The Gund Institute for Environment at UVM announced $200,000 in Gund Catalyst Award seed funding for new UVM projects today.

The four $50,000 awards will catalyze new research and action on urgent environmental issues, including: nature-based solutions to malaria, synthesizing the latest climate knowledge for Vermont, new low-cost microsensors to track global climate change and soil nitrogen, and novel Artificial Intelligence techniques to investigate links between the environment and human well-being.

Catalyst Awards are the Gund Institute’s flagship seed grant competition, and have provided over $600,000 in startup funds, supporting over 70 UVM scholars and 15 innovative projects, since launching three years ago.

“Gund Catalyst Awards are accelerating much-needed research, sparking new collaborations between UVM researchers and society’s leaders, and creating solutions to urgent environmental challenges around the world,” says Taylor Ricketts, Director of UVM’s Gund Institute for Environment. “These projects bring together scholars from different colleges and disciplines, because greater collaboration is required to address these cross-cutting issues.”

The four projects receiving Catalyst Awards for 2020-21 are: 

Arne Bomblies (CEMS) and Meredith Niles (CALS), along with Gund postdoctoral fellow Tim Treuer and Gund PhD fellow Maya Moore, will explore how forests and agricultural practices can help reduce the prevalence of malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that impacts over 200M people annually, while improving food security and farmers’ livelihoods. Researchers will travel to Madagascar to investigate how tree cover influences the availability of habitat for malaria-spreading mosquitoes, which forests best support bats and spiders that eat disease-carrying mosquitoes, and how solutions, such as reforestation, agroforestry, and rice-growing techniques, can advance community well-being.

Gillian Galford (RSENR) and Joshua Faulkner (CALS) will lead the Vermont Climate Assessment 2020. The team, which includes Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux (CAS), Leigh Ann Holterman (Larner) and others, will update scientific and public understanding of Vermont’s changing climate, and position the state as a national leader on climate policy and planning. Covering several topics – including water, health, energy, transportation, forests and community development – researchers will identify state policymakers’ needs and co-produce information that will help Vermont to better mitigate and plan for climate change. The project builds on a pioneering student-led Gund Institute project.

Rachelle Gould (RSENR) and Nick Cheney (CEMS) will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to investigate relationships between the environment and human well-being. They will analyze billions of texts—from newspapers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to books such as Moby Dick and Walden—to explore and characterize relationships between ecosystems and well-being. They also aim to pilot ways of analyzing texts less commonly used in AI analyses, including policy briefs, indigenous perspectives and spiritual texts. This research will offer a new understanding of how nature supports human health and well-being, and represents a significant advancement in the scale and scope of analysis of human-environment relationships.

Aimee Classen (RSENR) and Appala Raju Badireddy (CEMS) will study how global climate change affects nitrogen in soils. They seek to develop innovative low-cost, flexible sensors to better study biogeochemical responses to global climate change in extreme environments. These sensors would enable them to identify nutrient transformation over time, improve climate change modeling, and verify the effectiveness of nitrogen mitigation strategies. Mitigating nutrient losses is key to maintaining or improving the productivity of ecosystems (such as forests and agriculture), and reducing nutrient pollution of surface waters.

The awards will support at least 25 UVM faculty and students from five colleges/schools and 12 departments. Collaborators from at least eight partners will participate, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University, University of Tennessee, Durham University, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, and the Laurence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The Gund Institute recently launched a special $100,000 Joint Catalyst Award on rural health and the environment in partnership with UVM’s Larner College of Medicine, Maine Medical Center Research Institute and the Northeast New England Translational Research Network. Proposals are due April 30. 

Each of these new projects connect multiple Gund themes – climate solutions, resilient communities, sustainable agriculture, and health and well-being. By echoing UN Sustainable Development Goals, these themes connect UVM scholars to global priorities and increase opportunities to impact policy.

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

Learn more about Gund Catalyst Awards.