History of the Duke Superfund Research Center

Duke University Superfund Research Center, 2017. Credit: Sarah Phillips

The Duke Superfund Research Center (SRC) is one of 23 national institutions that have maintained a 5-year Multiproject Center Grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Research Program (SRP). Duke has managed a center since 2000 and while the goals and specific research aims have changed over the past 15 years, the overarching objective has remained the same: to protect human health and the environment. 

Director of the Duke SRC, Richard Di Giulio, reflected on the first time his team applied for the grant: “The Superfund Research Program is the only major federal program to mandate that you combine multidisciplinary research concerning human health and the environment. Our theme has always revolved around the development of humans and wildlife, which has been a prominent research focus for decades here at Duke. The opportunity to study the effects of chemical exposures on human and environmental health, as well as solutions to reducing harmful exposures really drew us to the program.” 

What is the Superfund Research Program? 

The SRP is an initiative of the National Institute of Environmental to fund basic research and training programs focused on finding solutions to environmental health problems. Many of the chemicals studied in the centers are commonly found at Superfund sites, which are federally-recognized polluted sites. The contamination found at these sites is usually caused by industrial activity or improper disposal or handling of chemicals. However, many of the contaminants studied are found all over the globe in every type of environmental media (i.e. air, water and soil.) 

To see if there is a Superfund site near you, follow this link to the EPA website.

What have been some of the outcomes of the SRP? 

The Superfund Research Program is largely focused on research, training and community outreach & engagement. Di Giulio also reflected on some of the innovations that have come from the Duke SRC research, including the development of behavioral assays for zebrafish by Edward Levin’s team, Ted Slotkin’s work showing how chlorpyrifos (a pesticide) impacts neurodevelopment, and the accomplishments of the Analytical Chemistry Core for providing measurements of flame retardants in consumer products directly to consumers. Further, the SRP has encouraged an interdisciplinary approach to solving complex environmental problems, which has resulted in faculty collaborations across disciplines including toxicology, medicine, engineering and chemistry. 

Keep up with the Duke SRC!

Below is an outline of the research projects and support cores that currently comprise the Duke SRC. Please follow those links to read more about specific projects and opportunities to get involved. Visit the following links to stay in touch with the Duke SRC on:



& the web!

Structure of the Duke SRC: Descriptions of the Research Projects & Cores

The most recent iteration of this large center grant was awarded in 2017 and will last until 2022. The theme of the center is “Developmental Exposures: Mechanisms, Consequences, and Remediation.”

Research Projects

The five research projects in the Duke SRC are designed to address specific questions about the impact of chemicals on human health and the ecology, as well as how to remediate (or remove) these chemicals from the environment.  Below are short descriptions of each research project, with links to more information. 

Project 1: Developmental Neurotoxicants: Sensitization, Consequences, & Mechanisms

Investigators: Edward Levin, Ted Slotkin, Frederic Seidler

Project 2: Altering the Balance of Adipogenic and Osteogenic Regulatory Pathways from Early Life Exposure to HPCs and AOPEs

Investigators: Heather Stapleton, Seth Kullman, Lee Ferguson

Project 3: Persistent Mitochondrial and Epigenetic Effects of Early Life Toxicant Exposure

Investigators: Joel Meyer, Susan Murphy

Project 4: Mechanisms and Consequences of Evolved Adaptation to Environmental Pollution

Investigators: Richard Di Giulio, David Hinton

Project 5: Engineering the Physico-Chemical Environment to Enhance Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) Bioremediation

Investigators: Claudia Gunsch, Mark Wiesner, Helen Hsu-Kim, Rytas Vilgalys

Support Cores

There are six support cores that help with the operation of the center and each research project. Some of these cores conduct additional testing (i.e. chemical analyses, behavioral testing), and some are for general administration and training operations. Two of them are centered on educating the public about the center’s work and research findings.  

Neural & Behavioral Toxicity Assessment

The NBTA develops and implements novel tests to determine the effects that chemicals have on brain development, behavior, and brain function in exposed mice and fish.

Director: Edward Levin

Postdoctoral Research Associate: Andrew Hawkey

Analytical Chemistry Core

The ACC develops analytical methods for emerging chemicals, as well as provides analyses of organic and inorganic chemicals in samples. 

Co-PI: Heather Stapleton

Co-PI: Lee Ferguson

Co-PI: Helen Hsu-Kim

Analytical Chemistry Core Manager: Abigail Joyce

Targeted Inorganics Analysis Support Staff: Nelson Rivera

Research Translation Core

The RTC communicates information about Superfund chemicals and Duke SRC research findings to a variety of stakeholders, including government agencies, non-project organizations, industry partners and the general public. 

Director: Charlotte Clark

Senior Program Coordinator: Bryan Luukinen

Program Coordinator: Catherine Kastleman

Community Engagement Core

The CEC works with communities in North Carolina that may be impacted by environmental contamination by listening to their needs and providing them with information or training. 

Director: Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza

Program Coordinator: Catherine Kastleman

Senior Program Coordinator: Bryan Luukinen

Science Communications Specialist: Sam Cohen

Training Core

The Training Core provides support for graduate students and postdocs in the SRC by hosting seminars, symposia and special lectures. The Training Core also hosts a summer lab experience internship program for undergraduates and masters students. 

Director: Joel Meyer

Administrative Core

The Administrative Core oversees the center’s research, collaboration and activities. They also manage budgets and prepare reports to NIEHS.

Director: Richard Di Giulio

Deputy Director: Heather Stapleton

Center Coordinator: Sarah Phillips