PUBLISHED:January 24, 2020

Duke Law faculty, students tackling diverse interdisciplinary research projects through Bass Connections


Research partnerships slated for 2020-21 through Duke University's cross-disciplinary program will explore topics ranging from data collection in jails to the development of space.

Duke Law scholars and students will team up with researchers from Duke and beyond in the next academic year for innovative interdisciplinary collaborations exploring topics ranging from North Carolina jail populations to the settlement of Mars.

Twelve members of the Duke Law faculty are leading or contributing to year-long research projects in 2020-21 through Duke’s university-wide Bass Connections program, which supports teams that address a challenge in society by drawing on the perspectives of multiple disciplines and engagement with outside partners. Graduate and undergraduate students participate by joining teams and getting hands-on experience conducting interdisciplinary research, sometimes in leadership roles.

Bass Connections project teams last for two semesters, and some include a summer component. Teams often take their research further following their projects through outside funding, teaching, and other opportunities at Duke and beyond.

Applications for 2020-21 Bass Connections projects are now opew and are due by February 14 at 5:00 p.m. Students are encouraged to learn more by visiting the Bass Connections Fair on Jan. 24 from 2-4:30 pm in Penn Pavilion.

Brandon Garrett, the L. Neil Williams Professor of Law, is co-leading “Harnessing Data from North Carolina's Jails to Inform Effective Policies,” which will explore the potential utility and need for routine collection of demographic, legal, and health information on North Carolina’s local jail populations in a statewide database. His co-leaders, Ruth Wygle and Catherine Grodensky, PhD students in the departments of sociology and public policy, respectively, were awarded the Bass Connections funding based on their shared interest in local jail populations.

The project team, which will also include eight graduate and undergraduate students, will examine existing jail databases in other states to understand demographic and health trends in their local jail populations and study their development and implementation, said Garrett, commending Grodensky for spearheading the project. They will then engage stakeholders and experts to assess the need for a similar North Carolina database in a move towards more comprehensive data.

“We know far too little about who is in jail, for how long, and how it impacts health and safety,” said Garrett, who directs the Center for Science and Justice. “We do not have state data on our jails in North Carolina, and often do not have good public data for any particular local jail,”. 

Jonathan Wiener, the William R. and Thomas L. Perkins Professor of Law, is co-leading “Going to Mars: Science, Society and Sustainability,” which will examine the social and organizational systems that could guide early settlements of the red planet.

Wiener is joined by co-leaders from the medical, engineering, and public policy schools and Duke Science & Society as well as student Chase Hamilton ’21, who will serve as project manager. Duke Law faculty members Curtis Bradley, the William Van Alstyne Professor of Law; John de Figueiredo, the Russell M. Robinson II Professor of Law, Strategy, and Economics; and Laurence Helfer, the Harry R. Chadwick, Sr. Professor of Law, are also members of the research team.

“Going to Mars is now on the public and private agenda, with several country governments and corporations planning missions, so it’s timely to think ahead – about the opportunities, the risks, and what kinds of social systems and legal rules should guide human settlements off the Earth,” Wiener said. “Further, it offers an important chance to reflect and improve on what we have learned on Earth.  This year 2020 will be the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Compact; what could we envision in a Mars Compact?”

Hamilton said Wiener invited him to join the project after hearing about his enthusiasm for space development during a class.

“I came to law school partly to learn more about how we can safeguard against threats to humanity,” he said. “By evaluating the risks posed by social systems and legal rules for settling Mars, this Bass Connections project is an exciting opportunity to potentially contribute to our collective knowledge about how to secure a safe and speedy passage into humanity’s future.”

Bass Connections projects for 2020-21 involving Law School faculty also include: American Predatory Lending & the Global Financial Crisis (Professor Sara Sternberg Greene and Lecturing Fellow Lee Reiners); Biometrics & Immigration Policy (Professor Nita Farahany);  Mobile EEG Devices: Group Interactions, Privacy & the Brain (Professors Farahany and Donald Beskind); North Carolina Wildfire Risks & Public Trust (Senior Lecturing Fellow Shane Stansbury); Reducing Marine Mammal Bycatch by Developing Model Legislation (Professor Stephen Roady); and U.S. Immigration Climate & Mental Health Outcomes of Latinx Immigrants (Clinical Professor Kate Evans).