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From death penalty scholar to cellist, meet Duke's newest faculty members

Photos: Special to the Chronicle
Photos: Special to the Chronicle

Each year, Duke welcomes new faculty to its ranks. From a material science expert to a death penalty scholar, meet some of the University's newest faces. 

Alberto Bartesaghi

After spending 13 years at the National Institutes of Health improving the imaging of individual proteins with cryomicroscopy, Bartesaghi arrives at Duke an associate professor of computer science, biochemistry and electrical and computer engineering.

Bartesaghi is excited to transition to the university environment because it welcomes the convergence of different disciplines. Part of what drew him here was being able to interact with people across disciplines—from the math department to the School of Medicine.

“Truly interdisciplinary settings like the one found at Duke, provide a wider range of opportunities for collaboration that also include the humanities, engineering, as well as partnerships with industry," Bartesaghi said. "This opens up countless opportunities for truly multidisciplinary research and is one of the reasons that drew me to Duke.” 

He is interested in solving problems, specifically in regards to understanding cells and protein structures. Bartesaghi sees Duke as a place that will allow him to work with a variety people with different skills and specialties in order to solve these problems. Other considerations were material. 

"Earlier this year, Duke acquired a state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscope at the Pratt School of Engineering, giving researchers across campus readily access to this exciting new technology," he said. "This was another reason that made Duke an appealing choice, because having access the latest infrastructure in electron microscopy and computing, is a critical piece for the success of my research program.” 

Bartesaghi said he was impressed not only by Duke's caliber of faculty, but also the various levels of students, "who form the backbone of many of the research activities conducted" at the University.

“During my first weeks here, it became apparent that the spirit of openness and collaboration permeated the atmosphere across the Duke campus," he said. 

Brandon Garrett

The inaugural L. Neil Williams professor of law has been cited more than 750 times in a four-year span and is one of the country's most-cited law professors. 

Associate Justice Stephen Bryer has referenced his work, which focuses on the death penalty. According to his faculty biography, he has also been cited by the supreme courts of Canada and Israel. At Duke, he teaches a forensic litigation course.

His findings have been featured in his book, called End of its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice and in an article called "The State of the Death Penalty Decline."

Before coming to Duke, Garrett was the White Burkett Miller Professor of Law and Public Affairs and Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia. 

“Duke is a fantastic place to do this work because there is such a longstanding focus on bringing together researchers from different disciplines to collaborate,” Garrett wrote to The Chronicle earlier this month.

David Gill

From Barbados to the Duke Marine Lab, Gill has devoted his life to marine conservation. 

Gill, assitant professor of marine conservation in the Nicholas School of the Environment, teaches at the Duke Marine Lab. 

“What drew me to Duke was the quality of research," Gill said. "Duke as a whole and some excellent researchers and there is a strong focus on interdisciplinary research.”

He first got into marine conservation in Barbados, focusing on how coral reef destruction was impacting reef-dependent users. There, he earned a master's of science and Ph.D. from the University of the West Indies.

This inspired him to pursue a career in marine management that led him to the Duke Marine Lab. Thus far, he says that he has found the Marine Lab to be a supportive, close-knit community where he will be able to continue his research. 

“My current research is focused on ecological benefits and evidence-based insight on how we can manage and conserve marine populations in a way to produce sustainable outcomes," Gill said. "I focus on resource-dependent communities around the world, a lot of places that are undergoing a lot of changes as a result of ecological changes.”

He said that his academic interests are closely linked to those of the Duke Marine Lab, which are to target interdisciplinary research and teaching marine conservation.

“The research is very applied," he said. "What I do and want to do, I hope will be relevant to current management and needs around the world.” 

Gill said he looks forward to collaborating with students and faculty at Duke. 

“The people are very friendly at the Marine Lab," Gill said. "It's a very close knit community. I look forward to being able to collaborate with a lot of the research relative to what I do, both on the marine lab and main campus.”

Po-Chun Hsu

Hsu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, is set to start at Duke next semester. He said that he is excited to find skilled collaborators and further his research.

“I was very impressed by Duke's dynamic and collaborative atmosphere," Hsu said. "The major challenges we scientists and engineers are facing nowadays require multidisciplinary knowledge, and Duke provides a perfect environment of teamwork to brainstorm and solve complicated problems.” 

Hsu, who is originally from Taiwan, focuses his research on how to tailor the heat transfer properties of wearable devices. This includes applications in things like spacesuits, firemen's uniforms and everyday clothing.

His research aims to create innovative materials that can endure both light and heat. Specifically, he focuses on smart textiles and solid-state cooling, among more.

“I will lead my group to engage in research projects such as smart textiles, light-heat interactions, water desalination, polymer physics, and so on," Hsu said. "There are plenty of opportunities in these fields, and I am very excited to see what my group and I can accomplish together.”     

The inspiration for Hsu’s research came from a high school fascination with sneakers. Through curiosity surrounding sneaker material, Hsu was able to realize how much of the world was an outcome of material innovation. That's what drew the associate professor to his current field of material science. 

Sally Nuamah    

Nuamah, assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, recently arrived to campus following a post-doctoral fellowship at Princeton University. 

At Princeton, she was continuing research for a book project on school closuresshe began in Chicago while completing her Ph.D. in political science at Northwestern University.

“I’m excited to be here at Duke because a lot of students just have an interest in getting their hands dirty and getting involved in policy-relevant research," she said.

Beyond her work as an academic, Nuamah is also involved in advocacy for school girls and recently was the producer and founder for an award-winning documentary on girls and education called HerStory, which can be found on Discovery Channel Education.  

Nuamah said her interest in the arts comes partly because they are accessible to people, whereas an academic article may not be.

Her scholarly work is primarily focused on how policies—specifically in regards to education—impact people who don’t have a lot of money and resources. She looks at how this influences their perceptions of the fairness of democracy and how schools can prepare young people to access democracy.

“We see that whether in Chicago or in Ghana or in Durham people are facing very similar issues,” Nuamah said.

As for her time in Durham, she's already found a favorite spot on campus.

"When I interviewed I remember learning about how there was a garden, so during that time I went to the garden and I was like ‘Oh, this is great.'" she said.   

Adam Rosenblatt

Rosenblatt, associate professor of the practice of international comparative studies, is kicking off his time at Duke by teaching an interdisciplinary global studies course.

“International comparative studies is really consistent with what I’ve always loved to do—combining multiple disciplines for the purpose of understanding the world better and hopefully working to change it for the better,” Rosenblatt said.

His research revolves around people who volunteer to reclaim cemeteries that have been neglected. Rosenblatt specifically focuses on neglected African American cemeteries. Next week, he is bringing his class to Durham’s Geer cemetery to learn about his work and conduct field research.

Rosenblatt explained that he ended up studying cemeteries after accepting a job offer to work as a research assistant in a forensics program and investigating mass graves after genocides.

Since then, Rosenblatt has continued his research on how the dead are cared for, specifically focusing on cemeteries. Part of his research is attending community meetings and even physically going to clean up neglected cemeteries. 

“As much as I like publishing something, the feeling you get when you uncover somebody’s name, somebody who was born enslaved or who lived through Jim Crow or in Massachusetts somebody who was basically incarcerated in a mental asylum and never allowed to leave," Rosenblatt said.

One of his favorite spots on campus so far is the East Campus bridge because he rides his bike through there.

"Obviously, that's a place that right now has some painful things associated with it so I’m not excited about that, but I like spaces that are dynamic and allow student voice," he said. "Just the fact that anybody can paint and it's changing all of the time.”

Marc Ryser

Ryser, assistant professor of population health sciences and mathematics, has two main passions in life—improving cancer early detection with math and dancing ballet.

Ryser’s research is focused on trying to understand how normal tissue transforms into cancerous tissue and how to detect that transformation early on. A major part of his research includes the mathematics behind cancer and how to calculate a series of probabilities behind whether or not a cell will become cancerous. 

He was drawn to Duke because it fosters an environment for interdisciplinary research. His research, specifically, focuses in medicine and the quantitative sciences.

“With a cross-appointment between the School of Medicine and Arts and Sciences, I hope to build bridges between the two sides of campus, and to inspire the next generation of mathematical oncologists who use math to fight cancer," Ryser said.

He said that he looks forward to being able to collaborate with the world experts at Duke in both components of his research.

“For a cross-disciplinary researcher like me, Duke is a wonderful place because it provides a unique confluence of world experts in biomedical research and quantitative sciences," he said.

In addition to his multiple appointments at Duke, Ryser also dances ballet several times a week with the Durham School for Ballet and the Performing Arts. He uses ballet as an outlet to let go of work for a time and completely immerse himself in something else.

Caroline Stinson

Caroline Stinson, professor of the practice of music and cellist in the Ciompi Quartet, arrives at Duke after a career playing in several orchestras, string quartets and Broadway musicals.

On Broadway, she's planned a range of musicals from The Producers to Wicked.

"I did a lot of that, I played a lot of contemporary music in New York City," she said. "But string quartets have always been at the heart of what I’ve done.” 

Stinson returned to school at The Julliard School to receive her second master's degree.

At Duke, she will be able to continue to forge her path through her role in Ciompi, as well as independent projects and teaching.  

The Ciompi Quartet of Duke University is Duke's quartet in residence. It is composed of Duke professors who teach instrumental lessons, coordinate and coach chamber music, and perform across campus in concert halls, libraries, dormitories and classrooms. 

“Really, I came to join the Ciompi quartet," she said. "Late into the 1990s, universities began recognizing the value in having a residence string quartet. What universities found was that having four people who were this close-knit ensemble just meant that all of the work that the students did then sort of existed within a framework.” 

Ismail White

White, associate professor of political science, arrives at Duke ready to continue his research focused on African-American political behavior. 

Part of the reason he was drawn to Duke was because of the large African-American community in North Carolina, he said in a DukeToday story. He is curious to learn more about  North Carolina’s racial politics looks forward to conducting fieldwork in the community and better understand the political environment here.

White’s research aims to answer why African-Americans are so partisan. Specifically, he is addressing why more than 90 percent of African-Americans are Democrats, especially considering that they are so geographically dispersed. In his research, he explores race-based, sociological, historical and psychological explanations.


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