Current Trainees

Anna Lewis

Anna completed research in marine and aquaculture molecular genomics at The Virginia Institute of Marine Science prior to her acceptance as an Environmental Health Engineering track PhD student. Now in an organic chemistry lab, she is interested in the use of non-target LC-HRMS for characterization of polymer additives in microplastic fibers. More specifically, she is studying disperse azobenzene dyes and PFAS-related compounds in synthetic fabrics. Her research focuses on measuring the “movement” or desorption of these compounds from the fibers into water, plus their biological uptake in oysters.
PhD Program: Civil & Environmental Engineering, EHE track
Faculty Advisor: Lee Ferguson, PhD
2020-2021 Status: 4th year
Contact: aml105@duke.edu

Beverly Jones deSouza

Beverly earned her B.S. in Biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology then worked as a research technician in several labs studying a range of topics, including immunology, cancer biology, and sex determination.  After spending a few years as a stay-at-home mom, she returned to school at Duke and earned a Master of Environmental Management degree with a concentration in Ecotoxicology and Environmental Health.  Her Master’s Project examined the toxicity of metabolites created during bioremediation of environmental contaminants.  During the PhD program, she plans to delve into more mechanistic studies of the effects of environmental contaminants on human health.
PhD Program: TBD
Faculty Advisor: TBD
2020-2021 Status: 1st year

Chrissy (Figan) Crute

Chrissy earned her B.S. in Environmental Science from George Mason University, where she conducted lab and field research studying the ecological impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Following graduation, she was an NIH postbac trainee where she studied malaria genetics. Passionate about the intersection of biomedical health sciences and the environment, she came to Duke to pursue research in reproductive and developmental toxicology. Chrissy is a member of the Murphy lab and Feng lab in the Division of Reproductive Sciences, OBGYN, where she studies how exposure to environmental chemicals during pregnancy affects placental and fetal development. She is also a Doctoral Certificate member of  the Duke Global Health Institute, who has supported her field research in China.
PhD Program: Environment
2020-2021 Status: 4th year

Christina Bergemann

Christina graduated with her B.S. degree in Environmental Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Since graduating, she has been working in the Nicholas School for the past two years, looking at how preconception exposure to toxicants alters mitochondrial function in offspring.  In the future, she hopes to explore how diet and the microbiome can influence chemical susceptibility and mitochondrial function.
PhD Program: Environment
Faculty Advisor: TBD
2020-2021 Status: 1st year

Dillon King

Dillon earned a B.S. in Biochemistry and a B.S. in Marine Science at Coastal Carolina University in 2017. As an undergraduate she conducted research in environmental health, organic chemistry, and cellular biology. Her current research focuses on understanding sexual dimorphisms in mitochondrial function and how early life exposures to mitochondrial toxicants alter epigenetic patterning that occurs in neurodevelopment.
PhD Program: Environment
2020-2021 Status: 3rd year

Elizabeth Fleming

Elizabeth Fleming is a PhD candidate in the Neurobiology Graduate Training Program and Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Certificate Program. Before coming to Duke, Elizabeth received her BA in Biology from Berea College. Elizabeth’s dissertation work focuses on neural signaling in the input layer of the cerebellum.
PhD Program: Neurobiology
Faculty Advisor: Court Hull, PhD
2020-2021 Status: 7th year

Ilaria Merutka

Ilaria graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017 with a dual B.S. in Biochemistry and Chemistry, where she studied the transcriptional effects of sleep deprivation using C. elegans.  Then she worked in the Tafesse Lab at OHSU to develop novel camelid-derived nanobodies and used them to interrogate and disrupt M. tuberculosis pathogenesis.  Ilaria’s interest in Toxicology is rooted in mechanisms of toxicant effects, predictive methods, and the bridge between model system data and actionable risk assessment.
PhD Program: TBD
Faculty Advisor: TBD
2020-2021 Status: 1st year

Katherine (Kate) Morton

Kate earned her B.S. in Biochemistry and B.A. in Political Science (National Security) from Virginia Tech, where she studied mosquito genome modifications and colonial-indigenous interactions in colonial South America.  Her interest in toxicology emerged with the hopes of understanding anthropogenic impact on the environment and the ability of research and policy to mediate these negative effects.  In her time at Duke she hopes to pursue research in mechanistic toxicology and science policy.
PhD Program: Environment
Faculty Advisor: Joel Meyer, PhD
2020-2021 Status: 2nd year

Kirsten Overdahl

Kirsten graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, with a B.A. in Chemistry (2015) and a B.M. in Vocal Performance (2016); she also spent time abroad in Scotland working in Dr. Lee Cronin’s Complex Chemical Systems lab at the University of Glasgow.  Kirsten is now in her fifth year at Duke and is a member of the Ferguson and Stapleton labs.  Her dissertation research focuses on using high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) and non-targeted analysis to identify azobenzene-based compounds in indoor environments (house dust), and on using in silicoin chemico, and in vitro models to explore the compounds’ potentials to elicit immune sensitization.  Her long-term research interest considers how best to create data-driven, high-throughput workflows for identifying and monitoring previously-unrecognized contaminants in the environment and predicting what might happen when humans are exposed.  Ultimately, she hopes to find efficient ways to use comprehensive data to create proactive, preventative measures and policies.
PhD Program: Environment
2020-2021 Status: 5th year

Marissa Guttenberg

Marissa earned her B.S. in Nanoscale Science at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering as well as Minors in Business and Mathematics at SUNY University at Albany in 2018. Marissa conducted research in Toxicology and Occupational Health in relation to nanoparticle exposure at CNSE since 2013. At Duke, she joined the Robert Tighe lab, where she is currently working to better understand physiologic and mechanistic outcomes of acute ozone exposure.
PhD Program: Environment
Faculty Advisor: Robert Tighe, MD
2020-2021 Status: 3rd year

Matthew Ruis

Matthew grew up in the Hudson Valley of NY and attended Marist College, where he studied environmental science and biology.  In 2015, he came to Duke through the Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program.  After completing his rotations, he joined the Stapleton lab in 2016.  Matthew’s dissertation investigates how prenatal exposure to a class of flame-retarant chemicals, known as polyborminated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), accumulate in the placenta and how they cross the placental barrier.  He also studies the mechanisms by which they can the disrupt thyroid hormone system during pregnancy.  One of his projects was in collaboration with investigators at North Carolina State University and sought to understand the toxicokinetics of PBDEs in pregnant Wistar rats.  The study discovered that PBDEs were accumulating at higher levels in the fetal portion of the placenta relative to the maternal portion.  He also observed effects on thyroid hormone regulation in the dam and tissue-specific differences in thyroid hormone levels in the placenta.  These findings led him to his next project where he used an in vitro placental cell line to investigate more mechanistically why and how PBDEs were accumulating at higher levels in the fetal portion of the placenta.  Currently, he is quantifying contaminants in placentas from fraternal twins to better understand how the sex of the fetus influences the degree of accumulation.  Outside of the lab, Matt enrolled in the New Ventures Clinic; a business course that pairs PhD students and MBAs with physicians at Duke to help them with the clinical, regulatory, and business development of an early-stage drug or medical device.  When not asking pregnant women for their placenta, Matt spends his free time tending to his 20+ chickens, 2 rescue pigs, and foster dogs.
PhD Program: Environment
Faculty Advisor: Heather Stapleton, PhD
2020-2021 Status: 6th year

Paige (Bippus) Varner

Paige received her B.S. in Marine Biology from the College of Charleston where she studied the invasion of a Gracilaria algal species. She spent the following year as a lab technician in Dr. Helen HsuKim’s lab at Duke researching mercury exposure in communities practicing artisanal scale gold mining in Peru. She now is a 4th year PhD student in Dr. Claudia Gunsch’s lab in the Civil & Environmental Engineering department. Her research focuses on bioremediation of organic contaminants. Specifically, she looks at the biological associations between bacteria and how they effect horizontal gene transfer for the purpose of PAH degradation. Ultimately, she hopes to pursue a career in science policy.
PhD Program: Civil & Environmental Engineering
Faculty Advisor: Claudia K. Gunsch, PhD
2020-2021 Status: 4th year

Risa Gearhart-Serna

Risa is a native New Mexican, and has a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Mills College in Oakland, CA.  Her dissertation research is a fusion of environmental toxicology and molecular cancer biology.  As a trainee in the Duke University School of Medicine Department of Pathology, she is particularly interested in how exposures to environmental toxicants such as endocrine disrupting chemicals can exacerbate progression and treatment resistance in breast tumors. She also enjoys working on technology transfer and health disparities research.
PhD Program: Pathology
Faculty Advisor: Gayathri Devi, PhD
2020-2021 Status: 5th year
Contact: lmg51@duke.edu

Rose Schrott

Rose received her B.A. in Biology from Johns Hopkins University in 2014 and her Sc.M. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2016.  While at Bloomberg, Rose researched the effects of phthalate exposure on Leydig cell development and function.  Rose is now in her fifth year at Duke and is a member of the Murphy lab in the Division of Reproductive Sciences, OBGYN.  Her dissertation research is focused on male cannabis use impacts the sperm epigenome.  In particular, she is interested in how this exposure impacts DNA methylation at genes in sperm that play a role in early life development, and if such changes can be passed on to future generations.  She is using human, rodent, and in vitro models to answer these questions.  Rose is passionate about bridging the gaps between research and communities so that individuals can feel empowered when making decisions surrounding their health.
PhD Program: Environment
Faculty Advisor: Susan Murphy, PhD
2020-2021 Status: 5th year

Samantha (Sam) Murphy

Samantha earned her B.S. from the University of Tennessee Knoxville, majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, with a minor in Chemistry.  During her undergraduate years, she completed a summer internship with the Duke Superfund Program, which broadened her passion for environmental studies.  She later conducted research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, investigating the fate of methyl mercury in the presence of manganese dioxide solids.  During her doctoral studies, she is excited to pursue investigation of the entry, fate, and consequences of exposure to environmental toxins.  Her long-term goal is to continue with research and teaching in academia.  Outside of research, Samantha is crazy about her two cats, Mikko and Nino, indoor plants, the Carolina Hurricanes, and fundraising for Children’s Hospitals.
PhD Program: TBD
Faculty Advisor: TBD
2020-2021 Status: 1st year

Sam (Samantha) Hall

Sam earned both a B.S. in Biology and in Environmental Sciences from Duke University in 2015. During undergrad, she delved into toxicology research by studying how mitochondrial dynamics and environmental exposures impact neurodegeneration. Prior to starting grad school at Duke in 2017, she spent two years in a toxicology lab at NIEHS researching the toxicokinetics of novel brominated flame retardants. She is currently researching per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the Stapleton Lab, with her thesis research focusing on PFAS exposure in humans and the environment and PFAS health effects. 
PhD Program: Environment
Faculty Advisor: Heather Stapleton, PhD
2020-2021 Status: 4th year

Shaunacee Howell

Shaunacee earned her B.S. in Biology from Elizabeth City State University (ECSU).  During her undergraduate years at ECSU, she studied the adverse effects of the chemotherapy drug, Taxol, on microtubule structure in planarian flatworms during regeneration following amputation.  After graduating, Shaunacee pursued a Master’s in Biological and Biomedical Science at North Carolina Central University in efforts to expand her research experience.  She investigated the long-term cellular and behavioral effects of a developmental acute ethanol exposure on zebrafish.  Specifically, she examined sustained changes in microglia precursor cell populations, proinflammatory cytokine TNF-alpha mRNA expression, and swimming disorientation in juveniles previously exposed to ethanol during early development.  After successfully defending her thesis, Shaunacee worked as a lab manager / research technician in a toxicogenetics laboratory at NC State University for two years.  Her project observed craniofacial abnormalities and variations in gene expression triggered by developmental toxicant exposures in zebrafish.  Shaunacee hopes to observe the effects of an early-stage toxicant / drug exposure on zebrafish, mice, or cultured cells as a PhD student at Duke.
PhD Program: TBD
Faculty Advisor: TBD
2020-2021 Status: 1st year

Shaza Gaballah

Shaza received her B.S. in Biology with minors in Chemistry and Medical Anthropology from UNC Chapel Hill in 2017.  After graduating, she completed a two-year fellowship at the US EPA, where she investigated how exposure to GenX and other PFAS impacts developmental neurotoxicity in zebrafish.  Shaza’s work at the EPA was her first time delving into toxicology, and she loved it so much that she applied to Duke’s environmental toxicology Ph.D. program.  When she’s not in the lab, Shaza loves cheating at crosswords, eating hot sauce with a side of food, and hanging out with her cat, Olive.
PhD Program: TBD
Faculty Advisor: TBD
2020-2021 Status: 2nd year

Taylor Schronce

Taylor earned a B.S. in Chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry at Wake Forest University in 2017. As an undergraduate she conducted research in organic chemistry synthesizing novel PI3K inhibitors for prostate cancer treatments. Prior to starting grad school at Duke, she spent two years working at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI). At DHVI, she genotyped human and non-human primate samples to characterize Fc receptors and their role in HIV pathogenesis. During her time at Duke, she hopes to pursue research on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), explore exposure science and complex mixtures, and implement analytical chemistry techniques.
PhD Program: Environment
Faculty Advisor: Heather Stapleton, PhD
2020-2021 Status: 2nd year

Tess Leuthner

Tess received her B.S. in Environmental Science from Indiana University, where she studied mechanisms and trade-offs of adaptation to phosphorus and heavy metal pollution in Daphnia populations. She then conducted research at the UW Milwaukee School of Public Health for two years, studying the effects of developmental exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and dioxins on nervous and immune system development. Currently, Tess is a sixth-year in the Meyer lab, investigating persistent metabolic effects of developmental exposures to mitochondrial toxicants. Her interests include investigating inter-individual variability in stress response, and how genomic variation (specifically mitochondrial DNA sequence variation) may influence response to stressors at a population level. She plans to develop C. elegans as better prospective ecotoxicological model organism.
PhD Program: Environment
Faculty Advisor: Joel Meyer, PhD
2020-2021 Status: 6th year

Zoie Diana

Zoie earned her B.S. in Environmental Science, with a double-major in Philosophy, from Allegheny College. She studied the mechanisms of underwater adhesion as a Masters of Coastal Environmental Management at Duke University and at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. She is currently a third-year PhD student in Dr. Daniel Rittschof’s lab in the Marine Science and Conservation department. She is completing the Toxicology certificate. Her research focuses on the toxicological impacts of plastic pollution on marine invertebrates and potential solutions to this global issue.
PhD Program: Marine Science & Conservation
Faculty Advisor: Daniel Rittschof, PhD
2020-2021 Status: 3rd year
Contactztd@duke.edu