A Duke researcher explains the mystery of the cockeyed squid
Ph.D. researcher Katie Thomas is a visual ecologist—she studies animal eyes and how they develop and work—so you can easily understand her interest in Histioteuthis heteropsis. For the rest of us, though, and even for Thomas, the “cockeyed squid” exerts a pull that requires no Latin nomenclature to explain. “They do look really crazy,” Thomas says. “And there’s just a fundamentally interesting question in why they look the way they do.”
Really crazy is no exaggeration. The squids have two eyes, but the two eyes are totally different. One eye is a bulging hemisphere, slightly tilted along one direction of the squid’s axis and seemingly emitting a mysterious green glow. The eye isn’t actually glowing— it’s just got a yellowish pigment that makes it look like a child’s glow-in-thedark toy. (The squid, like many cephalopods, has bioluminescent shapes on its belly, so it does glow from there, but more about that in a moment.) Its other eye is far smaller, flatter, and slightly tilted in the opposite direction from the first. So, yes, really crazy-looking.
Interested in bioluminescence and vision, Thomas did an internship at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, where she had access to a treasure trove of videos of the squids, and their cousins, Stigmatoteuthis dofleini. She also used remote-operated vehicles to spy on—and even examine—the squids. After a lot of watching and a lot of modeling, here’s what Thomas, and her coauthors of the article in Philosophical Transactions B that shared the results, figure is going on. The eyes represent the arms race between eating, and being, food. The squid likes to hang in the current, deep in the ocean, head down. The big yellow freaky eye tilts up, toward the dim light filtering through to the depths. Against that sunlight, the squid tries to pick out the outline of something that might be good to eat; think of the easily discerned shadow of a bird against the sky. “From an eye looking up,” Thomas says, “increasing the size of the eye a little bit makes a really, really big difference.” A bigger eye means better eating, which means the squid selects for bigger and bigger eyes—facing up, that is. One strategy the prey (like the cockeyed squid itself ) use to outwit hungry creatures below is bioluminescence, which they hope makes their outline more likely to sort of vanish into the dim, shimmering light patterns. The yellow cast of the cockeyed squid’s bulbous dome of an eye helps filter out that bioluminescence so the squid can focus on the sunlight and outlines against it.
Meanwhile, the eye looking down is mostly scanning for that bioluminescence, and its job is to see broadly rather than sharply. Size doesn’t really help that enterprise, so the squid doesn’t improve its living much by making that eye larger. “For an eye looking down, the returns were much lower” on the energy investment of growing bigger, Thomas says. “So that eye just stayed average-sized over time.”
As much as Thomas enjoys the science of squid eyes, one of the great satisfactions of this project was the ordinary wow factor. “It’s one of those animals that you don’t have to explain why you’re interested in it,” she says. “You want to explain why that crazy animal exists.”
Speakers & Stage
Charles Murray, whose thwarted appearance at Middlebury College in early March sparked voluminous debate about free speech on college campuses, spoke just a few weeks later at the Doris Duke Center. Murray had spoken previously at the university, in 2013— an appearance that prompted a student walkout because of his controversial claims linking intelligence, race, and genetics. This year’s talk engendered little controversy. “You are living a life that is in a bubble,” Murray said to the audience. “And I go through all of this not to indict you—there’s nothing wrong with being around people who share your taste and preference. It’s important in many ways to want those common bonds. But the problem is it leads to condescension and disdain, and sometimes it leads to contempt.”
With the public’s trust in journalism eroded more than ever before, Ted Koppel, the longtime anchor of ABC’s Nightline, spoke at the behest of the Sanford School and DeWitt Wallace Center about what the future of the industry looks like. “We need objective reality,” he told the audience. “We need objective reporting.”
The Duke University Program in American Grand Strategy had a productive semester of speakers. Among them were Keith Alexander, former commander of U.S. Cyber Command and former director of the National Security Agency; Rosa Brooks, columnist for Foreign Policy and senior fellow at New America; Jared Cohen, former adviser to both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton and current president of technology incubator Jigsaw; Colin Kahl, former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and deputy assistant to President Barack Obama; Christopher Kirchhoff, former director for strategic planning at the National Security Council; Joseph S. Nye Jr., former chair of the National Intelligence Council; and Kurt Tidd, current commander of U.S. Southern Command, in conversation with Martin Dempsey A.M. ’84, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Vote on the new Trinity curriculum postponed
The new Trinity curriculum, on which faculty members have been working since 2014, will need, it turns out, a little more work.
The current Trinity curriculum was instituted in 2000, and since then Duke has offered many new programs and approaches—DukeEngage and Bass Connections, for example, have significantly changed what Duke undergraduates can do. So in 2014, the Arts & Sciences Council asked the Imagining the Duke Curriculum Committee to think about ways the curriculum could be simplified while still challenging students.
Everybody got busy. In 2016, after more than 200 meetings with faculty groups large and small, the committee presented the structure of a new curriculum, with main points including a two-semester course for first-year students called “The Duke Experience,” which would give all Duke students a common beginning. “How can students have a common scholarly experience, and how do they get exposure to all aspects of a Duke education?” asked Suzanne Shanahan, codirector of the Kenan Institute for Ethics and chair of the curriculum review committee.
Further discussion led to further iterations. The “Duke Experience” changed its name to “Frameworks” and shifted to three courses (one each in social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities) taken by the end of students’ first year, and the “signature core,” in which students had to take one course in each of five foundational areas of study, changed to “Foundation,” which required courses in three areas, one of which was a second language. The new approach leaned generally toward increasing freedom of student choice, seen by some as too limited in the curriculum in place since 2000.
But as the curriculum plan changed, not only did it not gain cohesive faculty support, the debate grew rather than diminishing in intensity. If faculty voted on it as currently conceived, even if the curriculum passed, it would not pass by much. “A narrow passing doesn’t feel great to me as a start for a successful implementation,” said dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences Valerie Ashby. So in April, the Arts & Sciences Council decided to postpone the vote for more consideration.
No date has been set for the next iteration.
David Rubenstein ’70 lends his name and a gift to a scholarship program
In 2016, Duke initiated the Washington Duke Scholars Program for thirty first-generation, low-income students. It includes a full four-year tuition for recipients and a summer session prior to first-year orientation that aids in the adjustment to college. And now it will be endowed for many years to come: In late April, David Rubenstein ’70, whose term as chair of the board of trustees ends on July 1, gave $20 million to endow the program.
The gift comes from a place of familiarity: Rubenstein, who was also the 2017 commencement speaker, experienced Duke as a first-generation student himself. “First-generation students provide valued diversity and talents to universities like Duke, but some of these students may need some help in transitioning to environments [that] can be far different than what they have known,” he said in a statement. “I know that I certainly could have benefited from such help.”
The program, which now will be called the David M. Rubenstein Scholars Program, will add approximately sixty students each year and eventually will support 240 scholars.
Anne-Maria Makhulu, associate professor of cultural anthropology and African and African American studies, received an NEH grant for her project “The New Financial Elite: Race, Mobility, and Ressentiment After Apartheid.” Kristin Huffman Lanzoni, instructor of art, art history and visual studies, was funded for “Jacopo de’ Barbari’s View of Venice (ca. 1500): A Digital Exhibition Catalog.”
Missy Cummings, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, was named to the new Federal Committee on Automation of the U.S. Department of Transportation. And Inderdeep Chatrath, assistant vice president for affirmative action and equal opportunity, was selected for the U.S. Bureau of the Census’ National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations.
Philip Napoli, James R. Sheply Professor of public policy, and Christopher Bail, Douglas and Ellen Lowey Associate Professor of sociology and public policy, were both named 2017 Andrew Carnegie Fellows by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. They were two of the thirty-five scholars to receive the award. Napoli’s work investigates algorithmically driven social-media platforms and what they mean for the future of media. Bail is exploring how Google search data can predict violent extremism as well as how networks and news sources affect polarization.
Bryce Cracknell is one of sixty students to receive the Morris K. Udall Scholarship, a program for students committed to careers in the environment or Native American tribal public policy or health care. Cracknell, a rising senior, is studying public policy with a concentration in race and poverty and a minor in environmental science and policy.
Rising senior Ashlyn Nuckols is one of twenty students in the 2017 class of Beinecke Scholars. The scholarship is for promising students who plan to attend graduate school; Nuckols, a cultural anthropology major and political science minor, hopes to pursue a degree at Oxford University in comparative social policy and eventually a Ph.D.
Rising senior Maya Durvasula is one of sixty-two students to be selected as a 2017 Truman Scholar. The program supports graduate study for high-achieving students likely going into public service. Durvasula is an economics major, minoring in math and undertaking a certificate in politics, philosophy, and economics. She hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in economics.
Emily Derbyshire, assistant professor of chemistry, received one of five 2017 Marion Milligan Mason Awards for Women in the Chemical Sciences.
Maiken Mikkelsen, Nortel Networks Assistant Professor of electrical and computer engineering and assistant professor of physics, won both the Young Investigator Program Award from the Army Research Office and the $2 million Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation Award from the National Science Foundation.
The Blue Devils and the Durham Bulls host their first-ever exhibition game
Since 2010, the Durham Bulls and Duke have been engaged in a sort of timeshare. During February and March, when the Bulls, the triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, are in spring training, they cede their state-of-the-art facility to the Blue Devils. And every April, once the Bulls again need it, Duke baseball retreats to the on-campus Jack Coombs Field.
This year, however, the changing of the guard was more explicit: On April 4, the two teams played in “The Battle of the Bull City,” the first-ever exhibition game between the clubs. To the untrained observer, it may have seemed like the Blue Devils were fighting for their squatters’ rights, but the affair was, in fact, quite friendly.
“The Bulls have been fantastic for us to work with,” says Brad Berndt, senior associate director of athletics, who coordinated the game with Bulls general manager Mike Birling. “It’s been first-class all the way.”
Those on the field echoed his sentiments. “This [atmosphere] was terrific,” said coach Chris Pollard, speaking wistfully after the game played on a pristine, eighty-degree evening. “It’s a beautiful ballpark, the surface is incredibly well-maintained…. It just feels like home to us.”
The exhibition, discussed for a couple of years, was logistically complicated—due to both teams’ schedules, no rain makeup date was available—but it held significant appeal for both sides. For the Bulls’ players, the game allowed them to hone strategy before starting the season two days later. In terms of game operations, their mascot, Wool-E Bull, could shake the rust off: His ceremonial first pitch, thrown to the Blue Devil crouched behind home plate, erred far from the strike zone.
Duke players, conversely, could see how they measured up against players at the next level—which they did quite well, with the Blue Devils actually outhitting the Bulls. (The game was played by professional standards: Players used wooden bats, not aluminum.) Berndt noted that should the event become an annual one, the opportunity to compete against professionals could be a nice “recruiting coup” for prospective players.
Perhaps the biggest winners, though, were the fans. Executive vice president Tallman Trask III, who helped coordinate a number of the previous partnerships between Duke and the Bulls, secured free tickets for the entire Duke community. For a town and gown whose relationship has been occasionally fraught, the symbolism of showcasing ballplayers from both wasn’t accidental.
Eventually, the Bulls won, 2-1, fending off a charge by Duke’s only locally sourced ballplayer, rising junior Aaron Therien. The Durham Academy graduate led off the top of the ninth with a double, only to be barely thrown out at the plate following rising junior Kennie Taylor’s single to right field. But despite the ultimate disappointment, the final result seemed apt: The school and the city were as close as could be.
A Duke professor answers The New Yorker’s call and wins
Vincent Conitzer doesn’t remember when he first entered the famed New Yorker Caption Contest, in which readers submit an accompanying caption for a wordless cartoon. Nor does Conitzer, the Kimberly J. Jenkins University Professor of new technologies and professor of computer science and economics, enter each week like many obsessives. “Sometimes I have nothing, and I don’t bother submitting anything,” he says, “but sometimes I have an idea.”
For the contest’s 555th installment, though, he had such an idea—one he submitted after “maybe five minutes” of tinkering. His caption passed through to the final round, a weeklong vote-off against two others, and after posting about the contest on Facebook and being featured in a Chronicle article, Conitzer was announced as the winner on February 28.
The cartoon can’t be reprinted here, but it’s pretty simple: two sharks are in the water, and one has a mannequin in his teeth. Conitzer’s caption? “The doctor said it might help me quit.”
It’s unclear whether a Duke professor has won previously. However, it’s unlikely: A November 2015 analysis of past winners (conducted by The New Yorker) showed just twelve that hailed from North Carolina. Even without that distinction, it’s an impressive feat to beat out the more than 5,000 other weekly submissions.
A feat that hasn’t gone unnoticed, especially among those appreciative of the quirky English language. After the victory, Conitzer got a note from President Brodhead.
Unionization bid fails
Last August, a National Labor Relations Board ruling cleared the path for graduate students at private universities to unionize. In the months that followed, a campaign was launched at Duke to do just that, setting up a potential conflict between graduate students and the administration, which questioned the appropriateness of unions in a collegiate setting. But by early March, the dust had settled: At least for now, there will be no union.
The February vote wasn’t without a modest controversy. The anti-union position received nearly 300 additional votes, but 502 additional votes were disputed—by both the university and the Service Employees International Union, the students’ representative— on grounds of voter ineligibility. After a brief deliberation, however, the SEIU withdrew the petition, claiming in an e-mail to the graduate student body that they could not “meaningfully challenge the Duke administration within a legal structure that plays to the interests of money, power, and influence.”
While the administration’s criticisms were perhaps unsurprising, concerns abounded from graduate students as well. Some questioned whether unified representation for individuals in departments with different intellectual missions, and with different approaches to engaging graduate students, made sense. The hurried petition process also drew criticism; some pointed out, for example, that the impact of unions on universities—let alone private universities—is unclear.
The path to future unionization, now, is temporarily but not permanently obstructed: Any Duke graduate student petition through SEIU won’t be considered for at least six months from the union turndown.
Four legacies remembered
After Albert F. Eldridge received a doctorate in 1970 from the University of Kentucky at Lexington, he quickly transitioned into a teaching role at Duke, lecturing on international relations and, specifically, the Middle East and terrorism— contriving and acting out scenarios with students in the Bryan Center.
Eldridge, associate professor of political science and director of undergraduate studies, taught well—he won, in 1993, the Howard D. Johnson Award for distinguished teaching within Trinity and, in 1984, the Trinity College Distinguished Teaching Award. “He engaged students in a hands-on way, in an active way so that students really identified with the subject,” said Lee Willard, senior associate dean for academic planning and associate vice provost for undergraduate education.
Outside the classroom, Eldridge was the first director of Duke’s Center for Teaching and Learning, an establishment focused on enabling a balance between teaching and research for faculty, rather than a tradeoff between the two. For a decade, he acted as associate dean of Trinity College. And, a Southerner through and through, he was the founding director of the Benjamin N. Duke Scholarship Program—for North Carolina and South Carolina natives.
Mostly, though, his exuberance defined him. “He was that person you instantly liked,” said Willard. “You just immediately had this sense of I want to work with this person. I want to learn from him.”
Eldridge died on March 16 at the age of seventy-three.
Ronald G. Witt came to Duke in 1971, teaching as Distinguished Professor of medieval and Renaissance history until his retirement in 2004. By then, he was serving as president of the Renaissance Society of America; in 2013, he’d receive the Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
His work repeatedly brought him to Paris and Rome. There, his tireless research— Witt, fluent in five languages, required twenty years to complete his award-winning final book, In the Footsteps of the Ancients—would eventually “single-handedly change the origin of the Renaissance,” said Valeria Finucci, professor of Romance studies. In short, Witt’s findings suggest Petrarch, rather than being the “father of humanism,” emerged from a line of previous humanist thinkers. “That is incredibly important for researchers,” Finucci said. “It’s important because it brings into conversation when the Renaissance was born—it brings in French artists.”
A mentor to many students, Witt earned the Duke Alumni Association Teaching Award in 1981. “He was a goofy person, with a way to entice the students, and they would love him for it,” said Finucci.
Witt died March 15 at the age of eighty-four.
Anyone who has ever printed a syllabus at Duke, or done laundry, or entered a locked building owes thanks to Joe Pietrantoni. “Joe Piet” started working at the university in 1970, and during his thirty-three-year tenure he revolutionized operations throughout the university—from bolstering Duke parking to cultivating Duke Stores to adding local vendors to Duke Food Services to, perhaps most notably, inventing the DukeCard. The associate vice president for auxiliary services was a forward thinker who improved life for everyone under the Duke umbrella.
“He was a true entrepreneur who ended up on a college campus,” said Wes Newman B.S.E. ’78, who worked for Pietrantoni first as a student and then for nineteen years more after graduating. Newman recalls his boss “winging down the hallway” whenever he came up with an innovation like the DukeCard, bounding with the energy of doing something unprecedented.
Pietrantoni, who received the University Medal in 2003 before his retirement the following year, died March 28 at the age of seventy-eight. “Nobody else who had a job like Joe’s ever [had received] that medal,” said Tallman Trask III, executive vice president. “It was just a statement about how much he cared about the place, how much people cared about him, and what an influence he had had over so much of it for such a long period of time.”
Craufurd Goodwin Ph.D. ’58 was a leader both in the field of economics and at Duke.
On campus, he was a faculty member from 1962 onward, working for five decades in the economics faculty and shepherding the growth of the graduate school. During his tenure as dean, he fostered support for graduate students and eventually helped write the book— literally—for graduate students on how to pursue a career in academia. He contributed to the launch of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program (now Graduate Liberal Studies), allowing for advanced degrees in interdisciplinary studies. Also a gifted economics teacher, in 2001 he won the Howard D. Johnson Award for distinguished teaching from Trinity College.
His field of study was indebted to him as well. “Craufurd was one of a small group of people who started the field of the history of economic thought,” said Paul Dudenhefer, assistant director of the Duke EcoTeach writing program, who worked with Goodwin for more than fifteen years. Goodwin was interested in how economics can play a role in public life. A past president of the History of Economics Society, he was also a robust writer and editor, publishing works about art and culture, John Maynard Keynes, and Walter Lippman, among others. He was married to Nancy Goodwin ’58.
Goodwin died April 20 at the age of eighty-two.
“People like [Bork and Scalia] have really succeeded in persuading everyone from the right to the left that we ought to do more historical research in constitutional interpretation than maybe we did under the Warren court. Everyone is pretty much persuaded that history counts, [but] very few people think that only history matters.”—ERNEST YOUNG, Alston & Bird Professor of law, on the rise in the idea of originalist interpretations of the U.S. Constitution among Supreme Court justices
“If you don’t have a diverse work force programming artificial intelligence and thinking about the data sets to feed in, and how to look at a particular program, you’re going to have so much bias in the system you’re going to have a hard time rolling it back later or taking it out.”—MELINDA GATES ’86, cofounder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on the dangers of having a lack of diversity among programmers and throughout technology
“The compromise takes basic rights from LGBTQ citizens and gives them access to accommodations that never should have been denied in the first place. So it’s a give and take just like when a bully steals your wallet but lets you keep bus fare home.” —GABRIEL ROSENBERG, assistant professor of gender, sexuality & feminist studies, on the North Carolina General Assembly’s repeal of House Bill 2 (the so-called “bathroom bill”)
“Digital dating is contributing to a divided America, where news, information, and even partners are gleaned from homogeneous sources that reinforce and reproduce specific world views that are becoming increasingly polarized. In the digital dating world, rarely do people say, ‘I am looking for someone really, really different than myself.’ ” —LEE BAKER, professor of cultural anthropology, sociology, and African and African American studies, on one of the potential perils of dating apps
Study shows regulating fisheries can improve things all around
In a rare but unsurprising piece of good news for the environment, market-based regulation can prevent the problem known as the tragedy of the commons. A study by Duke economists published in the journal Nature shows that regulating fisheries so that fishers don’t need to rush to get their quota of fish can improve ecological conditions, reduce waste, improve outcomes for fishers, and protect the fisheries themselves.
In traditional quota fishery management, fishers worry about getting their fish before other fishers reduce the stock, much like the tragedy of the commons model, in which farmers making sure their cattle are fed overgraze common land. Economists call this model “the race to fish.” It leads to ecological damage, as fishers accidentally catch fish they can’t sell and force the fishery to absorb a sudden and extreme blow to its population; economic waste, by creating market gluts; and danger to fishers who work in storms and unsafe conditions to hurry to their quota. The catchshare model, in which each fisher is allotted a certain share of the ultimate catch and thus no longer needs to race, has been shown to improve conditions in some fisheries. But without global data, regulators resist it.
Duke economists Anna M. Birkenbach, David J. Kaczan, and Martin D. Smith addressed that resistance by systematically comparing thirty-nine fisheries practicing catch-share management with thirty-nine similar ones not using that model. The results solidly showed the catch-share fisheries “slow the destructive race to fish and lead to improved fishing conditions,” says Birkenbach, a doctoral candidate in Duke’s University Program in Environmental Policy.
“These results across thirty-nine different fisheries underscore the broad applicability of catch shares and can inform the debate about expanding the use of market-based regulation in fisheries worldwide,” says Smith, George M. Woodwell Distinguished Professor of environmental economics at the Nicholas School.
Criticism of planned natural-gas-burning power plants slows down the project
After a year of criticism of a proposed 21-megawatt natural-gas-burning power plant the university had planned to build on campus in partnership with Duke Energy, Duke has postponed action on the $55 million project.
“Given the complexity of these issues, we will not be bringing a proposal forward for approval by the board of trustees in May,” said Duke executive vice president Tallman Trask III.
The plant is designed to burn natural gas to create energy and to use waste heat from generation to create steam for needs like university heating. As part of its Climate Action Plan, Duke in 2009 set a university goal of achieving complete carbon neutrality by 2024, and planners felt the plant supported that goal. Student groups and various other critics did not agree, urging Duke to pursue cleaner energy sources.
The Campus Sustainability Committee created a special subcommittee, chaired by Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions director Tim Profeta, to consider the project, and the group released a report in April. The report noted that it could not reach consensus on whether the university should move ahead with the plant. Some members were convinced the plant was a responsible way to provide needed power; others questioned the need to build the plant immediately and worried about climate issues.
The report recommended that ensuring that the plant has access to enough biogas—gas from non-fossil sources like hog waste—to render it immediately carbon-neutral “would constitute true climate change leadership.” It also urged the university to ensure that in any agreements it enters with Duke Energy, “specific contractual terms must be secured to ensure that the university is providing leadership on climate mitigation.” After some campus and community groups complained of feeling left out of the process, it further urged “more comprehensive stakeholder engagement.”
With the vote postponed, any eventual action on the plant thus will move from the desk of President Brodhead to that of President Price.