Planet Analytics

The planet does a lot of things for us that we take for granted – scientists often call these ecosystem services. Consider the clean water you drank this morning, or the oxygen in the air you are breathing right now. Despite our modern advances, we still cannot recreate photosynthesis or the water cycle at scale. We rely on nature for our existence, so it makes sense to optimize how we utilize the planets resources – hence, planet analytics.

This track encompasses both data acquisition and analysis – what sensors/techniques can we deploy to collect meaningful data, and which variables do we compare (and how) to come to impactful solutions.

Obtaining Data

Field monitoring can be defined as obtaining information “in situ” – either through remote sensing technology or observers on the ground. Data can range from the measurement of threat factors such as concentration of a gas to understanding the movement of vulnerable species.

  • Arduino/microdevices
  • Metal 3D printing
  • Biosensors?
  • Environmental science
  • Internet of Things
  • Microsatellites

Interesting Companies and Examples


Analyze big data to identify ecosystem services degradation and suggest solutions. Publicize information from large existing databases to promote transparency and awareness of human environmental impact.

  • Data Analysis
  • Comp Sci – Machine learning/deep learning?
  • GIS
  • Blockchain


  • How can you combine an environmental monitoring device with the Internet of Things?
  • How can you utilize developing technologies (metal 3D printing, Arduino, etc.) to collect previously inaccessible data?
  • How can you make an existing device cheap and easily implementable?
  • Can you develop a device that would be practical to deploy given limited resources/harsh conditions?
  • What existing databases can you tap into to get information relevant to ecosystems?
  • How can you utilize the cloud to make sense of what has happened and why?
  • How can you utilize the cloud to predict what will happen?
  • How can you utilize the cloud to make desirable outcomes happen?
  • How can you apply developments in machine learning and deep learning to counter degradation trends?
  • How can we make data- perhaps about CO2 emissions- more transparent and visualizable to the public?
  • How can you utilize blockchain to track and publicize where the inputs for a product have come from?
  • How to communicate data between agencies with conflicting goals/interests?

Green Lifestyle

Technology may also be designed to promote a lifestyle that is more sustainable – for example, the evolution of the smart home and car present opportunities to clean up our act by becoming more efficient or conscious of our impacts.

Green user technology could also be applied more readily in our common areas. Have you ever thought about the last time you went on a hike without your phone? Interaction with nature is often thought of as a purist pastime – absent of technology, but in reality technology is pervasive in every area of modern life. There is a huge opportunity to design technology that connects people with nature in a way that also benefits ecosystems. Citizen science can not only provides data, it also connects people to the outside world. Apps such as iNaturalist and Geocaching achieve this in different ways.


  • How can you make information gathered by volunteer participation into high-quality ecosystem data?
  • How can emerging “smart technologies” in cars and buildings be leveraged for the environment?
  • How can blockchain be used in environmental issues?
  • How can you create a sense of responsibility in individuals for the “commons”?
  • How can you incentivize non-environmentalists to make environmentally-friendly decisions?
  • How can you connect the interests of industry and consumers with a conservation focus?
  • What kind of app can you create that will solve any of the above issues?

Interesting Companies and Examples

  • iNaturalist
  • TNC California – Citizen Science + Drones
  • P&G – Frantz

Discipline Focus

  • Communications, more humanities focused?
  • Behavioral psychology
  • Marketing/business
  • App development
  • Blockchain

Unexplored Frontiers

The world is full of amazing new discoveries – CRISPR, bioengineering, robotics. Often these advances are stuck in the academic silo in which they were produced, but imagine the possibilities if they were applied to ecology and the environment. Duke’s Marine Lab uses drones to monitor marine ecosystems, a novel concept barely three years ago. There are companies exploring bioengineering to fight invasive species and bring other species back from the dead. The connections can also go the other way with nature inspiring advances in humanity. The areas of pharmaceuticals, comparative medicine and biomimicry are filled with examples of using nature in unique ways.

This track will encourage students to look at academic research and apply a different field to nature or visa versa.


  • How can advances in medicine/military/robotics/computing/AI be applied to the environment?
  • How can the potential underdiscovered medical/military/robotic/computing/AI breakthroughs in nature be leveraged?
  • How can you apply developments in CRISPR technology in the ecological issues?
  • What species reintroduction might best contribute to the health of an ecosystem? What are potential dangers of doing so?
  • How can you safely introduce a new species into an ecosystem to combat current environmental degradation?
  • What product could you develop to combat the pervasiveness of an invasive species?
  • What cutting-edge technology could you utilize to prevent harmful human-wildlife interaction?

Interesting Companies and Examples

  • ConservationXLabs: DNA Barcode Scanner
  • Duke Cancer Institute: Comparative Oncology
  • Revive and Restore: Deextinction
  • DNA Barcode Scanner
  • Duke Conservation Tech
  • Mammoth Steppe
  • Seagrass and mangrove, Manzello et al, 2012- OA Refugia of the Florida Reef Tract

Discipline Focus

  • Bio/BME
  • CRISPR/Cas9
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science
  • Genetics/Genetic engineering