Research Centers

Research centers in the Nicholas School of the Environment are by design and intent flexible, multidisciplinary units. A major aim is to bring together specialized groups of scholars and professionals from many disciplines to focus their attention on current natural resources and environmental problems. The centers are headed by a director and staffed by an interdisciplinary faculty from Duke, neighboring universities, and a variety of public and private research organizations. Depending on the level of funding, the centers may also employ research assistants and other support staff. The centers do not offer courses or degrees; rather, they offer students, scientists, and other professionals an opportunity to participate in research through collaboration with affiliated faculty.

Juli Plant Grainger Center for River Science

Co-Directors: Martin Doyle, Professor of River Science and Policy, Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment; James Heffernan, Associate Professor of Ecosystem Ecology and Ecohydrology Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment and Director of Graduate Studies, Ecology PhD program (UPE); Emily Bernhardt, James B. Duke Distinguished Professor, Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment; and Ryan Emanuel, Associate Professor, Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy and co-chair, Community Engagement and Environmental Justice.

The River Center was formed in 2011 as an intellectual community of faculty, postdocs, students, and technical staff who share a common passion for the study of rivers and their watersheds. The current group consists of four Duke research labs (Doyle, Heffernan, Emanuel, and Bernhardt) that have an interest in advancing river science. Current research in the multidisciplinary labs spans watershed hydrology, geomorphology, ecology, biogeochemistry, and environmental economics and social sciences. Researchers in these labs also seek to inject the best possible science into ongoing discussions about stewardship of river ecosystems and their watersheds through policy and management. Research in the River Center includes both close collaborations among the core River Center labs and work with other faculty in the Nicholas School, in other departments at Duke, and with collaborators around the nation and the world.

The physical home of the River Center is located in the Duke Water Science Laboratory and Research Center, a state-of-the-art facility containing shared lab space and a shared analytical facility. Find more information at

Duke University Wetland Center

Director: Curtis J. Richardson, Research Professor of Resource Ecology, Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment. Associate Director: Brian R. Silliman, Rachel Carson Distinguished Professor of Marine Conservation Biology, Division of Marine Science & Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment

The goal of the Duke University Wetland Center is to provide sound scientific knowledge that will lead to sustainable wetland ecosystem functions and services locally, nationally, and globally. The center works toward this goal by conducting, sponsoring, and coordinating research and teaching on critical wetland issues, especially wetland and stream restoration, climate change effects on wetland nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, invasive species, and the role of wetlands in improving water quality and retention on the landscape.

Perhaps no single environmental issue has so polarized public opinion as the protection of wetlands. Part land and part water, the wetlands are ecosystems in which water levels and low oxygen support a unique ecological habitat conducive to the development of specific plant and animal species. Wetlands improve water quality, provide flood control, supply habitat for fish, and are a vital link between surface water and groundwater. They also store over 30% of the world’s carbon. Unfortunately, much of the public, not knowing about these functions and services, believe wetlands are of low value and should be drained or developed. As a result, the United States has lost over 50% of its wetlands.

By bringing together scientists, educators, and professionals, the Duke University Wetland Center is able to focus attention on wetland issues of regional, national, and international scale. Core researchers for the center are the director, faculty, visiting scholars, and graduate students. As part of a professional school within a private university, the Duke University Wetland Center works independently on wetland issues without the political pressures often brought to bear upon public institutions. Find more information at

Superfund Research Center

Director: Heather Stapleton, Ronie-Richele Garcia-Johnson Distinguished Professor, Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment

It is increasingly recognized that early life stages of humans and other organisms are particularly sensitive to environmental stressors such as pollutants. The Superfund Research Center unites researchers from the Nicholas School of the Environment, the Pratt School of Engineering, and the Duke University Medical Center in examining the effects of selected chemicals that are widespread in the environment, including Superfund sites. Of particular concern are effects on wildlife and human development, later life consequences of early life exposures, and new strategies for remediating heavily polluted areas such as Superfund sites. The center is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

The goal of the center is to elucidate exposures, mechanisms of toxicity, health consequences in humans and ecosystems, and remediation strategies for specific toxic chemicals selected based on their potential importance as developmental toxicants. Of particular interest are selected pesticides, metals, hydrocarbons, and flame retardants that affect development of the nervous system, cardiovascular system, and endocrine systems. In addition to conducting basic research in these areas, the center’s key activities include undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral training in the environmental health sciences and engineering, the translation of basic research findings into useful information for health professionals, government agencies, and the public, and active engagement with communities concerned with exposures to hazardous chemicals. Find more information at