Natural Sciences

Natural Sciences

Natural scientists investigate natural phenomena in the world around us. They study things biological (life and the biosphere) and physical (the structure of matter and the forces and energies that shape matter and its constituent parts). In Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, the biological sciences are studied in the departments of Biology, Evolutionary Anthropology, and Psychology and Neuroscience. The physical sciences are the focus of the departments of Chemistry and Physics. In addition, the mathematical sciences constitute natural sciences in and of themselves, but also provide a common language for the quantitative study of all aspects of nature. At Duke, such work is pursued within and across the departments of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistical Science.

Interdisciplinary Research Focus

A rich history of interdisciplinarity at Duke blurs sharp boundaries between departments and schools: many of our natural scientists collaborate (in research and teaching) with colleagues from other departments in Trinity College, in Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, Nicholas School of the Environment, Sanford School of Public Policy and Medical School. As a consequence, many of our faculty hold appointments in more than one department and school.

Please explore our departments, centers and affiliated research groups below.

Departments & Programs


In Duke's Department of Biology, we conduct research in a broad range of areas: ecology (including behavioral ecology, population biology, community ecology, physiological ecology, ecosystem analysis, and biogeochemistry), functional biology at the cell and molecular level (including cellular physiology, molecular genetics, developmental biology, developmental genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics, in both plant and animal systems), functional biology at the organismal level (including comparative physiology, functional morphology, biomechanics, and animal behavior), and evolutionary biology (including population genetics, evolutionary ecology, evolutionary morphology, macroevolution, biogeography, and systematics). Many faculty research programs span multiple research areas and levels of biological organization, creating a dynamic training environment for doctoral students interested in cross-disciplinary training. We offer a B.A. and B.S. in biology, with concentrations in anatomy, physiology & biomechanics; animal behavior; biochemistry; cell & molecular biology; ecology; evolutionary biology; genetics; genomics; marine biology; neurobiology; pharmacology; and plant biology. We also offer an undergraduate minor.


Researcher in the Chemistry department are engaged in creating new knowledge and placing it in the service to society. Our undergraduate program offers both a B.A. and B.S. in chemistry, with concentrations in biochemistry, pharmacology, chemical biology and environmental chemistry. Our chemistry Ph.D. program emphasizes research and most of our students' time is spent directly pursuing their own original research. Our research programs take advantage of Duke's unique strenghts and differential opportunities:  theoretical/computational chemistry, molecular and biomolecular imaging, chemical biology, nanomaterials, and energy science.  Many members of the Department participate in interdisciplinary centers and training programs covering Photonics and Biophotonics; Develpmental, Cell and Molecular Biology; Biophysics; Materials Science; Genetics; Pharmacology; and Toxicology.

Computer Science

Duke's Department of Computer Science is a top tier research department with an emphasisi on geometric computing; internet systems, networking & security; memory systems & massive data management; biological computing & nanotechnologies; and learning & modeling. Faculty research is highly interconnected with the disciplines of mathematics, statistics, engineering, nanotechnology, biology, biochemistry, medicine, economics, sociology, and the environmental sciences. We offer a Ph.D. and master of science in computer science, and a master of science in economics and computation. At the undergraduate level, we offer both a B.S. and a B.A. in computer science, and minors in computer science or computaitonal biology and bioinformatics.

Evolutionary Anthropology

Duke's Evolutionary Anthropology department focuses on understanding non-human primate and human biology in an evolutionary context. Areas of research include evolutionary medicine; functional morphology; paleontology; primate behavior & ecology; primate cognition/human cognitive evolution; and systematics & comparative methods. At the undergraduate level, we offer a major and minor in evolutionary anthropology. At the graduate level, we offer a Ph.D. in evolutionary anthropology.


Research in the Department of Mathematics spans theoretical to applied mathematics. Faculty interests encompass algebra and combinatorics; analysis; biological modeling; computational mathematics; differential & algebraic geometry; mathematical physics; number theory; PDE & dynamical systems; physical modeling; probability; signals, images and data; and topology. U.S. News and World Report ranks our department in the top 20 for pure mathematics, and in the top 15 for applied mathematics. We offer both a B.A. and B.S. in mathematics, and a minor in math. At the graduate level, we offer a Ph.D. in math.


Research in the Physics Department ranges from astrophysics to condensed matter physics and nanoscale materials exploration, to non-linear and complex systems and biological physics with applications for medicine, energy and environmental science. Faculty conducts highly collaborative international research in high-energy physics; accelerator-based experimental nuclear physics; theoretical nuclear and particle physics; explorations of geometric and theoretical physics; and experimental quantum optical physics. U.S. News and World Report ranks our department in the top 6 for nuclear physics, and in the top 30 for physics. We offer undergraduate degrees in physics and biophysics, and doctoral program in physics.

Psychology and Neuroscience

The Department of Psychology and Neuroscience is internationally known for leadership in cognitive science and clinical psychology. Research in the fields of developmental psychology, social and personality psychology, cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience, and systems and integrative neuroscience deploy techniques such as experimental research with humans and animals, surveys, longitudinal field studies, brain imaging, genetic mapping and computational models. Scholarly exploration addresses topics in decision-making, self-concept and self-regulation, post traumatic stress disorder, health and behavior, achievement and motivation, emotional memory, language acquisition and visual perception, to name just a few.

Trinity College of Arts & Sciences faculty are broadly engaged in neuroscience research and education, with particularly strong affiliation with the interdisciplinary Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. Our undergraduate program in neuroscience offers an interdisciplinary major/minor that draws faculty and courses from many individual departments, chiefly the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and the Department of Biology. Administrative support for this curriculum is provided by TCA&S and the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. Graduate programs encompass the graduate admitting program in Cognitive Neuroscience, and doctoral programs in Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience and Systems and Integrative Neuroscience.     

Statistical Science

The Department of Statistical Science is the premier Bayesian statistics program in the world, among the very top programs nationally in research productivity, and a leader in interdisciplinary applications of computational and statistical research. Faculty scholarship encompasses computational biology and statistical genetics; computer simulation and analysis for natural and engineering science applications; forecast modeling and monitoring statistical analysis for environmental and ecological science applications; macro-economic and financial time series analysis for social and economic science applications. We offer a B.A. and B.S. in statistical science, and a minor. We offer two master's programs: a master of science in statistical science and a master of science in statistical and economic modeling; and a Ph.D. in statistical science.  

News & Video


  • The Information Initiative at Duke

    The Information Initiative at Duke (iiD) is a cross-school, multi-investigator, game-changing research and educational program designed to make big data make sense. iiD is organized to encourage crosspollination of ideas across disciplines, and to develop new forms of collaboration that will advance research and education across the full spectrum of disciplines at Duke. Through this effort we aim to:

    • Catalyze breakthrough, data-driven scholarship that addresses grand challenges in health care, public policy, financial markets, education, energy and the environment, and that expands the research frontier in the computational sciences  
    • Infuse a greater degree of computational expertise into the Humanities, Social Sciences, Life Sciences and Medicine
    • Transform undergraduate and graduate teaching through the introduction of new computational programs, vertically integrated cross-disciplinary teams, and development of co-curricular opportunities  

    Explore at:

  • Collaborating on Mentoring, Persistence, Assessment & Student Success

    Duke is using a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to improve learning for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students, particularly underrepresented minorities, in introductory science courses. The COMPASS Project, which stands for Collaborating on Mentoring, Persistence, Assessment and Student Success, will focus on helping Duke STEM students by implementing proven teaching practices in the classroom.

    Specifically, the COMPASS Project will:

    • Create a STEM Teaching and Learning Collaboratory that brings together faculty, teaching assistants and learning specialists to determine best practices for teaching and learning in introductory courses.
    • Expand the Science Advancement through Group Engagement (SAGE) Program, a small-group study program at Duke that doubled retention rates during its pilot years. Since 2009, the number of Arts & Sciences students graduating in a STEM discipline has increased 7.3 percent.
    • Enable the hire of a director of academic engagement to advise and track the progress of STEM students.
  • Duke's Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering have launched a new initiative called the Duke Technology Scholars (DTech) to bring more women into technology careers. The project aims to drive game-changing innovation and fuel creativity by inspiring more women to choose careers in computer science and electrical and computer engineering. A foundation of this project is the new Duke Technology Scholars experience, a Silicon Valley internship, leadership boot camp and year-long mentoring program.

  • Duke has launched a Quantitative Initiative, led by Vice Provost for Research Larry Carin and Dan Kiehart, dean of the Natural Sciences in Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. The goal of the initiative is to build strength broadly in quantitative science and to establish Duke as an internationally recognized center of excellence in the methods and applications of quantitative science. The initiative seeks to expand faculty in Trinity College departments and to increase collaboration between those departments and Duke’s School of Medicine.

Selected Publications

Centers & Institutes

Center for Cognitive Neuroscience

The Center for Cognitive Neuroscience (CCN) serves as the central focus at Duke University for research, education, and training in the psychological, computational, and biological mechanisms of higher mental function; variability in these mechanisms among individuals, across the lifespan, and between species; application of these mechanisms to real-world problems; and their dissolution in disease and mental disorders. Cognitive neuroscience is by its nature interdisciplinary, and addresses longstanding questions about brain and mind from new perspectives that cut across traditional intellectual and departmental boundaries. CCN research focuses on perception, attention, memory, language, emotion, decision making, social interaction, morality, motor control, executive function, and the evolution and development of mental processes. Participating arts & sciences departments include psychology & neuroscience, philosophy, evolutionary anthropology, computer science, and linguistics.

Center for Molecular and Biomolecular Imaging

The Center for Molecular and Biomolecular Imaging is a multidisciplinary program that integrates activities in engineering, the life sciences and medicine. Participating faculty are based in Departments across the University, including basic science departments (such as chemistry, physics, and biology), engineering departments (such as biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering) and medical school departments (such as biochemistry and radiology); this list is meant to be representative, not exclusive. The Program emphasizes research, education and interactions with industry. The focus of the program is upon imaging technologies, from the subcellular level to preclinical (animal) and clinical (human) studies in biological systems. Such work spans the most basic research to direct research applications and implementations in medicine and health care. It may also incorporate significant thrusts in non-biological imaging.

Center for Nonlinear and Complex Systems

The Center for Nonlinear and Complex Systems (CNCS) fosters research and teaching of nonlinear dynamics and the mechanisms governing emergent phenomena in complex systems. The CNCS at Duke is widely recognized for the breadth of its activities and the overall quality of the research which it engenders. The Center provides a regular seminar series and a Graduate Certificate Program, as well as numerous opportunities for undergraduate and graduate research through its associated faculty.

Center for Theoretical and Mathematical Sciences

The Center for Theoretical & Mathematical Sciences aims to foster and support cross-disciplinary theoretical and mathematical research and education in the natural and engineering sciences at Duke. The center provides an intellectual home for scientists in all fields who use theoretical and mathematical research methods, to exchange ideas, to discuss scientific problems of common interest, and to develop new collaborations; and exposes Duke faculty and students to progress in the theoretical and mathematical sciences by organizing guest lectures, seminars, and workshops.

Duke Network Analysis Center

The Duke Network Analysis Center aims to: (a) help make visible the cutting-edge network scholarship currently ongoing on campus, (b) promote new collaborations in network science, (c) introduce new researchers to network science and train them in its methods and applications, (d) provide a research service in network analysis methods to the wider Duke community, and (e) enhance Duke’s position as a leader in the research triangle and throughout the nation in this exciting interdisciplinary field.

Duke Primate Genomics Initiative

The goal of the Primate Genomics Initiative (PGI) is to facilitate collaborative evolutionary genomics research projects between Duke researchers using nonhuman and human primate models across diverse fields by combining research, training and service. The PGI will: (1) Promote cross-divisional and cross-school collaborations between researchers studying cognition, behavior, anatomy, neuroscience, medicine, and genomics to increase our understanding of the biology and evolution of primates (2) Develop an interdisciplinary graduate training program in primate evolutionary genomics through yearly graduate fellowships and seminar series, (3) Provide infrastructure that will promote new genomics research throughout the Duke community by increasing research opportunities and fostering collaborations in the study of the biology and evolution of primates.

Information Science + Studies

The Information Science + Studies (ISS) helps students fill the gap between current academic training and the increasing demand in all professions for a broad understanding of the legal, social, philosophical, computational, and aesthetic issues concerning information technology and other related innovations. The program's integrated curriculum combines topics and practices including information management; photonics and visualization; multimedia design; issues of security, privacy, and property; and the history of science and technology. At the undergraduate level, we offer a Certificate in Information Science + Studies, independent study options and co-curricular opportunities. At the graduate level, we offer a Certificate in Comptutational Media, Arts & Cultures; and we support the master of arts in Digital Art History/Computational Media, and the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge.

Duke Global Health Institute

The Duke Global Health Institute, established in 2006, brings knowledge from every corner of Duke University to bear on the most important global health issues of our time. DGHI was established as a University-wide institute to coordinate, support, and implement Duke’s interdisciplinary research, education, and service activities related to global health. DGHI is committed to developing and employing new models of education and research that engage international partners and find innovative solutions to global health challenges. DGHI works to reduce health disparities in our local community and worldwide. Recognizing that many global health problems stem from economic, social, environmental, political, and health care inequalities, DGHI brings together interdisciplinary teams to solve complex health problems and to train the next generation of global health leaders.

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Duke Institute for Brain Sciences

Duke Institute for Brain Sciences is a cross-school, campus-wide, interdisciplinary Institute with a commitment to building an interactive community of brain science research and scholarship. Our goal is to to advance interdisciplinary research and education that transforms our understanding of brain function and translates into innovative solutions for health and society. DIBS encourages innovation and collaborations that transcend the boundaries of traditional disciplines, bringing together a diverse community of academics from the biomedical sciences, social sciences, physical sciences, humanities, law, business, public policy, mathematics, computer science and engineering.

Duke University Population Research Institute

The Duke University Population Research Institute (DuPRI) is an interdisciplinary research organization bringing together researchers from the biological, economic, mathematical, psychological, statistical, sociological, and policy sciences at Duke. The Institute seeks to advance science in the area of demography and population science, as well as expand the current boundaries of demographic investigation.

Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics

The Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics is an interdisciplinary organization that aims to provide an outstanding educational and research environment to train students who go on to profoundly impact industry and medicine, and to make original, substantial contributions to the field of photonics and optical science. The FIP research encompasses eight broad initiative areas: biophotonics, nano/micro systems, quantum optics and information photonics, advanced photonics systems, nanophotonics, metamaterials and plasmonics, systems modeling and novel spectroscopies.

Nicholas School of the Environment

Nicholas School of the Environment faculty are helping to develop environmentally-friendly energy sources in Kenya; improve nuclear waste disposal in the United States; investigate new devices to exclude dolphins, porpoises and sea turtles from fishing nets; and measure the effects of increased carbon dioxide emissions on trees and soils. More than 50 faculty members hold primary or joint appointments in the school, and a large number of faculty have secondary or adjunct status from other units or institutions. Divisions in the school include Marine Science and Conservation, Earth and Ocean Sciences, and Environmental Sciences and Policy.

National Academy Members

National Academy of Sciences

Edward M. Arnett


Philip Benfey

Plant Biology

James Berger

Applied Mathematical Sciences

Ingrid Daubechies

Applied Mathematical Sciences

Xinnian Dong

Plant, Soil & Microbial Sciences

Richard Durrett

Applied Mathematical Sciences

National Academy of Engineering

Robert Calderbank


Ingrid Daubechies

Computer Science