The dividing red spots in this time-lapse video belong to a busily developing fruit fly embryo. A fruit fly egg can divide into some 6,000 cells in just two hours — faster division than cancer tumors. To watch them action, graduate student Victoria Deneke and assistant professor Stefano Di Talia tagged the nuclei with a protein that glows red. In a recent study, they show that the cells coordinate their rapid divisions via waves of protein activity that spread across the embryo. The waves help ensure that all the cells enter the next stage of development at the same time.
Duke graduate student Victoria Deneke has been awarded an international student research fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Three-year fellowship is designed to support outstanding international graduate students studying in the United States who are ineligible for fellowships or training grants through U.S. federal agencies.
Born in El Salvador, Deneke earned her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the University of Notre Dame before joining Stefano Di Talia’s at Duke in 2013.
Fellows must be nominated by their institution; participation is by invitation only. Deneke is only the second student at Duke to receive an HHMI International Student Research Fellowship since the program was established in 2011.
The result was a collection of maps and tables indicating whether various neighborhoods in each city had gentrified or not, based on changes in home values and other factors from 1990 to the present.
Soon Durham residents, business owners, policy wonks and others will have easy access to similar information about their neighborhoods too, thanks to planned updates to a web-based mapping tool called Durham Neighborhood Compass.
Two Duke students are part of the effort. For ten weeks this summer, undergraduates Anna Vivian and Vinai Oddiraju worked with Neighborhood Compass Project Manager John Killeen and Duke economics Ph.D. student Olga Kozlova to explore real-world data on Durham’s changing neighborhoods as part of a summer research program called Data+.
As a first step, they looked at recent trends in the housing market and business development.
Durham real estate and businesses are booming. A student mapping project aims to identify the neighborhoods at risk of pricing longtime residents out. Photo by Mark Moz.
Call it gentrification. Call it revitalization. Whatever you call it, there’s no denying that trendy restaurants, hotels and high-end coffee shops are popping up across Durham, and home values are on the rise.
Integrating data from the Secretary of State, the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act and local home sales, the team analyzed data for all houses sold in Durham between 2010 and 2015, including list and sale prices, days on the market, and owner demographics such as race and income.
They also looked at indicators of business development, such as the number of business openings and closings per square mile.
A senior double majoring in physics and art history, Vivian brought her GIS mapping skills to the project. Junior statistics major Oddiraju brought his know-how with computer programming languages.
To come up with averages for each neighborhood or Census block group, they first converted every street address in their dataset into latitude and longitude coordinates on a map, using a process called geocoding. The team then created city-wide maps of the data using GIS mapping software.
One of their maps shows the average listing price of homes for sale between 2014 and 2015, when housing prices in the area around Duke University’s East Campus between Broad Street and Buchanan Boulevard went up by $40,000 in a single year, the biggest spike in the city
Duke students are developing a web app that allows users to see the number of new businesses that have been opening across Durham. The data will appear in future updates to a web-based mapping tool called Durham Neighborhood Compass.
They also used a programming language called “R” to build an interactive web app that enables users to zoom in on specific neighborhoods and see the number of new businesses that opened, compare a given neighborhood to the average for Durham county as a whole, or toggle between years to see how things changed over time.
The Durham Neighborhood Compass launched in 2014. The tool uses data from local government, the Census Bureau and other state and federal agencies to monitor nearly 50 indicators related to quality of life and access to services.
When it comes to gentrification, users can already track neighborhood-by-neighborhood changes in race, household income, and the percentage of households that are paying 30 percent or more of their income for housing — more than many people can afford.
Vivian and Oddiraju expect the scripts and methods they developed will be implemented in future updates to the tool.
When they do, the team hopes users will be able to compare the average initial asking price to the final sale price to identify neighborhoods where bidding has been the highest, or see how fast properties sell once they go on the market — good indicators of how hot they are.
Visitors will also be able to compare the median income of people buying into a neighborhood to that of the people that already live there. This will help identify neighborhoods that are at risk of pricing out residents, especially renters, who have called the city home.
Vivian and Oddiraju were among more than 60 students who shared preliminary results of their work at a poster session on Friday, July 29 in Gross Hall.
Vivian plans to continue working on the project this fall, when she hopes to comb through additional data sets they didn’t get to this summer.
“One that I’m excited about is the data on applications for renovation permits and historic tax credits,” Vivian said.
She also hopes to further develop the web app to make it possible to look at multiple variables at once. “If sale prices are rising in areas where people have also filed lots of remodeling permits, for example, that could mean that they’re flipping those houses,” Vivian said.
Data+ is sponsored by the Information Initiative at Duke, the Social Sciences Research Institute and Bass Connections. Additional funding was provided by the National Science Foundation via a grant to the departments of mathematics and statistical science.
Writing by Robin Smith; video by Sarah Spencer and Ashlyn Nuckols
For particle physicists, “expect the unexpected” is more than just a catchy tagline.
Duke scientists on the Large Hadron Collider’s (LHC’s) ATLAS collaboration are on the hunt for hints of the unexpected: new, undiscovered particles or forces that could point to theories beyond the remarkably accurate, yet clearly incomplete, Standard Model of physics.
The Duke physics team at CERN this summer, gathered in front of a model of one of the LHC’s superconducting electromagnets. (Left to right: Ifeanyi Achu, Emily Stump, Elisa Zhang, Hannah Glaser, Wei Tang, Spencer Griswold, Andrea Bocci, Minyu Feng, Shu Li and Al Goshaw).
But the tsunami of new data coming out of the LHC’s current run, which began May of this year, has yet to provide any promising clues. Notably, at the ICHEP conference in Chicago, ATLAS collaboration members presented new results showing that an intriguing “bump” observed in 2015 data — speculated to be the first evidence of a completely new particle six times the mass of the Higgs — was likely just a statistical fluctuation in the data.
“It was quite amazing,” said Duke physics professor Al Goshaw, a member of the ATLAS collaboration. “With this new data there should have been a very clear signal, and there is nothing. It’s just absolutely gone.”
Goshaw has spent much of the summer at CERN, leading a team of undergraduate and graduate scientists crunching the numbers on the new data. Undeterred by the results presented in Chicago, he says the Duke team is still hard at work searching for other massive new particles.
“Our plan is to take the full data set collected in 2016 and extend the search for a new force-carrying particle up to much higher energies,” Goshaw said. “The search will go up to about 25 times the mass of the top quark or 35 times the mass of the Higgs.” They aim to have the results of this analysis ready by early 2017.
Why all the interest in tracking down these massive new particles?
Particle and energy spray recorded following a high-energy proton-proton collision event at the LHC in May. (Credit: CERN)
Goshaw says there are a myriad of alternative theories to the standard model, so many that trying to test specific predictions of individual models would be prohibitively time-consuming.
“But there is one prediction which they almost all make, and that is that there should be additional massive particles beyond those contained in the standard model,” Goshaw said. “So a generic way to search is to look for the new forces which are indicated by a force carrier, a massive new particle.”
The new data, collected at higher energies than the 2010-2012 run and with higher “brightness” or luminosity than the 2015 run, gives physicists the best chance yet of spotting an elusive new particle.
However, it’s not always looking at a plot and looking for a little bump, Goshaw says. Physicists, including the Duke team, are also utilizing the new data to perform highly precise tests of the standard model.
“The precision tests are really trying to find cracks in the standard model,” Goshaw said. “There could be particles that are so massive that we cannot detect them, but they may appear as subtle deviations in standard model predictions.”
But for now, the tried-and-true still holds. “It is quite extraordinary that, with these beautiful tests, everything is still described by the standard model,” Goshaw said.
Just the suggestion that an African-American person is of mixed-race heritage makes that person more attractive to others, research from Duke University concludes.
This holds true even if the people in question aren’t actually of multiracial heritage, according to the peer-reviewed study, published in the June 2016 issue of Review of Black Political Economy.
The simple perception of exoticism sways people to see multiracial blacks as better-looking, says study author Robert L. Reece, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Duke.
“Being exotic is a compelling idea,” Reece says. “So people are attracted to a certain type of difference. It’s also partially just racism – the notion that black people are less attractive, so being partially not-black makes you more attractive.”
Reece used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. He examined the results of in-person interviews of 3,200 black people conducted by people of varying races. The interviewees were asked a series of questions that included their racial backgrounds. The questioners then ranked each person’s attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least attractive and 5 being the most attractive. The interviewees who identified as mixed race were given an average attractiveness rating of 3.74; those who identified as black were given a 3.47 score – a statistically significant difference that points to the power of perception, Reece says. (The study controlled for a number of factors such as gender, age, skin tone, hair color and eye color)
“Race is more than we think it is,” he says. “It’s more than physical characteristics and ancestry and social class. The idea that you’re a certain race shapes how people view you.”
And attractiveness matters. Previous research has drawn correlations between physical beauty and professional success.
Robert Reece is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Duke.
Reece’s findings bolster a viewpoint that lighter-skinned blacks are considered more physically striking than their darker-skinned counterparts. But his research also found that blacks with darker skin who identified as mixed-race were considered better looking than those with lighter skin who identified simply as black. This further emphasizes the power of suggestion, Reece says; being told a person is of mixed race – regardless of what that person looks like – makes them appear more attractive.
“It’s a loaded cognitive suggestion when you say ‘I’m not just black, I’m also Native American, for example,” Reece says. “It changes the entire dynamic.”
Reece tackled this topic to examine the connection between multiraciality and “color,” he says.
“People tend to assume that historical multiraciality is at least partially responsible for the broad range of color among black people,” he says. “I’ve even noticed some people in black communities casually using the terms “mixed” and “light skinned” interchangeably. So I wanted to begin an empirical investigation into the contemporary links between the two and how they combine to shape people’s life experiences. Attractiveness is one part of that.”