like a dangerous animal that wants to go places. And you can’t stop it,” smiled
Steve Cummer, Ph.D. as he gestured to the colorful image on the widescreen TV
he’d set up outside his research trailer in an open field in Duke
Cummer, the William H. Younger Professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke, is accustomed to lecturing in front of the students he teaches or his peers at conferences. But on this day, he was showing spectacular videos of lightning to curious members of the public who were given exclusive access to his research site on Eubanks Road in Chapel Hill, about 8 miles west of campus.
More than two dozen members of the community had signed up for a tour of research projects in the Blackwood Division of Duke Forest (which recently expanded), a research-only area that is not normally open to the public. Cummer’s research site was the last stop of the afternoon research tour. The tour also covered native trees, moths and geological features of the Blackwood Division with biologist and ecologist Steve Hall, and air quality monitoring and remote sensing studies with John Walker and Dave Williams, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
research on lightning and sprites (electrical discharges associated with
lightning that occur above thunderstorm clouds) sparked a lively question and
answer session about everything from hurricanes to how to survive if you’re
caught in a lightning storm. (Contrary to popular belief, crouching where you
are is probably not the safest solution, he said. A car is a great hiding spot
as long as you don’t touch anything made of metal.)
Cummer kept his
tone fun and casual, like a live science television host, perched on the steps
of his research trailer, referring to some of the scientific equipment spread
out across the field as “salad bowls,” “pizza pans” and “lunar landers,” given
their odd shapes. But the research he talked about was serious. Lightning is
big business because it can cause billions of dollars in damage and insurance
claims every year.
Surprisingly little is known about lightning, not even how it is first formed. “There are a shocking number of things,” he said, pausing to let his pun sink in, “that we really don’t understand about how lightning works. Starting with the very beginning, nobody knows exactly how it starts. Like, really the physics of that.” But Cummer loves his research and has made some advances in this field (like devising more precise sensor systems), “When you’re the first person to understand something and you haven’t written about it yet or told anyone about it… that’s the best feeling.”
The Duke Forest hosted 49 research projects last year, which —with less than half of the projects reporting—represented over a million dollars of investment in Duke Forest-based work.
“The Duke Forest is more than just a place to walk and to jog. It’s an outdoor classroom. It’s a living laboratory. It’s where faculty and teachers and students of all ages come to learn and explore,” explained Sara Childs, Duke Forest director.
The Duke Forest offers their research tour every year. Members of the public can sign up for the email newsletter to be notified about future events.
The British explorer George Dennis once wrote, “Vulci is a city whose very name … was scarcely remembered, but which now, for the enormous treasures of antiquity it has yielded, is exalted above every other city of the ancient world.” He’s correct in assuming that most people do not know where or what Vulci is, but for explorers and historians – including Duke’s Bass Connections team Smart Archaeology – Vulci is a site of enormous potential.
As a dig site, Vulci is extremely valuable for the information it can give us about the Etruscan and Roman civilizations – especially since the ruins found at Vulci date back beyond the 8th century B.C.E. On November 20th, Professor Maurizio Forte, of the Art, Art History and Visual Studies departments at Duke as well as Duke’s Dig@Lab, led a talk and interactive session. He summarized the Smart Archaeology teams’ experience this past summer in Italy as well as allowing audience members to learn about and try the various technologies used by the team. With Duke being the first university with a permit of excavation for Vulci in the last 60 years, the Bass Connections team set out to explore the region, with their primary concerns being data collection, data interpretation, and the use of virtual technology.
The team, lead by Professor Maurizio Forte, Professor Michael Zavlanos, David Zalinsky, and Todd Barrett, sought to be as diverse as possible. With 32 participants ranging from undergraduate and graduate students to professionals, as well as Italian faculty and student members, the team flew into Italy at the beginning of the summer with a research model focused on an educational approach of practice and experimentation for everyone involved. With a naturally interdisciplinary focus ranging from classical studies to mechanical engineering, the team was divided, with people focusing on excavation in Vulci, remote sensing, haptics, virtual reality, robotics, and digital media.
So what did the team accomplish? Well, technology was a huge driving force in most of the data collected. For example, with the use of drones, photos taken from an aerial view were patched together to create bigger layout pictures of the area that would have been the city of Vulci. The computer graphics created by the drone pictures were also used to create a video and aided in the process of creating a virtual reality simulation of Vulci. VR can be an important documentation tool, especially in a field as ever-changing as archaeology. And as Professor Forte remarked, it’s possible for anyone to see exactly what the researchers saw over the summer – and “if you’re afraid of the darkness of a cistern, you can go through virtual reality instead.”
In addition, the team used sensor technology to get around the labor and time it would take to dissect the entire site – which by the team’s estimate would take 300 years! Sensors in the soil, in particular, can sense the remnants of buildings and archaeological features up to five meters below ground, allowing researchers to imagine what monuments and buildings might have looked like.
One of the biggest takeaways from the data the team collected based on discovering remnants of infrastructure and layout of the city was of the Etruscan mastery of water, developing techniques that the Romans also used. More work was also done on classification of Etruscan pottery, tools, and materials based on earlier work done by previous researchers. Discovering decorative and religious artifacts was also impactful for the team, because as Professor Forte emphasized, these objects are the “primary documentation of history.”
But the discoveries won’t stop there. The Smart Archaeology team is launching their 2019-2020 Bass Connections project on a second phase of their research – specifically focusing on identifying new archaeological sites, analyzing the landscape’s transformation and testing new methods of data capturing, simulation and visualization. With two more years of work on site, the team is hopeful that research will be able to explain in even greater depth how the people of Vulci lived, which will certainly help to shine a light on the significance of the Etruscan civilization in global history.
Vaccine hesitancy refers to the refusal of or delay in accepting vaccinations, despite their availability. Vasudevan hopes to figure out what interventions will change the minds of target populations on such a heated topic.
She presented at Duke’s Global Health Institute on November 15th about her “big 5 research areas:” identification of sub-optimal vaccine uptake, contextualization of barriers to uptake, measuring parental concern, debunking misinformation, and developing and testing strategies aimed at addressing vaccine hesitancy.
Globally, Vasudevan says that there are too many kids playing catch-up with their vaccines, meaning that even when children are getting vaccinated, the vaccinations they receive are not on time with the scheduled progression of immunizations, putting them at risk for contracting disease. Different countries measure vaccination coverage in different ways and on different timelines, which makes it harder to understand where sub-optimal vaccine uptake is happening. A better standard for assessing timeliness of vaccines is crucial. Vasudevan is working to confront this issue to gain better understanding of who and where hesitancy is coming from.
Identification of specific regions of vaccine hesitancy is crucial to navigating interventions, she added. Vasudevan wants to be able to pinpoint areas and understand the context-specific issues that vary across time, place, and vaccine type in order to be most effective.
She said that her work in Tanzania has provided insight to the problem of geographic accessibility and lack of proper supplies in the country, prompting delayed and missed vaccinations among 72% of children, according to self-reporting by their mothers. Tanzanian mothers expressed their frustrations during interviews. They frequently arrange to go to a clinic where vaccinations are offered on specific dates and travel long distances to get there. However, if there are not enough kids who come to be vaccinated, the facilities just won’t vaccinate those who did manage to show up for immunizations.
Though the qualitative data gained through extensive interviewing and group discussions has been extremely useful and rich, Vasudevan says there is a need for quantitative tools that can rapidly screen for parent’s concerns when it comes to the vaccination of their children. Qualitative data is simply not informative on a large scale.
A review of pre-existing measures evaluated 159 studies, but the quantitative scales found were often complex and context-specific, as well as designed and validated for high-income settings. On this basis, Vasudevan and her larger research team decided to design a scale for use in Tanzania because of its specificity in addressing the contexts of the region. Tailored counseling is also being used to address the local concerns and issues.
Another parallel research project that Vasudevan is involved with aims to identify common vaccine myths, creating a taxonomy to tag these myths and developing and testing an intervention that will highlight and debunk misinformation found on the internet. The current end-goal for the work being done is a “vaccine fact-checker” that could be used on web browsers to identify the myths in vaccine-related information found online.
In closing, Vasudevan identified three main areas for developing and testing intervention strategies. She says these are behavioral nudges, educational strategies, and vaccination policy and legislation.
There is a need for parent-focused strategies that recognize parental concern for their child’s safety on all sides of the vaccination issue, she said. Stringent policies are likely to alienate hesitant parents rather than increasing vaccine uptake. This is why Vasudevan is so focused on understanding and contextualizing issues specific to hesitancy among parents. It seems that increase of vaccinations and improvement of immunization timeliness lies in hearing and reconciling with parental apprehensions and underlying root causes of these hesitations.
One area of focus that Vasudevan feels is underutilized is pre-natal care. Reduction of the divide between obstetrician/gynecologists (OBGYNs) and pediatric care may be a crucial component to educate parents and enrich their understanding about vaccinations following the birth of the child.
Beyond everything else, she said, building trust is essential; simply providing information to parents is not enough. It takes time and empathy to be enable parents to make healthy vaccination choices. Providing credible resources in a safe environment while tuning in to the causes of hesitancy may be the next step to the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease, a current top ten threat to global health.
As America’s pork industry is continually pushed to ever
greater production, so are the human beings who labor to breed, care for, and
slaughter these animals.
Blanchette, who gave a talk hosted by the Ethnography Workshop at Duke on November 4th, said there is an intimate relationship between pig and person. The quality of the factory farm worker’s life is tied to that of the porcine species.
Blanchette’s current work will be published in the 2020 ethnographic
book – Porkopolis: American
Animality, Standardized Life, and the “Factory” Farm. The book is focused on the consequences of
human labor and identity that are bound to the pig – an animal which has become
more industrialized over time due to corporations’ goal of a mass produced,
standardized pig predictable in nature, uniform in existence, and easy to
A common practice in factory farming is the ‘runting’ of litters, genetically making piglets smaller to increase the number each sow produces. But this practice has propelled a fundamental shift in the need for human workers to act as neonatal nurses, what Blanchette calls “external prosthetics,” to care for the newborns. Blanchette described one extraordinary worker responsible for taking care of piglet litters, saving the weak and deformed after birth. She has taken measures so drastic as to give a piglet mouth-to-mouth, incubate them in her pockets, and quickly form body-casts out of duct-tape for the small creatures. This worker has had the chance to study over 400,000 piglets in her seven-year career, encountering conditions of the pig body that no scientist has seen in real life.
the active engagement required in any portion of the factory production. For
example, people working with pregnant sows have to be extremely conscious of
the way that the pigs are perceiving them to keep the sensory state of the
mother pigs balanced. This means avoiding touching them unless work requires
it, not wearing perfumes on the job, and taking overall care and precision in
every motion throughout the workday. The danger is the risk of causing mass
miscarriages and spontaneous abortions within a barn of sows because of their
genetically engineered weakness and inability to handle stresses.
Blanchette said one
worker could be seen standing in the exact same place over the course of 1,000 compiled
picture frames. He developed this habit to prevent large hogs in open pens from
knocking him down and biting his legs while he was working. This is something
that Blanchette said he couldn’t manage for more than a few minutes even though
he too has worked within the pork industry before.
slaughter and “disassembly” lines are responsible for making the same exact cut
or slice 9,500 times a day.
And finally, the conformation of human labor to the precisions of the factory pig often does not stop at the end of the work shift. In rural factory farming areas, corporations try to re-engineer the human communities in which their workers live to further regulate the human body outside of work because of potential impacts on the pigs. For example, workers’ socialization has been monitored by companies in some cases due to the threat of communicable disease reaching the hogs through human kinship.
No worker knows the pig from birth to death, but for the individual portion of the pig’s life for which they are responsible, they are bound intimately and intricately to the hog, Blanchette said. These people are also disproportionately people of color and immigrant workers who are underpaid for how strenuous, demanding, and encapsulating this labor is. Workers in factory farms often have little protections, and Blanchette’s work gives new life to the consequences of industrial capitalism in America as the pig has become a product of vertical integration in rural communities.
We have long been
moving at the speed limits of human physiology in the pork industry, Blanchette said. In 2011, one company’s annual
effort to improve their corporation was to build a new human clinic on the
jobsite to treat cuts and injuries acquired on the slaughter lines. This clinic
was also responsible for assessing new hires in order to match the strongest
part of their body to a place on the line where they would be most productive.
Factory farms are
actively searching for new money to be found in the pig and to have a
closed-loop system which uses every aspect of its life and death for profit.
This has caused a deep integration of the “capital swine” into everyday human
life for the laborers and communities sustained by these economic ventures.
administration recently removed standards for pork slaughter line speeds and ultimately
reduced overall regulations. People like Blanchette are already considering
something you too might be wondering, What happens next? Where does pork
and the human labor behind it go from here?
In Queensland, Australia, early March can
be 96 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, but that’s
still pretty hot.
Although hot, dry Australia probably isn’t the first place you’d think to look for ferns, that’s precisely why I’m here and the sole reason we’ve hit the road at 6 a.m. Our schedule for the day: to drive as far south as we can while still letting us come home at the end of the day.
My local colleague, Ashley Field, grew up just the next town over. A skinny, speedy man, he works at James Cook University in Cairns and knows most of northern Queensland like the back of his hand.
The ferns I’m looking for today are
interesting because some species can move from their original home in Australia
to the tiny islands in the Pacific. But some cannot. Why? Understanding what
makes them different could prove useful in making our crops more resilient to
harsh weather, or preventing weeds from spreading.
We’ve been driving for four hours before we
turn off onto a dirt road. If you haven’t been to Australia, it’s worth noting
that four hours here is unlike any four hours I’ve experienced before. The
roads are fairly empty, flat, and straight, meaning you can cover a lot of terrain. Australia is also
incredibly big and most of the time you’re travelling through unpopulated
landscapes. While it may be only four hours, your mind feels the weight of the
The dirt road begins to climb into the
mountains. We are leaving behind low scrub and big granite rocks that sit on
the flat terrain. Ashley knows where we can find the ferns I’m looking for, but
he’s never driven this road before. Instead, we’re trusting researchers who
came before us. When they explored this area, they took samples of plants that were
preserved and stored in museums and universities. By reviewing the carefully
labelled collections at these institutions, we can know which places to revisit
in hopes of finding the ferns.
Often, however, having been collected
before there was GPS, the location information on these samples is not very
precise, or the plants may no longer live there, or maybe that area got turned
into a parking lot, as happened to me in New Zealand. So, despite careful
planning, you may drive five hours one way to come up empty handed.
As we move higher up the mountain, the soil
turns redder and sparse eucalyptus forests begin to enclose us. We locate the
previous collections coordinates, an area that seems suitable for ferns to
grow. We park the truck on the side of the road and get out to look.
We comb 300 feet along the side of the road because these ferns like the edges of forest, and we find nothing. But as we trudge back to the truck, I spot one meager fern hiding behind a creeping vine! It’s high up off the road-cut and I try to scramble up but only manage to pull a muscle in my arm. Ashley is taller, so he climbs partway up a tree and manages to fetch the fern. It’s not the healthiest, only 6 inches tall for a plant that usually grows at least 12 to 14 inches. It’s also not fertile, making it less useful for research, and in pulling it out of the ground, Ashley broke one of its three leaves off. But it’s better than nothing!
Ashley excels at being a field botanist
because he is not one to give up. “We should keep looking,” he says despite the
sweat dripping down our faces.
We pile back in and continue up the road.
And who could have predicted that just around the bend we would find dozens of tall,
healthy looking ferns! There are easily fifty or so plants, each a deep green,
the tallest around 12 inches. Many others are at earlier stages of growth,
which can be very helpful for scientists in understanding how plants develop.
We take four or five plants, enough to leave a sample at the university in
Cairns and for the rest to be shipped back to the US. One sample will be kept
at Duke, and the others will be distributed amongst other museums and
universities as a type of insurance.
The long hours, the uncertainty, and the
harsh conditions become small things when you hit a jackpot like this. Plus,
being out in remote wilderness has its own soothing charm, and chance also
often allows us to spot cool animals, like the frilled lizard and wallaby we
saw on this trip.
Funding for this type of fieldwork is becoming increasingly rare, so I am grateful to the National Geographic Society for seeing the value in this work and funding my three-week expedition. I was able to cover about 400 miles of Australia from north to south, visiting twenty-four different sites, including eight parks, and ranging from lush rainforest to dry, rocky scrub. We collected fifty-five samples, including some that may be new species, and took careful notes and photographs of how these plants grow in the wild, something you can’t tell from dried-up specimens.
Knowing what species are out there and how they exist within the environment is important not only because it may provide solutions to human problems, but also because understanding what biodiversity we have can help us take better care of it in the future.
It seems like the never-ending battle against Malaria just keeps getting tougher. In regions where Malaria is hyper-prevalent, anti-mosquito measures can only work so well due to the reservoir that has built up of infected humans who do not even know they carry the infection.
In high-transmission areas, asymptomatic malaria is more prevalent than symptomatic malaria. Twenty-four percent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to harbor an asymptomatic infection, including 38 to 50 percent of the school-aged children in western Kenya. Out of the 219 million malaria cases in 2017 worldwide, over 90% were in sub-Saharan Africa.
Using a special vacuum-like tool, Kelsey Sumner, a former Duke undergraduate now completing her Ph.D. at UNC-Chapel Hill, collected mosquitoes in households located in rural western Kenya. These weekly mosquito collections were a part of her pre-dissertation study on asymptomatic, or invisible, malaria. She visited Duke in September to catch us up on her work in Data Dialogue event sponsored by the mathematics department.
People with asymptomatic malaria carry the infection but have no idea they do because they do not have any indicators. This is incredibly dangerous because without symptoms, they will not get treated and can then infect countless others with the disease. As a result, people with an asymptomatic infection or infections have become a reservoir for malaria — a place for it to hide. Reservoirs are a group that is contributing to transmission at a higher rate or proportion than others.
Sumner’s study focused on examining the effect of asymptomatic malaria on malaria transmission as well as whether asymptomatic malaria infections would protect a person against future symptomatic infections from the same or different malaria infections. They were particularly looking into Plasmodium falciparum malaria. In Kenya, more than 70% of the population lives in an area with a high transmission of this potentially lethal parasite.
“P. falciparum malaria is very diverse in the region,” she said. “It’s constantly mutating, which is why it’s so hard to treat. But because of that, we’re able to actually measure how many infections people have at once.”
The researchers discovered that many study participants were infected with multiple, genetically-distinct malaria infections. Some carried up to fourteen strains of the parasite.
Participants in the study began by filling out an enrollment questionnaire followed by monthly questionnaires and dried blood spot collections. The project has collected over nearly 3,000 dried blood spots from participants. These blood spots were then sent to a lab where DNA was extracted and tested for P. falciparum malaria using qPCR.
“We used the fact that we have this really diverse falciparum species in the area and sequenced the DNA from falciparum to actually determine how many infections people have,” Sumner said. “And then, if there’s a shared infection between humans and mosquitoes.”
Sumner and her team also visited symptomatic participants who would fill out a behavioral questionnaire and undergo a rapid diagnostic test. Infected participants were able to receive treatment.
While people in the region have tried to prevent infection through means like sleeping under insecticide-treated nets, malaria has persisted.
Sumner is continuing to analyze the collected DNA to better understand asymptomatic malaria, malarial reservoirs and how to best intervene to help stop this epidemic.
“We’re basically looking at how the number of shared infections differ between those that have asymptomatic malaria versus those that have symptomatic malaria.”
She and her team hypothesize that there are more asymptomatic infections that would result in and explain the rapid transmission of malaria in the region.
He chose to conduct his research in the UK because of its large overseas Caribbean population and because he found that not much scholarship was dedicated to Black Europe. “It’s such a rich space to think about different historical entanglements that affect the lives and trajectories of Black people,” he explained.
Those entanglements include the legacies of colonialism, the Slave Trade, empire, and much more. The racialization of such historical processes is necessary to note.
For example, Harris found that a major shift in Black British music occurred in the 1950s due to anti-Black racism in England. Black individuals were not allowed to socialize in white spaces, so they formed community in their own way: through soundsystems.
These soundsystem originated in Jamaica and debuted in the UK in the postwar years. A soundsystem was the organization of Black individuals, music, and machines, typically in basements and warehouses, for the enjoyment of Black music and company. It became a medium through which a Black community could form in a racialized nation.
Today, Black British music has greatly expanded, but still remains rooted in sound systems.
While the formation of community has been positive, Harris explains that much of his research is a highly complex and often disheartening commentary on Blackness.
Blackness has been created as a category by dominant society: the white community, mostly colonizers. Black music became a thing only because of the push to otherize Black Britons; in many ways, Black culture exists only as an “other” in relation to whiteness. This raises a question of identity that Harris continues to examine: Who has the power to represent self?
In the U.S. especially, Black music is a crucial foundation to American popular music. But as in the UK, it finds its origins in community, folk traditions, and struggle. The industrial nature of the U.S. allows that struggle to be commercialized and disseminated across the globe, creating a sort of paradox. According to Harris, Black individuals must reconcile “being recognized and loved globally, but understanding that people still despise who you are.”
To conduct his research, Harris mostly engages in fieldwork. He spends a significant amount of time in London, engaging with Black communities and listening to live music. His analysis typically involves both sonic and situational elements.
But the most valuable part of Harris’ fieldwork, perhaps, is the community that he himself finds. “Ethnomusicology has for me been a very transformative experience,” he said. “It has helped me to create new global relationships with people — I consider myself now to have homes in several different places.”
This is what 20 years of evictions looks like. It’s an animated heat map of Durham, the streets overlaid with undulating blobs of red and orange and yellow, like a grease stain.
Duke students in the summer research program Data+ have created a time-lapse map of the more than 200,000 evictions filed in Durham County since 2000.
Dark red areas represent eviction hotspots. These neighborhoods are where families cook their favorite meals, where children do their homework, where people celebrate holidays. They’re also where many people live one crisis away from losing their neighbors, or becoming homeless themselves.
Duke junior Samantha Miezio points to a single census tract along NC 55 where, in the wake of an apartment building sale, more than 100 households received an eviction notice in that spot in one month alone. It “just speaks to the severity of the issue,” Miezio said.
Miezio was part of a team that spent 10 weeks this summer mapping and analyzing evictions data from the Durham County Sheriff’s Office, thanks to an effort by DataWorks NC to compile such data and make it more accessible.
The findings are stark.
Every hour in Durham, at least one
renter is threatened with losing their home. About 1,000 eviction cases were
filed a month against tenants between 2010 and 2017. That’s roughly one for every
280 residents in Durham, where evictions per capita is one of the highest in the state and double the national
The data tell us that while Durham’s
evictions crisis has actually improved from where it was a few years ago,
stubborn hotspots persist, said team member Ellis Ackerman, a math major at
North Carolina State University.
When the students looked at the data
month by month, a few things stood out. For one, winter evictions are common.
While some countries such as France and Austria ban winter evictions to
keep from pushing people onto the street in the cold, in Durham, “January is
the worst month by far,” said team member Rodrigo Araujo, a junior majoring
in computer science. “In the winter months utility bills are higher; they’re
struggling to pay for that.”
The team also investigated the relationship between evictions and rents from 2012 to 2014 to see how much they move in tandem with each other. Their initial results using two years’ worth of rent data showed that when rents went up, evictions weren’t too far behind.
“Rents increased, and then two months later,
evictions increased,” Miezio said.
But the impacts of rising rents weren’t felt evenly. Neighborhoods with more residents of color were significantly affected while renters in white neighborhoods were not. “This crisis is disproportionately affecting those who are already at a disadvantage from historical inequalities,” Miezio said.
A person can be evicted for a number of reasons, but most evictions happen because people get behind on their rent. The standard guideline is no more than 30% of your monthly income before taxes should go to housing and keeping the lights on.
But in Durham, where 47% of households
rent rather than own a home, only half of renters meet that goal. As
of 2019 an estimated 28,917 households are living in rentals they can’t afford.
The reason is incomes haven’t kept
pace with rents, especially for low-wage workers such as waiters, cooks, or
home health aides.
Durham’s median rents rose from $798 in 2010 to $925 in 2016. That’s out of reach for many area families. A minimum wage worker in Durham earning $7.25/hour would need to work a staggering 112 hours a week — the equivalent of nearly three full-time jobs — to afford a modest two-bedroom unit in 2019 at fair market rent, according to a report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Spending a sizable chunk of your
income on housing means having less left over for food, child care,
transportation, savings, and other basic necessities. One unexpected expense or
emergency — maybe the kid gets sick or the car needs repairs, or there’s a cut
back on hours at work — can mean tenants have a harder time making the rent.
“Evictions are traumatic life
experiences for the tenants,” and can have ripple effects for years, Miezio
Tenants may have only a few days to
pay what’s due or find a new place and move out. The Sheriff may come with
movers and pile a person’s belonging on the curb, or move them to a storage
facility at the tenant’s expense.
A forced move can also mean children
must change schools in the middle of the school year.
Benefits may go to the wrong address.
Families are uprooted from their social support networks of friends and
Not every case filed ends with the
tenant actually getting forced out, “but those filings can still potentially
inhibit their ability to find future housing,” Miezio said. Not to mention the
cost and hassle of appearing in court and paying fines and court fees.
Multiple groups are working to help
Durham residents avoid eviction and stay in their homes. In a partnership
between Duke Law and Legal Aid of North Carolina, the Civil Justice Clinic’s
Diversion Program provides free legal assistance to people who are facing
“The majority of people who have an
eviction filed against them don’t have access to an attorney,” Miezio said.
In a cost-benefit analysis, the team’s
models suggest that “with a pretty small increase in funding to reduce
evictions, on the order of $100,000 to $150,000, Durham could be saving
millions of dollars” in the form of reduced shelter costs, hospital costs, plus
savings on mental health services other social services, Ackerman said.
Moving forward, they’re launching a website in order to share their findings. “I’ve learned HTML and CSS this summer,” said Miezio, who is pursuing an individualized degree program in urban studies. “That’s one of the things I love about Data+. I’m getting paid to learn.”
Miezio plans to continue the project
this fall through an independent study course focused on policy solutions to
evictions, such as universal right to counsel.
“Housing access and stability are important to Durham,” said Duke’s vice president for Durham affairs Stelfanie Williams. “Applied research projects such as this, reflecting a partnership between the university and community, are opportunities for students to ‘learn by doing’ and to collaborate with community leaders on problem-solving.”
Data+ 2019 is sponsored by Bass Connections, the Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke, the Social Science Research Institute, the Duke Energy Initiative, and the departments of Mathematics and Statistical Science.
Other Duke sponsors include DTECH, Science, Law, and Policy Lab, Duke Health, Duke University Libraries, Sanford School of Public Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke Global Health Institute, Development and Alumni Affairs, the Duke River Center, Representing Migrations Humanities Lab, Energy Initiative, Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke Forge, the K-Lab, Duke Clinical Research, Office for Information Technology and the Office of the Provost, as well as the departments of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Biomedical Engineering, Biostatistics & Bioinformatics and Biology.
Government funding comes from the National Science Foundation. Outside funding comes from Exxon Mobil, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Global Financial Markets Center, and Tether Energy.
Once home to Etruscan and Roman cities, the ruins found at Vulci date to earlier than the 8th century B.C.E.
As archaeologists dig up the remains of these ancient civilizations, they are better able to understand how humans from the past lived their daily lives. The problem is, they can only excavate each site once.
No matter how careful the diggers are, artifacts and pieces of history can be destroyed in the process. Furthermore, excavations take a large amount of time, money and strenuous labor to complete. As a result, it’s important to carefully choose the location.
In response to these challenges Dr. Maurizio Forte decided to supplement the excavation of ancient Vulci sites by using innovative non-invasive technologies.
Considering that it once housed entire cities, Vulci is an extremely large site. To optimize excavation time, money, and resources, Dr. Forte used technologies to predict the most important urban areas of the site. Forte and his team also used remote sensing which allowed them to interpret the site prior to digging.
Having decided where on the site to look, the team was then able to digitally recreate both the landscape as well as the excavation trench in 3D. This allowed them to preserve the site in its entirety and uncover the history that lay below. Maps of the landscape are created using Web-GIS (Geographic Information Systems). These are then combined with 3D models created using photogrammetry to develop a realistic model of the site.
Forte decided to make the excavation entirely paperless. All “paperwork” on site is done on tablets. There is also an onsite lab that analyzes all of the archaeological discoveries and archives them into a digital inventory.
This unique combination of archaeology and technology allows Forte and his team to study, interpret and analyze the ancient Etruscan and Roman cities beneath the ground of the site in a way that has never been done before. He is able to create exact models of historic artifacts, chapels and even entire cities that could otherwise be lost for good.
Forte also thinks it is important to share what is uncovered with the public. One way he is doing this is through integrating the excavation with virtual reality applications.
I’m actually on site with Forte and the team now. One of my responsibilities is to take photos with the Insta360x which is compatible with the OculusGo, allowing people to experience what it’s like to be in the trench with virtual reality. The end goal is to create interactive applications that could be used by museums or individuals.
Ultimately, this revolutionary approach to archaeology brings to light new perspectives on historical sites and utilizes innovative technology to better understand discoveries made in excavations.
This summer I have the incredible opportunity to work with the Vulci 3000 Bass Connections team. The project focuses on combining archaeology and innovative technology to excavate and understand an ancient Etruscan and Roman site. Over the next several weeks I will be writing a series of articles highlighting the different parts of the excavation. This first installment recounts the history of the project and what we plan to accomplish in Vulci.
Covered in tall grasses and grazing cows it’s hard to imagine that the Vulci Archaeology Park was ever something more than a beautiful countryside. However, in reality, it was home to one of the largest, most important cities of ancient Etruria. In fact, it was one of the biggest cities in the 1st millennium BCE on the entire Italian peninsula. Buried under the ground are the incredible remains of Iron Age, Etruscan, Roman, and Medieval settlements.
Duke’s involvement with the Vulci site began in 2015 when Maurizio Forte, the William and Sue Gross Professor of Classical Studies Art, Art History, and Visual Studies visited the site. What was so unique about the site was that most of it was untouched.
One of the perils of archaeology is that any site can only be physically excavated once and it is inevitable for some parts to be damaged regardless of how careful the team is. Vulci presented a unique opportunity. Because much of the site was still undisturbed, Forte could utilize innovative technology to create digital landscapes that could be viewed in succession as the site was excavated. This would allow him and his team to revisit the site at each stage of excavation. In 2015 he applied for his first permit to begin researching the Vulci site.
In 2016 Forte created a Bass Connections project titled Digital Cities and Polysensing Environments. That summer they ventured to Italy to begin surveying the Vulci site. Because Vulci is a large site it would take too much time and money to excavate the city. Instead, Forte and his team decided to find the most important spots to excavate. They did this by combining remote sensing data and procedural modeling to analyze the various layers underground. They collected data using magnetometry and ground-penetrating radar. They also used drones to capture aerial photography of the site.
These technologies allowed the team to locate the urban areas of the site through the discovery of large buildings and streets revealed by the aerial photographs, radiometrically-calibrated orthomaps, and 3D point cloud/mesh models.
The project continued into 2017 and 2018 with a team returning to the site each summer to excavate. Within the trench were archaeologists ranging from undergrads to postdocs digging, scraping and brushing for months to discover what lay beneath the surface. As they began to uncover rooms, pottery, coins, and even a cistern, groups outside the trench continued to advanced technology to collect data and improve the understanding of the site.
One unit focused on drone sensing to digitally create multispectral imagery as well as high-resolution elevation models. This allowed them to use soil and crop marks to better interpretation and classify the archaeological features.
By combining traditional archaeology and innovative technology the team has been able to more efficiently discover important, ancient artifacts and analyze them in order to understand the ancient Etruscan and Roman civilizations that once called Vulci their home.
This year, archaeologists return to the site to continue excavation. As another layer of Vulci is uncovered, students and faculty will use technology like drones, photogrammetry, geophysical prosecutions and GIS to document and interpret the site. We will also be using a 360 camera to capture VR compatible content for the OculusGo in order to allow anybody to visit Vulci virtually.