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.
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.
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.
Name: Xing Su
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hometown: New Orleans, LA
Research Focus: Iron Chelation
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.
Student: Ashlyn Karan T’12
Student: Simone Watson
Hometown: Pensacola, FL
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.
B.S. '11 Neuroscience
Minors in biology and chemistry
Faculty mentor, Greg Wray, Professor of Biology
Even as a first year student, Peter Cruz-Gordillo found his way into the lab of Professor Wray who compares the genes of humans to chimpanzees. Despite originally coming to Duke with the goal of becoming "pre-med, straight clinical," Cruz-Gordillo later found himself gravitating towards genome sciences, which eventually led him to a research position in Wray's lab at the IGSP where Cruz-Gordillo developed "an intense enthusiasm for research." Working with post-doctoral researcher Courtney Babbitt, Cruz-Gordillo began to explore the differences in the pain-sensing systems of humans and chimpanzees. Peter Cruz-Gordillo is currently the first author on a paper, which appeared last fall in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Evolution.