Distilled mentions of things going on among Duke researchers, scholars, and other enterprises.
February 9, 2018


The Duke Lemur Center greeted a new baby aye-aye named Agatha, after mystery author Agatha Christie. One of only twenty-four aye-ayes in the United States, Agatha weighed seventy-four grams at birth, or almost exactly one-sixth of a pound. Pick up your lunchbox bag of chips; that’s the weight of your baby aye-aye. Corals, like other marine animals, mistakenly eat bits of plastic; it turns out they may do so because it tastes good. The world for sea creatures is about sixteen times louder with people around than without them; scientists discovered this when the March 2011 tsunami silenced activity near a science center in Hawaii and they could benchmark current natural sound levels. When roundworms have to do without food, they resort to burning internal food, just like people do. Bonobos are nice to other bonobos without any expectation of quid pro quo; they just do nice things for one another. 


Brand compatibility—whether you like the same brands of food and drink as your partner—correlates highly with life satisfaction. The left and right hemispheres of your brain may have different strengths, but they communicate a lot and help each other out on an ad hoc basis. Everybody already knew humans had big “expensive” brains—that our brains require a lot more energy, proportional to a resting metabolic rate, than the brains of chimpanzees or squirrels or mice. But it turns out that plenty of other animals (some lemurs and tree shrews and even the pygmy marmoset, for example) spend just as high a percentage of their energy on their brains. But just try getting them to help your mom with her e-mail. Diseases during pregnancy that produce symptoms including high fevers have long caused fear of birth defects. It now appears that the fevers themselves, not the underlying diseases, may cause the defects. Three million Americans regularly walk around carrying a handgun. If you live in a state that makes it harder for police to exercise discretion over who gets to carry a concealed gun, you are more likely to be killed, to be killed by a gun, and to be killed by a handgun. At-risk teens ate less-healthy food and slept less well when they were exposed to real-life violence; teens not identified as at-risk slept poorly but did not show changes in diet. Both groups were more active after exposure to violence. It seems one rare type of neuron in your brain functions as the “master controller” of habitual behavior. It may be possible to control that neuron with drugs and thus change habits. Babies as young as six months old can recognize relationships between objects, and they learn more quickly when talked to about present objects.


Using quantum encryption techniques—like those used for quantum computing—scientists have developed a system that can create and distribute encryption codes at megabit-per-second rates, making them theoretically hackproof.  Inexpensive sensors placed directly on tires can for the first time monitor tire wear in real time. Printed, flexible electrodes made of carbon nanotubes set up an electrical field that can tell the thickness of surrounding material—like tire tread. Invasive cells evidently force their way into places where they’re unwanted. Like pushy salespeople, they put a sort of foot in the door and then squeeze in. 


A member of Phi Beta Kappa and a Benjamin Duke Scholar, senior classical languages major Gabrielle Stewart had pretty much tapped out the awards she could win in these parts, so she turned to Oxford, England: She has won a Rhodes Scholarship, the forty-sixth in Duke history. Seniors Meghana Vagwala and John Lu and 2016 Duke graduate Antonio Lopez won Marshall Scholarships, the 25th, 26th, and 27th in Duke history. Jackson Skeen, a senior English major and Robertson Scholar, has been named a George Mitchell Scholar, giving him four years to study in Ireland. Seniors Riyanka Ganguly, Amy Kramer, and Aron Rimanyi were named to the third class of Schwarzman Scholars, giving them a year to study in Beijing. Judith Kelley, expert on human rights, democracy, and elections, has been named dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy. Neurosurgeon John H. Sampson has been named to the National Academy of Medicine. Sampson is the Robert H. and Gloria Wilkins Distinguished Professor of neurosurgery and researches the use of the poliovirus to help the immune system attack brain tumors.  Three faculty have been elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: David Kirsch ’93, Barbara Levine University Professor of radiation oncology and vice chair for basic and translational research; Thomas Mitchell-Olds, Newman Ivey White Professor of biology; and Ana Barros, James L. Meriam Professor of civil and environmental engineering.  Duke Athletics director and vice president Kevin White is the chair of the new USOC Collegiate Advisory Council, which will work to increase collaboration with NCAA member institutions and promote Olympic sports.  The Duke Human Vaccine Institute has received a $12.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a system that will be capable of halting viral pandemics within sixty days.  The Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative (DCOI), created in 2009 to steer Duke toward carbon neutrality, provided $40,000 of matching funds to Durham nonprofits for tree plantings this fall. A U.S. Senate resolution honoring Samuel DuBois Cook, who died earlier this year, was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators to salute Cook’s six decades in higher education. Duke’s first African-American faculty member and the first African American to hold a regular tenured faculty appointment at a predominantly white Southern college or university, Cook taught at Duke from 1966 to 1974 and later served as a trustee.  The Association for Computing Machinery recognized Hai “Helen” Li as a Distinguished Member for contributions to her field, developing next-generation computer hardware based on the human brain.  The State Board of Transportation has named a section of I-85 running through Durham as the John Hope Franklin Highway, for the the Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree and James B. Duke Professor of history, who died in 2009.