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Catalyst Program Awards Funds for First Research Projects

Awardees gather for a kickoff celebration at Duke in September. Credit: Jessica Sheffield.

Six projects proposed by Duke faculty and staff have received funding from the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Catalyst Program.

Launched this year, the program aims to prompt and support expansions of existing partnerships between Duke faculty and Nicholas Institute staff on research and workshops. Projects connect Nicholas Institute senior staff with Duke faculty to develop new or emergent ideas related to environmental policy challenges at the federal, state, and local level, and they build on the core competencies of researchers involved.

"The university is awash in opportunity to bring faculty from all over campus together to tackle the critical enviromental questions of the day, but often just don't have the needed focus to pull the teams together," said Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute. "Through the Catalyst Program's yearly awards, we hope to lower these barriers and allow our staff and faculty colleagues to explore latent opportunities to ideas that create innovative policy solutions.

Funded in the Catalyst Program’s first year are:

One Belt, One Road, How Much Biodiversity?
One of Beijing’s most ambitious foreign economic development initiatives aims to recreate the legendary Silk Road. Originally nicknamed the One Belt One Road Initiative (now the Belt and Road Initiative), the project looks to create conservation priority-setting tools that will inform and evaluate the impact of infrastructure investment on biodiversity in tropical Asia, one of the areas covered by the initiative.

Collaborators: Binbin Li of Duke Kunshan University; Elizabeth Losos, John Virdin, and Lydia Olander of the Nicholas Institute; and Stuart Pimm and Jennifer Swenson of the Nicholas School of the Environment

Does Rural Energy Access Promote Economic Development through Improved Food and Water Access?

Despite a widespread belief among policy makers that energy access and reliability is critical for economic development in rural areas, empirical literature elucidating the mechanisms of a connection is mixed and limited. This project will pilot test methods to overcome the remarkable absence of evidence concerning the link between energy and economic development in rural areas by analyzing temporal and spatial co-variation in satellite and survey-based measures of the extension of energy infrastructure.

Collaborators: Marc Jeuland of the Global Health Institute; Mark Borsuk, Jordan Malof, and Leslie Collins of the Pratt School of Engineering; Kyle Bradbury of the Duke University Energy Initiative; and Lydia Olander of the Nicholas Institute

Developing Improved Small-Scale Fisheries Policies, and Building a Core Sustainable Seafood Policy Competency at the Duke World Food Policy Center

The newly launched Duke World Food Policy Center seeks to partner with the Nicholas Institute and the Nicholas School to launch a project exploring the intersection of sustainable seafood, food security, and nutrition, thereby laying the foundation for a sustainable seafood policy program embedded in the center in perpetuity.

Collaborators: John Virdin of the Nicholas Institute, Kelly Brownell of the Sanford School of Public Policy, Xavier Basurto of the Nicholas School of the Environment, and Sarah Zoube of the World Food Policy Center

Building a Conservation Agenda That Works with and for Rural America

Protecting the environment in the United States depends on rural America. Ecosystems, clean water, wildlife, clean energy, healthy agricultural and forestlands, and public lands are overwhelmingly rural and therefore depend on the actions of rural residents. This Catalyst project seeks to build a conservation agenda for rural America that not only protects the environment but also has the potential to garner significant support from rural constituencies.

Collaborators: Robert Bonnie, Rubenstein Fellow; Fritz Mayer of the Sanford School of Public Policy; Megan Mullin of the Nicholas School; Steve Roady of the Duke Law School and Nicholas Institute; Jed Purdy of the Duke Law School; and Lydia Olander, Amy Pickle, and Kay Jowers of the Nicholas Institute

Financial Regionalization for Assisting Low-Resource Water and Wastewater Systems

The deteriorating condition of the nation’s drinking water infrastructure calls for increased attention to policy instruments that can provide access to financing for necessary capital improvements. This project will develop a blueprint for the institutional design and implementation of financial regionalization to improve access to capital for small, low-resource water and wastewater utilities.

Collaborators: Megan Mullin of the Nicholas School of the Environment, Ryke Longest of the Duke School of Law, Jeff Hughes of the University of North Carolina, and Martin Doyle and Lauren Patterson of the Nicholas Institute

New Collaborations in Environmental Health

This project seeks to catalyze new collaborations that combine the environmental health expertise at the Nicholas School, Pratt School of Engineering, Superfund Research Center, and Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology with the environmental policy expertise at the Nicholas Institute to create policy-relevant applied-research projects that promote environmental health and human well-being.

Collaborators: Richard Di Giulio, Heather Stapleton, and Christopher Timmins of the Nicholas School of the Environment, Lydia Olander and Amy Pickle of the Nicholas Institute, Steve Roady of the Duke Law School and the Nicholas Institute, and Mark Wiesner of the Pratt School of Engineering

Photo: Awardees gather for a kickoff celebration at Duke in September. Credit: Jessica Sheffield.