Duke Research Blog

Following the people and events that make up the research community at Duke.

Category: Guest Post (Page 1 of 10)

Creating a Gender Inclusive Campus: Reflecting on “Becoming Johanna”

Following Duke’s Oct. 4 screening of the 2016 documentary, “Becoming Johanna,” students, faculty, staff and community members in the audience were eager to ask questions of the panel, which included the film’s director/producer, Jonathan Skurnik, and even the film’s transgender subject, Johanna Clearwater herself.

Johanna Clearwater pictured with the film’s director/producer Jonathan Skurnik

The film showcases the heart-wrenching and empowering story of a latina transgender teenager growing up in Los Angeles. After beginning her transition at age 16, Johanna faced the rejection of her mother and intense opposition from school authorities. Soon after, she was abandoned by her family and entered the foster care system, where she was lucky to find a much more supportive family environment. After changing schools, she connected on a personal level with her school principal, Deb, who helped Johanna find a community where she felt understood and supported. This success story of self-advocacy and resilience in the face of abandonment and exclusion highlights the daily struggles of many transgender teenagers. For these individuals, becoming comfortable in their own skin is the end of a long and demanding journey, often made even more difficult by the ignorance and cruelty of society. Finding and following the path to authentic expression takes a huge amount of courage, as this route is often layered with adversity.

Before the screening, Duke clinical social worker Kristin Russel put the film in context for the audience, inviting our reflection with her words: “A well told story… is really what can help us bridge the unfortunate distance that can remain uncrossed and misunderstood if such stories are silenced.” Chief Diversity Officer for the School of Medicine Judy Seidenstein then introduced the film and facilitated the panel discussion.

After the film, the audience was invited to join the conversation. Questions came from every demographic of the crowd, and provided a nice sampling of opinions. Many audience members pointed out how important these conversations are, especially in a conservative state like North Carolina that has so recently struggled with the protection of LGBTQ rights with last year’s ‘Bathroom Bill.’ Specifically, the questions and comments from hospital staff and faculty from the School of Medicine gave a nice insight into the direction of support on campus for sexual and gender diversity.

Audience members reflect on the film with those nearby

Cheryl Brewer, the Associate Vice President of Nursing, told the room about the inclusion work that she is leading in the School of Nursing. They have developed a new core curriculum to promote acceptance and support of gender and sexual diversity through situational trainings. She noted that there have been some people that struggle with implicit biases more than others, but that the program has been a success overall.

Russell spoke briefly about her work with transgender and gender diverse youth in the clinical setting and emphasized the importance of having family support. Legally and psychologically, maintaining family involvement and support of patients is essential for treatment.

Events like this one reflect ongoing efforts to support sexual and gender diversity within and beyond Duke, by promoting conversation and increasing empathy through storytelling. Duke is well on the way to becoming a much more inclusive community, where everyone can feel a sense of belonging.

Guest post by Anne Littlewood

Heating Up the Summer, 3D Style

While some students like to spend their summer recovering from a long year of school work, others are working diligently in the Innovation Co-Lab in the Telcom building on West Campus.

They’re working on the impacts of dust and particulate matter (PM) pollution on solar panel performance, and discovering new technologies that map out the 3D volume of the ocean.

The Co-Lab is one of three 3D printing labs located on campus. It allows students and faculty the opportunity to creatively explore research through the use of new and emerging technologies.

Third-year PhD candidate Michael Valerino said his long term research project focuses on how dust and air pollution impacts the performance of solar panels.

“I’ve been designing a low-cost prototype which will monitor the impact of dust and air pollution on solar panels,” said Valerino. “The device is going to be used to monitor the impacts of dust and particulate matter (PM) pollution on solar panel performance. This processis known as soiling. This is going to be a low-cost alternative (~$200 ) to other monitoring options that are at least $5,000.”

Most of the 3D printers come with standard Polylactic acid (PLA) material for printing. However, because his first prototype completely melted in India’s heat, Valerino decided to switch to black carbon fiber and infused nylon.

“It really is a good fit for what I want to do,” he said. “These low-cost prototypes will be deployed in China, India, and the Arabian Peninsula to study global soiling impacts.”

In a step-by-step process, he applied acid-free glue to the base plate that holds the black carbon fiber and infused nylon. He then placed the glass plate into the printer and closely examined how the thick carbon fiber holds his project together.

Michael Bergin, a professor of civil and environmental engineering professor at Duke collaborated with the Indian Institute of Technology-Gandhinagar and the University of Wisconsin last summer to work on a study about soiling.

The study indicated that there was a decrease in solar energy as the panels became dirtier over time. The solar cells jumped 50 percent in efficiency after being cleaned for the first time in several weeks. Valerino’s device will be used to expand Bergin’s work.

As Valerino tackles his project, Duke student volunteers and high school interns are in another part of the Co-Lab developing technology to map the ocean floor.

The Blue Devil Ocean Engineering team will be competing in the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, a global technology competition challenging teams to advance deep-sea technologies for autonomous, fast and high-resolution ocean exploration. (Their mentor, Martin Brooke, was recently featured on Science Friday.)

The team is developing large, highly redundant carbon drones that are eight feet across. The drones will fly over the ocean and drop pods into the water that will sink to collect sonar data.

Tyler Bletsch, a professor of the practice in electrical and computer engineering, is working alongside the team. He describes the team as having the most creative approach in the competition.

“We have many parts of this working, but this summer is really when it needs to come together,” Bletsch said. “Last year, we made it through round one of the competition and secured $100,000 for the university. We’re now using that money for the final phase of the competition.”

The final phase of the competition is scheduled to be held fall 2018.
Though campus is slow this summer, the Innovation Co-Lab is keeping busy. You can keep up-to-date with their latest projects here.

Post by Alexis Owens

 

Hearing Loss and Depression Are Connected

Jessica West is a PhD candidate in sociology.

Jessica West, a PhD student in sociology at Duke, has found that hearing loss creates chronic stress but that high levels of social support – from family, friends and others – can help alleviate depression. Given that hearing loss is a growing social and physical health problem, her study suggests a need for increased vigilance regarding hearing loss among older adults, West said.

Her study was published in the November issue of Social Science & Medicine and is available here.

Here, West discusses her research.

Your research examines the correlation between hearing loss and depression. That seems a logical connection: why study it in the way you did?

Despite how common hearing loss is, it is actually quite understudied. A handful of studies have looked at the relationship between hearing loss and mental health over time, but the results from these studies are mixed: some find a relationship between hearing loss and more depressive symptoms, while others do not. On top of the mixed findings, most studies have been based overseas, and studies based in the U.S. have tended to use state-specific datasets, like the Alameda County Study, which drew from Oakland and Berkeley, CA.

I use the Health and Retirement Study, which is nationally representative of adults aged 50 and older in the U.S., and therefore more generalizable to the U.S. population.

I frame hearing loss as a physical health stressor that can impact mental health, and that social support can alter this relationship by preventing a person from experiencing stress or reducing the severity of a reaction to it. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first paper to link hearing loss to health outcomes in this way.

What might surprise people about your findings?

More than one-fifth of the people in my sample have fair to poor hearing (23.12% or 1,405 people in the first wave). Hearing loss is really common in the U.S.

Also, I found that social support is most beneficial in easing the burden of hearing loss among people with significant hearing loss. Overall, this suggests that hearing loss is a chronic stressor in people’s lives and that responses to this stressor will vary by the level of social resources that people have available to them.

What does ‘social support’ mean in real terms? What can the family and friends do for a person with hearing loss to help them?

For people with hearing loss, it’s important that they feel able to lean on, talk to, and rely on family, friends, spouses or partners, and children. And going a step further, people with hearing loss need to know that these important people in their lives truly understand the struggles they face. What this means is that people with hearing loss can benefit quite a lot from having a network of people that they feel comfortable discussing things with or reaching out to when needed.

Do people with hearing loss have adequate mental health resources or care available to them?

My research shows that social support is really important for people with hearing loss. One suggestion I make in my paper is that audiologic – or hearing — rehabilitation programs could include educational training for significant others, like spouses or friends, to emphasize the importance of supporting people with hearing impairment. Audiologists, primary care physicians, family, and friends are all key resources that could be targeted in such rehabilitation programs.

 What is your next project related to hearing loss?

 I am currently working on several projects related to hearing loss. In one, I am looking at the relationship between an individual’s hearing loss and his/her spouse’s mental health outcomes. Few population-based studies have examined the relationship between hearing loss and spousal mental health longitudinally, so I hope this study will shed light on the experience of spousal disability within marriages.

Another project I am working on looks at hearing loss from a life course perspective. In other words, I am looking at people who self-reported hearing loss before the age of 16 and seeing how their hearing loss influenced their marriages, academics and careers. A better understanding of how early life hearing loss influences later life outcomes has implications for earlier identification of hearing loss and/or the use of assistive technology to help people remain socially, academically, and economically engaged.

CITATION: West, Jessica S. 2017. “Hearing Impairment, Social Support, and Depressive Symptoms among U.S. Adults: A Test of the Stress Process Paradigm.” Social Science & Medicine 192(Supplement C):94-101.

 Read the paper 

Guest post by Eric Ferreri, News and Communications

Jonathan Mattingly: Mathematics and Maps to Define Democracy

Jonathan Mattingly is the chair of mathematics at Duke and an alumnus of the NC School of Science and Math

What began as an undergraduate project looking at how to create a “typical” map of congressional districts expanded to a national investigation for Duke mathematics chair Jonathan Mattingly. He was generous enough to speak to me about some of his recent work in mathematically investigating gerrymandering and the communication which followed between lawmakers and statisticians.

By strategically manipulating certain lines, it is possible to ensure a certain number of seats for one party even if that party does not win the majority vote. What “Team Gerrymandering” set out to do was to create an algorithm which would create the least biased map possible. The use of the term “fair” is complex in this instance, as politics and geography are very rarely simple enough to be split fairly.

An example of a mathematical model of precincts and districts.

In Wisconsin, the algorithm which “Team Gerrymandering” developed was used to prove that the voting districts were being disproportionately drawn in favor of the Republican votes, a trend which had was also been seen after the 2015 elections in North Carolina districts.

By strategically manipulating certain lines, it is possible to ensure a certain number of seats for one party even if that party does not win the majority vote. What “Team Gerrymandering” set out to do was to create an algorithm which would create the least biased map possible. The use of the term “fair” is complex in this instance, as politics and geography are very rarely simple enough to be split fairly.

The algorithm developed was then submitted as an brief amicus curae brief and used (it was used as a piece of appellate evidence) in the Wisconsin case Whitford vs. Bill. case. The mathematicians hoped to , in an attempt to prove that the districting of Wisconsin is an outlier in comparison to thousands of other mapping simulations run under their algorithm, which provide statistically sound data.

A problem such as this is a prime example of the bridge between the Humanities and STEM fields, which become increasingly separate as the level of expertise rises. as this truly bridges the humanities and STEM fields:, a solution has been found, but effectively communicating it was not as simple.

When asked about explaining and publishing this work in order to submit it as evidence, Mattingly admitted that it was, at times difficult, but it only further proved how important the effort is.

“It starts with a conversation. I’m willing to explain it, but you have to be willing to listen.”

A team full of lawyers looking to win a case is arguably a highly motivated audience, but this is not always the case. Mattingly, who is a 1988 graduate of the NC School of Science and Math which I attend, mentioned being at parties and hearing people state, “Oh, I’m no good at math, it’s just numbers and letters to me,” but he could never recount anyone saying “Oh, I don’t see the point in using language, or reading a dictionary.” These may seem like harmless comments, but a subconscious form of selective ignorance is still selective ignorance.

In light of the gerrymandering case, and “Team Gerrymandering’s” involvement in it, we are called to think again about the importance of fields we are not necessarily involved in, especially the STEM fields. What other patterns aren’t we noticing because we failed to look? Where else could we be improving if we were willing to listen? If we both don’t try, then we aren’t getting anywhere.”

The results of the Whitman vs Gill case are expected in June of 2018, and until then, the conversation must continue.

UPDATE: On Jan. 9, a federal court panel struck down North Carolina’s Congressional district maps on the grounds that they had been gerrymandered to favor Republicans. Mattingly commented.

Guest post by Paris Geolas, a senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Math

Beatriz Morris: Providing Pediatric Care in Two Languages

“‘Betty, education is the most important thing,” her father said. “We lost our home, our land, our cars, our farm, everything we have ever owned. But what I have in my head, no one can take away from me.’”

Six-year-old Beatriz glanced back up at her father and then towards the new life ahead of her. She would remember this moment in all of her years to come.

Beatriz Morris MD

Beatriz Morris, MD, practices pediatric medicine in English and Spanish at Duke Children’s Primary Care near the Southpoint Mall.

Beatriz and her family immigrated to the United States from Cuba seeking religious freedom and an escape from communism with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Beatriz’s father instilled a lesson in her that day which she now sees as a life philosophy. She prioritizes learning, for it is the one thing no one else has power over.

Learning English at the age of six was not a hard task for Beatriz, and she is still bilingual. Today, she is Dr. Beatriz Morris, practicing pediatric medicine at Duke Children’s Primary Care near the Southpoint Mall. She completed her residency at Emory University and  has been in practice for over 20 years, but never imagined she would be walking the path that she is today.

“I never thought I would be a pediatrician. It was not on my list, it was not anything to me,” said Dr. Morris. She uses a proverb to remind us to never say never. “Never say you’re not going to be drinking from this water because you will be drinking gallons.”

Dr. Morris went to undergraduate school intending to pursue art, with a specific career goal in mind – to illustrate medical textbooks. To meet the requirements for a medical illustration major in graduate school, she ended up receiving enough credits in both art and science to double major for her bachelor’s degree. But in applying to illustration school, she never could have predicted what happened next.

“I went to medical school because I did not get into art school,” Dr. Morris explained. “Eventually I did an internship year at a rotation after medical school, doing a little bit of everything. The good thing was that I started in pediatrics.”

From there on out, Dr. Morris never looked back. She has been practicing in pediatrics for over twenty years, embracing both her Hispanic and American heritages. Speaking both Spanish and English allows Dr. Morris to make her patients comfortable by not only knowing their languages, but also having a deep understanding of both cultures.

Dr. Morris explained how that something seemingly simple, such as the phrasing of questions, can determine a patient’s comfort level. For example, in American culture, it is polite of the doctor to ask permission of the patient before beginning the consultation, such as saying ‘Do you mind if we talk about your weight?’

In Hispanic culture, this verbiage would make the doctor appear unknowledgeable to the patient. The patient is more trusting of the doctor through confidence, by saying something like ‘Let me tell you what you need to do about your weight.’

“A lot of times people feel more comfortable speaking in their own language,” she said. “There are colloquialisms of phrases, things like that, that make talking in their native language a lot easier for them.”

Dr. Morris wakes up every day excited to do her job. She reflected on the moment when she knew that pediatrics was the specialty she was meant to work in. On her internship rotation, Dr. Morris spoke to a nurse, who then told her that she would make a great pediatrician.

“That moment was when I started thinking that pediatrics might be a calling for me. This might be something that I did not think of, but it might be my purpose in life. This career has been the best choice I have made.”

Her advice to those looking for a lifelong fulfilling career is best described by how you feel waking up in the morning. Is waking up to go to work dreadful, or are you opening your eyes happy, knowing that you have the privilege to do what you love for another day?

“Don’t do something because it will be easy, for money, or because your parents tell you to,” she advised. “Do something because it is in your heart. If they close the door on you, open the window,” Dr. Morris said.

Samantha GonskiGuest Post by Samantha Gonski, a senior at North Carolina School of Science and Math

David Carlson: Engineering and Machine Learning for Better Medicine

How can we even begin to understand the human brain?  Can we predict the way people will respond to stress by looking at their brains?  Is it possible, even, to predict depression based on observations of the brain?

These answers will have to come from sets of data, too big for human minds to work with on our own. We need mechanical minds for this task.

Machine learning algorithms can analyze this data much faster than a human could, finding patterns in the data that could take a team of researchers far longer to discover. It’s just like how we can travel so much faster by car or by plane than we could ever walk without the help of technology.

David Carlson Duke

David Carlson in his Duke office.

I had the opportunity to speak to David Carlson, an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering with a dual appointment at the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics at Duke University.  Through machine learning algorithms, Carlson is connecting researchers across campus, from doctors to statisticians to engineers, creating a truly interdisciplinary research environment around these tools.

Carlson specializes in explainable machine learning: algorithms with inner workings comprehensible by humans. Most deep machine learning today exists in a “black box” — the decisions made by the algorithm are hidden behind layers of reasoning that give it incredible predictive power but make it hard for researchers to understand the “why” and the “how” behind the results. The transparent algorithms used by Carlson offer a way to capture some of the predictive power of machine learning without sacrificing our understanding of what they’re doing.

In his most recent research, Carlson collaborated with Dr. Kafui Dzirasa, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and assistant professor in neurobiology and neurosurgery, on the effects of stress on the brains of mice, trying to understand the underlying causes of depression.

“What’s happening in neuroscience is the amount of data we’re sorting through is growing rapidly, and it’s really beginning to outstrip our ability to use classical tools,” Carlson says. “A lot of these classical tools made a lot more sense when you had these small data sets, but now we’re talking about this canonically overused word, Big Data”

With machine learning algorithms, it’s easier than ever to find trends in these huge sets of data.  In his most recent study, Carlson and his fellow researchers could find patterns tied to stress and even to how susceptible a mouse was to depression. By continuing this project and looking at new ways to investigate the brain and check their results, Carlson hopes to help improve treatments for depression in the future.

In addition to his ongoing research into depression, Carlson has brought machine learning to a number of other collaborations with the medical center, including research into autism and patient care for diabetes. When there’s too much data for the old ways of data analysis, machine learning can step in, and Carlson sees potential in harnessing this growing technology to improve health and care in the medical field.

“What’s incredibly exciting is the opportunities at the intersection of engineering and medicine,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of opportunities to combine what’s happening in the engineering school and also what’s happening at the medical center to try to create ways of better treating people and coming up with better ways for making people healthier.”

Guest Post by Thomas Yang, a junior at North Carolina School of Math and Science.

Kathleen Pryer: A Passion for the Little-Loved Fern

Most people don’t see in ferns the glory and grandeur of the mighty angiosperms — the flowering plants — but to those who can, ferns may seem like the only thing you could spend your time researching.

Fei-wei Li, Kathleen Pryer

Kathleen Pryer, with former graduate student Fei-Wei Li. (Duke photography)

Kathleen Pryer, a professor of biology at Duke, is an example of one of these people who found their calling in ferns. But she didn’t know it would be ferns from the beginning.

As an undergraduate, she had thought she wanted to be an animal behaviorist, having read books by Jane Goodall, so she enrolled in McGill University in Montreal (she’s Canadian by the way) in the animal behavior program and didn’t end up taking a single botany course until her senior year.  For her final project she worked with snails, a starkly slow endeavor, she thought. Slower even than ferns. After getting her degree in animal behavior, she decided she wanted a masters working with plants, but before jumping right in with only one class’ worth of experience with plants, she worked as a technician for a budding ecologist.  While working there, the ecologist’s wife, who did her masters on ferns, took her on a trip to the annual meeting of the botanical society of America in Blacksburg, VA, a 13-hour trip.

In Virginia, she went on a 2-day field trip through Virginia, led by fern expert Warren Wagner, finding ferns with 107 other people who were mad about ferns.

“It was just serendipity really.”

After that, the idea of ferns stuck, and she’s been working with them ever since.  She’s gotten the chance to name or rename many species of fern, and she created the genus Gaga, named after the singer.  Another new genus she found is soon to be named Mandela by her as well; a nice change from the usual names of “old white guys,” given to new genera, she said.

Through it all though, Pryer is most proud of a paper from 2001, which showed that all modern ferns originated from a central progenitor, showing that they aren’t as archaic as most people think. That paper made the cover of Nature, and has been cited hundreds of times since.

In the end, I guess it’s really hard to tell where you’ll end up.  If an aspiring animal behaviorist can jump to the world of ferns and make a successful career out of it, surely there’s hope for the rest of us too.  In the end, all that matters is if you’re doing what you love, and as for Kathleen Pryer, she’ll keep doing what she loves as long as there’s a “chair and a microscope” for her to sit at.

Isaac PoarchGuest Post by Isaac Poarch, a senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Math

Leonor Corsino: Research and Care Toward Alleviating Diabetes

Dr. Leonor Corsino works to relieve the prevalent issues regarding diabetes and obesity. An endocrinologist and professor at the Duke School of Medicine, her passions lie in understanding the struggles that diabetics face through comprehensive patient care and communication.

Leonor Corsino

Her interests in endocrinology began at a young age. She grew up watching her father and many other members of her family challenged with balancing a normal life alongside diabetes. When she progressed to medical school, she was fascinated by the workings of the hormonal system, one of the most neatly regulated of all the biological systems.

“When it works in harmony, everything is perfect, but when something goes off, it affects many other organs,” she says.

Corsino believes that patient-provider communication is the most important thing for the makings of a good endocrinologist. As the Associate Director for Masters in Biomedical Sciences, she aims to teach students pursuing a career as a healthcare professional to be empathetic. “[A student] can be the smartest person in world, but if [they] don’t know how to communicate with the patient, their ability to provide care gets compromised.”

Another factor that plays a role in providing good patient care is the amount of time available to treat each person, according to Corsino. Although Corsino always aspires to treat her patients to the best of her abilities, occasionally, the limited time she has with each individual can impose difficulties with empathizing and treating patients. However, many regular patients don’t mind when their appointments are delayed because they know that they will receive better care when they are able to get her undivided attention.

Beyond her clinical expertise, Corsino’s research focuses on similar issues. Through her research, she intends to improve the healthcare of minorities in the country, as they are the groups that are most affected by diabetes. In the past 11 years, she has introduced interventions to improve and maintain weight loss and worked with pharmaceutical companies to look at potential drugs to treat diabetes. She intends to answer the questions “How do we motivate people to exercise? What is the reason some people struggle with diabetes and other people don’t?”

Corsino has found that biological factors play an equal role to environmental factors in the risk of getting diabetes. Sometimes, even if a patient strictly adheres to the prescribed treatment, they still don’t see the same results and progress as others do. This distinction can be attributed to things like differences in fat distribution and insulin resistance.

In her work, Dr. Corsino tries to alleviate the stress and difficulties that those with diabetes and obesity encounter. As a doctor and professor, she inspires others to pursue a career in public health and provide healthcare to those who need it.

Sindhu PolavaramGuest Post by Sindhu Polavaram, a senior at North Carolina School of Science and Math

Martin Brooke: Mentoring Students Toward an X Prize for Ocean Robotics

We know less about the ocean floor than the surface of the moon. As one of the most unexplored areas of the world, multiple companies have begun to incentivize ingenuity towards exploring the oceans. Among these organizations are the Gates Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, and X Prize.

XPrize team at Duke

Martin Brooke, second from left, and the student team with their giant drone.

Martin Brooke, an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke, is presently leading a group of students who are working on mapping the ocean floor in an efficient way for the X Prize challenge.

Brooke said “open ended problems where you don’t know what to do” inspire him to do research about ocean engineering and design.

Martin Brooke

Martin Brooke

Collaborating with professors at the Duke Marine Lab that “strap marine sensors on whales” was a simple lead-in to starting a class about ocean engineering a few years ago. His teaching philosophy includes presenting the students with problems that make them think, “we want to do this, but we have no idea how.”

Before working on a drone that drops sensor pods down into the ocean to map the ocean floor, Brooke and his students built a sensor that could be in the ocean for a month or more and take pH readings every five seconds for a previous X Prize challenge.

Addressing the issues that many fisheries faced, he told me that he met an oyster farmer in Seattle who wished that there were pH sensors in the bay because sometimes tides bring in “waves of high pH water into the sound and kill all of the oysters without warning.” Citing climate change as the cause for this rise in pH, Brooke explained how increased carbon dioxide in the air dissolves into the water and raises the acidity. Emphasizing how “there’s not enough data on it,” it’s clear that knowing more about our oceans is beneficial economically and ecologically.

Guest Post by Sofia Sanchez, a senior at North Carolina School of Math and Science

Anita Layton: A Model of STEM Versatility

Using mathematics to model the kidney and its biological systems is a field of study located at the intersection of two disciplines.

Anita Layton is a math professor at Duke. (Photo by Chris Hildreth, Duke Photography)

But for Duke’s Anita Layton, PhD, the Robert R. and Katherine B. Penn Professor of Mathematics and a professor of biomedical engineering, that just adds to the fun of it.

Growing up, with her father as the head of mathematics at her school, she was always told she was going to be a mathematician just like him. So she knew that was the last thing she wanted to do.

When Layton arrived as an undergraduate at Duke, she began a major in physics, but she seemed rather cursed when it came to getting correct results from her experiments. She settled for a BA in physics, but her academic journey was far from over. She had also taken a computer science course at Duke and fallen in love with it. If an experiment went wrong “things didn’t smell or blow up” and you could fix your mistake and move on, she said.

While pursuing her PhD in computer science at the University of Toronto, Layton was performing very math-oriented computer science, working with and analyzing numbers. However, it would be a while before biology entered the mix

While she was never good at dissections, she told me she was always good at understanding things that ‘flow’ and she came to the realization that blood is something that flows. She thought, “Hey, I can do that.

Anita Layton, Duke

Anita Layton, Ph.D.

Layton began creating programs that could solve the equations that model blood flow quickly, using her background in computer science. She then started learning about physiology, focusing on the renal system, and making models

It was a journey that took her to many different places, with pit stops and U-turns throughout many different fields. Had Layton stuck with just physics or computer science or math, she never would have ventured out and found this field that she is an expert in now.

It’s her interest in many different fields that has set Layton apart from many other people in the STEM field. In learning a wide variety of things, she has gotten better at computer science, mathematics, biology, physics, and more

When asked about what advice she would give her younger self, or any young person going into college, it would be to do just that: “Learn more things that you’re not good at.” She encouraged just taking a chemistry or biology class once in a while, or a philosophy course that makes you think in ways that you don’t normally. It’s often in those classes that you unearth things that can truly set your life in a completely different direction, Layton said, and she’s living proof of that.

Cecilia Poston, NCSSM

Cecilia Poston

Guest Post by Cecilia Poston, a senior at North Carolina School of Science and Math

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