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UB launches major research effort to address environmental issues

Dr. Briner researching at Baffin Island in Canada

Geology professor Jason Briner's research on climate change takes him to Canada's Baffin Island, where he studies the processes and timing of changes in glaciers and ice sheets. Photo: Jason Briner

Published June 19, 2014

UB has announced the launch of RENEW (Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water), an ambitious, university-wide, interdisciplinary research institute that will focus on the most difficult and complex environmental issues, as well as the social and economic issues with which they are intertwined.

“This is what great research universities do. We bring together the best minds to address timely topics and solve problems.”
Charles F. Zukoski , Provost
University at Buffalo

One of the most expansive initiatives launched in recent years by the university, RENEW will harness the expertise of more than 100 faculty across the university, with the goal of hiring 20 more outstanding faculty with expertise in such areas as aquatic ecology, pollution law, behavioral economics, environmental planning, community health and energy/environmental systems.

The RENEW Institute will place UB at the forefront of environmental and energy research focused on sustainability, climate change and natural resources, says Provost Charles F. Zukoski. The initiative will build upon faculty strengths across six UB schools and colleges. It will receive up to $15 million in university funding over the next five years to hire faculty and develop new academic programs for students.

“This is what great research universities do. We bring together the best minds to address timely topics and solve problems,” Zukoski says.

“One of the most urgent challenges faced by humankind is finding ways to sustain human existence while adapting to climate change and the evolving needs for energy and fresh water,” he adds. 

RENEW, Zukoski says, evolved from the UB 2020 plan to position the university as one of the world’s leading universities by investing in and harnessing UB’s research strengths to bring positive changes to the world. 

Environmental problems, he noted, are of particular concern in Western New York, which is surrounded by water, including two Great Lakes, and a legacy of early industrialization.

An international search for a world-class scholar and researcher to direct the institute is underway, said Alexander N. Cartwright, vice president for research and economic development. The director will foster collaborations among UB researchers, lead the search for additional faculty researchers to join the institute, coordinate with academic departments to develop new undergraduate and graduate programs, and establish partnerships with organizations, agencies and community leaders.

Alan J. Rabideau, professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering, will lay the groundwork for RENEW as the search gets underway. Rabideau will serve as UB’s first Research and Economic Development Leadership Fellow and will begin to coordinate faculty involvement in the institute and meet with local community leaders. 

RENEW’s research thrusts will address a variety of prominent issues, such as energy diversification, freshwater protection and restoration; ecosystem science, engineering and policy; societal adaptation to changing environments and the green economy; public health; and environmental management and governance.

The institute’s interdisciplinary focus — involving the faculties of the School of Architecture and Planning, College of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Law School, School of Management and School of Public Health and Health Professions — is designed to foster new collaborations and produce new ideas. The initiative will tap the leadership and vision of the deans and faculty at the six UB schools and colleges.

“Using this integrated approach, we will bring together researchers in the sciences, technology, public health, human behavior, public policy and other disciplines to develop new ways to strengthen and support our natural and human-made environments,” Cartwright says.

The establishment of the RENEW Institute was recommended by an advisory group chaired by Cartwright, whose members were the deans of the six schools and colleges participating in the institute, and from a faculty steering committee, also from across the six schools and colleges.

The faculty steering committee that developed specific recommendations for  RENEW’s operation included Diana Aga, professor of chemistry; Debabrata Talukdar, professor of marketing; Richelle Allen-King, professor of geology; D. Scott Mackay, professor of  geography; Errol Meidinger, professor of law; G. William Page, professor of urban and regional planning; Rabideau; and Jennifer Zirnheld, assistant professor of electrical engineering.