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Judy Ledlee, a Rising Star in Green Tech, to Lead Duke’s New Design Climate Program
May 24, 2023
Program aims to combat the climate crisis by deploying interdisciplinary, faculty-mentored student teams to devise solutions for a rapidly warming planet
Judy Ledlee, a rising star in the field of green technology development, has been named executive-in-residence at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering and Nicholas School of the Environment.
In her new post, Ledlee will hold appointments at both the Pratt and Nicholas schools and will lead the schools' collaborative Design Climate Program, which aims to combat the climate crisis by deploying interdisciplinary, faculty-mentored student teams to devise solutions that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help vulnerable communities adapt to the effects of a rapidly warming planet.
The program is modeled after a successful similar program between Pratt, Duke Medicine and the School of Nursing called Design Health. The innovative program sends teams from across engineering, business, medicine and other disciplines into clinical settings to identify challenges and create deployable solutions. The process provides an immersive learning experience where teams don’t solve pre-defined problems, but actively identify, validate and prioritize problems that will impact human health.
"Design Climate showcases the breadth of Duke's impactful programs, designing technological solutions to real-world problems that address every facet of the climate change challenge such as economic, political and ethical considerations."
In addition to recruiting students and faculty mentors to the new program, which is being launched this summer, Ledlee's responsibilities will include developing graduate-level courses on climate and sustainability engineering; recruiting industry and community partners to serve as clients for student projects; and working with both schools' career centers to ensure robust hiring of Design Climate Program graduates.
"Judy's work in green technology development, particularly the leading role she's played in creating and commercializing new technologies to treat industrial wastewater and allow it to be safely and cost-effectively reused, make her an ideal person to lead the Design Climate Program," said Toddi Steelman, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School.
"She brings the real-world experience, the advanced knowledge of environmental engineering and science, the love of problem solving, and the deep commitment to sustainability we're looking for," Steelman said.
"I couldn't be more excited to partner with Nicholas to launch the Design Climate program with Judy at the helm," said Jerome Lynch, the Vinik Dean of the Pratt School. "Design Climate showcases the breadth of Duke's impactful programs, designing technological solutions to real-world problems that address every facet of the climate change challenge such as economic, political and ethical considerations."
"Judy's work in green technology development, particularly the leading role she's played in creating and commercializing new technologies to treat industrial wastewater and allow it to be safely and cost-effectively reused, make her an ideal person to lead the Design Climate Program."
Ledlee earned her PhD in civil and environmental engineering from Pratt in 2018. Her doctoral research focused on developing a membrane distillation technology to treat wastewater from hydraulic fracturing and allow it to be reused—significantly reducing fracking's water footprint and the amount of chemical- and salt-laden wastewater being discharged back into the environment.
In 2013, as a third-year doctoral student, she led a team of Nicholas and Pratt graduate students that won the Duke Start-Up Challenge in the Clean Energy track for developing an early version of her membrane distillation technology. That same year, she co-founded a start-up company, Refrackt, to market the technology.
Ledlee comes to Duke from ZwitterCo, an innovative membrane technology company, where she has been a senior technical service engineer specializing in industrial applications since 2022.
Prior to that, she worked for three years as a process engineer at Black & Veatch; for two years as the senior applications engineer at Evoqua Water Technologies; and—prior to pursuing her PhD at Duke—for two years in the Environmental Health and Safety Leadership Program at United Technologies.
Among other career honors, she was named Young Professional of the Year in 2021 by Water and Wastes Digest and received the Austin F. McCormick Jr. Award from the American Water Works Association (AWWA) as Young Professional of the Year in 2017.
Ledlee is the author or co-author of five professional or academic papers, including two on membrane distillation that were published in Environmental Science & Technology. She won the best paper award at the 2014 AWWA Membrane Technology Conference and was awarded a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Student Fellowship in 2013