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From a doctor-turned-mathematician to an art historian teaching politics, meet some of Duke's newest faculty

For the Class of 2021, the first semester at Duke may feel too fast. Some new faculty members also appear to echo that sentiment.

This semester, Duke welcomed many new faculty members from a number of fields. These new figures on campus noted that the University is a place that emphasizes both theory and practice, fosters collaboration across disciplines and allows individual development for every faculty member. 

Simon Miles

“Duke provides me with a space to do my work, to collaborate with other scholars and to enjoy what are all here to do, which is to learn,” said Simon Miles, assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, who joined the Duke faculty this semester. 

He studies international politics through the lens of history. In particular, Miles said he focuses on how the Cold War has influenced the contemporary global political structure, approaching politics and policy-making through in-depth case studies of historical events. Miles has mastered several Slavic languages and conducted research in multiple Eastern European countries. 

“When it comes to international relations, the only evidence we have to make most of our assessment is from the past,” he said. “[Studying politics through history] has enabled me to situate myself right in the machinery of policymaking.”

Miles is also a faculty affiliate of the American Grand Strategy Program, which was one of the reasons he chose to teach at Duke. He noted that the program attracts enthusiastic students and faculty members from different disciplines who share similar interests. 

Currently organizing the American Grand Strategy Program’s latest speaker series that focuses on how history affects international security, he aims to bring more foreign policy historians like himself onto the campus. 

Gustavo Monteiro Silva

Duke is a place where students and faculties grow as a unit, said Gustavo Monteiro Silva, an assistant professor who joined the biology department this semester. 

“I was welcomed not only by the colleagues in my own department, but also by [Dean Valerie Ashby], [Provost Sally Kornbluth] and even [President Vincent Price],” he said. “Duke has been embracing me as a new member and made me feel I belong.”

Silva said he has started to build his lab and research team to study the different roles of ubiquitin, a small protein that gets its name from the word ubiquitous, referring to its prevalence in the tissues of various organisms.

Ubiquitin is known as the “kiss of death” because when it binds to other proteins, it will trigger their degradation, Silva explained. But he has discovered that ubiquitin also influences how proteins are produced and how they respond to cellular stress.

“Our cells are constantly exposed to stress through pollutants, UV radiation and food we intake, for example,” he said. “And cellular stress can lead to severe diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and the development of cancers too.”

Silva said he ultimately aims to enhance the resistance of cells to stress by first decoding and later manipulating the multiple functions of ubiquitin.

Born and educated in Brazil, Silva came to the United States for a postdoctoral program at New York University. He shared that he had never expected to become a professor at an international research institute such as Duke before that. 

“Everywhere I go, I meet talented people who deserve to be part of a university like Duke but cannot because they lack the resources and networks that can endorse them,” Silva said. 

Silva added that he chose to come to Duke because on top of its prestigious research program, the University also encourages diversity and inclusiveness for racial, ethnic, gender and other minorities. During his career here, Silva hopes to become a role model and help disadvantaged students to access high-quality education and the academic resources available. 

“Duke is where I can see myself having a long-term career,” Silva said. “We should talk in a few years and we will see the new stories I will have to tell.”

Hau-Tieng Wu

Hau-Tieng Wu, a newly hired associate professor mathematics and statistical science, said his career at Duke perfectly combines his interest in the two fields. 

Trained as a physician, Wu was captured by the spikes and dips on the electrocardiogram during his rotation at a hospital in Taiwan. He thought that there might be a bigger story behind the constantly changing diagrams. 

“Physicians usually make diagnoses based on a snapshot of patients' information or their historical records, which is a snapshot of the patient,” Wu said. “But human bodies are dynamic and information exchanges happen in our bodies from time to time.”

After earning his Ph.D. in mathematics at Princeton, Wu resumed his research in physiological and medical research with analytical tools. Wu shared that he aims to provide new solutions to clinical challenges by studying continuous and high-dimensional time-series data on human health.

Recent advancements in digital technology have enabled scientists to record extra long-term continuous data, which was not common five or 10 years ago, he noted.

“Recording how a human body changes over time provides another dimension of information,” Wu said. “It enriches physicians’ understanding [of the patients].”

Wu was recruited via the Quantitative Initiative, a program launched by Provost Sally Kornbluth to promote biomedical research through a quantitative approach and to encourage collaboration between Duke Health and other departments in the University. 

Duke has dedicated itself to interdisciplinary research and created a platform for experts in different fields to communicate intimately, Wu said. This atmosphere motivated him to pursue a professional career at Duke. 

“There will be a limit to their studies if researchers keep working on their own,” Wu said. “I would say [interdisciplinary study] is the key for the future.”

Paul Jaskot 

Want to learn about politics through art? Use digital technology to study architectures? A new art history professor Paul Jaskot might have some answers. 

“When we think about politics in art, we usually only think about who pays for the work of art,” Jaskot, professor of art, art history and visual studies, said. “We rarely consider the active role of art itself in the political process.”

Architecture is an especially good medium to learn about politics, he explained. For example, skyscrapers in New York are not only artistically valuable, but also by studying skyscrapers and their histories, scholars can learn more about zoning legislation, labor politics and development and political economy on the global level.

Jaskot will teach a course on politics and modern architecture next semester. He noted that he hopes to engage in students from different fields on campus.

“Art is not something you do on vacation or read about on Saturday afternoon when relaxing,” Jaskot said. “Art in our history is part of society and touches us in a lot of different ways in our daily life.”

Jaskot is now also the director of Duke’s Wired! Lab for Digital Art History and Visual Culture, a program that encourages researchers to study art history though computational analysis and big data. 

Art history has encountered new questions in the digital age, Jaskot said. Art historians have started to study large-scaler urbanism or a painting among a million others on the art market. 

“Computational methods help us scaling up the questions when traditional research approaches may not be applicable,” Jaskot said.

Jaskot noted that he came to Duke after living in Chicago for more than 30 years because what Duke offers—its vision on digital art history, emphasis on research and collegial support—is unique. 

“Chicago is a dream for architectural historians, but Duke allows me to make an impact, hopefully on a much broader level,” Jaskot said. “I just cannot pass up this opportunity.”

Steve Roady

After decades of law practice and involvement in federal court cases and advocacy work, Steve Roady, Law School ’76, came back to Duke as a professor of the practice of law at Duke Law School and as a faculty fellow in the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. 

Specializing in ocean-related environmental policy-making, Roady has had a long career as a lawyer at Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest environmental law organization. 

Roady said that he hopes to enrich students' knowledge about environmental policy using his real life experience to illustrate both successful examples and challenges he faced during his career. 

Holding a joint appointment at the Law School and the Nicholas Institute, Roady said that working with experienced faculty members from both sides will provide insights to solve large-scale environmental issues such as sea level rise and seabed mining regulations. 

“Duke now has a tremendous amount of world-class scholarship [in environmental policy making], and there is a heightened awareness about various pressing environmental issues,” Roady said. “This was not the case when I was [studying at Duke Law School] in the 70s.”

The Marine Lab at Duke is another valuable resource for students and faculty members to engage in field trips and conduct their own research in ocean-related studies and conservation projects, he noted.

“I am struck by the fact that Duke is uniquely positioned in the country to deal with ocean issues,” Roady said. “I hope more students could come to explore these opportunities too.”

Ben Grunwald

Ben Grunwald, an assistant professor of law who joined the Duke faculty this semester, said Duke enables him to study criminal procedures from both an empirical and theoretical approach. 

Duke has a number of experienced criminal law faculty who are widely respected for their practices and expertise in criminal litigation, he added. 

Grunwald said he finds Duke to be a perfect place for him to start a professional career because many of his research projects focus on criminal procedure in North Carolina. For example, North Carolina enforced the open-file discovery in 2004, a law that requires prosecutors to present the evidence they have against the defendant before the bargaining.

The attorneys of defendants in legal cases are usually publicly funded, meaning that these attorneys often lack the time and resources to carry out robust investigation in all of their cases, Grunwald said. Legal scholars believe open-file discovery helps these attorneys prepare for plea bargaining and trial. But Grunwald’s recent study shows the adoption of the open-file discovery generated few observable impacts on outcomes of the criminal cases in North Carolina.

With a background in philosophy, statistics and sociology, Grunwald explained that in the future, he aims to include graduate students from other departments on campus—such as economics, public policy and public health—in his criminal law courses too. 

“It will be interesting to see how social science evidence helps us answer the big questions in criminal procedure,” he noted.

Leila Bridgeman

Leila Bridgeman—a newly hired assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science whose appointment will start Jan. 1—noted that she seeks Duke as being dedicated to bridging different disciplines.

“When I first looked at the list of faculty members in the mechanical engineering department, I thought the department was huge,” Bridgeman said, “Only later did I find out that many of them have joint appointments.”

Bridgeman shared that she aims to fill the gap between theories and application in the field of control systems and robotics study. 

“Some scholars have been studying complicated development theories but hardly ever apply them,” she said. “Others focus mainly on pragmatic questions such as how to make a robot walk but only rely on theories developed 50 and 60 years ago.”

With a background in applied mathematics, Bridgeman said she plans to use the most advanced theories in the actual development of control systems and reinforce the connection between theory and practice. 

She noted that she was also attracted to Duke because of its inclusive and diverse university culture. 

“Mechanical engineering is one of the STEM fields with the smallest populations of women,” Bridgeman said. “I was really impressed with the statement on Duke’s website that emphasize the inclusion of women and other minority groups.”

Also part of the Duke Robotics Group—a program established in 2014—she added that she looks forward to working with faculty members from other departments such as computer science and electrical engineering, as well as undergraduate students. 

The mechanical engineering department is also developing a robotics concentration for graduate students and potentially undergraduates.

“I am glad to be engaged in the Robotics Group in its early stage,” Bridgeman said. “It feels like I am growing with it.”


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