Meet Duke’s Newest Faculty Members

Meet Duke’s Newest Faculty Members

All the new faculty headshots

Fresh ideas drive universities, and one essential source for these are new faculty members across the university. They come at the junior and senior faculty levels, ready with new ideas and approaches to build on existing academic strengths and to assist Duke in moving forward into new strategic areas. 

“New faculty are the lifeblood of a robust and dynamic academic community,” says Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth. “As described in our academic strategic plan, our overarching imperative for the next decade is to grow, connect, and empower communities to enhance the creation, delivery and translation of knowledge. These new faculty will play a valuable role in accomplishing these goals in our core missions of research, teaching and service.”

Below, nine new faculty members discuss what motivates them in their scholarship and why Duke is the right place for this work. For more new faculty stories, see Duke Today’s new faculty series.
Scroll down to learn more about each new faculty member
Alberto Bartesaghi
Associate Professor of Computer Science, Biochemistry, and Electrical & Computer Engineering

Electrical engineer Alberto Bartesaghi, who joined Duke in July, spent the first 13 years of his career at the National Institutes of Health improving the imaging of individual proteins with Cryo-EM microscopy. He has a dual appointment in computer science and biochemistry with a secondary appointment in electrical and computer engineering.

“The field has changed completely from 13 years ago to today. Now there are many more possibilities.

I thought coming to a university environment like Duke would allow me to tap into all the different disciplines. Here you can talk to people in the math department, the School of Medicine, biochemistry, engineering… pharmacology is on this floor. There is a wider variety of things I need, but especially math, and computer science and engineering. They have a big role to play here.

The way I look at this, I think the School of Medicine has the problems, the different protein structures they want to solve. And then we have mathematics and computer science — that’s where the ideas and the algorithms, the technique will come from, and then there’s the engineering component of making that happen in a system that you can actually run and get results from the data that comes from these machines. I’m interested in trying to solve those problems. That way we can put powerful tools in the hands of the biologists and then they can understand everything that’s going on within the cell.”

Brandon Garrett
L. Neil Williams Professor of Law
School of Law

Garrett, a leading scholar of criminal justice outcomes, evidence, and constitutional rights, is also a distinguished painter. He and his wife, new law school dean Kerry Abrams, joined Duke from the University of Virginia.

“My first clients as a civil rights lawyer were people who had spent years in prison before being exonerated by DNA testing. When I started teaching law, I wanted to research those cases and work to prevent wrongful convictions — whether in low level crimes or death penalty cases. I’ve created a registry of data on DNA exonerations, filed briefs in cases, researched causes of errors with scientists, and worked with commissions and innocence projects in the US and around the world to try to fight ingrained causes of error.

One reason that I am so excited to be part of the Duke community is that my work has become more and more interdisciplinary and focused on public policy over the years. Researchers at Duke collaborate so well across the entire university – it is such an innovative place with people dedicated to making a difference in the world through their research. In my criminal justice research, I increasingly work with psychologists in my work on eyewitness memory and risk assessment, statisticians in my work on forensic science, and governance and finance scholars in my work on corporate crime. Many of my projects involve groups where I contribute a law and policy perspective, but collaborators in psychology and statistics and medicine contribute very different perspectives. These types of interdisciplinary teams can help us to look at problems in fresh ways and uncover new possibilities. I have also been impressed with how connected people at Duke are to the community and to public servants in North Carolina. For research to have an impact, we need to connect it to the public and to policymakers. That connection matters to so many of my new colleagues at Duke.”

David Gill
Assistant Professor of Marine Conservation
Duke Marine Lab,
Nicholas School of the Environment

“My research centers around marine coupled human-natural systems, focusing predominantly on how marine conservation interventions impact marine systems and the communities that depend on them. Drawing on tools, theories and approaches from multiple disciplines, I seek to answer questions like: how does marine management affect fish populations and the wellbeing of communities? What are the economic gains from conserving coral reefs and what are the potential losses from inaction?

Growing up in Barbados, I witnessed drastic changes in the corals reefs surrounding my home island. Coral reef management is not just about the reef, it is about the people. One of the most impactful experiences I had during my Masters and PhD research at the University of the West Indies in Barbados was interviewing hundreds of reef-dependent users. I heard first-hand accounts of how underprivileged people in the Caribbean were being negatively affected by declining marine resources as well as mismanagement.

The Duke Marine Lab has a strong focus on interdisciplinary research and teaching on marine conservation and human-natural systems, and these closely tie into my academic interests. Researchers here are producing excellent science on marine systems around the world, and I foresee my background and research ties to the Caribbean and elsewhere opening doors to collaborative research in these locations for both students and faculty. Also, I hope experience with consulting and NGOs would be useful for students who are interested in non-academic careers. In the short time I’ve been here, I have found DUML to be a supportive, close-knit community that is perfect for me as an early career scientist.”

Po-Chun Hsu
Assistant Professor
Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

A native of Taiwan, Po-Chun Hsu perfected his colloquial English by watching episodes of “The Office.”

“Like many high schoolers, there was a time when I was very fascinated with sneakers. I looked at the beautiful design and patterns on the sneakers and wondered what materials they were. Then I looked around and realized everything we have in our daily lives is essentially an outcome of a series of material innovation. This is how I became interested in materials science. 

My research looks to tailor the heat transfer properties of wearable devices. From applications in spacesuits to firefighters to everyday clothing, engineering the properties of materials can keep people—or delicate machinery—at the right temperature. We do this by engineering the nanoscale structures of fibers to interact with light or infrared radiation—better known as heat—in a specific way. This requires a wide range of expertise including material scientists, mechanical engineers and physicists.

I came to Duke because it’s a special place where there’s a variety of very talented people in the fields of heat transfer, polymer physics and biomedical applications. It’s the perfect environment to find collaborators and to find inspiration to further my research.  I’m excited about my work because I can see it having a practical impact on everyday life, changing the way we live within the next decade.

Sally Nuamah
Assistant Professor
Sanford School of Public Policy

Her award-winning documentary “HerStory” focuses on access to education for girls in Ghana and has screened at several film festivals. 

“Growing up in Chicago and attending public schools, I felt like policies were always happening to me, and I did not quite understand why. I made a decision to learn about how the policy process works so that maybe one day I could work to make it better.  There is no other mechanism more probable for improving lives and enabling people to have a future that’s different from their past or where they come from. The reality was that whether I was in urban Chicago or urban Accra what would help young people who are marginalized — especially girls — get an advantage, was education. It became clear to me that that’s what I was going to focus on.

From the start, I knew I wanted to study communities similar to the one in which I grew up. But when I returned to Chicago for graduate school, my neighborhood had changed drastically. Most notably, I went to a community meeting and saw that the neighborhood schools were being threatened for closure. The community members were upset because these schools marked some of the last public institutions in the neighborhood. It raised serious questions like when schools close what does that mean for citizens’ relationship to their neighborhood, to government, to democracy?

On my first visit to Sanford, I was given about 20 to 30 minutes to talk to nearly one dozen faculty members. I went over the time for each person I met with.  I just found each person’s work so important, interesting and relevant. I knew that these were colleagues that want to do work that matters to them, that want to do work that’s important. They care about the community that they’re directly involved in. That’s the kind of community I want to be a part of.”

Adam Rosenblatt
Associate Professor of the Practice 
International Comparative Studies

Rosenblatt and his partner Amanda Levinson have two children, ages 8 and 11.  He loves to read comics and graphic novels; a prize possession is a framed drawing by cartoonist Lynda Barry, who he says provides him with creative inspiration.

“I’m working on a book about neglected cemeteries. I’m interested in spaces where the dead are abandoned, neglected or forgotten. A lot of invisible structural support goes into cemeteries that are well-maintained. In Virginia, for instance, a lot of federal and state money goes into maintaining Confederate graves. Meanwhile, dotted throughout the country there are black cemeteries that suffer from what I think of as structural neglect. They reveal what my collaborators Brian Palmer and Erin Hollaway Palmer call ‘the afterlife of Jim Crow.’

Spend more than a few hours in a neglected cemetery, though, and you’ll find there’s someone coming there to mow, or to leave flowers. People care about these places — whether it looks that way or not as you gaze over the cemetery.

What excites me about this work is that it’s engaged and participatory.Working with cemeteries is an extremely tactile and accessible way of becoming involved with our public spaces and the stories they tell.

As a professor, I have the power to help shape student experiences. So it’s good to ask: What kinds of doors to I want to open for them? For decades now people have talked about theory versus practice. That’s boring and it’s wrong. We sometimes do a disservice when we present students with a binary — the classroom versus community engagement. I’m more interested in how you make sure both spaces are influenced by each other. How can the classroom and the community work in conversation?

I’ve always taught in interdisciplinary programs, but Duke is a bigger sandbox than I’ve been able to play in before. My students here have a tremendous array of interests, in terms of regions and disciplines.”

Rosenblatt was photographed in Geer Cemetery, a historic African American burial ground just a few miles from campus where Mary Sparkman, a cook for the Duke family, is buried. The long-neglected cemetery is now home to reclamation efforts by local community members, and Rosenblatt plans to get students involved.

Marc Ryser
Assistant Professor
Population Health Sciences and Mathematics

A specialist in improving cancer early detection with math, Ryser’s main non-academic hobby is ballet dancing with the Durham School for Ballet and the Performing Arts.

“Prevention and early detection of cancer is the focus and we’re trying to understand the transformation from normal tissue to cancer. The problem is that with modern screening methods we’re finding a lot of pre-cancerous lesions, some of which will become malignant metastatic cancer, while some won’t. Because it is hard to predict which tumors will turn out lethal, most patients are treated quite aggressively. The big question is: which of these patients are treated for a good reason, because they would eventually get lethal cancer, and how many of these are basically over-treated, for something that would never become symptomatic cancer?

For me Duke is attractive because it provides an ideal environment for my interdisciplinary research at the interface of medicine and the quantitative sciences. There are so many world experts in both areas of research, and there is a lot of data being generated — a very exciting place to be! By developing mathematical and statistical modeling techniques that integrate diverse data sources I hope to foster new bridges between the School of Medicine and Arts & Sciences.

I spend most of my free time on ballet. I dance several times a week with the Durham School for Ballet and the Performing Arts. When I go to the studio I don’t think about work at all. It’s all about musicality, movement, endurance, athleticism, art. I like the aesthetics, the rigor, the perfectionism. Your senses are completely overloaded. You have no choice but to be completely immersed in it.”

Caroline Stinson
Professor of the Practice of Music and cellist in the Ciompi Quartet

A native of western Canada, not far from the majestic Canadian Rockies, Stinson developed a love of backpacking, hiking and camping.

“When we gather for a concert, we are engaging in a shared, communal experience. There’s a communication loop that is continuous and feeds back and inspires both sides, the players and the audience. This has become really clear to me as I attend more and more concerts. I’ve always been focused more on the performance, perfecting it, the expression, depth and clarity of it and making something feel like something to the listener. To make them unaware of the limitations of the instrument and bring them to a place of experiencing the music. But recently I’ve gone to more concerts and realized what a gift it is to sit in a hall or church with a group of people and experience something at the same time that has commonality in all these ways, and yet completely different in terms of one’s personal experience.

We’re so isolated in our emotional lives. This is a way to live a full, emotional life together. That’s what excites me.

I’m looking forward to being in an academic community. It struck me during my interviews, when other professors of musicology and music theory wanted to talk to me about projects I’d been involved in, they were excited to talk about the music I was playing – and that’s just within the music department. It’s totally new for me to think about how my work can not only collaborate with other areas in the university but be influenced by, and to influence, people in other areas. And Duke gives me the space to think about the projects that have been in the back of my mind for at least five years, and to dive even deeper into string quartets and collaboration in my work with the Ciompi.”

Ismail White
Associate Professor
Political Science

White’s interest in political science stems from his parents: His father was a civil rights attorney and politician in Opelousas, La., during the 1960s and 1970s, and his mother taught history at Southern University.

“My research focuses on African-American political behavior. I try to answer why so many black Americans are so partisan, why so many are Democrats, over 90 percent — that’s an extraordinary amount of support. Where do you get 90 percent of support for anything? Especially a group of people so geographically dispersed; 40 million people and you can get so much unity in political preferences. It’s amazing.

The answer to that question seems obvious, you know, it must have something to do with race. I discovered a lot is race-based, but I explain that it’s also sociological, historical and even psychological. I seek to unify the explanation.

What I offer is an explanation that has its foundation in the role that the segregation of blacks and whites into separate racially homogeneous neighborhoods plays in enabling these norms of political behavior that characterize black support for the Democratic Party.

The bottom line with what’s going with black Americans is they are policing themselves and ensuring the Democratic support among black voters. The role spatial segregation plays is crucial; it sort of keeps blacks in these isolated communities, which helps facilitate this behavior. That creates a tricky puzzle for Republicans. They ask, ‘How can we get black support?’ Well, you might start with ending racial segregation.

One of the reasons I came to Duke is because of the large African-American community in North Carolina. Certainly North Carolina has its share of racial politics, and very interesting racial politics. I look forward to working in the community and getting to know the political environment here.”

Written, photographed and produced by University Communications
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