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What Comes Next for the Law of the Sea Treaty?

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More than 40 years since its signing, the United States still has not ratified an international agreement known as the “constitution of the oceans.” In a webinar held April 2, two of the world’s leading ocean diplomacy scholars met to discuss its history, challenges, and the U.S.’s potential role in the future.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was truly revolutionary for its time. Unraveling against the backdrop of decades of conflict pertaining to maritime affairs, the significance of this conference and its attempts at negotiating a comprehensive legal framework cannot be understated. Key figures in this development include the members of the United Nations, coastal and landlocked states, the scientific community, environmental community, and developing nations. Yet, with the conclusion of this unifying conference, a singular question remained: What comes next? 

This question is what David Balton, the executive director of the U.S. Artic Steering Committee, and David Freestone, a Professor at George Washington University and the Executive Secretary of the Sargasso Sea Commission, aimed to address in a webinar titled, “The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea at 40.” In this discussion a range of topics were discussed but the primary focus was providing viewers with a comprehensive understanding of the events of this convention and the way this history plays out in modern times. 

Picture of Ambassador David Balton (Obtained from the Wilson Center)

The 1982 convention was one of multiple attempts at setting parameters and guidelines for maritime control. In 1958, the council met for the first time to discuss growing concerns regarding the need for a comprehensive legal framework regarding ocean governance. In this they brought multiple representatives worldwide to discuss the breadth of territorial waters, the rights of coastal states, freedom of navigation, and the exploitation of marine resources. This conversation laid the groundwork for future discussions. However, it was largely ineffective at generating a treaty as they were unable to reach a consensus on the breadth of territorial waters. This first conference is referred to as UNCLOS I. 

Following 1958, in 1960 the members of the council and associated parties convened once again to discuss the issues brought forth by UNCLOS I. The purpose of this conference was to further discuss issues pertaining to the Law of the Sea and build a framework to begin ratification of a binding treaty to ensure that conflict regarding the sea diminishes greatly. This discussion was set in the context of the Cold War. This new setting complicated discussions as talks regarding the implementation of nuclear weapons under the deep seabed further elicited great debate and tensions. While the aim of this meeting was of course to reach a general agreement on these subjects, major differences between states and other parties prohibited UNCLOS II from producing said treaty. 

UNCLOS III served as the breadwinner of this development, yet this is not to say that results were immediate. Negotiations for UNCLOS III were the longest of the three as they spanned from 1973 to 1982. UNCLOS II was particularly special due to its ability to produce revolutionary concepts such as archipelagic status and the establishment of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), granting coastal states exclusive rights over fishing and economic resources within 200 miles of their shores. In addition, this led to the development of the International Seabed Authority and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Despite the limitations and unfinished agenda that preceded this, the treaty was officially ratified in 1994 at Montego Bay. The convention initially received 157 signatories and currently holds participation from 169 parties. Absent from this group are the United States, Turkey, and Venezuela. The convention was designed to work as a package deal and required nations to fully commit to the agreement or abstain entirely. For this reason, the United States retains a nonparty, observer status despite to their adherence to the rules and guidelines of the treaty. 

After this explanation, Balton and Freestone addressed the big question: What comes next? As of right now, the United States is still not a signatory of this treaty. However, this is not to say that they are in violation of this treaty either. The United States participates in discussions and negotiations related to UNCLOS issues, both within the United Nations and through bilateral and multilateral engagements. In addition, the Navy still upholds international law in dealings concerning navigational rights. The one factor many claims prohibits the United States from signing is the possibility of their sovereignty being challenged by certain provisions within the treaty. In spite of this, many continue to push to change this reality, advocating for the United States to ratify this agreement. 

Picture of Professor David Freestone (Obtained from Flavia at World Maritime University)

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea remains a pivotal moment in the history of international maritime governance. This Convention led to many insightful and necessary developments which will continue to set precedent for generations to come. While imperfect, the efforts put forth by many nations and third parties to ensure that it remains consistent with modern day times is very telling of the hopeful development of this treaty. Furthermore, while the future of U.S. involvement in the treaty is uncertain, the frameworks established by the three UNCLOS’ provide a solid foundation for addressing contemporary challenges and furthering international cooperation. 

Post by Gabrielle Douglas, Class of 2027
Post by Gabrielle Douglas, Class of 2027

Echoes of Liberty: Revisiting the Swatantra Party’s Vision for India’s Economy

If you’re looking to revisit the nuanced history of the Swatantra Party in post-colonial India, you’ve come to the right place! During Aditya Balasubramanian’s talk on his book, ‘Toward a Free Economy: Swatantra and Opposition Politics in Democratic India’, I embarked on a journey that not only took me back to South Asia’s economy but also helped me reflect on the broader implications of Balasubramanian’s vision for a free economy. 

I grew up to have an interest in India’s economic history. Living in Pakistan, we (my household) always looked toward our neighboring country, India, to reflect on our own economic situation. The echoes of discussion on free economy versus socialist planning reverberated in the hallways of everywhere I turned to. The narrative of the Swatantra Party, as captured in the book and the talk, presents a fascinating counterpoint to the dominant economic narratives in post-colonial India, challenging us to ponder the possibilities of a different economic path.

Balasubramanian talked about the heart of Swatantra’s ideology: a profound belief in a nonsectarian, right-wing political stance, advocating for an unfettered private economy and a decentralized economic system. The party’s anti-communism stance wasn’t merely ideological but a practical caution against nationalization. This reminds me of discussions with my grandmother, who, amidst the economic challenges of her time, often lamented the lost opportunities for economic liberalization that Swatantra championed.

Balasubramanian went on to explain the narrative of the Indian libertarian, Ranchhoddas Bhuvan Lotwala, and his transformation of a flower shop into a machine-operated flour mill encapsulates the spirit of economic innovation and entrepreneurship that Swatantra celebrated. This story, emblematic of the broader push for modernization and the embrace of new technologies, serves as a reminder of the countless small businesses across India that continue to innovate and adapt in the face of changing economic landscapes. These small businesses play a bigger role than we think, and the economy of the government can aid in transforming their potential. Swatantra and its stories serve as proof for that. 

He concluded the talk by pointing out three things that need our attention::

1)    Exploring how a free-market economy can work alongside federal government policies.

2)    Addressing how special interests have influenced policies in a way that ignores regional concerns, particularly noting the removal of corporate taxes. 

3)    Emphasizing the importance of limiting authoritarian tendencies to ensure a balanced and democratic governance system.

The Swatantra Party’s story is a reminder of the enduring power of ideas and the impact they can have on the economic and political fabric of a nation: it is a story that must never be forgotten. Afterall, there’s too much to learn from it.

Post by Noor Nazir, class of 2027

The Invisible Role of Women in Africa’s Liberation Movements

“Claims to knowledge are claims to power”

This phrase succinctly encapsulates Dr. Rama Salla Dieng’s talk on the intricate relationship between information and the patriarchy that exists, and has existed, in our society. 

As a Pan-Africanist Feminist scholar-activist, Dr. Dieng’s research mainly encompasses the Anti-Colonial Feminist Solidarity in West Africa. She delved into the Yewwu Yewwi, the first feminist movement in Senegal. She further highlighted the main aims of the women’s liberation movement; to cultivate and maintain solidarity between the members, to stand in solidarity with all Senegalese women, and to show support with all other victims of apartheid.

The focus of this talk was to shed light on movements in Africa that have supported women. She accentuated the importance of mid-wifes, and women who oversaw child-care, cooked, and worked on the fields. They were leading, not from the front but from the back. According to her, the purpose of the liberation movement is to not only celebrate the visible, but also acknowledge the invisible – the true backbone of those who lifted others during the apartheid. 

“Can rural African women be heard alongside Aimé and Senghor as also articulating prescient visions of liberation in the 20th century? Can M’ballia Camara’s death at the hands of a canton chief, her pregnant body slashed open by his saber in a dispute over local taxes for the colonial administration, speak across time and archival silences? Can it speak into a historical canon that is only now beginning to acknowledge black women as midwives who help to birth anticolonial movements and bear witness also to the leadership in these movements?” Dieng used Joseph-Gabriel’s poignant reflections to emphasize the pivotal yet overlooked contributions of rural African women in shaping liberation narratives, highlighting the necessity of integrating their voices into our historical understanding.

Dieng’s exploration into the Yewwu Yewwi movement and her invocation of historical accounts like M’ballia Camara’s tragic fate highlight a crucial message: the narratives of rural African women are integral to understanding the full spectrum of liberation efforts. By recognizing the gendered labor that has sustained communities through apartheid and beyond is not only existent but invaluable, we can begin to dismantle the structures of patriarchy that have long marginalized these vital contributions. 

M'ballia Camara

M’balia Camara: Guinean independence activist

As I reflect on the significance of these revelations, I am reminded that the path to true liberation is paved with the stories of those who have been overlooked.

Let us commit to making these voices heard, ensuring their rightful place in the annals of history and in the continuing struggle for equality and justice!

Post by Noor Nazir, class of 2027

Big Bets on Humanity: How Rajiv Shah’s Audacity is Winning the Fight Against Pandemics

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If your community relied on COVID-19 rapid tests to reopen safely during the first year of the pandemic, there’s a good chance Rajiv Shah had something to do with it. Not just for his ambition but also for his audacity to transform the nature of our response to pandemics: Rajiv Shah, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, played a crucial role in scaling up diagnostic testing for COVID-19.

He’s also the man who tackled Ebola with the Obama Administration. Back then, Shah and his team embarked on a “big bet” to deploy 2,500 troops to fight the disease, not on the battlefield, but on the frontlines of human health.  Much like the name of his 2023 book “Big Bets,” he embarked on a journey to change the world. 

In a Jan. 31 talk hosted by the Duke Global Health Institute, Shah discussed his “big bet mindset” when it comes to tackling public health challenges.

Bet #1 Diagnostic Testing at Scale 

For starters, what’s a big bet? 

“It’s a big bet you take on the community to help young people get opportunities. Often, when we think of charitable endeavors, we imagine that doing a little bit is beneficial because it makes us feel good. In contrast, a big endeavor means taking on something significant and engaging in the hard work necessary. It’s about going beyond just doing the best we can; this isn’t merely a charitable endeavor, it’s a strategic approach to ensure national security.” Shah explained. 

Keeping true to his word, the goal was clear: administer 30 million tests per week to preempt the need for lockdowns and enable a safer, faster return to normalcy. This was not just a health initiative; it was a socio-economic strategy aimed at averting total disaster. He took a big bet, and the numbers spoke for themselves. The Rockefeller Foundation played a pivotal role in assisting schools with their reopening strategies during the pandemic. This support included the establishment of collaborative networks, the development of resources and guidelines, and the provision of expert recommendations. Now do you get why this man probably saved your life? It’s because he did! 

Bet #2 A Memo for Bill Gates 

It wasn’t all that easy for him though. He had his haters (don’t we all?). Perhaps the difference was, his hater was Bill Gates. But he successfully proved Gates wrong too. Thankfully, Gates and Shah are more like besties than anything now. Despite the initial dismissal of his ideas as “the stupidest thing,” Shah’s persistence and innovative thinking paved the way for a groundbreaking bond structure to fund vaccinations, ultimately saving millions of children’s lives. Shah and Gates – two greats in one room – inevitability led to the production of something good: The Vaccine Alliance. This meeting set the stage for a three-year roadmap focused on a bond structure to fund vaccinations. This initiative ultimately contributed to saving 16 million children’s lives. 

The Final Bet: The Power of Experimentation. 

I’ll be honest, I was intimidated walking into this room. I was in my Duke hoodie, not expecting fancy foods, and coat checks (good news: this meant they recorded his speech and uploaded it on YouTube. Check it out!).

At the heart of Shah’s philosophy is a belief in the power of experimentation and innovation. His call to “keep experimenting” embodies the spirit of resilience and creativity that is essential for tackling the world’s most daunting health challenges. Being amidst well-suited individuals while donned in a hoodie wasn’t an experiment in the scientific sense, but it was an experience that highlighted the contrast between expectations and reality, comfort zones and the unfamiliar. It served as a metaphor for the broader experiments we’re all a part of—those that push us beyond our boundaries, challenge our preconceptions, and ultimately lead to growth.

His book was called ‘Big Bets’ because the editors thought it was catchy. They were right. But this title doesn’t just grab our attention—it invites us into a world where daring to dream big and taking calculated risks can lead to monumental changes in public health and beyond.

Post by Noor Nazir, class of 2027

Acknowledging America’s Unspoken Caste System

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Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson took the Page Auditorium stage on February 22 to discuss her most recent book, “Caste,” and its implications for modern-day America. Co-hosted by the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, the event featured a lecture and Q&A section.

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups.”

Isabel Wilkerson

When Wilkerson first published “Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents,” it spent 55 weeks on the U.S. best sellers list. Barack Obama put it in his 2020 reading list, and Oprah Winfrey sent the book to Fortune 500 CEOs around the world. Since then, it has sold over 1.56 million copies and has become a #1 New York Times best seller.

In other words: “Caste” is the Beyoncé of books.

Pictured: Author Isabel Wilkerson and her book, “Caste.”

Wilkerson began by reminding the audience of the recentness of our country’s progress. “In recent times it’s not been unusual to hear people say something along the lines of ‘I don’t recognize my country,’ Wilkerson began. “And whenever I hear that I’m reminded that tragically not enough of us have had the chance to know our country’s true and full history.” She described the U.S. as a patient with a preexisting health condition, asserting that America has been plagued by racism since its inception. Like a chronic disease, these roots continuously persist and flare up.

Pictured: A visual timeline of Black oppression in the United States

For context, the United States is 247 years old. A full 89 of those years were spent in slavery and 99 were spent in the Jim Crow era. For 227 years, race was considered an innate, factual construct (until the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003). Racial injustice isn’t a period of history in this country, it is this country’s history.

Wilkerson furthered her point by detailing the dehumanizing customs of the Jim Crow caste system in the South. “You could go to jail if you were caught playing checkers with a person of a different race,” Wilkerson said. “That means that someone had to have seen a Black person and a white person in some town square… And they felt that the entire foundation of southern civilization was in peril and took the time to write that down as a law.” Before the late 20th century, there was even a separate Black and White Bible to take an oath in court. “That means that the very word of God was segregated in the Jim Crow South,” Wilkerson said.

She described this system of racial oppression as an “arbitrary, artificial, graded ranking of human value” – in other words, a caste system. She highlighted how race was weaponized by early colonists to determine “who would be slave or free, who would have rights and no rights.”

This caste system wasn’t just a “sad, dark chapter,” Wilkerson said. It’s “the foundation of the country’s political, social, and economic order.”

For 6 million Black southerners, the caste system became so suffocating that migrating across the country (a movement called The Great Migration), seemed like the only path to freedom. “No other group of Americans has had to act like immigrants in order to be recognized as citizens,” Wilkerson said. “So this great migration was not a move. It was not about moving. It was a defection. A seeking of political asylum within the borders of one’s own country.”

But the U.S. caste system extends far past slavery and Jim Crow. Take the vastly different police response to the January 6 Capitol riot compared to BLM protests during the summer of 2020. “We alive today are tasked with explaining to succeeding generations how…a rioter could deliver the Confederate flag farther than Robert E. Lee himself.” The United States has never adequately dealt with its racist history, which is why it keeps repeating itself.

Photo Credit: NBC

In a powerful call to action, Wilkerson urged the audience to honor these histories and “teach the children so that we can end these divisions now with the next generation.” She shared the aspiration of novelist Richard Wright: “To transplant in alien soil…and perhaps just perhaps to bloom” in a more equitable world.

Want to learn more about Isabel Wilkerson’s work? Click here.

Written by: Skylar Hughes, Class of 2025

Soldier to Philanthropist: Abraham George’s Lasting Legacy at Shanti Bhavan

From his time in the Indian military to his journey to the NYU Stern School of Business to making his mark in India through his social work, Abraham George seems to be, and indeed is, a jack of all trades. He is the founder and principal of Shanti Bhavan, a school for students born into India’s lowest socioeconomic class.

“The last 29 years since I founded Shanti Bhavan, it has been the most rewarding and satisfying part of my life – I’ve done a lot of stuff, but nothing compares to what I’ve done with this,” George said. “The satisfaction comes from the fact that the children we have worked with are able to acquire jobs in Amazon and study in schools like Duke – one of them is here!” His words were infused with unmistakable passion. The crowd cheered the former student. We experienced a collective shiver down our spines; the fruit of George’s work was right in front of us – undeniable and beautiful.

The story of his life’s work was made into a Netflix documentary called “Daughters of Destiny.” Created and produced by Vanessa Roh, it featured the lives of students at the boarding school George founded. During his talk, we saw an ABC news segment called “Shanti Bhavan: haven of peace”.

After hearing the inspirations and motivations behind the creation of this boarding school, the designation of it being a ‘haven of peace’ is irrefutable.

George didn’t start in philanthropy. As an 18-year-old he found himself in the Indian military; he was posted near Tibet (in the Salem pass) where his job was to establish gun positions in case China invaded the country, India. In subzero temperatures, he lived through it for eleven months. During his time there, he read a quote ‘there is nothing right about war, it is about who is left’.

And so, George began asking himself questions: Why was he ready to take people’s lives? What was he truly doing with his life? And what would life be like in service of others?

He embarked on a newfound journey: to create a safe space where religion, caste or class does not matter. Today, Shanti Bhavan serves as a school for all – where students are not called ‘students’ but rather ‘children’.

A crucial question still stands: does the success of Shanti Bhavan prove the effectiveness of all charitable projects? When asked, George was quick to point out the fact that without money, there is no success. Consequently, his first goal was to earn, and second was to fund. Perhaps then all charitable causes could be effective if one has funding? It’s difficult to have a concrete answer, but it goes without saying that if it is true, George’s work serves as evidence.

George moved on from the life of a solider, to pursue education in the hopes of reaching a place where he could benefit others. “Think of a world only a heart can build and never ask why” – a memorable quote from a true benevolent force, akin to angelic presence.

Post by Noor Nazir, Class of 2027





Carrying on Dr. King’s Legacy: The Fight for Equity in Obesity Treatment

“Of all the forms of inequality” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said in a 1966 press conference, “injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhumane.”

In honor of King’s impact on public health, Duke’s dean of Trinity College Dr. Gary G. Bennett delivered a powerful address Jan. 12 at the Trent Semans Center. Entitled ‘You have to Keep Moving Forward: Obesity in High-Risk Populations,’ Bennett discussed America’s Obesity Epidemic, and its disproportionate effects on Black women.

“More than 40% of the American population has obesity,” Bennett began. Incidence rates among Black women are the highest and have been since the epidemic began in 1955. “These disparities have not closed, and in many cases, they’ve widened over the years,” Bennett said.

Raisi-Estabragh 2023

Type two diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease are just some of the health risks associated with obesity. Compared to other racial groups, Black women are more likely to suffer from these conditions, as well as die from their effects. Furthermore, it appears that the efficacy of treatment options is significantly lower for patients of African descent.

But why do such disparities exist in the first place? According to Bennett, they can be attributed to a range of internal and external factors. “There certainly are physiological variations that are worth noting here, which is perhaps a challenge in all of obesity research.”

Research published in the journal Nature in 2022 found that, while there are different forms of obesity, that have shared ‘genetic and biological underpinnings.’ Environmental factors are also driving disparities. Black women are “exposed to more obesogenic environments, food desserts,” Bennett explained.  With limited access to affordable and nutritious food, options for healthy eating are slim.

But perhaps most interestingly, Black women also have a range of sociocultural factors at play. “There are fewer within-group social pressures to lose weight,” Bennett maintained. Other sociocultural factors include higher body image satisfaction and higher weight misperception. “This is problematic in some ways,” he continued. While it protects against certain eating disorders and low self-esteem, “It does challenge your ability to achieve weight loss.”

For Black women, obesity is a complex public health issue that needs to be addressed.

But how? From medication to surgery, there are myriad potential treatment options. According to Bennett, however, the real key is lifestyle intervention. “It really is the foundation.” Comprised of three parts: reduced calorie diet, physical activity, and self-monitoring, lifestyle intervention is able to reach the widest range of participants.

Like other treatment options, the lifestyle intervention route shows racial disparities in its outcomes. Because of this, Dr. Bennett’s work focuses on developing methods that are designed with Black patients in mind.

At the forefront of his research is a new online intervention called iOTA, which stands for Interactive Obesity Treatment Approach. “This is a digital obesity approach that we designed specifically for high-risk populations.” The platform personalizes weight loss goals and feedback, which assist in program retention.

In addition, participants are equipped with coaching support from trained medical professionals. “This IOTA approach does a bunch of things,” Bennett said. “It promotes weight loss and prevents weight gain, improves cardiometabolics,” along with a host of other physical benefits. Results also show a reduction in depressive symptoms and increased patient engagement. Truly incredible.

Scholars like Bennett have continued the fight for public health equity- a fight advocated for by Dr. King many years ago. For more information on Bennett and his work, you can visit his website here.

Written by Skylar Hughes | Class of 2025

Putting Stronger Guardrails Around AI

AI regulation is ramping up worldwide. Duke AI law and policy expert Lee Tiedrich discusses where we’ve been and where we’re going.
AI regulation is ramping up worldwide. Duke AI law and policy expert Lee Tiedrich discusses where we’ve been and where we’re going.

DURHAM, N.C. — It’s been a busy season for AI policy.

The rise of ChatGPT unleashed a frenzy of headlines around the promise and perils of artificial intelligence, and raised concerns about how AI could impact society without more rules in place.

Consequently, government intervention entered a new phase in recent weeks as well. On Oct. 30, the White House issued a sweeping executive order regulating artificial intelligence.

The order aims to establish new standards for AI safety and security, protect privacy and equity, stand up for workers and consumers, and promote innovation and competition. It’s the U.S. government’s strongest move yet to contain the risks of AI while maximizing the benefits.

“It’s a very bold, ambitious executive order,” said Duke executive-in-residence Lee Tiedrich, J.D., who is an expert in AI law and policy.

Tiedrich has been meeting with students to unpack these and other developments.

“The technology has advanced so much faster than the law,” Tiedrich told a packed room in Gross Hall at a Nov. 15 event hosted by Duke Science & Society.

“I don’t think it’s quite caught up, but in the last few weeks we’ve taken some major leaps and bounds forward.”

Countries around the world have been racing to establish their own guidelines, she explained.

The same day as the US-led AI pledge, leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) — which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — announced that they had reached agreement on a set of guiding principles on AI and a voluntary code of conduct for companies.

Both actions came just days before the first ever global summit on the risks associated with AI, held at Bletchley Park in the U.K., during which 28 countries including the U.S. and China pledged to cooperate on AI safety.

“It wasn’t a coincidence that all this happened at the same time,” Tiedrich said. “I’ve been practicing law in this area for over 30 years, and I have never seen things come out so fast and furiously.”

The stakes for people’s lives are high. AI algorithms do more than just determine what ads and movie recommendations we see. They help diagnose cancer, approve home loans, and recommend jail sentences. They filter job candidates and help determine who gets organ transplants.

Which is partly why we’re now seeing a shift in the U.S. from what has been a more hands-off approach to “Big Tech,” Tiedrich said.

Tiedrich presented Nov. 15 at an event hosted by Duke Science & Society.

In the 1990s when the internet went public, and again when social media started in the early 2000s, “many governments — the U.S. included — took a light touch to regulation,” Tiedrich said.

But this moment is different, she added.

“Now, governments around the world are looking at the potential risks with AI and saying, ‘We don’t want to do that again. We are going to have a seat at the table in developing the standards.’”

Power of the Purse

Biden’s AI executive order differs from laws enacted by Congress, Tiedrich acknowledged in a Nov. 3 meeting with students in Pratt’s Master of Engineering in AI program.

Congress continues to consider various AI legislative proposals, such as the recently introduced bipartisan Artificial Intelligence Research, Innovation and Accountability Act, “which creates a little more hope for Congress,” Tiedrich said.

What gives the administration’s executive order more force is that “the government is one of the big purchasers of technology,” Tiedrich said.

“They exercise the power of the purse, because any company that is contracting with the government is going to have to comply with those standards.”

“It will have a trickle-down effect throughout the supply chain,” Tiedrich said.

The other thing to keep in mind is “technology doesn’t stop at borders,” she added.

“Most tech companies aren’t limiting their market to one or two particular jurisdictions.”

“So even if the U.S. were to have a complete change of heart in 2024” and the next administration were to reverse the order, “a lot of this is getting traction internationally,” she said.

“If you’re a U.S. company, but you are providing services to people who live in Europe, you’re still subject to those laws and regulations.”

From Principles to Practice

Tiedrich said a lot of what’s happening today in terms of AI regulation can be traced back to a set of guidelines issued in 2019 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, where she serves as an AI expert.

These include commitments to transparency, inclusive growth, fairness, explainability and accountability.

For example, “we don’t want AI discriminating against people,” Tiedrich said. “And if somebody’s dealing with a bot, they ought to know that. Or if AI is involved in making a decision that adversely affects somebody, say if I’m denied a loan, I need to understand why and have an opportunity to appeal.”

“The OECD AI principles really are the North Star for many countries in terms of how they develop law,” Tiedrich said.

“The next step is figuring out how to get from principles to practice.”

“The executive order was a big step forward in terms of U.S. policy,” Tiedrich said. “But it’s really just the beginning. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Robin Smith
By Robin Smith

The Second Kind of Impossible: The Thrilling Discovery of Quasicrystals

The finding of natural quasicrystals is a tale of “crazy stubborn people or stubbornly crazy people,” said physicist and Princeton professor, Paul J. Steinhardt, who spoke at Duke University on October 10 regarding his role in their discovery.

Quasicrystals were once thought to be impossible, as crystals were the only stable form of matter. Crystals allow for periodic patterns of atoms while quasicrystals allow for an ordered, yet non-periodic pattern that results in rotational symmetry. Crystals only allow for two-, three-, four-, and six-fold symmetry and create the geographical shapes of squares/rectangles, triangles, hexagons, and rhombuses (Figure 1). However, quasicrystals allow for ten-fold symmetry with unlimited layers of quasicrystal patterns and various shapes. The penrose tiles (Figure 2) is an example of one-dimensional quasicrystal pattern, while the kitchen tiles of your home is an example of a traditional crystal pattern. 

Figure 1

Figure 2

Steinhardt and his student, Don Levine, published a paper in 1984 attempting to prove the theory of quasicrystals

After the discovery of man-made quasicrystals from a fellow scientist, Steinhardt wanted to find quasicrystals in nature as opposed to laboratories. He began this by contacting museums with global mineral samples in case they contained undiscovered quasicrystals. This did not yield any results. 

Luca Bindi, who then worked for the Museum of Natural History at the University of Florence in Italy, discovered that Steinhardt was searching for natural quasicrystal and wanted to join his endeavors. Bindi found the first interesting sample at the museum he worked in through the rare mineral, khatyrkite, from the Koryak Mountains of Chukotka, Russia. They analyzed the tip of this sample, the width was that of a strand of hair, and discovered the most perfect ten-fold, rotationally symmetric pattern of a quasicrystal from minerals in nature. Even more interesting was that the chemical compound of this quasicrystal, Al63Cu24Fe13, was the exact composition of quasicrystals created in a Japanese laboratory, now found in a rock. 

Steinhardt then took these findings to Lincoln Hollister, a renowned geologist, for his expert opinion. Hollister proceeded to tell Steinhardt that this discovery is impossible as its chemical composition of metallic aluminum cannot be created in nature. Steinhardt wondered if this sample came from a meteorite, which was an “ignorant, stupid suggestion, but Lincoln didn’t know that,” Steinhardt said. Lincoln refers Steinhardt to Glenn Macpherson, an expert meteorologist, who further elaborated that metallic aluminum from meteorites is, once again, impossible. 

Two renowned experts in their fields describing the impossibility of Steinhardt and Bindi’s hypotheses was not enough for them to quit. Their next step was to trace Bindi’s khatyrkite to obtain more samples. Firstly, they attempted to find Nico Koekkoek, a Dutch mineral collector who had sold innumerable mineral samples to various museums. Dead end. Then they wrote to museums globally regarding their khatyrkite samples and discovered four potential samples. All fakes. Yet another dead end. Next was to analyze the legitimate sample in St. Petersburg because any sample of a newly discovered mineral must be given to a museum. The uncooperative discoverer, Leonid Razin, had immigrated to Israel and refused to let anyone touch the sample. They had hit a dead end again.

Bindi relayed this story to his sister and her friend over dinner. The friend’s neighbor shared the same common last name as the Dutch mineral collector, so the friend decided to ask his neighbor if it was an unlikely connection. Miraculously, the neighbor was the widow of the Dutch mineral collector and, after much persuading, handed over her late-husband’s secret diary. The diary reveals a mineral smuggler named Tim from Romania whom he received the khatyrkite. They were unable to locate Tim until Koekkoek’s widow relented yet another secret diary, which revealed that Tim had received these minerals from ‘L. Razin.’ The same Leonid Razin who refused them to view the sample! Eventually, Steinhardt discovered that Leonid Razid had sent a man named Valery Kryachko on an expedition for platinum. While he did not find platinum, he gave his samples to Leonid Razin, which astoundingly contained the natural quasicrystals that Steinhardt had searched for decades. Kryachko was completely unaware of its journey and even provided the remaining sample, which Steinhardt and his team used for testing. 

Steinhardt’s original “ignorant, stupid suggestion” proved remarkably accurate, as they discovered that a meteorite hit Chukotka and resulted in natural metallic aluminum. 

Steinhardt and his dream team needed more samples of khatyrkite to conduct further research. Therefore, seven Russians, five Americans, one Italian, and a cat named Buck set forth the scientific Mission Impossible for natural quasicrystals. They came back with several million grains and after a few weeks, found a sample of clay layer that had not been touched in 10,000 years. This was the first quasicrystal to be declared a natural mineral. They ultimately discovered a total of nine quasicrystal samples, each from a different part of the meteorite. 

Steinhardt and his team’s analysis of quasicrystals is still not over and his book, “The Second Kind of Impossible,” delves further into the outlandish details of the over 30 years of research. This extraordinary journey of passion and ambition allows for the thrilling hope for the future of scientific discovery.

By Samera Eusufzai, Class of 2026

“Wonders and Realities of the Universe”: Rachel Carson’s Legacy

Rachel Carson was a twentieth-century marine scientist, conservationist, and writer. She is the author of Silent Spring, a groundbreaking book about the dangers of DDT and other pesticides.
Photo courtesy of the Rachel Carson Council.

Robert K. Musil, Ph.D., M.P.H., recently visited Duke to talk about Rachel Carson’s environmental legacy and its implications for North Carolina today. Musil is the president and CEO of the Rachel Carson Council, an environmental organization founded in 1965 by friends and colleagues of Rachel Carson — a twentieth-century marine scientist, conservationist, and writer — after her death.

Robert K. Musil, Ph.D., M.P.H., president and CEO of the Rachel Carson Council.
Photo courtesy of Musil.

Musil began his presentation with a stirring quote by Carson: “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.”

Rachel Carson is famous for writing Silent Spring, a groundbreaking book warning of the dangers of DDT and other pesticides. Carson published Silent Spring in 1962. She died in 1964. In 1972, the United States banned DDT.

More than half a century later, in our world of climate crisis and biodiversity loss, Carson’s devotion to the natural world is still incredibly timely. 

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring documented how the insecticide DDT was harming not just insects but also animals farther up the food chain, human health, and the environment as a whole. The book spent thirty-one weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Image courtesy of the Rachel Carson Council.

Carson, Musil says, “believed that you had to develop real empathy for other creatures, other beings, other people, other nations… that unless you loved it, you would destroy it.” In Carson’s first book, Under the Sea-Wind, she takes the perspective of animals like the black skimmer, the mackerel, and the eel. Carson was writing about the perils facing marine ecosystems, but she was doing it “from the point of view of the ‘other,’” as Musil puts it, focusing our attention on creatures other than ourselves.

A black skimmer, a bird Rachel Carson wrote about in Under the Sea-Wind.
“Black skimmer (Rynchops niger) in flight” by Charles J. Sharp is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

“With the dusk a strange bird came to the island from its nesting grounds on the outer banks. Its wings were pure black, and from tip to tip their spread was more than the length of a man’s arm. It flew steadily and without haste across the sound, its progress as measured and as meaningful as that of the shadows which little by little were dulling the bright water path. The bird was called Rynchops, the black skimmer.”

-A passage from Under the Sea-Wind by Rachel Carson. Rynchops, Carson’s name for the black skimmer, comes from the bird’s genus name.

Musil describes how Carson would lie on the beach and hear crabs scratching the sand and listen to birds and imagine “how this life came to be, how these creatures, incredibly unique, came to this place in evolution.”

Carson was a marine scientist well before she published Silent Spring. She attended graduate school in marine biology with a full fellowship to Johns Hopkins University. At the same time, Musil says, she was working as a research assistant, teaching part-time at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins, and caring for extended family. Afterward, she worked for the Department of Fish and Wildlife and eventually became an author. Under the Sea-Wind was her first book; she wrote Silent Spring two decades later.

Carson is credited with spurring the modern environmental movement. Silent Spring and the concerns Carson raised about DDT prompted the President’s Science Advisory Committee, under the orders of John F. Kennedy, to investigate its dangers. Ultimately, DDT was banned in the United States, though Carson didn’t live to see it.

Rachel Carson and Hawk Mountain - Rachel Carson Council
An “iconic photo” by Shirley Briggs of Rachel Carson on Hawk Mountain.
Photo courtesy of the Rachel Carson Council.

But Musil emphasizes that throughout all Carson’s accomplishments, she did not act alone. He shows an “iconic photo,” as he describes it, of Rachel Carson sitting on Hawk Mountain and looking off into the distance through binoculars. The same photo is on the cover of Musil’s book Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America’s Environment. He looks at the audience and asks a question: “Is Rachel alone on top of the mountain?” In the photo, Carson seems to be alone in a great expanse of wilderness, but the obvious answer to Musil’s question is no. Someone, after all, had to be there to take the picture.

That someone was Shirley Briggs, a friend of Carson’s and a scientist in her own right. “Rachel Carson,” Musil emphasizes, “was not alone.” Friends, colleagues, and mentors worked alongside her. And many of those people continued her work after she was gone. Before Carson died, Musil says, she asked Shirley Briggs and others to form an organization to carry on her work. The Rachel Carson Council was founded the following year. Nearly six decades later, the Council is still committed to “Carson’s ecological ethic that combines scientific concern for the environment and human health with a sense of wonder and reverence for all forms of life in order to build a more sustainable, just, and peaceful future,” according to a statement on their website.

According to Musil, North Carolina was one of Carson’s favorite places. After she had a breast cancer operation, he says, “she took refuge at Nags Head and walked its beaches.” The Rachel Carson Reserve commemorates Carson and preserves coastal habitats and wildlife. Musil believes that Carson’s legacy has broader environmental implications as well. One pressing issue in North Carolina today is Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, where many animals are raised in confinement. North Carolina produces ten billion gallons of hog waste from CAFOs each year—enough to fill 1500 Olympic swimming pools, according to Musil.

This is an ecological and animal welfare issue but also an environmental justice case. CAFOs are more often built near lower income and minority communities, and the waste from CAFOs can negatively affect human health, pollute waterways, and lead to fish kills and other ecological problems. Living near CAFOs is associated with higher rates of asthma and other health conditions, according to Musil. He acknowledged Francesca Cetta in the audience, who along with Lucy Goldman, both Duke Stanback Fellows at the Rachel Carson Council, did the research and writing on the Rachel Carson Council report, Swine and Suffering: An Introduction to the Hidden Harms of Factory Farms.

Environmental justice was not a term Carson used, but she had similar concerns about who was most affected by environmental issues. In Silent Spring, Musil says, Carson wrote about farmers who dealt directly with DDT and how unjust that was. Today, environmental justice is gaining momentum as organizations and governments wrestle with fairness and equality in the environmental sphere.

In spite of ongoing environmental degradation, Musil remains hopeful. “I have incredible hope for the future,” he says, because of his organization and its mentoring of future generations of environmentalists. “It’s not like every single person has to go out and go birdwatching — though I would recommend it,” he says, but he does believe it is important to learn about and appreciate the natural world and to recognize how it intersects with, for instance, capitalism and social justice. “Designing a much more equitable, greener society is critical,” he says, and when it comes to working toward that future, he is “never going to stop.” 

He references the photo he showed earlier of Carson on the mountain: “I like to think instead of looking at hawks, she’s looking across those ridges and seeing… ranks and ranks of young people from Duke and across the country carrying on her vision.”

Post by Sophie Cox, Class of 2025

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