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P. Lee Ferguson


Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Dr. Ferguson is an Environmental Analytical Chemist who joined Duke in 2009 after six years as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at the University of South Carolina.

Research in the Ferguson laboratory is focused on development of novel methods for trace analysis of organic and nanoparticulate contaminants in the aquatic environment. Specifically, the laboratory uses high performance mass spectrometry techniques (e.g. UHPLC-Orbitrap MS/MS) to detect, identify, and quantify emerging contaminants (including endocrine disruptors, pharmaceuticals, and surfactants) in wastewater and drinking water. Another significant research thrust involves the development of sensitive trace analytical techniques for quantifying and characterizing single-walled carbon nanotubes in water, sediment, and aquatic organism tissues. For this work, near infrared fluorescence spectroscopy (NIRF) is used as a primary tool for resolving these novel nanoparticulate contaminants in highly complex environmental mixtures.

The analytical methods developed in the Ferguson laboratory laboratory (for both nanoparticles and organic contaminants) are applied to both process-oriented environmental chemistry experiments in the field and laboratory as well as to toxicity bioassays (including whole-organism assays and molecular endpoints). The overarching goal is to gain an increased understanding of how emerging contaminants are transported, transformed and induce deleterious effects within aquatic ecosystems.

Appointments and Affiliations

  • Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences and Policy

Contact Information


  • Ph.D. State University of New York, Stony Brook, 2002

Research Interests

Environmental analytical chemistry and applications of high resolution mass spectrometry to trace organic contaminant analysis, environmental fate and effects of carbon nanomaterials in the aquatic environment, proteomics in environmental toxicology, and mechanisms of environmental endocrine disruption in aquatic organisms

Awards, Honors, and Distinctions

  • Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow. National Academy of Sciences. 2011
  • Outstanding Performance Award. Fundamental Science Directorate, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. 2003
  • President's Award to Distinguished Doctoral Students. Stony Brook University. 2002
  • Honorable Mention. National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship Competition. 1998
  • U.S. EPA STAR Graduate Fellowship. Environmental Protection Agency. 1998
  • Belle W. Baruch Outstanding Undergrduate in Marine Science Award. University of South Carolina. 1997
  • Howard Hughes Undergraduate Research Fellow. University of South Carolina. 1996
  • Senior Scholars Scholarship. University of South Carolina. 1996
  • Undergraduate Research Fellow, South Carolina EPSCoR. National Science Foundation. 1995

Courses Taught

  • CEE 565: Environmental Analytical Chemistry
  • CEE 667: Chemical Transformation of Environmental Contaminants
  • ENVIRON 393: Research Independent Study
  • ENVIRON 393A: Research Independent Study
  • ENVIRON 566: Environmental Analytical Chemistry
  • ENVIRON 573A: Coastal and Marine Pollution
  • ENVIRON 593: Independent Studies and Projects
  • ENVIRON 667: Chemical Transformation of Environmental Contaminants
  • ENVIRON 898: Program Area Seminar
  • ENVIRON 899: Master's Project
  • ENVIRON 997: Duke Environmental Leadership: Independent Studies and Projects
  • ENVIRON 999: Duke Environmental Leadership: Master's Project
  • MARSCI 393A: Research Independent Study
  • MARSCI 573A: Coastal and Marine Pollution

In the News

Representative Publications

  • Herkert, NJ; Kassotis, CD; Zhang, S; Han, Y; Pulikkal, VF; Sun, M; Ferguson, PL; Stapleton, HM, Characterization of Per- and Polyfluorinated Alkyl Substances Present in Commercial Anti-fog Products and Their In Vitro Adipogenic Activity., Environmental Science & Technology, vol 56 no. 2 (2022), pp. 1162-1173 [10.1021/acs.est.1c06990] [abs].
  • Overdahl, KE; Gooden, D; Bobay, B; Getzinger, GJ; Stapleton, HM; Ferguson, PL, Characterizing azobenzene disperse dyes in commercial mixtures and children's polyester clothing., Environ Pollut, vol 287 (2021) [10.1016/j.envpol.2021.117299] [abs].
  • Walker, I; Montaño, MD; Lankone, RS; Fairbrother, DH; Ferguson, PL, Influence of CNT loading and environmental stressors on leaching of polymer-associated chemicals from epoxy and polycarbonate nanocomposites, Environmental Chemistry, vol 18 no. 3 (2021), pp. 131-141 [10.1071/EN21043] [abs].
  • Ulrich, JC; Ferguson, PL, Development of a sensitive direct injection LC-MS/MS method for the detection of glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) in hard waters., Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, vol 413 no. 14 (2021), pp. 3763-3774 [10.1007/s00216-021-03324-5] [abs].
  • Getzinger, G; Ferguson, L, High-Throughput Trace-Level Suspect Screening for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Environmental Waters by Peak-Focusing Online Solid Phase Extraction and High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry, ACS ES&T Water (2021) [abs].
  • Overdahl, KE; Sutton, R; Sun, J; DeStefano, NJ; Getzinger, GJ; Ferguson, PL, Assessment of emerging polar organic pollutants linked to contaminant pathways within an urban estuary using non-targeted analysis., Environmental Science. Processes & Impacts, vol 23 no. 3 (2021), pp. 429-445 [10.1039/d0em00463d] [abs].
  • Getzinger, GJ; Higgins, CP; Ferguson, PL, Structure Database and In Silico Spectral Library for Comprehensive Suspect Screening of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in Environmental Media by High-resolution Mass Spectrometry., Analytical Chemistry, vol 93 no. 5 (2021), pp. 2820-2827 [10.1021/acs.analchem.0c04109] [abs].
  • Montaño, MD; Liu, K; Sabo-Attwood, T; Ferguson, PL, Analysis of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes in Estuarine Sediments by Density Gradient Ultracentrifugation Coupled to Near-Infrared Fluorescence Spectroscopy Reveals Disassociation of Residual Metal Catalyst Nanoparticles., Environmental Science & Technology, vol 55 no. 2 (2021), pp. 1015-1023 [10.1021/acs.est.0c06058] [abs].
  • Getzinger, GJ; Ferguson, PL, Illuminating the exposome with high-resolution accurate-mass mass spectrometry and nontargeted analysis, Current Opinion in Environmental Science and Health, vol 15 (2020), pp. 49-56 [10.1016/j.coesh.2020.05.005] [abs].

Affiliate Topics in Materials Research