Indiana University Research & Creative Activity


Volume 31 Number 1
Fall 2008

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J. Scott Long
J. Scott Long
Photo Ann Schertz

Jeffrey White
Jeffrey White
Photo Ann Schertz

Environmental research at IU — looking forward

by J. Scott Long and Jeffrey White

As this issue of R&CA reflects, sustainability research pervades scholarly and creative activity at Indiana University, from biodiversity science to renewable energy as public art. At IU Bloomington, two new centers that build on this wide array of strengths have been created to foster new research.

The Center for Research in Environmental Sciences (CRES) was formed to enhance the development of environmental science research teams, improve faculty recruitment and graduate student training, and spur increased external research funding for environmental sciences. A multidisciplinary initiative, CRES draws faculty from the IUB College of Arts & Sciences, as well as IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, School of Informatics, and School of Medicine, to address challenging and complicated environmental problems and their consequences for natural and human systems.

For example, under the auspices of CRES, the Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics at IU Bloomington, the Center for Environmental Health at the IU School of Medicine, and the School for Public and Environmental Affairs have established a Consortium for Environmental Genomics and Toxicology to provide better, more efficient ways to screen substances for their harmful effects and uncover the biological processes that are affected by chemical toxins in the environment. More than 1,000 new chemical compounds are introduced to consumers annually, but only a small number of these chemicals (less than 10 percent) are tested for their toxic effects. This multidisciplinary consortium will develop and utilize novel technologies for studying environmental and human health.

IU’s strengths in atmospheric and ecosystem sciences are brought together in the new Center for Research on Energy and the Environment. CREE aims to achieve better understanding of the global carbon cycle, particularly on global and regional scales. CREE researchers will examine the legal and regulatory implications of carbon capture and storage, as well as environmental consequences of energy production, distribution, and use. Climate change policy analysis research (such as the transitioning from voluntary reductions to mandatory limits on carbon emissions) is also an important component of the CREE program.

CREE faculty will explore scientific and policy constraints associated with the development and use of renewable energy resources, particularly those related to biofuels. Researchers are already beginning to use geographic information systems modeling to examine the interactions among several competing land uses in the Midwest, including expansion of forests for terrestrial carbon sequestration, expansion of agricultural land for production of bio-energy crops, and dedication of land for renewable energy production such as wind power.

CRES and CREE represent the productive integration of research capacities that have been scattered across the university in seemingly disparate disciplines. Scholars from the social sciences are effectively collaborating with environmental scientists to explore the impacts of human alteration of environments, including timely topics such as the re-emergence of infectious diseases, the spread of invasive species, the degradation of sensitive landscapes, and the changes in global climate. IU’s Anthropological Center for Training and Global Environmental Change (ACT) and the Center for Institutions, Population, and Environmental Change (CIPEC) are leading the way in revealing how human impact on the environment and human response to environmental change intertwine.

We live in a world where the questions of how to live sustainably, both individually and collectively, have captured public debate and permeated individual experience. IU’s research community is deeply engaged in the complex conglomerate of questions raised by environmental change and sustainability concerns, from energy alternatives to a “green” economy to sustaining biodiversity in the face of global development. Addressing pressing questions about how to achieve a sustainable future will drive IU research agendas for many years to come.

J. Scott Long is Chancellor's Professor of sociology and associate vice provost for social sciences at IU Bloomington. Jeffrey White is professor of environmental science and associate vice provost for sciences at IU Bloomington.