The ceiling inside the dome of the U.S. Capitol

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Spring(ing) Through Summer of 2022 in Washington:

The Will They or Won’t They Edition

It was anything but quiet in the nation’s capital since the end of the last academic year. While making progress on the FY23 budget, Congress also successfully passed major legislative packages on both climate and U.S. competitiveness, sending them to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law. The Biden administration also proposed new Title IX regulations, unveiled a much-anticipated student loan forgiveness program and nominated individuals to fill several key positions. Here is all you need to know about these and other federal highlights of significance to Duke University and the higher education community since Duke’s Office of Government Relations’ last update this spring.

Budget & Appropriations

As Congress makes its return from August recess, the FY23 budget and its impending September 30th deadline will be the focus for appropriators. In the final days before each chamber broke for recess, the House successfully passed half of its FY23 appropriation bills and Senate Democrats released their own twelve appropriations bills. With less than a month before government funding runs out, lawmakers will likely look to vote on a temporary stopgap bill to extend funding beyond its current deadline. However, political dynamics resulting from this summer’s maneuvering on various bills foreshadows a rocky path for a continuing resolution. Duke’s Office of Government Relations has prepared this flow chart to provide more information about the federal appropriations process. Below is a table illustrating the current status of some of Duke’s appropriations priorities.

President Biden also signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law on August 16th. The long-awaited climate, health care and tax legislation, previously shelved as the Build Back Better plan, will invest roughly $300 billion in climate and energy initiatives. Of interest to the higher education community, this includes $2 billion for the Department of Energy (DOE) National Labs to accelerate breakthrough energy research and several environmental and climate justice block grants and resiliency programs through which universities can be considered a partner.

Research, Innovation & Competition

This summer was marked by considerable drama and a final resolution to the ongoing conference negotiations to align the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) and the America COMPETES Act. The prospects for passage of a competitiveness measure grew dim as negotiations stalled, first due to general disagreements over the direction of the final package, then after Republicans walked away after Senate Democrats announced movement on its Build Back Better budget reconciliation measure. In response to the legislative hold-up, Senate Democrats opted to draft the “CHIPS and Science Act,” which combined the $52 billion emergency funding the semiconductor industry under the CHIPS for America Act with negotiated section of USICA and COMPETES focused on key science authorizations. This ultimately bipartisan legislation officially authorizes the new Technology, Innovation and Partnerships Directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF), reauthorizes the other core NSF directorates, along with the Department of Energy Office of Science, NASA, establishes a new federal initiative focused on bioengineering and much more.

In other innovation policy updates, Congress moved forward on the framework for the new Advanced Research Projects Agency – Health. Earlier this summer, the House of Representatives approved its vision for the agency and now awaits Senate action. On the administration side, it was announced that the new ARPA-H will be housed within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Adam Russell D.Phil.(T ‘95) was named acting deputy director. The agency will support transformative high-risk, high-reward research to drive biomedical and health breakthroughs.

Wrapping up the summer with some rather blockbuster news, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released updated policy guidance to increase the accessibility of federally supported research, which includes dropping an optional 12-month embargo on publications and supporting data from federally funded research. The guidance memo requests federal agencies to update and/or develop public access policies to ensure immediate, equitable and transparent access to federally-funded research no later than December 31, 2025.

Foreign Influence and Research Security

As noted in previous updates, the competitiveness proposals moving through Congress were a focus for provisions related to research security. The final CHIPS + Science bill does contain several security-focused provisions related to foreign talent recruitment programs and a new provision requiring an annual summary report to NSF from universities outlining financial support of $50,000 or more from foreign sources associated with countries of concern. However, several of the more concerning provisions found in USICA, like the proposed expansion of a Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS) review of certain gifts and contracts between foreign individuals and universities and new faculty disclosure of foreign gifts and contracts, were dropped from the package.

On the topic of disclosure, work has continued on the implementation of National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM)-33, which directs the federal science agencies to develop standardized guidelines for the disclosure of information to assess conflicts of interest and commitment among researchers applying for federal funding. Last week, the National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Research Security released draft standardized disclosure forms for biographical sketch and current and pending support with a public review and comment period.

As conversations around research security policy continue to develop, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to hold a workshop this fall on factors affecting the classification of federally funded research. Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, Matthew Axelrod, also announced a new initiative at the department to help academic research institutions protect themselves from national security threats.

Immigration

As the globe continues to rebound from COVID-19-related challenges, the Biden administration is making efforts to resolve ongoing immigration delays and backlogs. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently released its annual report, which outlines some of the most significant challenges individuals and employers encounter when applying for immigration benefits with the agency. 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would designate Afghanistan for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months, effective through November 20th, 2023. In addition, in July both the Departments of State and Homeland Security announced their ongoing efforts to support Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants.

Student Aid & Other Issues Related to Higher Education

The Department of Education officially published its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend the regulations implementing Title IX in the Federal Register on July 12th, with comments on the proposed rule due on September 12th. Duke University has worked closely to help draft comments to be submitted on behalf of the Association of American Universities and the American Council on Education.

Meanwhile, the White House announced its three-part plan to address student loan relief as well as its plans to amend Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA) to create targeted student loan forgiveness programs. The plan includes a final extension of the pause on student loan repayment, interest, and collections and cancellation up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for non-Pell Grant recipients. The administration will be releasing more specifics in the coming months.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced it will deconsolidate the Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill affirmative action cases it plans to hear this fall. Duke University signed an amicus brief, along with a group of higher education institutions, in support of race-conscious admissions policies, emphasizing the profound importance of student body diversity.

Appointments and Confirmations of Relevance for Higher Education

Several key additions to the Biden administration have been named over the last several months, including Arati Prabhakar to be the next director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Prabhakar’s nomination was advanced through the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee by a vote of 15 to 13 and her nomination now awaits full committee approval. Prabhakar previously led both the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

For an updated list of key administration personnel relevant to higher education, view Duke’s Office of Government Relations’ Federal Government page here.

The 2022 Midterm Elections

North Carolina’s 2022 primary elections took place this June and the upcoming statewide general election will be held on November 8, 2022. Since the 2020 election, the state gained a new congressional seat, creating North Carolina’s fourteenth district. Our office will be closely watching the races for both the state’s fourth district and Senate (which includes Duke University) as Rep. David Price (D-NC), who represents the fourth district, and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) are set to retire at the end of the 117th Congress.

As the election season continues, you can learn more about Duke University’s policies on voting, political activity and engagement with government officials here.

What’s Going On at Duke in DC and the Office of Government Relations

Duke in DC and Duke’s Office of Government Relations highlighted a mix of faculty expertise throughout this spring and summer. Event programming included a Beyond Talking Points series of briefings on pandemic preparedness – exploring topics related to the U.S. public health infrastructure and environmental practices – and a congressional briefing on the Blue Economy and ocean innovation.

On Capitol Hill, Duke’s Lanty L. Smith ’67 Professor of Law Joseph Blocher spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee at a hearing titled “After the Highland Park Attack: Protecting Our Communities from Mass Shootings.” The hearing was centered on how gun violence might be curbed following recent mass shootings.

Rounding out an event-filled summer, over 200 members of the Duke community traveled to Washington, DC as part of Duke’s reimagined immersive pre-orientation program. The Duke in DC office, located in the heart of downtown D.C., served as a home and central convening space for the first-year students, as well as faculty, staff and student orientation leaders.

Posted 10/06/22

Duke in DC Welcomes Two Duke Orientation Groups to the Nation’s Capital

Duke students at Arena Stage in Washington, DC (Lizzie Devitt)

Over 200 members of the Duke community traveled to Washington, D.C. this week as part of the university’s reimagined immersive orientation programs and QuadEx initiative. The Duke in DC office, located in the heart of downtown D.C., served as a home and central convening space for the first-year students, as well as faculty, staff and student orientation leaders.

The two groups – Project Citizen (led by POLIS: Center for Politics) and Project Identity and Culture (led by Duke’s Office of Student Affairs) – spent several days participating in enriching educational activities, including a special showing of the musical “American Prophet,” meetings with Duke alumni, and visits to the U.S. Capitol, embassies and Smithsonian Museums.

“The history of our country impacts how identities are valued and devalued in the present day. Creating an opportunity in Washington, D.C. for students to take in both the strengths of historically marginalized communities and the challenges these communities have navigated with their peers presents so many valuable opportunities,” said Duke’s Associate Vice President of Student Affairs for Student Engagement Shruti Desai.

Desai highlighted the value that the two programs bring to Duke’s undergraduate experience, “It teaches students to reflect, dialogue across differences and question their own assumptions and learnings. This experience is a catalyst to how we want students to take on their time at Duke.”

Henry Stephens IV, a first year from Georgia on the Project Citizen trip, added that the orientation programs’ emphasis on diverse thinking stood out to him. “We have so many different perspectives and I think that’s what makes us – as Blue Devils – so great,” he said.

The week was highlighted by several marquee programs including:

Duke students speaking with Duke alumnus and playwright Charles Randolph-Wright (A.B. ’78) after attending a performance of “American Prophet” (Eric Shipley)

A Night at Arena Stage – Students, faculty and staff from both programs gathered with over sixty alumni to attend “American Prophet,” a musical centered around abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s life and work. The musical, co-written and directed by Duke alumnus Charles Randolph-Wright ’78, is influenced by Douglass’s speeches and writings about escaping slavery and stewarding a national movement against racial injustice. Charles Randolph-Wright and members of the cast treated the Duke community to a post-performance discussion of key themes of the musical and took questions from the students.

Students hear from a panel of Duke alums at the Duke in DC office (Lizzie Devitt)

Alumni Networking – Recent alumni Elise Bousquette ’22, Kamran Kara-Pabani ’22, Amy Kramer ’18, Bryant Lewis ’21, Christina Oliver ’17, Ivan Robles ’20 and Janelle Taylor ’19 attended a dinner with the Project Identity and Culture students at the Duke in DC office. During a panel discussion with a lengthy Q&A, the alumni shared valuable advice on academics and student life, including how to maintain balance, find meaningful extracurricular activities and build community at Duke.

Students hear from a panel of Duke alums on Capitol Hill (Lizzie Devitt)

Tour of Capitol Hill – Project Citizen students toured the U.S. Capitol and then heard from a panel of Duke alumni congressional staffers: Leah Hill ’09, Madeline Perrino ’16, Sandeep Prasanna ’11 and Nathaniel Sizemore ’17 who shared their experiences living and working in the nation’s capital, how Duke helped shape their careers and advice for succeeding at Duke.

“Our Project-Citizen first-year orientation experience was an extraordinary opportunity for students to think seriously about how they want to engage as members of the Duke and Durham communities, of the states and nations that they call home, and as world citizens,” said Deondra Rose, the director of Polis: Center for Politics and an associate professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy. “It was an honor for Polis to be included and to have the chance to help inspire students as they embark on their journey at Duke.”

Tyné Kidd, a first year from Maryland on the Project Citizen trip said, “Visiting the Capitol building – even though I’m from the area – was a better experience with my peers because it has built my confidence and pushed me to do things I never would have considered, like reaching out to public officials in my home state.” Project Citizen also engaged their students with tours of several embassies and civic training with Braver Angels and the Close Up Foundation.

Project Identity and Culture’s Smithsonian tour – Project Identity and Culture students toured several museums including the National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of American History: Molina Family Latino Gallery, National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Joseph Asamoah-Boadu, a first year from North Carolina, reflected on his experiences with Project Identity and Culture saying, “There is so much history that gets left behind, so much history that people don’t talk about. It will be a priority of mine to tell people’s stories. It’s so important for us to know our history because if we don’t, history will repeat itself.”

Joyce Gordon, the director of Jewish Life at Duke who led Project Identity and Culture, highlighted the program’s overall value. “The trip to DC afforded students the opportunity to think deeply about and experience various aspects of identity before they embark on their Duke career,” said Gordon, “Through the lenses of history, arts, and the learned wisdom of young alumni, these students spent two days asking thoughtful questions and developing friendships to help guide them through their first weeks at Duke.”

Posted 8/25/22 by Lizzie Devitt

Back to School and Biomedical Engineering: Get to Know Daniel Reker 

What do you get when you bring computational and molecular biology, data science and engineering all together? That’s what Daniel Reker and his lab are investigating. Daniel Reker is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the Pratt School for Engineering who joined Duke University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering in 2020.  In his research, Reker uses machine learning and modeling to explore how drugs, excipients and nanoparticles behave once they enter the body. Duke’s Office of Government Relations asked Reker five questions about his work and its implications for the future of big data-driven protocols for precision medicine and personalized drug delivery. 

“It was clear to me that both [machine learning and pharmacology] were incredibly powerful and that a lot of impact can be achieved by combining them. To me, it’s the perfect combination of intellectually challenging questions that have a very clear societal impact.” – Daniel Reker

What influenced you to study machine learning and its applications in designing drug therapies? 

I have always been interested in both computer science and chemistry. Computer science enables us to design smart algorithms to solve problems and chemistry can explain complex, real-life phenomena from molecular interactions.  

My determination to combine these two fields productively led me on a winding educational path, weaving different programs that emphasized the computational or chemical sciences. This allowed me to learn a lot about these two disciplines and collaborate with and learn from amazing peers and mentors that helped shape my path. I realized that machine learning and pharmacology are specialties that were particularly fascinating to me since they enable the autonomous development of predictive algorithms and the design of molecules to treat diseases. It was clear to me that both were incredibly powerful and that a lot of impact can be achieved by combining them. To me, it’s the perfect combination of intellectually challenging questions that have a very clear societal impact. 

How does machine learning aid researchers’ ability to develop new drug therapies? What does your research and other research in the field mean for future developments in designing drug therapies? 

Researchers have proposed impactful approaches to use machine learning to improve all stages of therapeutic development – from refining our understanding of the disease to analyzing clinical trial data. Our work is focused on drug discovery, development, and delivery, where we aim to identify new molecules that have useful therapeutic properties, optimize them, and create carrier materials to ensure that the medication can reach the desired organ.  

Machine learning algorithms can learn from past experiments to predict the outcome of future experiments. This enables us to focus our experiments on the most promising candidates, and thereby save time and resources.  

Can you provide an example where machine learning proved useful? 

One particularly promising direction is the use of “active machine learning”, where the machine can ask a scientist to perform experiments that the algorithm is uncertain about – which are most informative and thereby can generate data that helps the algorithm improve future predictions. 

More recently, we have started to use machine learning to predict a wide range of other properties of drug candidates, such as potential side effects or ease of synthesis. Such machine learning models enable us to anticipate potential “dead ends” in our drug development campaigns and thereby de-risk the process. 90% of all drug development campaigns fail, so reducing risk could help us to bring more life-saving medications to patients.  

In the future, I believe that we will be able to combine thousands of machine learning models to predict all the positive and negative effects medication could have on a specific, individual patient. Such systems will enable pharmaceutical companies and clinicians to develop and prescribe the safest and most effective medication for every individual patient – thereby providing an important tool to personalize medicine and making pharmaceutical research and development more equitable.  

What findings in your research have you found most significant?   

The most significant part of our work to me is when we can see a “real world” effect of our predictions. For example, it is always exciting to see when our designed molecules change the behavior of cells and proteins in the laboratory. Other examples are predicted side effects of medications: many patients reached out to us to thank us for helping them better understand these issues and for raising awareness about complications that they or a loved one have been struggling with for decades. Similarly, I still vividly remember when we were treating mice with our computationally designed nanoparticles and saw them improving much faster compared to the mice that received the standard treatment.  It is this real-world impact that has drawn me to study pharmacology, and it is what keeps me motivated every day.  

What are you looking forward to most in your time at Duke? 

Aspects that set Duke apart from other institutions are the sense of community and the collaborative climate.  The work of my laboratory synergizes with many other scientists and, although we have only been at Duke for a bit over a year and started working here during a pandemic, we have already established seven collaborative projects with colleagues in Pharmacology, Biology, Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, and Immunology. Especially the proximity between the university and the hospital provides unique opportunities for translational research at Duke. 

Another big advantage for Duke is the incredible students that are smart, driven, and creative. These students drive a lot of our research and are also excited to explore new research directions. I have recently established a new class “Machine Learning in Pharmacology” at Duke that is very popular. We are also setting up a “Biomedical Data Science Master’s Certificate” at Duke together with some of my colleagues. These are just some examples of how we are working to further enhance the training at Duke. Seeing the student’s excitement and passion for the field is hugely rewarding and gives me hope for a brighter future. 

What would you like to tell students who are also interested in computer science and its biomedical applications? 

It is a very exciting time to work in computational biomedical sciences. Not only has computational power and algorithms improved in the last years, but we now also have access to larger datasets thanks to increasing automation from biomedical experiments. Maybe even more importantly, the quality of biomedical data has been dramatically improving and technologies such as CRISPR, cell painting, single-cell biology, and broader access to sequencing technologies are improving our understanding of the biological systems we are trying to model and treat. All these improvements have created a big hype around AI-driven drug development, which is currently resulting in rapidly growing educational and job opportunities. It is very interdisciplinary work that profits from many different perspectives, and I have seen students with many different backgrounds be very successful in this field. My advice for students is to seek out learning opportunities not in one area alone but in both biomedical sciences and computation as well as at their interface. For example, our laboratory has access to a cluster computer, but we also run our biological experiments in our wet laboratory. I have specifically designed our laboratory in this way to increase our scientific impact but also to provide a training environment where students are engaged in both computation and experiments. The future of our field will require scientists that are “multilingual” to translate between fields, identify relevant medical challenges, and tailor appropriate computational algorithms to solve them. 

5 Questions for Duke’s “Super Star” Cosmologists

Experts Discuss their Research and the First Captures from the James Webb Space Telescope

From the left: Michael Troxel and Dan Scolnic

By now, people all over the world have been awed by the first images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Cosmologists Dan Scolnic and Michael Troxel, who are both assistant professors of physics at Duke University, explain the significance of this discovery and its implications for the future of studying the universe.

What first influenced you to begin a career studying cosmology?

Dan Scolnic: I was struck in the beginning by the bigness of it. That we can be stuck on one small planet, at one brief moment in time, and understand things that are billions of years old and light-years away, was a huge pull.

What’s something you wished lawmakers (or the general public) better understood about the work you do?

First, that we are extremely appreciative that we have agencies like NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), that fund large projects doing cutting-edge research. And second, these types of projects take a lot of time, even decades, to pull off. Science, from the outside, can seem really quiet and then super exciting, like with the launch of JWST. But to get to that point, there are thousands of people working for many years, and this whole thing only works when resources are committed both to the projects, but also to the scientists who will work on and use them, on the type of timescales that this incredible new science takes.

Why are these new JWST images significant and what do they mean for our understanding of the universe?

What we’ve learned from these first images is that JWST is even better than we hoped, which is amazing. What will we learn? We know some things, but we also know that we will be surprised. We will learn about the atmospheres on potentially habitable planets, we will learn about the expansion history of the universe. But also, every time astronomers have created a new telescope that surpasses previous ones by this much, we learn many new facets of the universe. We weren’t sure something like dark energy existed before we launched the Hubble Space Telescope, for example.

JWST is expected to be the premier observatory for the next decade. What is next for NASA, and how are you/Duke playing a role in the next-generation of space observation?

We are working on designing the next flagship mission after JWST, which is called the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. While JWST is amazing at looking at a tiny part of the sky, Roman will be more like its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, except with 100x the field-of-view. This will allow Roman to find thousands of supernovae to map the expansion of the Universe and measure the bending of light from hundreds of millions of galaxies to map dark matter and the large-scale structure of the Universe to map dark matter and the large-scale structure of the Universe. 

Troxel and Scolnic in front of US Capitol during a March 2020 visit to discuss the Roman Space Telescope Program with congressional offices.

How has the federal government played a key role in supporting your research and advancing the field?

The type of projects we work on cost billions of dollars. They are impossible to do without federal funding. Every ten years, the astronomy community gathers to decide on its priorities for the next decades, and the government really listens to the outcome of this process and puts their weight behind it. That’s incredible. Our group at Duke is committed to these large, long-term projects built by the DOE (the Dark Energy Survey and the Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey of Space and Time), and NASA (the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope).

By Lizzie Devitt, Posted 7/21/22

Creating Pathways to Diversify STEM: Get to Know Shani Daily

Computer science and its products are undoubtedly a key part of our society’s future. As a result, it is of the utmost importance that we ensure diversity in terms of those who are working in computer science, as well as its effects on society.

Shani Daily is a professor of practice in Electrical and Computer Engineering & Computer Science at Duke University and was named among North Carolina’s Black STEM Leaders by Governor Roy Cooper this year. Last year, Daily and her colleague Nicki Washington were awarded $10 million by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish the Alliance for Identity-Inclusive Computing Education (AiiCE). The program aims to increase the entry, retention and degree completion rates of high school and undergraduate students from groups that are historically underrepresented in computing.

We spoke with Daily about this federal support for her work, her start in computer science and ways to attract the next generation of students to her field.

What influenced you to study computer science and its role in supporting diversity and inclusion? 

I have always been interested in building things (e.g., software, robots) that could support education. When I was in graduate school, I noticed a couple of things: first, there were not a lot of people in STEM who looked like me, and second, if STEM environments were going to be more inclusive, people would need the interpersonal skills necessary to work together. My work from there was either building technologies and programs to create more pathways for people to engage with STEM or technologies to cultivate emotional self-awareness and empathy. One example is a virtual environment where learners could program 3D dance partners. Another is a digital diary where learners could tell meaningful stories and see how their bodies physically responded to those stories. Ultimately, my dream is to be a part of creating an environment where diverse groups can come together to design computational solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. 

What are the ways we can use machine learning to improve the quality and diversity of computing education and what are some important factors when considering these interventions?

When I think about machine learning (ML), I think about understanding patterns. What we want to continually get better at accomplishing is understanding how DEI interventions influence the computing landscape. Moving forward, our interest is to utilize ML approaches to make data-driven decisions about the types of interventions that will best impact students.

Can you discuss the Alliance for Identity-Inclusive Computing Education’s (AiiCE’s) mission and how the Nationals Science Foundation (NSF) supports the program’s objectives?

The Alliance for Identity-Inclusive Computing Education (AiiCE) was formed to address barriers to marginalized groups participating in computing and create measurable change by increasing and normalizing course and degree enrollment, retention and completion rates of students from groups that are historically underrepresented in computing. The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) cooperative agreement provides $10 million over five years to enable us to establish a network of educators, policymakers, administrators, industry leaders and others to transform the computing landscape. 

Are there any policy-driven changes that you would like to see in the higher education system and/or how we prepare students who are entering the workforce?

Our work is based on the thought that policy can impact students’ abilities to enter the workforce. We also look at the need to change practices and influence how educators and administrators work to create inclusive environments. Specific policies might include ensuring educators, staff and TAs can adopt practices and dispositions that support inclusive excellence; expanding research opportunities to include agendas that influence social justice work; ensuring DEI policies and practices are a part of larger accountability structures; developing incentive structures to recruit, prepare and retain a diverse pool of computer science teachers (K-12); and providing comprehensive educator preparation and professional development programs that support identity-inclusive pedagogy and practices.

What would you like to tell students who are interested in computer science and engineering at Duke?

Duke is an extraordinary place with lots of interdisciplinary opportunities for students. The Duke Technology Scholars Program also provides unmatched support for students. I’d encourage students who want to develop any fluency in computation to explore the wide range of opportunities to engage at Duke. 

Posted 6/23/22

The Blue Economy: A New Wave for Sustainability Research, Innovation and Policy 

 
“Oceans are in transition,” said Dan Vermeer, “We know that both ecosystems and economies are changing faster than ever before.” 

This was the framing shared at the start of Duke in DC’s recent briefing for federal policymakers “Oceanpreneurship: Creating a Vibrant Ecosystem to Scale Ocean Innovation.” The conversation was centered around World Ocean Day, Capitol Hill Ocean Week and the 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference – all coinciding in June. The panelists discussed the blue innovation landscape and assessed how policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and universities can foster rapid development and large-scale deployment of these exciting solutions. 

The ocean economy has long been dominated by large, global companies in traditional industries like oil and gas, shipping and fishing. However, alongside these incumbent industries, there is a rapidly evolving ecosystem of startups using innovative technologies and business models to solve ocean problems, and sustainably use ocean resources to address global challenges. 

Vermeer, executive director of EDGE (Energy, Development, and the Global Environment) and associate professor of the practice at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, went on to note in his opening remarks, “The nature of innovation and entrepreneurship is changing as we speak,” said Vermeer. The blue economy covers a large swath of business – energy, food, tourism, biotech, fashion and coastal resilience – however, they are all connected by the ocean.  

After attending a United Nations conference as a college student, Daniela Fernandez, founder and CEO of Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA), saw a clear need for a centralized platform that provided “intersectoral and intergenerational collaboration,” to solve pressing oceanic problems. “The maritime industry has been around for a really long time,” said Fernandez, “what is new is the fact that we are taking the approach of regenerating and sustaining the ocean.”  

Fernandez explained SOA’s goal is to help accelerate “ocean positive” startups that aim to make a positive impact on the ocean. She explained that from wave-generated energy to ocean floor mapping, “we all have the same purpose.” One company that embodies this mission is Algiknit, a startup that focuses on producing seaweed-based sustainable textiles. 

Aleksandra Gosiewski, another panelist and co-founder and COO of Algiknit, drew upon her experience in the fashion industry to identify a more sustainable fabric solution. Algiknit is a startup that focuses on producing seaweed-based sustainable textiles. Gosiewski said that early on, “there’s clearly a need for more sustainable materials,” and companies that have set sustainability targets are looking for novel solutions. However, it is an early industry, with risk involved and specifically “when it comes to grants, they are also few and far between because it is a new space.”  

Mark Huang, co-founder and managing director of SeaAhead, discussed some of the issues currently facing the ocean and what policy and industry interventions are promising.  

“The policy we all know is hard,” but Huang noted that a ray of hope is the “changing is the power of the consumer and the public.” He observed that as consumers are starting to use their pocketbooks to drive change, we will begin to move the needle faster.  

Several panelists underscored the increasing urgency for both government and industry to act, develop frameworks and rapidly develop solutions to avoid more entrenched issues related to climate change. “You can’t improve what you can’t measure,” said Alexis Grosskopf, founder and CEO of OceanHub Africa, “we need to have a better understanding of what’s happening in the ocean.” Grosskopf added that all sectors need to get involved to better manage the ocean and design solutions.  

Among her recommendations to Congress, Fernandez outlined a need for more government funding and additional permitting for companies that enter the ocean space. She also called for policymakers to direct their focus to short-term targets rather than loftier environmental goals over the next several decades. “The reality for all of us is that we are the last generation that can do something significant to change the trajectory we are on.” 

“This is our responsibility,” said Fernandez, “and this is our problem, and we need to link arms and work together on this as a collective because we don’t have another choice.” 

Posted on 6/29 by Lizzie Devitt

The Pell Grant Turns Fifty 

Reflecting on the vital role this federal program has played for students at Duke over the years  

The Pell Grant, one of America’s premier means of providing financial aid to college students, hits a big milestone this week as the program turns 50 years old. On June 23rd, Duke joins the higher education community in marking Pell’s golden anniversary and day of advocacy. 

First created in 1972 by the Higher Education Act (HEA) Reauthorization, Pell Grants have provided aid to tens of millions of college students who are most in need of financial support. According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), the Pell Grant supplied nearly 7 million college students student aid in the 2019-2020 academic year. In the same academic year, the program also supported 14% of all Duke University undergraduate students. 

“Pell Grants play a vital role in helping all students have access to higher education,” explained Miranda McCall, the assistant vice provost and director of the Karsh Office of Undergraduate Financial Support at Duke. “Since the program began 50 years ago, it has helped millions of people in our country attend college. Duke provides robust additional financial support for Pell recipients to meet demonstrated financial need, and we stand with other colleges and universities in advocating for the doubling of the Pell Grant to ensure broader access to higher education nationwide.” 

Strengthening the Pell Grant remains a key priority for Duke’s federal advocacy agenda. Chris Simmons, Duke’s associate vice president for government relations, emphasized that Pell Grants give “recipients an additional boost as they make their way through the college years. It also offers a glimmer of hope and optimism, politically, as it enjoys strong bipartisan support year to year.” 

“While the support and program are celebrated,” said Simmons, “the anniversary is a good reminder that more must be done to support our most financially vulnerable students.” 

As the anniversary date of June 23, 2022, approaches, Duke has continued to reiterate its support for Pell Grants and advocates for doubling the maximum Pell Grant to the North Carolina Congressional delegation. We have also been supportive of the recent bipartisan, bicameral resolutions honoring the Pell Grant program.  

More activity and celebration of this anniversary will be found on Duke in DC’s Twitter feed and at #PellTurns50 on social media all week. 

A Lesson on FinTech and Cryptocurrency for Policymakers

Technological advancement over the past several years has brought FinTech and cryptocurrency to the forefront of our public discourse. While these innovations to both domestic and international financial institutions are here to stay, a select few individuals have a deep understanding of what they are and what this signifies for the future of banking.

Jimmie Lenz, an executive in residence and director of the Master of Engineering in FinTech and Cybersecurity at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, provides some answers for those who are looking to learn more about cryptocurrency and FinTech and offers advice to lawmakers as they consider legislation and implementation of regulations for the industry.

What is a common misunderstanding amongst federal policymakers about crypto and FinTech?

I could write a book about each of these, maybe several. Probably the most pronounced misconception around FinTech is that this is something new. I feel like I’ve been working in FinTech during my over two-decade career in financial services. Crypto is a bit different, this is quite new and should be approached, as with any new technology, with an eye toward the future opportunities that it may facilitate.

What are the primary considerations lawmakers should keep in mind when shaping legislation and regulations?

Understanding that these are both delivering products and services that are new, and that they likely will not conform to historic notions. Understanding the offerings that these technologies provide, as well as the technologies themselves, is of paramount importance. Trying to shape legislation based on anything less than a good working understanding could be quite catastrophic.

What does the Biden administration’s executive order on cryptocurrencies get right, get wrong, and/or leave unaddressed?

Let’s face it, this executive order was pretty light in terms of tone and direction, which is certainly better than uninformed legislation, but at this point in time, it should have been a bit more concise. There are a number of agencies that this [responsibility] has been pushed to, and that’s likely to end in more of the same regulatory agency posturing that we’ve seen before. It would be great if a few legislators on both sides of the aisle could look at the morass of regulatory agencies and possibly use this as an opportunity to start to move into the 21st century.

In your eyes, what does the future hold in terms of how we exchange money and protect consumer privacy?

These are two vastly different questions in my mind. Privacy involves ownership, in this case of personal data. Like other assets that one owns: it can be sold, traded and sometimes stolen; it has value and like all valuable assets there is a market for it. “Money” whether fiat, crypto, or something else is a store of value and technology has allowed these stores of value to be exchanged in different ways. As we have seen, this has facilitated people around the world at times of emergency, to exchange currency quickly, but there are opportunities to make commerce much more efficient and remove the “frictions” that often hamper trade.

What are the concerns if the U.S. doesn’t craft a comprehensive, well-informed policy around these topics?

There are two in my mind. The first is the competitive edge we will lose along with the companies and people that are developing these technologies. The second is the benefits that society will lose out on – this goes for government too – in delaying the use of things like digital currencies, digital wallets, etc.

What are privacy and corruption concerns if crypto is primarily regulated by the private sector?

People vote with their feet. If they are concerned, they simply won’t use a particular service, we’ve seen this time and again. My concern over regulation is that it will favor the legacy firms at the cost of new products and services being made available to the widest array of people.

By Lizzie Devitt, 6/8/22

Investing in the Environment Today, Mitigating Tomorrow’s Pandemic

The question of how we can prevent and mitigate the effects of future pandemics has a down-to-earth answer – protect the environment. Duke researchers Stuart Pimm, Bill Pan and Dana Pasquale spoke to a virtual audience of professionals from Washington, D.C. on May 9th to discuss key insights about the adverse consequences arising from climate change, deforestation, wildlife trade, urbanization and other global environmental and animal health threats.

As Congress works on bipartisan legislation to prepare for the next pandemic, Stuart Pimm, the Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology, listed several threats he thinks are important to recognize for the future. “Many disease vectors… are moving north and can begin to enter the U.S., fringes of Europe and certainly China,” Pimm noted, “we are an increasingly urbanized society,” and are continuing to be more mobile through migration and travel.

“These risks are completely independent from science and medical technology being able to address emerging disease…it is mostly riven by environmental, anthropogenic-environmental change.

Bill pan

The panelists outlined several additional factors – agriculture practices, illegal gold mining and logging – that also will exacerbate society’s risks of encountering new pathogens.

“These risks are completely independent from science and medical technology being able to address emerging disease,” Pan said, “it is mostly driven by environmental, anthropogenic-environmental change.” As a result, efforts to curb or stop these practices would have a great impact on the prevention of future pandemics.

By observing the COVID-19 pandemic response, researchers have also drawn conclusions about how we can better prepare for future disease outbreaks. Duke Assistant Professor in Population Health Sciences Dana Pasquale explained that while a vaccine is a helpful tool in healing from COVID-19, “the next pandemic will be underway before a vaccine is developed.”

Bill Pan, the Elizabeth Brooks Reid and Whitelaw Reid Associate Professor of Population Studies at Duke also commented on some of the other shortcomings of relying on vaccines. “The problem that comes in with the environment is that vaccines are an individual choice, but the environment is not,” explained Pan. “Climate change, deforestation and sea level rise all affect the population on a much broader scale. There are specific environmental interventions that we need to begin thinking about to prevent massive spillover of diseases… because vaccines will not always protect us.”

“As an ecologist, I think we need to recognize that there are some very straightforward, prudent, sensible and cheap interventions that we could implement.”

Stuart pimm

Pimm emphasized the importance of stopping deforestation of tropical rainforests – which adds an additional four billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year – as well as wildlife trade. “All of these are simple and cost-effective, and we have to think about these as a matter of policy to slow down what might be the next scourge.”

“As an ecologist,” explained Pimm, “I think we need to recognize that there are some very straightforward, prudent, sensible and cheap interventions that we could implement.”

From the local level to the global scale, climate and mobility jointly contribute to the rises and falls of pathogenic spread throughout the seasons. Pan highlighted that while illegal migration is typically cited as the main concern for transmission, “the fact is that internal migration within countries and even legal migration across borders are spreading diseases in ways that greatly exceed any type of illegal migration.”

Pasquale also underlined another risk, current agricultural practices which use antimicrobials to increase farm yields.“We’re doing quite a number to increase the likelihood of antimicrobial resistance… we know already that its heading to disaster and we’re not doing anything to slow down.” In addition, climate change, accompanied with defaunation and deforestation, will cause humans to encounter other animals and pathogens more frequently. Pasquale explained,“there will be opportunities for more novel diseases to potentially contact species that they never contacted before and in some cases, there will be a suitable host for that new pathogen.”

“Surveillance is a really tricky problem. It requires a lot of investment and resources… as anthropogenic climate change occurs, as the world warms, as people move, there has to be more of a focus on integrating animal health and environmental health.”

dana pasquale

In closing the three researchers provided policy staff in the audience with several recommendations and preventative measures.

First, Pasquale discussed surveillance and tracing of the potential transmission and spread of pathogens, which continues to be an issue even for developed countries like the US. “Surveillance is a really tricky problem,” said Pasquale, “it requires a lot of investment and resources… as anthropogenic climate change occurs, as the world warms, as people move, there has to be more of a focus on integrating animal health and environmental health.”

Closing with a call for action, Pimm stated, “Many of these things we can stop. Countries can suppress illegal gold mining and logging in their forests – they can stop deforestation and do this for the bargain price of a few billion dollars.” The important thing will be for countries, including the U.S., to implement strong, proactive policy and so these issues do not become insurmountable.

By Lizzie Devitt, Posted 5/26/22

Vaccines & Countermeasures 

Learning from COVID-19 and Planning for the Future 

In a short period of time, the world has gone through an unbelievable process of acknowledging, responding, and acclimating to a global pandemic. “[This response] didn’t happen out of nowhere,” explained Dean and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, Duke University School of Medicine, Mary Klotman, MD. “There was a broad base of fundamental work and infrastructure that allowed a rapid generation of vaccines that goes back 20-30 years. There is a need to keep that tech and infrastructure going as we anticipate the next challenge.” 

As Congress works to draft bipartisan legislation to strengthen the nation’s public health infrastructure and prepare for future pandemics, Duke in DC and Duke Health Government Relations convened a group of Duke experts to brief federal policymakers. The briefing focused on the importance of federal investment in research, the impacts from their work, and additional recommendations to bolster our nation’s public health, medical preparedness, and response systems.  

The April 11th event was moderated by Dean Klotman and the panelists included Tom Denny, MSc, M.Phil, the chief operating officer of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI) and professor of medicine at the Duke University Medical Center; Christina Silcox, PhD, digital health policy fellow at the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy; and Tony Moody, MD, professor of pediatrics and immunology at Duke University Medical Center and DHVI member.  

Vaccines are one of the most critical public health investments needed to protect us from current and emerging infectious diseases. DHVI has been a global leader in vaccine research since the 1980s, addressing global health issues such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, influenza and zika. Reflecting on some of the successes from the pandemic, Denny noted, “the fact that we identified a pathogen and were able to provide multiple vaccine candidates with EUA (emergency use authorizations) approval was truly amazing,” while also stressing the need for more countermeasures. 

“One of the things the vaccine institute (DHVI) is working on, with funding from the NIH (National Institutes of Health), is a new generation of pan-coronavirus vaccine,” said Denny. This vaccine, which would provide broad coverage for several SARS-like pathogens along with a separate flu vaccine that Duke is working on, could work in tandem to provide protection for a number of illnesses over time. As a result, Denny stated, “There is reason to be optimistic, but we can’t take our foot off the pedal.” 

Also critical to the pandemic response are public health interventions including testing, screening, treatments, infrastructure-based mitigation, technology and more. The Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy has offered pioneering policy expertise to address the COVID-19 pandemic and to create a pathway to reopen the nation successfully and create a more secure health care system.  

Silcox emphasized, “The hard science around identifying the virus, making the vaccine and inventing the test is really only the first step.” Building up implementation, the delivery system, data infrastructure, and most importantly communication and trust are key to managing the pandemic on a global scale.  

“We focus on the biomedical science, and often forget about the social science,” added Klotman. 

Silcox pointed to a real need for researchers and policymakers to “understand the different subpopulations and attitudes throughout the United States and learn how to communicate with them.”  

Lessons Learned 

Denny stressed the importance of maintaining a flexible, growth mindset around emerging findings and building better efforts around the global surveillance of viruses and testing.  

Moody added that the pandemic highlighted existing challenges in our global infrastructure. “We have a globally interdependent economy, and supply chain was an incredible issue,” he stated, “which we have to plan for and deal with. We learned to be flexible.” 

Manufacturing capacity, central reporting for at-home tests, and the lack of ability to alert people who are at high-risk were challenges in the pandemic response and critical to plan for in the future. “We also need to find a way to make testing less logistically complicated,” said Silcox.  

An underappreciated aspect of the pandemic response is the importance of investing in data and infrastructure. “If you’re going to make policy decisions,” said Moody, “you need the best data you can get your hands on.” 

The panelists agreed that ventilation requires more attention when it comes to future mitigation strategies. “There are a lot of benefits to focusing on ventilation, but we need to make sure there is equity,” explained Silcox. Many high-risk settings including nursing homes, prisons, and schools have aging infrastructure where the ventilation is not good. She also added that “wastewater testing has been invaluable,” and provides an early warning sign that over-the-counter testing can’t provide.  

Policy and Next Steps 

As Congress and the Biden administration consider how to develop strong policies to prepare for future pandemic threats, Moody emphasized communication and investment in infrastructure are key.  

“You build a fire station for the size of the fire you want to contain,” said Moody, “you can’t decide to build the fire station when the fire starts, you have to build it upfront.” We need to “learn from this and build on this, otherwise we are going to be in a situation during the next pandemic where we are recreating all the things, we just spent two years creating,” he explained.  

When it comes to public mistrust and misunderstanding, clear and consistent communication is critical. “If we don’t communicate with the public in an effective way, we won’t make much progress,” added Klotman.  

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