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Duke Undergrads Sink Their Teeth into Evolution Research

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Ben Schwartz and Amalia Cong, past Howard Hughes VIP participants, are studying enamel evolution in the Wall and Wray labs.  Read the story on the Duke Research Blog.

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How do Children Learn Emotions?

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Duke Psychology Undergraduates Study How Young Children Learn to Label Emotions. Read the rest of the story at Duke News.

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Blasting away glioblastomas

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Duke junior Anirudh Saraswathula studies immune-system therapy for glioblastomas. Read the rest of the story at Duke News.

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Thinking Beyond the Grave

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Duke Student Meredith Rahman Presents at Duke-UNC Bioethics Symposium. Read the rest of the story at Duke News.

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SNCURCS returns to Duke

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Nonie Arora shares a story of one of the student presenters at the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium, hosted by Duke on November 17, 2012.

Read the full story.

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Lab Tests for Anxiety

Student research blogger Ashley Mooney spent her summer in Portland working in a lab that testing the impact of brain injuries on anxiety levels.

Monkey Research in Platt Lab

Yavuz Acikalin is doing an independent research project with the Platt Lab that deals with monkey advertising. Read about it on the Duke Research Blog.

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Translational Genomics Research Institute

Rising Trinity Junior Sonya Jooma headed to Phoenix, Arizona this summer to participate in the TGen-Duke Biomedical Futures Program.  Read the story on the Duke Research Blog.

Requiem for Haiti

European explorers in Tahiti

Biology Majors/Researchers Win Goldwaters

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 Kenneth Hoehn and Clara Starkweather have been selected as scholars by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program. Hoehn and Starkweather are both juniors and Angier B. Duke scholars. The one and two year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

Read more at OUSF.

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Student Modeling Gene Regulation Wins Marshall

Daphne Ezner, who graduates in May with a double major in biology and computer science, received funding from the Trinity Deans' Summer Fellowship program in 2011 to work with Associate Professor Alexander Hartemink on computer modeling of gene regulation.

A Duke Today story is below:

Daphne Ezer, a Duke University senior who has already developed into a full-fledged computational biologist, has won a Marshall Scholarship to complete two years of graduate study in the United Kingdom.

Ezer, 21, of Norfolk, Va., plans to use her award to pursue a doctoral degree in genetics at the University of Cambridge.

"Daphne is the epitome of the deep intellectual accomplishment and potential that the Marshall Scholarship program seeks to recognize and cultivate," says Duke computational biologist Alexander Hartemink, who supervised Ezer's undergraduate research.

The Marshall Scholarships, which were established in 1953 to commemorate the Marshall Plan, are awarded each year to up to 40 "talented, independent and wide-ranging" young Americans to finance their study at institutions in the U.K.

After graduating from Duke in 2012 with a double major in biology and computer science, Ezer will work under the supervision of Cambridge researcher Boris Adryan to develop predictive models of how genes are turned on and off.

She said she hopes to use artificial intelligence technologies to "predict the biological impact of a genetic mutation that we have never observed before."

Before Ezer entered Duke in 2008, she had already completed research in computational and mathematical biology, and had asked Hartemink if she could join his lab.

"I can assure you that's the only time that has ever happened," Hartemink says, adding that he has come to know Ezer as not only a scholar in the classroom and lab, but also as a leader in building and engaging different types of communities.

As an undergraduate, Ezer was an AB Duke Scholar and Faculty Scholar, president of the Duke chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery, an organizer of the 2011 National Undergraduate Bioethics Conference and a winner in the undergraduate division of the Duke Start-Up Challenge, which promotes student entrepreneurship. She also served as a teaching assistant in computer science and taught English to Tibetans in China.

She says the overseas experience was difficult because of language and cultural barriers. But it proved valuable in broadening her horizons and strengthening her ability to communicate her research to both computer scientists and biologists.

These disciplines speak two different languages, she says, just as she and her Tibetan students did. Ezer discovered in China, however, that she could successfully work through the language barrier challenge over bubble tea and by using role-playing, illustrations and creative analogies -- techniques that have also helped her communicate her scientific discoveries.

"Research is only half of the process of science. For science to have any impact, research must be shared with others," Ezer says. "Once knowledge is communicated, it is public knowledge. It can be used and misused by anyone. Therefore, scientists must consider the ethical or policy implications of their work."

Ezer has already been thinking about the implications of her own work because, one day, it may be translated to humans, providing physicians with new tools to diagnose and treat diseases.

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Bridging Engineering and Art History

    • Xing Su

Name: Xing Su
Year: 2013
Double Major: Civil and Environmental Engineering and Economics
Research Focus: Visualizing Venice, an online research tool that integrates archived documents,
architectural plans and three-dimensional technology, depicts the transformation over eight centuries of
the city of Venice
Hometown: Baotou, China (Inner Mongolia)/ Dallas, TX

Can you tell us about your project?
Before I came to Duke, I knew about the DIVE (Duke Immersive Virtual Environment). It’s one of the ten
systems in the world that is capable of doing completely immersive virtual reality. I knew I really wanted
to be involved and it so happened that the Visualizing Venice project was looking for people with a
technical background in order to add 3D elements to the website. Visualizing Venice was founded on
the idea of ultimately creating a research tool for the general public to gain different levels of access on
the city. For example, a 7th grader who is doing research on Venice will be able to go to this website
and learn about the city from various pictures and timelines. It’s also meant to be a scholarly research
tool with a database of primary documents collected through the archives of Venice.

What was most surprising or gratifying about your research?
In my previous research projects, I was never able to decide on my own. I would be given the project,
instructions, and guidance every step of the way. In my current project, however, my professor, the
architectural historians, and the Italian professors don’t have a lot of technical expertise, so they
understand the limitations of the technology. They have grand ideas and I come up with ways to
implement their ideas. In the process, I learned to innovate from scratch in order to make new ideas
possible. In the end, I enjoy this dynamic a lot more than being given instruction for every step as it
allows for a lot more freedom and exploration.

What would you say to a student who is considering a research project at Duke?

I think that any Duke experience would be incomplete without pursuing a research project. There are so
many brilliant professors and amazing projects. To be involved in these, all you have to do is ask. You’ll
have a mentor who is most likely world-renowned, and you’ll have firsthand experience in cutting-edge
technologies. This experience can give you a sense of significance and impact you for the rest of your

What advice would you give for a successful research project?
In meetings with Italian art historians, our advisors had to remind us to slow down and keep it simple. I
think pacing yourself is an important exercise that will force you to understand your project completely
and to be able to reduce it to its simplest form. This skill is essential in any field, especially when you’re
working in a group where people have different areas of expertise and interests or backgrounds.

What are your future plans?
I have so many different interests that I’m passionate about. What’s there to lose? There are all of
these amazing opportunities here at Duke, so I want to take advantage of them all. I feel like everything
I accomplish can affect everything else. I’m getting used to solving challenging problems, and that
definitely benefits whatever I do in the future.

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Intensive Global Health Prorgam

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The Duke Global Health Institute has selected 15 students for the inaugural Student Research Training Program.  Students will learn how to develop and implement a community-based project in global health and spend eight weeks in the field this summer conducting their projects. In its first year, the research-oriented field program has attracted undergraduate students from many majors, and with previous global health experience that spans the globe.

“We are delighted to announce the selection of the first group of students for the program,” said Lysa MacKeen, fieldwork coordinator for DGHI. “This impressive group has worked in China, Honduras, Egypt, Kenya, Mexico and Uganda, as well as many locations in the US.  They bring to the program these experiences as well as their previous research and campus-wide global health activities.”

Students were selected for the program based on their scholarship, past experiences and their demonstrated commitment to global health. 

Working in collaboration with DGHI faculty and established community partners in six project locations, students will spend the next six months developing project activities and then work to implement them in the field this summer. Once they return to campus next fall, students will participate in various workshops, debriefing sessions and a public presentation of their project to process and reflect on their experience. The six project sites are located in India, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Costa Rica and the US.

This fieldwork model not only focuses on service to a low-resource community, but more importantly, teaches students how to use their research skills to work with community members to meet local health needs and work on making their impact sustainable. The program creates an opportunity for students to gain firsthand experience of the challenges and rewards of global health fieldwork while working to explore a research question and meet the goals of the communities they serve. 

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Women's Rights in Haiti

 Post-graduation update: Erin graduated with distinction from the Department of Political Science in May 2011. Her thesis won an Alona E. Evans Prize in International Law. She's starting a Master's degree at the Duke Divinity School in Fall 2011.

Governments. NGOs. Intellectuals. Lobbyists. The cast of characters involved in the Haitian recovery is diverse and vast. But as Duke senior and political science major Erin Cloninger watched the relief efforts unfold, she was startled to see just how disconnected the major players in the recovery really were. What could be done, she wondered, to get the public, academia, and the nonprofit sector on the same page to do effective work in Haiti? As both an intern for a Haiti-focused NGO and a student at a private university, Cloninger had long straddled the line between policy and academia, and she knew she was uniquely positioned to draw those worlds together. So this fall, through the Haiti Lab’s “Rebuilding Women’s Rights in Haiti” independent study, she set out to do just that, by creating a website that tracked and explained U.S. policy decisions relating to Haitian women.

This article by Ryan Brown appeared in the Franklin Humanities Institute Blog.

Read Erin Cloninger's Story in the FHI Blog...

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Chimp Observations in Africa

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Student: Rachna Reddy, T'12

Hometown: Port Huron, MI

Research Focus:  Behavior and conservation biology of chimpanzees

Major:  Evolutionary Anthropology

Mentor: Brian Hare, Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology

This summer I worked at Budongo Conservation Field Station in Masindi Province, Uganda, where a community of 58 chimpanzees has been studied regularly since 1990. This community, called Sonso, is neighbored by three other chimpanzee communities, one of which I worked to habituate, or acclimate to human presence. I entered the forest each day at 6:00 a.m., and returned to camp by 6:30 p.m. with the goal of meeting the chimpanzees before they left their night nests in the morning, and after they made their night nests in the evening (chimpanzees routinely sleep in arboreal nests they construct from leaves and branches). Although I planned to spend much of my time surveying plants rather than chimpanzees themselves, I found I often located the Waibira chimpanzees and was able to follow them. Thus, I could observe their feeding, social and ranging behavior directly and compare it with that of the Sonso chimpanzees.

I recorded the plant material (i.e. leaves, fruit, seeds) and tree species the Waibira chimpanzees fed on, and the heights at which they fed in the tree. I also took behavioral scan samples every five minutes for all visible individuals and recorded the demographics of the group, identifying specific individuals when I could. In my time there, we increased the number of recognized individuals and named them. We also began to collect fecal samples for DNA analysis of these individuals so the relationships between Waibira and Sonso chimpanzees could be known.

The Sonso range is unique in that it occurs in a part of the forest that has experienced significant logging. BCFS itself occupies the buildings of a former sawmill. Some species brought to the area by sawmill workers, including Broussonetia papyrifera, serve as food sources for the Sonso chimpanzees, who feed on its leaves and fruit. Relative to communities at other field sites, the Sonso occupy a small home range and this is thought to be because of the abundance of food source within their range.

This experience has been incredibly educational for me in terms of practical skills, such as tracking chimpanzees, navigating the forest and locating the animals high in the trees. Secondly, being able to observe these primates in their natural habitat and social groups has made me think like a scientist. I found myself forming so many questions while I worked in the forest, and I have returned to find that each of those questions has multiplied into more questions. My plans for my future career have been solidified. I know now that I definitely want to pursue a Ph.D. and continue this work. I am so grateful to URS for this summer and for the funding I have received for lemur work in the past three years. None of my research would have been possible without it and I would not be headed, in the next year or so, into a long career that I am this excited about and prepared for.

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Teamwork in the Chemistry Lab

    • Manu Mysore

Year: 2012

Hometown: New Orleans, LA

Research Focus:  Iron Chelation

Major:  Chemistry

Minor: Biology

Mentor: Alvin Crumbliss, Professor of Chemistry and Dean of Natural Sciences

“Manu is working on kinetic and thermodynamic measurements of chemical reactions that are related to how microbes acquire iron from their environment. This work is important because iron is an essential nutrient for all living cells and must be carefully controlled, as too much iron is toxic, and not enough iron represents a disease state. Manu's work involves collecting and interpreting chemical reaction rate data, which are modeled using mathematical expressions.

Why would the results to your research be significant? My research involves collecting and interpreting data on iron chelation, which is the addition of chemicals to the body in order to remove heavy metals. This research is very important because there are a lot of medical applications in terms of removing iron or killing any bacteria that use iron from the body.

What first got you started in research? At Duke, there are so many opportunities, so you really have to look at everything and make sure you give everything a good chance. I wanted to understand what research was like  and what scientists can do with the basic knowledge that they learn. When I came to Duke, I knew it was powerhouse for all kinds of research, so I really wanted to get involved. Research simply is part of the culture at Duke.

How did your involvement with research affect your experience here at Duke? I came in as a biomedical engineering major. I thought biomedical engineering would be interesting because it’s about the interrelations between math and science. Unfortunately, it didn’t really click with me, and it took me two years to realize that. The summer after my freshman year, I worked in a chemistry lab. Working in a chemistry lab is when I realized that this is something I actually enjoy. After working there I decided that chemistry is a field I should seriously consider. In short, research basically propelled my choice of major.

What has surprised you about this entire experience? Research is actually not as individually-driven as one would expect it to be. Your lab is like a team, everyone is there for you and they’re always there to help you and try to support you and give you guidance and pointers. That was something I didn’t really know before I worked in a lab environment; I didn’t expect the amount of attention and support the lab gave for undergraduates.

Where do you see yourself heading in the future? My foremost goal is to go into the field of medicine. When you’re a doctor, research can help you in the sense that you’re constantly reading and constantly trying to get information and thinking about new creative ways to solve problems. I would also love to go into family medicine. As a family physician, you’re the first gateway to the patient’s overall health and you’re his/her personal doctor. I want to be the first line. In my future, I also hope to see myself as a physician but tied to an academic setting. I still want to work in a good institution where I have the option to pursue research as well as become close to the community.

What advice you would you like to offer undergraduate students interested in

research? If you want to pursue research here, you should try it out early on.If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it, but if you do, you’ll earn an extra skill set. When you talk to professors, indicate that you’re interested and passionate, look at their projects and be forward. When I first came in, I felt intimidated approaching professors but the only way you’re going to get past that is to actually go through the process. When you come to an institution like Duke, you don’t come here just to get by.


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Tradeoffs for Managing Hog Waste

    • Ashlyn Karan

Student: Ashlyn Karan T’12

Hometown: Pinehurst, NC
Research Focus: Managing hog waste using technologies
Major:  Public policy/Environmental science and policy
Mentor: Alex Pfaff, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Economics and Environment   “Ashlyn's interests and intuition have led her to a great problem -- managing hog waste using technologies. It matters for a lot of people. It is close to home. And it involves a real decision challenge due to economic and political tradeoffs as well as uncertainty about future innovations and realities of their implementation. “
Can you explain the goal of your research? I’m hoping to determine what hog farmers’ perceptions of waste management systems are. I’m modeling this after a study that was done in 2003 so that we can see the change since then. Since 2003, there have been five sustainable technologies developed, but only 11 out of 2200 farms in North Carolina have actually adopted one.   I’m interested in looking at what farmers know about lagoons, which are pools of hog waste, and about alternative systems, and what their perceptions and feelings about them are.  
Why would the results to your research be significant?  It could help to design sustainable systems in the future, because we don’t know what farmers are looking for in a waste management system.  It would help in terms of crafting policy, to try to encourage farmers to adopt alternative systems and it would also be beneficial in terms of trying to figure out where North Carolina’s information system is going right or wrong. Farmers don’t really seem to know there are other options.  The question is, are we actually doing an effective job from the policy world of communicating with farmers?  
How did you get started in research? I’ve always been really interested in service.  I’m the president of WOODS, which is an environmental education organization.  We work with a lot of after-school centers, and I also help out a teacher at a high school nearby with his outdoor education class.  I think it’s really important for Duke to engage with the rest of the community.  One of the reasons that I wanted to do my thesis in North Carolina is just because I did want to be able to do something that’s useful for the community that I’m living in.
What was a highlight of your experience? I was really surprised that farmers didn’t think that lagoons had a negative environmental impact.  I would have thought that it was obvious the impact they had, especially with the giant lagoon floods
that we had in 1995 and 1996.  I was also really surprised that no one had tried to answer this question since the initial survey [was administered] in 2003.  I think that if you’re trying to figure out policy about an issue like hog farming – and we’re the second-biggest hog-farming state in the country – the pork lobby or environmental groups need to ask these questions of the farmers.  I think that [both sides] would rather try to solve the problem based on their preconceived notions of each other, rather than trying to go to the people who know the most -- the farmers.
Were there any significant faculty mentors along your journey in research? Ken Rogerson, the chair of the public policy department, really encouraged me to do research.  I took Public Policy 114 with him, which is where I started thinking about the hog farmers.  Also, I studied abroad in Venice, and he was there teaching a class in Venice, so I got to know him relatively well then.
What first interested you about the issues focused on by your research? I decided to become a  vegetarian when I was 15, and since then I’ve read a lot of books about being vegetarian, and in reading those I read a lot about how animals are raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and a lot about farms themselves. That exposure made me more interested in food production in general, and especially the farmers.
Are there any other programs and/or issues that you are involved with? This summer I’m going to be working with a non-governmental organization in India on agricultural sustainability. I’m also taking a class on Food and Energy right now with Charlotte Clark, and my semester-long project for that has been on water security in a village in India. We actually have been working on that with university students there. We meet with them twice a week online, and they give us a lot of information on the ground that we couldn’t get otherwise because they’re in close proximity to the village that we’re trying to work on.  [This is part of a program called the Acara Challenge.] It’s actually a competition that a lot of universities participate in, so our goal is to create a social entrepreneurship-type business plan that also deals with the water security problem. There are four people on each of the Duke teams and there are four Duke teams total, two on water and two on food.  It’s a service learning class and a lot of the students we’re working with are in an engineering class, so it’s really collaborative.

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Evangelical Feminists

    • Simone Watson

Student: Simone Watson

Year: 2013

Major: History

Hometown: Pensacola, FL

Advisor: Nancy McLean
Can you explain goal of your research? I will be studying evangelical feminists during the 1970s, and I’m interested in how they combine their faith with activism. There was this crop of evangelical feminists who said, “God loves you, and He wants you to meet your fullest potential, [and] that’s not just for men, that’s for women.” I find that combination fascinating, because on the reverse side there are people like Phyllis Schlafly who use their faith to reject feminist movement. I’m interested in both of those sides, and how American women used their faith to advance what they thought would be a better future for women.
My research is going to be focused on the South in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where Christian values served as the backbone of society. I hope to prove that there are moments when feminism and religion intersect.
What advice would you give for someone trying to find the appropriate sources on a research subject such as this? Duke’s Special Collections Library has a ton of great primary sources. There are times when my ideas are transformed by randomly discovered files in the library. Duke is also great in providing online resources, but I prefer seeing a text in person. I like opening a book, smelling a book, and reading a book. With the archives, I love being able to touch letters from Thomas Jefferson, or, in my current project, to hold pamphlets from the Miss America pageant protest from in 1968, or even letters from Gloria Steinem to some little-known feminist group.
Who is your faculty mentor? Dr. Nancy McLean is my faculty advisor. When you first declare your major, the history department gives you a faculty advisor, so when I realized I wanted to apply for the Mellon-Mays program, I asked Dr. McLean to be my mentor. She’s intelligent, approachable, and she provides innumerous insight to my ideas. Duke’s faculty members are all incredibly open and engaging with undergraduates. I realized that one of greatest resources Duke has to offer is meaningful faculty interaction.
How has your involvement with research affected your future plans? Before I came to Duke, I was prelaw. I wanted to go to law school, so I volunteered at a nonprofit legal service in my hometown, Pensacola. The service offers free legal assistance to those who absolutely cannot afford a lawyer to represent them. One of the reasons I thought I would be a lawyer is because I’ve always been interested in legal research. Now, however, I realize that I’m more interested in historical research.
What has surprised you about this entire experience? The most surprising thing was when we discussed social movements in my history class, and how activists publicized their movements. The things I find in my archival research are so diverse. At Duke we post flyers, and we have Facebook, but people didn’t have that in the 1970s, so they tried to reach people through as many different means as possible. Not only were there brochures and pamphlets, people also used parades and movie guides to spread information about their issues. Feminists would figure out how to use cameras to make movies over women’s issues. Finding out about those different media, those items, was extremely interesting to see.
Where do you see yourself heading in the future? I’m very interested in going to graduate school in history and eventually to teach at a university. I hope that when I teach I will be approachable to my students, as mentors were in inspiring me to love history as much as I do. Now, when people say, “Oh my gosh, I hate history. It’s so old!” I wonder how that’s even possible. I hope to be able to change peoples’ mindsets on history one day and allow them think about things they hadn’t thought about before.
What advice you would you like to offer undergraduate students interested in
research? I would just say, Go for it. You really have to be devoted to it, you have to have a project that you’re passionate about and that really interests you, so really just go for it, be devoted, and find something that just, like, the lightbulb turns on, a wow moment, and [then] you keep feeling that throughout your research.
Tags: History
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The 'Pre-Research' Path

    • arun sharma

Arun Sharma
'12 Biology, Chemistry, Genome Sciences
Faculty mentor, Dr. G
erard Blobe, Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology

Senior Arun Sharma may be studying biology, chemistry, and genome sciences and policy at Duke, but don’t expect to see him trading in his lab coat for a white coat anytime soon. Sharma says he is ‘pre-research’ rather than ‘pre-med’.

Growing up with a desire to one day make his own discoveries, Arun Sharma’s appreciation for research has allowed him to work with his faculty mentor, Dr. Gerard Blobe, in the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology where Sharma has been researching the molecular mechanisms behind angiogenesis, or ways in which tumors can be killed by cutting off blood supply. Wanting to share his passion for research with other undergraduates, Sharma co-founded the Duke Undergraduate Research Society (DURS) in order to show students that research can be a realistic goal even to undergraduates.

“I like to think that [this organization] is going to be my legacy at Duke after I graduate,” says Sharma.

Read Arun Sharma's story in the Duke Research Blog

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