P. Lee Ferguson


Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Dr. Ferguson is an Environmental Analytical Chemist who joined Duke in 2009 after six years as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at the University of South Carolina.

Research in the Ferguson laboratory is focused on development of novel methods for trace analysis of organic and nanoparticulate contaminants in the aquatic environment. Specifically, the laboratory uses high performance mass spectrometry techniques (e.g. UHPLC-Orbitrap MS/MS) to detect, identify, and quantify emerging contaminants (including endocrine disruptors, pharmaceuticals, and surfactants) in wastewater and drinking water. Another significant research thrust involves the development of sensitive trace analytical techniques for quantifying and characterizing single-walled carbon nanotubes in water, sediment, and aquatic organism tissues. For this work, near infrared fluorescence spectroscopy (NIRF) is used as a primary tool for resolving these novel nanoparticulate contaminants in highly complex environmental mixtures.

The analytical methods developed in the Ferguson laboratory laboratory (for both nanoparticles and organic contaminants) are applied to both process-oriented environmental chemistry experiments in the field and laboratory as well as to toxicity bioassays (including whole-organism assays and molecular endpoints). The overarching goal is to gain an increased understanding of how emerging contaminants are transported, transformed and induce deleterious effects within aquatic ecosystems.

Appointments and Affiliations

  • Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences and Policy

Contact Information


  • Ph.D. State University of New York, Stony Brook, 2002

Research Interests

Environmental analytical chemistry and applications of high resolution mass spectrometry to trace organic contaminant analysis, environmental fate and effects of carbon nanomaterials in the aquatic environment, proteomics in environmental toxicology, and mechanisms of environmental endocrine disruption in aquatic organisms

Awards, Honors, and Distinctions

  • Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow. National Academy of Sciences. 2011
  • Outstanding Performance Award. Fundamental Science Directorate, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. 2003
  • President's Award to Distinguished Doctoral Students. Stony Brook University. 2002
  • Honorable Mention. National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship Competition. 1998
  • U.S. EPA STAR Graduate Fellowship. Environmental Protection Agency. 1998
  • Belle W. Baruch Outstanding Undergrduate in Marine Science Award. University of South Carolina. 1997
  • Howard Hughes Undergraduate Research Fellow. University of South Carolina. 1996
  • Senior Scholars Scholarship. University of South Carolina. 1996
  • Undergraduate Research Fellow, South Carolina EPSCoR. National Science Foundation. 1995

Courses Taught

  • CEE 493: Research Independent Study in Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • CEE 565: Environmental Analytical Chemistry
  • CEE 667: Chemical Transformation of Environmental Contaminants
  • CEE 690: Advanced Topics in Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • ENVIRON 390SA: Special Topics in Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • ENVIRON 393: Research Independent Study
  • ENVIRON 393A: Research Independent Study
  • ENVIRON 566: Environmental Analytical Chemistry
  • ENVIRON 573: Coastal and Marine Pollution
  • ENVIRON 573A: Coastal and Marine Pollution
  • ENVIRON 593: Independent Studies and Projects
  • ENVIRON 667: Chemical Transformation of Environmental Contaminants
  • ENVIRON 790: Special Topics
  • ENVIRON 899: Master's Project
  • ENVIRON 997: Duke Environmental Leadership: Independent Studies and Projects
  • ENVIRON 999: Duke Environmental Leadership: Master's Project

In the News

Representative Publications

  • Babich, R; Ulrich, JC; Ekanayake, EMDV; Massarsky, A; De Silva, PMCS; Manage, PM; Jackson, BP; Ferguson, PL; Di Giulio, RT; Drummond, IA; Jayasundara, N, Kidney developmental effects of metal-herbicide mixtures: Implications for chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology., Environment International, vol 144 (2020) [10.1016/j.envint.2020.106019] [abs].
  • Czaplicki, LM; Redfern, LK; Cooper, EM; Ferguson, PL; Vilgalys, R; Gunsch, CK, Investigating the mycobiome of the Holcomb Creosote Superfund Site., Chemosphere, vol 252 (2020) [10.1016/j.chemosphere.2020.126208] [abs].
  • Getzinger, GJ; Ferguson, PL, Illuminating the exposome with high-resolution accurate-mass mass spectrometry and nontargeted analysis, Current Opinion in Environmental Science and Health, vol 15 (2020), pp. 49-56 [10.1016/j.coesh.2020.05.005] [abs].
  • Phillips, AL; Herkert, NJ; Ulrich, JC; Hartman, JH; Ruis, MT; Cooper, EM; Ferguson, PL; Stapleton, HM, In Vitro Metabolism of Isopropylated and tert-Butylated Triarylphosphate Esters Using Human Liver Subcellular Fractions., Chemical Research in Toxicology, vol 33 no. 6 (2020), pp. 1428-1441 [10.1021/acs.chemrestox.0c00002] [abs].
  • McDonough, CA; Choyke, S; Ferguson, PL; DeWitt, JC; Higgins, CP, Bioaccumulation of Novel Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Mice Dosed with an Aqueous Film-Forming Foam., Environmental Science & Technology, vol 54 no. 9 (2020), pp. 5700-5709 [10.1021/acs.est.0c00234] [abs].