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2018 Duke Fellows

The Duke Energy Fellows program, administered by the UNC Institute for the Environment, is funded by a grant from the Duke Energy Foundation to develop leaders in the energy sector. The Duke Energy Faculty Fellowship supports one faculty member per year interested in assembling teams to pursue interdisciplinary funding opportunities on energy topics. The Duke Energy Graduate Fellowship program supports 2 graduate students working on energy-related research.

Meet the 2018 recipients.

2018 Duke Energy Faculty Fellow

AitkenMichael Aitken
Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering

Describe your research in six words: microbial processes in engineered systems

How will the Duke Energy Faculty Fellowship enhance your research?

The fellowship enabled me to devote time with a colleague from  Berlin, Germany, to prepare a proposal to the National Science Foundation in a line of research that is new to me, but which capitalizes on my general expertise in environmental microbiology.

Why does your research matter?

Overall, my research matters because microbial processes are critical to waste management, including bioremediation of contaminated materials. Understanding the key microorganisms in these systems and how to control their activities is a key to the success of the engineered systems in which we rely on them. The fellowship topic is somewhat tangential to my core expertise, but still involves understanding the role of microorganisms in influencing the efficacy of an engineered system – in this case, the energy conversion efficiency of solar panels.

Why is this fellowship important to you?

First, it validated that the proposed topic of research resonated with someone beyond me and my colleague. Second, as noted above, it allowed us to devote time to do the leg-work required for a successful larger proposal, including a full week of planning discussions and field trips to prospective facilities at which we would conduct the larger project.

2018 Duke Energy Graduate Fellows

Van Hoeck

Rebecca Van Hoeck
Ph.D. Student
Biology Department

Describe your research in six words: Monitoring soundscapes regarding offshore wind energy

How will the Duke Energy Faculty Fellowship enhance your research?  The Duke Energy Fellowship has allowed me to dedicate a greater portion of my time to data analysis and writing. I am also using funds from the Duke Energy Fellowship to present my initial findings at the State of the Science Workshop on Wildlife and Offshore Wind Energy Development in New York this November. This workshop is bringing together scientists and policy makers to promote regional collaboration on efforts to understand, minimize, and mitigate the effects of offshore wind energy development on wildlife.

Why does your research matter? The North Carolina continental shelf currently has one offshore wind energy lease and two wind energy call areas. Offshore wind infrastructure may serve as additional habitat and enhance marine fisheries; however, a concern is the input of noise into the ocean from turbine construction and operation. Marine animals make noises and respond to sounds that they hear to find a mate, avoid predators, and navigate to their preferred habitats. My research will document and compare the patterns of biological sound production on natural and artificial reefs off the coast of NC prior to the construction of offshore wind energy. These initial conditions can then be compared to future studies after development to identify impacts (positive or negative). The findings of this research will provide knowledge to support the continued success of the NC fishing and ecotourism industries, as well as effective evaluation of offshore renewable energy effects on marine communities.

Why is this fellowship important to you? I find the increase in offshore wind energy development in the US exciting movement towards expanding the use of renewable energy. There is great opportunity to enhance understanding of the effects of offshore infrastructure on marine communities and inform policies regarding environmentally responsible development. It is rewarding to have the importance of this research recognized through the Duke Energy Fellowship and to have the opportunity to build collaborations with other researchers at this intersection of ecology and energy.


ValenciaAlejandro Valencia
Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Environmental Science and Engineering

Describe your research in six words: Near-road atmospheric modeling to support health studies

How will the Duke Energy Fellowship enhance your research?
The Duke Energy Faculty Fellowship will allow me to relate my research to the energy sector. With this fellowship, I will look into how fleet mix electrification will affect power generation at power plants and how that will influence air quality.

Why does your research matter? This research matters because we will get a better assessment of the relationship of emissions from increased energy generation and an evolving fleet mix to local air quality and health. Thus, we can better characterize lives saved due to vehicle electrification which may lead to more effective policy that will promote clean air and improved health.

Why is this fellowship important to you? This fellowship is important to me because it will allow me to learn in-depth knowledge of the energy sector beyond the scope of my research.

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