of neutrinos are emitted by various sources, such as a supernova or our atmosphere.
My research is centered around collecting, analyzing, and comparing data for how trees move water throughout their systems, known more technically as "sap flux data analysis." My work specifically focuses on five species of pine trees common to the southeastern United States, which represent a variety of growth strategies and tolerances for climatic variation and drought. Sap flux data analysis can be used to better understand the function of an ecosystem at large (how a given group of individuals uses its available water resources, especially in times of water limitation), the function of a single individual (measuring photosynthesis and other fine metrics of plant physiology), and the function of plants and plant communities at several intermediate levels, including the quantification of transpiration rates. It is the scaling of the initial water-movement measurements that determines the granularity with which you can approach a given observational focus, and this scaling (in regards to these five species) is the central technical crux of my work. The resulting data can be used to better understand how and why tree species that thrive under current climatic conditions (such as loblolly pine) can do so, why those which struggle are struggling, and what that means for these common species (and those who rely on them) as our environment continues to change as a result of global heating/ The resulting data can be used to better understand how and why tree species that thrive under current climatic conditions (such as loblolly pine) can do so, why those which struggle are struggling, and what that means for these common species (and those who rely on them) as our environment continues to change as a result of global heating.
Marine Science and Conservation
Foundation species form the base for many vital marine ecosystems, in addition to providing habitat for hundreds of commercially and recreationally important fish and invertebrate species. In recent years, foundations species, such as seagrass, salt marsh, and oyster reefs, have been rapidly declining globally. I am broadly interested in improving our understanding of the biotic factors (i.e. species interactions) that increase foundation species’ resilience to environmental stressors (i.e. changing water temperature, increased nutrients, and pollution, etc.) My research examines how species’ interactions and physical forces (i.e. water quality, water clarity, nutrients, sunlight, etc.) interact to regulate the recovery of foundation species. I plan to center my graduate work around understanding mesopredators, or mid-sized carnivorous predators. More specifically, I aim to explore how mesopredators affect seagrass and salt marsh ecosystems and determining the factors that control mesopredators' diversity, density, and cascading impacts on these coastal marine systems. Ultimately, I aspire to develop novel ecosystem-based restoration and management practices to restore foundation species world-wide.
My dissertation shows how stories of plants in Western science, literature, and beyond are central to modern theories and representations of biological life. What emerges from my research is an alternative history of modern science that demonstrates the centrality of plants in giving rise to and normalizing biological narratives of gender and racial difference. Through novels, films, scientific monographs, and more, I show how stories of plants negotiate the parameters and scope of how science defines life—of how alive, intelligent, and even political given subjects are understood to be.
Prostate Cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related death in men. Although the vast majority of diagnosed cases are treated effectively with surgery or radiation, a subset of men goes on to develop an advanced disease for which there is no curative therapy. Since the vast majority of prostate cancer cells express androgen receptor (AR), the mainstay of treatment is hormone therapy. However, all men eventually develop resistance to this therapy resulting in recurrence of the tumor which is often more clinically aggressive. It is hypothesized that this is an issue of cellular heterogeneity. The vast majority of prostate cancer cells are luminal tumor cells which are AR-positive and respond to hormone therapy. However, there exists a very small subset of neuroendocrine cells in prostate cancer which are AR-negative and therefore, survive hormone therapy. These cells are thought to be a major cause as to why cancer recurs and is often more aggressive. My research is focused on isolating these rare, neuroendocrine cells from patient tissue and studying them to identify cell surface proteins that can be used as therapeutic targets. It is strongly believed that targeting both the luminal tumor cells and neuroendocrine cells is needed to get complete suppression of prostate cancer growth and that is exactly what we are seeing in the lab. It is hoped that my dissertation research will eventually translate to improved outcomes for patients with advanced prostate cancer.
Psychology and Neuroscience
I am a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience and a member of the Duke Early Experience and the Developing Brain Lab. My program of research will broadly be focused on the development and maintenance of early childhood depression. I am interested in studying the ways young children learn to regulate their emotions within social contexts (parent-child and peer interactions) and how the strategies they learn protect them from or place them at risk for developing symptoms of depression. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), I also intend to find nuances in the relationship between emotion regulation and depression by studying regions of the brain that are implicated in socio-emotional functioning. These studies will lay the foundation for my long-term goals of understanding the way early childhood depression may manifest itself in adolescence and young adulthood, how the relationship between emotion regulation and depression generalizes to children with social and communication deficits, and the role that language plays in developing more highly personalized approaches to treatments for pediatric mood and anxiety disorders.
My research focuses on French and Italian movies of the 1970s, with a particular interest in sound mixing. I aim to look at how directors in the 1970s challenged the representation of authority and authoriality through the mise en scène of sound and voice. Voice-over has been described and theorized as the voice of authority, omniscient, and omnipotent throughout the narration. In the aftermath of 1968 protests against established figures of authority and after “the death of the author,” it seemed natural that directors would begin to shy away from voice-over. However, they also experimented with original vocal staging and other sound effects to make a challenge to power resonate in their films. My project includes analysis of several movies, but also a study of archival material and interviews with sound technicians.
Monitoring and predicting extreme events are central in many applications in different fields of science, ranging from finance to public health and environmental science, e.g., forecasting extreme stock market returns, identifying factors that lead to extremely low birth weight, quantifying the trends of the strongest hurricanes. Unfortunately, classical statistical tools focus on modeling and making inferences on “the average” and protect the analysis from the influence of such extreme observations. Therefore, despite their popularity, these methods fall short of analyzing extremes in data. Motivated by the inadequacy of existing methods, my research work proposes a novel quantile regression modeling framework for analyzing extreme outcomes in data. Under this framework, various statistical methodologies are developed to account for different features of data collected in different disciplines, e.g., time-stamped stock market returns, location-indexed wind speeds. The dependence across observations (two observations recorded “close to each other” in time or space may present similarities) are properly adjusted in our models to improve inference and prediction quality. Along with methodological developments, the software is delivered so that practitioners can readily apply our models in their applications. Collectively, this work will have a broader impact on statistical practice in scientific investigations that focus on risk assessment and analysis of extreme outcomes.
In Spring '21, I am scheduled to teach the course ENG 358: Postcolonial Literature. In this class, we’ll explore how a murky division between history and fiction has come to shape how writers and readers alike understand their relation to the past, the present, and their means of expression through the literary genre. To do so, we look to the fictions of the 20th and 21st century from the former British Empire and Commonwealth—both those considered by that Empire as central, as well as those considered peripheral. We will discover how the most prolific writers of those centuries came up with strategies to come to terms with, or hide, the historical facts of empire and its continuing effects on their present day. As we move through some of the most important works of fiction written during the 20th and into the 21st century, we’ll tease out some of the issues to emerge out of the uneasy relation between colonial history and literature as it appears in the novel, drama, poetry, and film: cultural-nationalism, diaspora, and globalization; histories, identities, and generational shifts; literary form and the idea of “postcolonial literature.”
The intellectual historian Gabriel Paquette has identified the propaganda language of the 18th century Spanish Bourbon monarchy with “pliable rhetoric of public happiness” of which the monarchy claimed to be “linchpin.” My research excavates the emergence of this public-happiness rhetoric from Renaissance debates on Machiavelli, demonstrating the historical processes by which it repeatedly changed hands in subsequent centuries. Foregrounding public happiness allowed Renaissance authors to introduce some political opportunism into Catholic political philosophy. The result was a new emphasis on the absolute sovereignty of the monarch, on whose shoulders rested the secular happiness of Spain. This new responsibility of the monarch guided Spanish political philosophy into the 18th century enlightened absolutism with which the Bourbon takeover is commonly associated. My research shows that in Spain, as in other Western European countries, the lines between enlightened absolutism and the 'freethinking' Enlightenment were rarely clear and that both evolved seamlessly out of Renaissance litigations of sovereignty.
Targeting our immune systems has powerful potentials to treat incurable disorders, such as some cancers and viral infections. By understanding how our immune system responds to model infections, we can better determine strategies to manipulate our immune systems. The Vaccinia virus is responsible for the worldwide elimination of smallpox and produces one of the longest immune responses known in humans. My project is to understand how our immune system responds to the Vaccinia virus. We know from previous findings that NK cells are required for initial immune response and CD8 T cells are required for the elimination of the virus. My goal is to understand how CD8 T cells are activated in Vaccinia viral infections, potential strategies to target this response, and how to enhance the CD8 T cell memory response.
My goal is to better understand the psychology of inequality through rigorous, mixed research methods. I am interested in how constructs like beliefs, motivation, and hierarchies interact with each other and the research questions that come from such interactions. For example, what is the relationship between individuals’ enhancing or debilitating beliefs about their own attributes and their allocation of resources for the future? Are ethnic minorities differentially affected by the salience of their race in situations of organizational power? What is the relationship between one’s racial identity and one’s perceptions of socioeconomic mobility? In addition to building theory, I am equally interested in theory-based interventions that can help alleviate pressing societal issues in organizations, schools, and prisons.
Civil and Environmental Engineering
My overall research interest is in using microorganisms to help solve environmental problems. For my dissertation, I study how to use bacteria to remove organic chemical air pollutants from the air. As part of this research, I design and create micro bioreactors that control and optimize the growth of these pollutant-degrading bacteria for use in indoor spaces, which are particularly challenging to treat. The Bass Instructional Fellowship will enable me to be the Instructor of Record for CEE 462: Biological Principles in Environmental Engineering. I am excited to teach students about the many ways that microbes are used by engineers to make our world a better place.
Computational Media, Arts & Cultures
Evan is a scholar of computational media with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI). His work sits at the intersection of computer science, information science, science and technology studies, media studies, and communications research. In his dissertation, Android Linguistics, he traces the development of AI's conception of language from the 1950s to the present. Using historical and computational methods, he makes the case that the field has remained relatively consistent in its philosophical commitments, even as its methods have evolved dramatically. This suggests that many of the field's current challenges represent the reemergence of earlier difficulties, and proposing a path forward.
I am a first-year Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering at Duke University. I am a member of the Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies. I am excited to get started on laboratory research towards the improvement of cancer screening and treatment in low-resource settings.
My dissertation research focuses on women’s magazines published during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in Spain (1939-75). Specifically, I analyze the messages these magazines conveyed to their readers regarding women’s economic roles within Spanish society. Franco’s regime promoted conservative values and sought to limit women’s roles to those of housewives and mothers, even though many Spanish families relied on women as breadwinners after having lost male heads of household to the country’s Civil War (1936-39) and the regime’s violent repression. While popular media such as magazines were often used as a strategic tool to reinforce a stereotyped view of women as “domestic angels,” my work shows that this was not always the case. In fact, magazines conveyed surprisingly contradictory messages. Readers were told that they should aspire to be perfect housewives but were also shown examples of women who worked and held leadership positions. They were taught to scrimp and save to keep their families afloat, while simultaneously being bombarded with advertisements for luxury beauty products. Though these magazines have been viewed as indoctrinating propaganda, many included advice columns where readers shared their personal stories and struggles, often coming into conflict with the editors’ moralizing advice. My work takes a closer look at these magazines to demonstrate that their messages to readers were significantly more nuanced than has been acknowledged.
I conduct social-ecological research on community bushmeat hunting management in Gabon through my boundary work with the Nsombou Abalghe-Dzal Project. The hunting of wild animals as “bushmeat” is vital for the food, financial, and cultural security of local people across the tropics. But oftentimes, commercial and unsustainable hunting and trade threaten biodiversity and the well-being of humans. The people who most rely on bushmeat –rural hunters and their communities– are often excluded from genuine engagement in research and policy. To address this unexplored opportunity, the Nsombou Abalghe-Dzal Project facilitates local participation in wildlife management across four scales: Local (community-driven research and management), Landscape (integration of local action with logging concession and protected area management), National (working with Gabonese decision-makers for sustainable and equitable policies), and Global (informing interventions across the tropics through communication and scientific publications).
Art, Art History and Visual Studies
My dissertation, “Visualizing Bodies: Public Health and the Medicalized Everyday in Modern Japan,” investigates how the visual culture of public health shaped discourses on hygiene, the body, and sociality in modern Japan. In doing so, I identify objects, spaces, and images as agents imbricated in the construction of a medicalized everyday—a scientific rationalization of everyday life rooted in the body. I examine the variety of media activities within four distinct spheres of communication—hygiene exhibitions, “enlightenment” posters, prints of the active female body, and modernist painting—that recorded the visual rhetoric of public health as it circulated through public space. These objects demonstrate the malleability of modern public health discourse within the public sphere and the active role of images in constructing knowledge. Through the analysis of these images, I argue that the visuality of public health does not operate as a unidirectional transmission of state ideology, but that these images form sites of translation and appropriation where the public agency is activated. My investigation into the visuality of public health considers both how medical knowledge was imaged for public consumption and the effects of these images on shaping public health discourse.
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that, when microbially converted into methylmercury, can have deleterious impacts on people and wildlife that consume high on the food web. The primary source of atmospheric mercury globally is artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), which occurs in over 70 countries. In the process of AGSM, sediments are dredged from rivers and lakes. Mercury is added to the sediment since it can bind selectively to the gold. The high density of mercury allows this mercury-gold amalgam to be easily separated from the sediment. The amalgam is then burned, isolating the gold, but releasing large amounts of mercury into the atmosphere, while mercury is released directly onto the landscape as tailings. My research investigates the fate of this mercury in the Peruvian Amazon. This region is home to indigenous groups that depend upon fish from the river and is also one of the most biodiverse on the planet. However, these people and biota are at risk of mercury contamination. I study how mercury from ASGM re-enters the regional terrestrial landscape via precipitation, dry particles, and uptake in leaves. I am also interested in how changes in the landscape (i.e., the increased extent of ponds associated with ASGM) alter the processing of mercury into methylmercury.
My dissertation focuses on depictions of male sexual conduct in 18th century novels. Specifically, I look at how moral goodness becomes tied to male chastity in novels from the 1750s to the Romantic period.
I am a musicologist studying British choral music in the 20th century. My work focuses on choral anthologies using religious and liturgical texts to create new meanings. I study the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells, Elizabeth Maconchy, and Grace Williams. I am also very interested in digital humanities and have worked on many different digital projects while at Duke.
As a historian, I use the latest technologies to access the past. Together with Dr. Phil Stern and Dr. Ed Triplett, I will be analyzing imperial maps as texts. The Modeling Sovereignty project uses 2-D and 3-D modeling software to understand the arguments that maps convey to their respective viewers. This collaborative year-long project helps undergraduates to appreciate that maps do not convey objective truths but rather the ethnocentric outlooks of cartographers.
My research answers central questions in political science about how political institutions shape the provision of public goods and services at the local level. Local governments spend more than a trillion dollars annually on a range of services including transportation, housing, parks, water, and sewers. Political fragmentation produces wide variation in the delivery of services across localities. I demonstrate how political, economic, and bureaucratic constraints influence local revenues and expenditures. My contribution integrates public economy, public administration, and public finance theories from previous research. I also extend the limited case study and cross-sectional evidence base on the politics of service provision by compiling panel datasets. Understanding the constraints undergirding provision has important implications for equitable access to services and accountability.
As a pediatric critical care nurse, I have devoted my nursing career to improving the lives and care experiences of children with a critical illness, specifically those children with congenital heart disease. Congenital heart diseases are structural or functional defects in the heart that alter the way blood is supplied throughout the body. Congenital heart disease is incredibly common - affecting about 1 in 100 live births in the US alone - and advances in science mean these children are living much longer than before. Despite these advances, we still have much to learn about the experiences of children and their families with congenital heart disease and about the outcomes of care we provide. This is where I want to build a program of research. As I begin my journey as a Ph.D. candidate at Duke's School of Nursing, I am exploring concepts around how healthcare providers and parents work together to make care decisions for newborns and infants with congenital heart disease.
I am interested in the biomechanics of organisms as they develop and grow throughout their life history. Specifically, my research focuses on the mechanics and development of spring-actuated movements in crustaceans. Many small organisms use spring-like materials to produce incredibly high-speed and high-power movements. For example, mantis shrimp use a spring and latch mechanism to rapidly rotate a raptorial appendage through water; this movement is so powerful that it can smash open snail shells and cavitate water. My research focuses on how these mechanisms develop, at what life-history stage are they operable, and how do their morphology and kinematics change as the organism grows. From this, we can infer important lessons on how size and shape can limit spring-driven movements in biology. These lessons can be used to inspire the design of engineered mechanisms and establish fundamental physical trade-offs between materials/shape and spring-driven motion.
The proper neuronal function requires the effective transport of proteins throughout the neuron, but this process is often disrupted in neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's Disease. In the case of Parkinson's, disruption of transport within neurons can cause cell toxicity and, ultimately, cell death. While there are some treatments available for Parkinson's, many depend on supplementing the neuronal signaling that is lost as neurons progressively degenerate, but there are no current front-line treatments that rely on neuroprotective mechanisms to slow the loss of neurons. My dissertation research in the McCafferty lab (Department of Chemistry) focuses on understanding how transport processes are disrupted in Parkinson's to identify new drug targets that can be used to help restore transport and prevent neurodegeneration. To this end, I work to develop and implement a variety of tools that draw from chemistry, biochemistry, and cell biology to study small molecules and the enzymes they target in the context of broader cellular signaling pathways.
I am a current fourth-year Ph.D. student in Economics at Duke University majoring in Public Economics. For my Ph.D. research, I have been focusing on understanding how firms respond to policy incentives, especially the impact of taxation on firm production and employment. I also enjoy teaching, not just because teaching is the best way to learn, but because I love inspirations from the interactions with students, as well as the opportunity to grow with them. Economics is one of the social sciences that observe how individuals and firms make decisions, and I would love to convey the findings from my field to a broader audience intuitively and insightfully.
I study Mathematics with a specialization in Number Theory. More specifically, I look at curves like modular forms which are nice functions in the upper half of the complex plane that satisfy certain conditions. These forms are of particular interest as the main focus of the Modularity Theorem. This was enough to prove the famous Fermat's Last Theorem, which before its proof, was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "most difficult mathematical problem." Many operators can be defined on modular forms, one of which is the Hecke operator. The Hecke operator treats the space of modular forms as a vector space and therefore provides a basis of modular forms that are eigenfunctions for these Hecke operators. On the other hand, people have been studying dessin d'enfants of certain modular forms. Dessin d'enfant is the French word for "children's drawing." In the language of mathematics, they denote a graph embedding of the modular forms, realized as graphs consisting of lines that are joined by interchanging black and white vertices. Each unique dessin is in one to one correspondence to a unique group of modular forms, and it provides a nice combinatorial interpretation of the corresponding modular forms. In my study, I try to bridge the connection between Hecke operators and dessin d'enfants, using combinatorial tools from dessins to describe the action of Hecke operators on modular forms and extend the theory to other interesting curves.
Civil and Environmental Engineering
I am passionate about providing environmentally safe and sustainable engineering solutions to the long-standing challenges of civilization. Prominent among these challenges is the request for environmentally safe and sustainable energy resources. A possible solution requiring advanced research in engineering is safely harvesting geothermal energy in a financially sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. As a Sloan Scholar, I will be working with Professor Manolis Veveakis (Civil and Environmental Engineering) on tackling these challenges for renewable geothermal energy. One of my main focuses will be the characterization and prediction of rocks at high temperature and pressure to determine locations for geothermal sites. This work will also include assessing the feasibility of maintaining the pressure and temperature conditions needed for consistent energy production and analyzing the efficiency of different geothermal systems under these conditions.
Genetics and Genomics
I am primarily interested in how the genome influences human disease, particularly in non-coding regions. As a first-year student in the University Program of Genetics and Genomics, I am currently rotating with Dr. Tim Reddy. My current work in this lab is investigating transcription factors that are affected by glucocorticoids, a common class of steroids. In addition to epigenetic work, I am also interested in host-pathogen interactions and susceptibility to disease.
I am a historian of race, gender, and popular culture in modern Brazil. My dissertation, Surrendering to the Street in Mid-Century Recife: The Living Legacies of Slavery in Black and White, focuses on masculinity, violence, and authority in a Brazilian state that received one-fifth of enslaved Africans. Centered on the port city of Recife less than a full century after abolition, it uses a unique body of underutilized or unknown primary source material to capture both “high” and “low” culture with an unrelenting concreteness. Simultaneously “bottom-up” and “top-down” in scope, this social and cultural history examines prevailing assumptions about the exercise of power as they were enacted and contested through humor, sexual encounters, and popular forms of entertainment.
I am currently finishing my dissertation examining the influence that ancient scholarship had on the way that the Greek poet Sophocles was perceived in the ancient world. While modern scholars generally argue that ancient readers of Sophocles loved his works but did so vaguely and uncritically, my analysis of the ancient commentaries on Sophocles shows that a rich and specific debate about his works did exist in the ancient world. Moreover, the vigor with which some of these ancient commentators promote Sophocles's literary virtues suggests that they were trying to elevate or revive Sophocles's popularity, implying a resurgence in interest in Sophocles in the Hellenistic period that other sources fail to document.
I'm primarily interested in studying the connections between contemporary global fiction and our existing economic/financial structures, especially against the background of the waves of neo-liberalization that began in the '70s. These connections go both ways: that is, I think economic and other structures shape how we create narratives, and these narratives in turn offer a way to understand the economic structures. Especially in the context of finance, the operations of which are insanely fast, complex, and abstracted, I wonder if contemporary fiction might offer some way of mapping and maybe even criticizing the workings of these underlying systems. Though my emphasis is on fiction, I also expect my work to touch on other forms of cultural production, especially film, which might offer a different and complementary means of mapping all these abstract structures, structures that most of us never seriously interact with.
Claire Le Barbenchon
When arriving in a new country, immigrants typically rely on networks of individuals from their home country to integrate: to find housing, locate schools, and find work. My work at Duke studies migrant integration and social networks from various perspectives. Although immigrants are known to use their social networks to find employment upon arrival to a new destination, little is known about when and under what circumstances immigrants decide to help each other with a job referral. What factors do migrants consider when deciding whether or not to provide a referral? My first and main paper proposes to collect network and survey data among 500 Venezuelan migrants in Costa Rica to help answer this question. The second part of my work uses existing data (collected in 2018-2019 on the Chinese community in Raleigh-Durham) to understand how immigrants are connected to others both locally and internationally, and how these connections shape their assimilation process. While some immigrants form local networks to help them integrate into their new community, others maintain rich transnational ties that can provide them with resources for integration. The third part of my dissertation looks at what happens when migrants return to their home country. Do they rely on their social networks to find work and re-integrate, or do they use other traditional job search methods? This paper uses evidence from Colombian migrants returning from Venezuela to tackle this question.
Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health
Every day we are each exposed to tens of thousands of anthropogenic chemicals. The toxicity is only known for a few hundred of these chemicals, and only a few are even regulated in the United States. A better understanding of the effects of chemicals on the ecosystem and human health is vital for a sustainable and healthy future. As a Ph.D. candidate in the Environmental Health Program, I am specifically interested in studying how certain chemicals can cause damage to DNA. I use various sentinel and laboratory organisms, such as C. elegans, Daphnia, and killifish, to investigate how pollution causes damage to DNA by analyzing changes in DNA sequence in different populations over many generations of exposure to chemicals. I am passionate about teaching and am honored to teach a new seminar "One Environmental Health" with the support of a Bass Instructional Fellowship. One Environmental Health frames a holistic and interdisciplinary perspective that human health (as individuals and communities) is interconnected with the health of the environment (safe water, air, food) and of other living organisms (wildlife, sustainable agriculture). Human behavior in our environment is changing at an unprecedented rate, resulting in many factors that affect One Health, such as climate change, population growth, pollution, and many others. This course will use both scientific research and community-based perspectives to acknowledge and emphasize past and present environmental injustices in the US.
I am a fifth year Ph.D. student studying the interactions between early life environment, dominance rank, body size, and physiology in wild baboons. In the spring semester, I will teach a class called Ecology and Evolution of Being Social. This upper-level Biology, Ecology, and Evolutionary Anthropology course will focus on the ecological conditions that drive the evolution of social behavior, as well as the mechanisms that enable the behavior to take place. We will address ‘mysteries’ in the study of social behavior: why and how males of many species diverge into ‘dominant’ and ‘sneaker’ mating roles, how your past affects your future, and how cooperation can evolve when cheating pays off. The course structure will be a mix of student-led discussions, short lectures, and hands-on activities and labs.
I am a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Policy with a concentration in Economics. I am also an Energy Data Analytics Ph.D. Fellow and Energy Fellow in the Duke University Energy Initiative. Being a researcher in the interdisciplinary field of environmental economics, I find it important to closely tie my research to policy-related questions concerning a variety of stakeholders. My research focuses on analytics of the social discount rate in climate change economics, behavioral responses to air pollution, and the long-run environmental impact of technology diffusion and its policy implications.
I am a Ph.D. candidate in Business Administration studying the social and organizational processes that produce and perpetuate gender inequality in outcomes such as career advancement, wages, and participation in entrepreneurship. As a Bass Digital Education Fellow, I will be working with Duke Learning Innovation and the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative in the 2020-21 academic year on a digital platform destined to provide a common baseline for the teaching of entrepreneurship at Duke. The platform will serve as an experiential learning resource, both for instructors to use in their courses and for students to engage in self-teaching as they develop their venture idea. The platform will provide both learning content about the entrepreneurial process and a structure for entrepreneurial teams to document their ventures' progress through the different stages of development.
Cell and Molecular Biology
The profile of tumor essential and tumor suppressor genes has been thought to remain constant throughout the transition of primary tumors into dormant and recurrent tumors. However, the dynamic nature of cellular metabolism brings a question to this assumption as the emerging cancer hallmark of metabolic reprogramming garners increasing attention in recent years. Therefore, my project aims to use a combination of open-ended CRISPR screening and hypothesis-driven approaches to identify changes in metabolic dependencies over the course of tumor progression. By comparing in vitro and in vivo primary, dormant, and recurrent tumor samples, I expect to find unique metabolic gene requirements in each stage of tumor progression. The interactions between these genes may further illuminate pathways important to primary, dormant, and recurrent tumors.
I am a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Duke. My research and writing examine how democracy accounts for those on the periphery of political life. First, I am interested in the normative issues raised by incarceration. How, I ask, are democratic ideals connected to the impulse to imprison? My argument is that the penitentiary is a site of a porous democratic boundary, separating the ‘we’ who make up the demos from those who do not. Considering the status of incarceration within our democratic theory by drawing on Plato, Tocqueville, and Angela Davis, I argue that democracy and the prison were from the first instance linked together and that this fact can sharpen our own conceptions of good democratic politics today. Second, I am interested in the practice of democratic political representation, and how that practice coincides with histories of racial inequity and the American empire. What does it mean, I ask, to represent those on the periphery? One paper on this topic, written with Cameron DeHart, provides an account of a usual institution from Maine: designated Native American tribal seats in the state legislature. A second, solo-authored paper argues against the practice of non-voting representatives in the U.S. Congress. Drawing on archival research, I contend that non-voting members of Congress have, even without formal voting privileges, offered novel examples of representation that subvert American territorial and racial hegemony.
I am a Ph.D. Candidate in the Spanish and Latin American Studies track of the Romance Studies department. My research focuses on literature and politics in vernacular print cultures of Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, and Spain during the 19th and 20th centuries. I study the history of education reform, the critique of liberalism, and the rise of regionalism as a response to the marginalization of the indigenous majority by the urban lettered elite. I am guided by the sociology of literature and post-Marxist philosophy as I approach questions of literacy, race, and post-secular spirituality, concentrating on procedures of cultural mediation. My dissertation, "Poetics of Revelation: A Socio-Symbolic Analysis of the Literary Oracular in Transatlantic Modernism (1939-1979)," evaluates the distinction of visionary poetry and the philosophy of myth in comparative case studies on María Zambrano, Octavio Paz, and Jaime Saenz. This fall, I am the Bass Instructor of Record for Spanish 327: Culture on Wheels: Civic Engagement and Education Reform in Spain and Mexico, a methods-based cultural studies seminar for first-year students that critically examines public education reform in the 1920s and 1930s. In this historical approach to social activism, teacher advocacy, and philanthropy, undergraduates explore archival materials and diverse research methods to assess a pre-history of service-learning with such protagonists as María Zambrano, Ramón Gaya, Diego Rivera, and Frances Toor.
Gabriela Nagle Alverio
Climate change poses global threats to human security and safety. It is affecting resources such as potable water and fertile land, rendering some territory uninhabitable as a result of sea-level rise, and severely impacting infrastructure due to extreme weather events. As people no longer have sufficient access to critical resources, their mobility will be impacted, with some populations being forced to migrate while others persist in unsafe conditions. Climate change-related impacts are predicted to spur ranges of hundreds of millions to one billion climate-induced migrants in the next eighty years (McLeman et al. 2010). These figures and the subsequent human impacts they will have if not addressed by proactive policy compel me to focus my dissertation on the impacts of climate change on international migration through the lens of human security and human rights and the policy solutions therein.
Computational Biology and Bioinformatics
As a first-year student in the Computational Biology and Bioinformatics program, I am currently completing lab rotations. My primary research interests involve utilizing computational techniques to understand biology from a systems point of view. My current rotation is in the Hirschey Lab, which focuses on studying different aspects of metabolic control, mitochondrial signaling, and cellular processes regulating human health and disease. My work within the Hirschey Lab focuses on improving upon their Data-Driven Hypothesis tool which aims to predict functional relationships for thousands of genes across the human genome.
Earth and Ocean Sciences
My research seeks to elucidate the relationship between marine microbial community structure and the amount of carbon being exported into the deep ocean through the biological carbon pump. In the biological carbon pump, marine microorganisms in the surface ocean draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis. This carbon is cycled through the surface ocean ecosystem with a portion being respired back into carbon dioxide and the rest being exported to the deep ocean as organic carbon, effectively removing it from the atmosphere. This is an important natural process in the Earth's carbon cycle, but it is difficult to quantify. One method we use to quantify the biological carbon pump is to measure net community production or the difference between primary production and community respiration in the surface ocean. When primary production is greater than community respiration, the net organic carbon created is exported out of the surface ocean. My research uses shipboard net community production measurements and environmental DNA analyses to examine the link between the surface ocean biological community and the amount of carbon being removed from the atmosphere. Building a better understanding of this process will allow us to better constrain climate models and monitor future changes in the biological community that will affect the biological carbon pump.
Public Policy & Psychology
Broadly, my research aspirations are motivated by the desire to reduce social injustices. I am particularly interested in the covert ways that discriminatory practices evolve and produce consequences (in terms of incarceration, education, health, & wealth inequalities) for minorities. My master’s thesis explored the political campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” and its ability to create racial disparities in criminal punishment decision-making and outcomes. As a student of both public policy and psychology, I hope to conduct meaningful, action-oriented research that unifies the two fields of study.
How do young people make their way through school and along specific career paths? How does where an individual start to determine the pathways they take? I ask these questions with a keen interest in how young adults make sense of their circumstances and adopt strategies to get ahead. Every person has a distinct bundle of resources from their family, school, and community environment. Yet many steps along the way to obtaining careers, from after-school activities to college applications, tend to cater to young people from wealthy and professional families. By better understanding the lives of individuals from different social origins, I hope to inform policy that removes structural barriers to upward mobility. I use to survey and interview data to understand the pathways individuals take to, through, and beyond college towards a career. One study focuses on engineering university students in India. I develop a holistic way to measure an individual's social origins and find that many current students come from working-class families, where they are the first to graduate high school, let alone attend college. These students' pathways to college differ significantly from their wealthier peers. While wealthy students have many opportunities to develop skills, upwardly mobile students often experience significant hardship. More structured supports might expand the opportunity for a greater number of talented young people from all backgrounds.
My dissertation examines how grace defines dancing women as social and moral actors in novels written by 19th century women writers. Instead of studying dance along a dichotomy of sinful and saintly, I consider the nuances of graceful and graceless dancing. In the works of Sophie Cottin, Germaine de Staël, Barbara von Krüdener, Claire de Duras, George Sand, and Marie d’Agoult, descriptions of dance offer examples of how women participated in the sexual marketplace, in debates on dance as an art, and evolving social communities after the 1789 French Revolution. This dissertation shows how dancing women negotiate the relationships between Christian grace visible in virtue, esthetic grace emerging from expressive dancing, and corporeal grace evincing from subjectively active bodies. Creating a constellation of dance scenes, I formulate a concept of grace symptomatic of dancing individuals’ expressive actions to identify a feminine grace acknowledging women’s sensual, subjective bodies. This is a feminist project insofar as it responds to a significant lack in the study of women writers to understand how dance functioned in 19th century European cultures. Through dance, communities express collective joy, confirm cultural identities, enforce desired manners of bodily conduct and human relationships, or transgress normalized behaviors. What we dance informs us about who we are and who we wish to become.
I study U.S. History, with a special focus on gender, empire, and religion in the 20th century. My dissertation focuses on American relief work during and following the Korean War (1950-1953), and the way that humanitarianism shaped American Cold War approaches to an empire. Focusing on aid workers, I highlight the lives and experiences of Americans who expressed concern for Korean lives and mobilized that concern to create influence in East Asia. Utilizing records from government agencies, the United Nations, and church and relief organizations, I find incomplete American hegemony, even as the U.S. controlled and utilized many different institutions to exert its will in Korea. My research shows how through humanitarian work, the labor of empire was gendered, soft, and flexible--and that the agents of the empire used American influence to work toward their own goals.
Elia Romera Figueroa
Under Francoism, Spain entered a violent dictatorship (1939-1975), without freedom of expression, nor freedom of assembly. During the first decade of Francoism, mass executions took place, and there was systematic persecution of the Galician, Catalan, and Basque languages making Castilian-Spanish the one only legal. By the late 1960s, concerts were one of the few events for which large groups of people could assemble in public spaces. Singer-songwriters fueled these anti-Francoist spaces by writing their songs of resistance. They performed those lyrics in all four national languages of the Peninsula and created a sense of belonging through their music. Since then, the image of “the singer-songwriter” has been characterized according to those most economically profitable male figures, despite having been a diverse group of individuals dormant in very different kinds of democratically inclined communities. Indeed, many female singers engaged in Spanish Second Wave and became relevant figures until at least 1986, when the Feminist Movement had achieved the main demands of its time, such as the laws of divorce in 1981, or abortion in 1985. My work examines the soundscape of those female performers who participated in the movement from the early 50s until the late 80s and who publicly verbalized forbidden languages, sexualities, and practices of commemoration, such as songs devoted to SCW exiles or victims of state repression.
The 2013 discovery of Homo Naledi -- one of our extinct human relatives -- deep in a dark, twisted cave in South Africa has complicated the current understanding of human evolution. Although over 15 skeletons were found together in one chamber, we still don't fully understand the demographics of this group. My research uses 3D scanning technology to analyze these skeletons and compare them to those of humans and chimpanzees with known biological relatives, to determine whether any of the H. Naledi individuals could have been related to one another. In so doing, I aim to highlight the relationship between genetic and skeletal variation at multiple scales, which may be used to identify biological relatives within forensic, bioarchaeological, and other hominin assemblages.
I joined the Musah lab at Duke this fall. Overall, our research aims to study organ development and pathology, especially in the kidney and brain. We use stem cell technology to model disease in vitro. I plan to focus on mechanisms of renal disease and advancing kidney organ engineering (3D bioprinting and organ-on-chip microfluidics). I am most interested in modeling and therapeutics to regenerate kidney function after injury.
Computational Biology and Bioinformatics
The advent of low-cost, high-throughput sequencing has led to the sequencing of thousands of cancer genomes. However, over 90% of somatic mutations thus found lie in regions of the DNA that are called "regulatory" or "non-coding" DNA, that contains sites for proteins called Transcription Factors (TFs) to bind. A key question in cancer genomics is discerning "driver" mutations from "passenger" mutations, i.e. identifying mutations that help the tumor proliferate. To do this, we need a thorough understanding of how mutations are created (mutagenesis) in regulatory DNA. The goal of my project is to develop experimental and computational approaches that address this question. Specifically, we look at mutations in binding sites for TF proteins and determine what underlying processes generate these mutations.
Genetics and Genomics
I am interested in the role of gene regulation and how it contributes to disease. Specifically, for my dissertations, I am investigating the role of genetics in polycystic ovarian syndrome. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a complex genetic disease, is a leading cause of female infertility affecting 10% of women worldwide. PCOS can cause endometrial cancer, irregular menstrual cycles, insulin resistance, and diabetes. While causes of PCOS are currently unknown, previous research studies have demonstrated that genetics is likely among the major causes of PCOS. My research explores which genes are involved in causing PCOS. This work will allow us to better understand the causes of common diseases affecting millions of women, thereby allowing for future research into targeted therapeutic strategies.
I work in northern Uganda investigating how young people navigate states of security and vulnerability in post-conflict life. More specifically, I work with three main groups: young men and women working as private security guards, current and formerly incarcerated youth, and individuals re-entering a war economy by traveling for work in South Sudan. The research offers a detailed, sustained view into the everyday practices young people undertake to envision a future after prolonged civil conflict despite intense social, political, and economic constraints. By doing so, the research makes broader interventions into theories of youth and of post-conflict recovery that are also relevant outside of northern Uganda. This includes how individuals encounter post-war legal authority, how humanitarian interventions impact intergenerational and familial relationships, and what strategies young people employ when the resources and opportunities afforded to them through the expansive humanitarian network that once surrounded them leave the region, or transforms into something else entirely.
German Studies (Carolina-Duke German Program)
My dissertation looks at a series of novels and other, shorter literary works written (in German) by German-speaking Jews in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In this work, the writers imagined—or else expressed skepticism about—the shape of a future Jewish State. Most of these novels imagined this future Jewish State in what was first Ottoman Palestine and later British Mandate Palestine. The most well known of these novels was written by the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl. In 1902, Herzl published his utopian novel, "Altneuland" ("The Old–New Land"), in which he imagined a technologically advanced, utopian Jewish State twenty years in the future. When it was translated intoHebrew, it was given the artistically rendered title "Tel Aviv". Several years later, a new city was founded on the Mediterranean Coast near Jaffa. That city was named "Tel Aviv," in homage to, and with the hope of partially fulfilling, Herzl's dreams as expressed in his novel. My dissertation looks at this and other connections between these literary works and reality to ask several questions: how did these works influence the shape of the Zionist movement and the creation of a new Jewish State? Can we read them as literary works that we’re able to contribute to modern Zionism because they were literature? And how can these works help recreate the lively, sometimes contentious, conversation about modern Zionism in the years before the founding of the State of Israel?
Psychology and Neuroscience
What makes a great, creative conversation? How do people connect, get on the same page, rev each other up, and come together to produce an idea? More broadly, how do we create and maintain the social context within which shared symbols arise? My research investigates the emergence of meaning via shared neural dynamics, bridging social neuroscience, and group creativity. The ultimate goal is not only to understand how this works in healthy individuals, but how our ability to refer to the context and explore an idea space with another person breaks down in various neuropathologies.
My interest lies in the establishment of cotton culture in Egypt, specifically as a regime of technical knowledge imported from existing Atlantic plantation systems into the environment of the Nile Delta. In particular, I am exploring how English textile manufacturers' need for long-staple cotton prompted a regional specialization in Egypt, and how that specialization, in turn, compelled landowners, foreign overseers, tenant farmers, and slaves to generate new, coercive understandings of their agronomics, land management, technology use, and labor relations.
Patterns of segregation can emerge from many individuals’ seemingly unguided interactions. While residential and educational segregation is the result of discriminatory policies, that's not all there is to the story. It is also, in large part, the result of many individuals choosing (consciously or not) to interact with those who are similar to themselves, especially along the dimensions of race and class. In liberal societies such as ours--societies in which the rights of the individual are paramount--these interactions are protected by the basic liberty of freedom of association. Yet segregation has troubling consequences for justice and democratic life. Segregation is therefore philosophically and politically troubling; it seems to confront us with an especially personal tradeoff between liberty and equality. Our choices of whom to befriend, live among, date, and marry have unintended and undesirable consequences. My dissertation, therefore, focuses on the following questions: What best explains these patterns of association? How can a liberal society intervene in segregation without infringing on liberty? And what should individuals do about segregation? I develop an extended conception of rationality to help answer these questions. I work in the broad tradition of PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics), which takes an interdisciplinary approach to philosophical questions. I also draw heavily from work in sociology and psychology.
The primary objective of this project is to investigate the effects of lifestyle change on growth among Daasanach children (ages: 0-5) and understand the tradeoffs between their growth and other competing energy demands: physical activity and immune function. The relationships between the environment, demography, behavior, and metabolic investment are fundamental to understanding evolved life-history strategies in humans and other primates. Early childhood growth is a particularly sensitive measure for understanding and identifying these relationships. The evolutionary interpretations of human life history characteristics are complicated by the variety of modern human lifestyles, and a relatively recent departure from the ecological and behavioral contexts in which our species evolved. This project will synthesize large-scale longitudinal early childhood growth data with a detailed investigation of lifestyle, geographic, health, demographic, reproductive, and socioeconomic data collected from eight Daasanach communities, which together represent four nodes on a continuum of lifestyle change in this population. Health, growth, nutrition, reproduction, socioeconomic, and community composition data will be collected with Daasanach communities living in Northern Kenya. This population is well suited to test this hypothesis, as they practice semi-nomadic pastoralism, a physically demanding subsistence strategy, while also living in a hot and arid environment.
Molecular Genetics and Microbiology
As a Ph.D. student in Dr. Andrew Alspaugh's laboratory, I study Cryptococcus neoformans, a fungus that causes disease in humans. I'm interested in understanding how C. neoformans survive and adapt to the human host to cause disease. One half of my thesis studies a family of proteins called arrestins to explore how C. neoformans regulates its cell cycle to grow and divide. Specifically, we have demonstrated that the C. neoformans arrestin proteins are required for efficient fungal cell cycle progression in the human host, and as a result, contribute to fungal virulence. The second half of my thesis studies how C. neoformans adapts to the stressors of the human host, such as elevated temperature or limited nutrient availability. The C. neoformans cell surface acts as a "shield" to help the fungus hide from the human immune system. We have identified a novel protein, which we have named Mar1, which is required for the normal formation of the C. neoformans cell surface "shield". In studying Mar1, we have found that the fungal cell surface "shield" is required for virulence and also contributes to fungal dormancy, or the ability of the fungus to persist undetected in the human body for years. Together, the aims of my thesis will reveal novel mechanisms by which fungal cells survive and cause disease.
Civil and Environmental Engineering
I'm an environmental chemist who uses analytical techniques to study contaminants in water systems, typically in low-resource communities, that are potentially linked to adverse human health outcomes. Currently, I am developing techniques to study emerging contaminants in wells located in rural Sri Lanka. This part of the world experiences a mysterious chronic kidney disease that has been hypothesized to be linked to organic chemical exposure. My work is utilizing analytical chemistry instrumentation to detect and identify potential compounds present in these waters. I then take my findings a step further by employing various cheminformatic techniques to prioritize certain contaminants that may be linked to this mysterious kidney disease. My Bass Fellowship is allowing me to co-teach a course, ENVIRON 360: Environmental Health, in the Nicholas School of the Environment. This course allows undergraduate students to explore environmental health through the lens of environmental chemistry and toxicology. With this fellowship, I was able to enhance the environmental chemistry lectures within this course to ensure the students had a wider exposure to topics in the field of environmental chemistry. We also were able to use the lecture content to explore how environmental chemistry and toxicology impacts not only environmental health but human health, with people from disadvantaged backgrounds most impacted.
I study the effects of climate change on coastal wetlands in North Carolina. Sea level rise and saltwater intrusion affect how wetlands and their plant communities function. Freshwater wetlands are particularly susceptible to these changes. I have conducted research that demonstrates massive and rapid plant community change as a result of climate change, namely and problematically the loss of forested vegetation to marsh and shrubland. I am also working on understanding how carbon stocks in wetland soils are being affected by saltwater intrusion through field and lab experiments.
We live in a world filled with materials. Scientists are interested in imparting certain properties to such materials. The chemistry used to engineer different products reflects their desired properties. For example, we want cars to be durable and sturdy, and shoes to be comfortable and firm. We can achieve those goals by choosing certain alloys to construct a vehicle chassis, or certain rubbers to make running shoes. Any given material is prone to wear and tear, or degradation, throughout its usage. A particularly intriguing property is that of self-healing – the ability to autonomously regenerate the chemical bonds of a system and restore the mechanical properties that would’ve been lost due to wear and tear. My previous research explored self-healing polymer systems that have applications as coatings and sealants. I intend to continue my research in materials chemistry at Duke and explore the related fields of biomaterials and mechanochemistry.
I employ computational tools as well as chemical and physics theories to describe how electric charge moves in molecules inspired by nature and materials at the nanoscale. My research involves designing and predicting the electrical properties of organic molecules and the interpretation of experiments where molecules are exposed to light or electrical current. With the support of the Duke Incubation Fund, I am also launching a startup that brings artificial intelligence into microfluidics for accelerating the discovery of new molecules. Under the guidance of my research advisor, Prof. David N. Beratan, I have also participated in the design and instruction of two Chemistry courses: Molecular Simulation and Quantum Dynamics. The latest is supported by a Bass Instructional Fellowship.
My interests lie in representations of marginalized identities in the ancient world: women, non-elites, peoples outside of Rome and Greece. Much of my research at previous institutions have focused on the last of these categories, looking at Roman authors' "Othering" of non-Romans. My first two to three years of my program will focus on coursework before I turn to dissertation research. However, I expect that my dissertation, which I have not yet decided on, to focus on some form of identity and representation of it in the ancient world.
Psychology and Neuroscience
Without social relationships, humans' mental and physical well-being suffers considerably, and we, therefore, spend much time creating and maintaining them. We have a variety of ways to create connections with others at our disposal, many of which revolve around creating shared experiences. My work at Duke aims to examine how the capacity to connect with others through shared experiences develops in children. Building on previous research with adults, we have shown that children behave more social to strangers after they have watched a video with them, even in the absence of additional communication. Additionally, my work explores to what extent this psychological mechanism can also be found in non-human species, in particular the great apes. We found that great apes also behave more social towards a novel human interaction partner as well as a known conspecific after having watched a video together. Follow up research showed, however, that human children seem to value minimal communication about the fact that they are sharing, by making eye contact, more than great apes. In our current research, we aim to extend our knowledge about this psychological mechanism in different contexts, for example by exploring if this way of creating social closeness with others still operates when experiences are shared through online communication. This might, for example, provide insight into how the current pandemic is affecting our social relationships, and thereby our mental health.
Marine Science and Conservation
I am keenly interested in data-poor species of high conservation concern. For my dissertation, I am using various methods to address gaps in the basic life history of the critically endangered eastern population of North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica). The current population size is 40 whales due to legal and illegal whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries. Foundational data on the distribution and seasonal movements of these whales are lacking, which hampers their effective management and conservation. Using funds from the Dissertation Research Travel Award, I will measure naturally occurring biogeochemical tracers (stable isotopes) in museum specimens to explore historical migratory patterns and winter distribution.
I am mainly interested in descriptions of food in 19th-century French novels: this can range from scenes involving the preparation or consumption of meals to descriptions of feasts and famine. After doing work on the concept of authenticity as seen through Chinese food in Paris for my undergraduate senior thesis, as well as on food in the novels of Théophile Gautier for my first-year masters' thesis, here at Duke I am hoping to continue working with depictions of food in text. Because the text has a limited ability to evoke the texture, appearance, and smell of food, I would like to research how the brain processes and reacts to text describing food, i.e. whether the same reactions occur when the brain encounters descriptions of food as when food is physically present. This could provide an idea of how text is used to reproduce and "preserve" the eating experience, which is inherently ephemeral, and whether there are limitations to text as a means of recreating or communicating the experience of eating.