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.

News & Video

Selected Faculty Books

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 Computational 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

American Academy of Arts & Sciences

National Academy of Sciences

National Academy of Engineering

National Academy of Medicine

Academia Europaea