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Gund Catalyst Award Winners

The Gund Institute for Environment at UVM announced nearly $250,000 in Catalyst Award seed grants and event support today. Five interdisciplinary teams will receive Gund Catalyst Awards between $35,000 and $50,000 to establish new research projects seeking real-world solutions to critical environmental issues. The inaugural Catalyst Awards will accelerate new efforts on global climate modelling, renewable biofuels, climate impacts on mountain communities, nitrogen ‘trouble zones’ and sustainable agriculture. “We are excited to support these ambitious projects with our first Gund Catalyst Awards,” says Donna Rizzo, Acting Director of the Gund Institute for Environment. “These are important efforts that will attract more funding to UVM, address critical issues, and develop solutions for the people of Vermont, the U.S. and worldwide.”

Gund Catalyst Award recipients for 2017-18 are:

-Mark Budolfson (CAS) and colleagues from UVM and Princeton University will develop next-generation climate models to improve environmental decision-making and policy. The team will enhance existing models by adding key factors that are currently largely ignored, including health co-benefits from air pollution reduction, economic inequality between nations, and carbon pricing based on nations’ varying ability to respond to climate change.

-Nathan Sanders (Rubenstein), Beverley Wemple (CAS) will lead an international team of collaborators in one of the first projects to synthesize how climate change will impact mountain communities worldwide. Faculty and students will research and develop more accurate projections of climate impacts on human livelihoods and mountain ecosystems, including biodiversity, soils, water, lakes and rivers.

-Meredith Niles (CALS), Eric Roy (Rubenstein) and colleagues will lead a comprehensive study of nitrogen use across the U.S., including areas where excess nitrogen – largely from agricultural fertilizers – poses risks to human health and ecosystems, including air quality and water. Faculty and students will identify counties where farmers are most likely to participate in nitrogen use reduction programs based on socio-economic, behavioral, agricultural, and environmental factors, and collaborate with carbon offset initiative stakeholders to reduce GHG emissions resulting from nitrogen hotspots.

-Britt Holmén (CEMS), Cecilia Danks (Rubenstein) and colleagues will improve understanding of “biogas” (ie. methane, CO2) emissions and dynamics. By developing new technologies and systems for real-time biogas monitoring, the team will link regional partners around applications requiring biogas sensing data, including community adoption of renewable natural gas, an increasingly viable renewable energy source. Scholars and industry partners will establish real-time, spatial emissions monitoring at a pilot field project in Vermont, and aim to develop novel, miniature biogas sensors for deployment on farms, trucks, drones and satellites.

-Heather Darby (Extension/CALS) and Gillian Galford (Rubenstein) will help develop milkweed as a commercial crop to enhance farm viability and biological diversity. Milkweed has declined 58% over 20 years in the Midwest, due largely to herbicides, producing a staggering 81% decline in monarch butterflies, which are key crop pollinators. Faculty and students will determine optimal techniques for growing milkweed for an emerging international market seeking natural textiles for clothing and apparel.

The awards will support at least 19 UVM scholars from four colleges/schools and seven departments. At least 22 external partners from 12 countries will participate, including colleagues from Harvard, Princeton and Yale, and international collaborators in China, India, Australia, Britain, France, Sweden and Canada. Launched in June 2017, Gund Catalyst Awards are a UVM-wide seed grant competition. They support the Gund Institute’s mission to mobilize scholars and leaders to understand and solve the world’s most pressing environmental issues. The inaugural competition attracted 21 proposals from 90 scholars for $780,000 in research. “We thank all 21 teams for their excellent submissions,” says Rizzo, noting that recipients will become Gund Fellows. “It was difficult to choose from such a strong pool. Given the overwhelming response, we are exploring partnerships that will help support even more exciting research collaborations next year.”

Proposals were evaluated on six criteria: intellectual merit, interdisciplinary reach, strength of team, potential for impact, potential for growth, and feasibility. Additional priority was given to new UVM collaborations with external partners and opportunities for students. Proposals were reviewed by UVM and external evaluators.

In addition to Catalyst Awards, the Gund Institute also announced funding for two major events to be held at UVM:

-Josh Farley (CDAE) and Jon Erickson (Rubenstein) will host an international symposium to develop a new research agenda for ecological economics, a transdisciplinary field that examines relationships between ecological and economic systems to address environmental challenges. The Gund Institute is global leader in ecological economics, and this event will inform scholarship at UVM and beyond.

-Adrian Ivakhiv (Rubenstein) and Luis Vivanco (CAS) will host an international symposium of transdisciplinary experts from leading ‘artscience’ and ‘eco-humanities’ initiatives, such as MIT MediaLab, Sciences Po and UVM FabLab. The event aims to develop new collaborations bridging the arts, humanities and sciences, and engage universities and citizens in environmental solutions.

The 2018-19 Gund Catalyst Awards will be announced by Fall 2018. Learn more about opportunities at the Gund Institute, including Catalyst Awards, PhD funding and postdoctoral positions.