2020-2021 Research Awards

December 9, 2021

Eight significant new awards for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering will support research in sustainability, resilience and human health

1. Mike Bergin: Building Air Quality Infrastructure in South Asia

illustration of solar panelProfessor Mike Bergin will lead a three-year, $2 million grant from the United States Department of State to create air quality sensor networks and research programs in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The project’s goal is to improve air quality and human health throughout the region by partnering with local governmental and private sector partners to improve air quality monitoring and public awareness. The project will build on a network of longtime collaborators from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur, and bring together many new collaborations with industry, governmental and non-governmental organizations and universities across South Asia.


2. Mark Borsuk: Building Community Resilience to Natural Disaster-driven Contaminant Exposuresillustration of a thundercloud and lightning bolt

The overarching goal of this three-year, $800,000 project funded by U.S. EPA is to assist communities in developing comprehensive strategies for building resilience to contaminant releases associated with natural hazards. The project will develop a generalizable and comprehensive risk analysis framework that links natural hazards and changing environmental conditions to the release, fate, and transport of contaminants. Investigators will collaborate with community partners to identify factors that may modify exposure and vulnerability of certain populations and include such factors in our framework to holistically assess health risks, and assist communities in translating scientific products into realistic and relevant management and readiness plans that promote community resilience to natural hazards.

3. Andrew Bragg: Sheared Stratified Turbulenc

illustration of turbulent air flowA five-year, $500,000 award from the NSF will support Andrew Bragg’s research into the basic physics of stratified turbulent flows, including the role played by internal waves in generating and distorting turbulence, the mechanisms governing the exchange of kinetic and potential energy between different scales in the flow, and the processes that lead to extreme fluctuations.

4. Carlson, David and Kafui Dzirasa (Psychiatry and Neurobiology): Multiregional Electrical Encoding of Social Aggressionillustration of a brain superimposed on computer screen

The National Institutes of Mental Health has awarded $3M to Duke researchers whose goal is to leverage machine learning to discover and validate an explainable model for neuropsychiatric disorders. Carlson and Dzirasa have previously used these technologies to better describe how environmental pollution impacts the developing brain—including the effects of poor air quality in an animal model of autism.

5. Marc Deshusses: Supercritical Water Oxidation for PFAS Destruction

Illustration of beakerSupercritical water oxidation uses high pressure and temperature to break down complex organic compounds into clean water and CO2. The overall objective of this DoD-funded project is to demonstrate the technical feasibility of using supercritical water oxidation for the complete destruction of PFAS in a variety of relevant waste streams and to determine and optimize the treatment cost effectiveness.

6. Andrew Jones: Co-existing with Bacteria in Biofilms 

illustration of hand holding a petri dishThe National Institutes of Health has awarded Andrew Jones $2M over five years to better understand how bacteria are fixed to surfaces including food processing equipment (and food itself) and how they react to antibiotics and antiseptics in changing environmental conditions. Bacterial infections cause more than 80,000 deaths in the U.S. every year, and Jones is seeking to translate his research into practical knowledge for clinicians and food and beverage manufacturers.

7. Manolis Veveakis: Modeling Geohazards

illustration of cracked earthA five-year, $580,000 NSF award will support Veveakis’s ambitious goal of developing an entirely new framework for modeling large-scale geological hazards. By developing a deep understanding of how various small-scale phenomena such as micro-fracturing, chemical alterations and phase transitions dissipate energy, Veveakis aims to be able to understand large-scale disasters such as sinkholes, landslides and earthquakes. 

8. Mark Wiesner: Advancing International Efforts to Develop Sustainable Materials

illustration of moleculeBuilding on global research collaborations developed over a decade by the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT), Mark Wiesner will now lead an NSF program called the International Network for Researching, Advancing, and Assessing Materials for Environmental Sustainability, or INFRAMES. The new five-year, $1.6 million program teams the leaders of CEINT with other US and international partners to create a “network of networks” to address questions about the environmental impacts of novel materials.