How will we develop sustainable cities and resilient communities in a world of climate change?

Minnesota as a Model for a Prosperous Low-Carbon Economy

Lead Submitter: Ellen Anderson, Executive Director, Energy Transition Lab
Co-Submitters: Jessica Hellman, Institute on the Environment; Richard Graves, Center for Sustainable Building Research; Ned Mohan, Electrical and Computer Engineering; Sabine Engel, University Economic Development; Nicholas Jordan, Agronomy and Plant Genetics; John Carmody, Center for Sustainable Building Research; Beth Mercer Taylor, Sustainability Education Coordinator

As the world confronts the Grand Challenge of climate change, we must overcome energy inequity. Historically, prosperity for wealthy nations was built upon fossil energy. As world leaders move to decarbonize, developing countries may be left further behind in the global economy. To solve this inequity, we need pathways to prosperous low carbon economies that can be scaled up and replicated. Minnesota’s natural resources, policy framework, and lack of fossil fuels create an ideal laboratory to model pathways. Rising to the challenge of creating a low carbon, prosperous Minnesota economy would put us on the world stage for innovation without emissions growth.

This proposal leverages the University’s existing strengths in energy, technology, planning, design, transportation, agriculture, forestry, ecology, public health, human rights, and other fields, and the research already underway on industry reducing environmental impact while improving economic return. Researchers will partner with Minnesota leaders to discover low carbon solutions.

Sustainable Urban Systems (SUS-GC)

Lead Submitter: Lawrence A. Baker, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering

Achieving urban sustainability for global cities is a complex (“wicked”) problem that defies disciplinary solutions. The SUS-GC could (a) create intellectual space for transdisciplinary theoretical advances in urban sustainability, (b) become an integral part of the U of M’s commitment to engagement (perhaps restoring the University’s perceived value within Minnesota), (c) become a UM-wide core educational theme, and (d) be a compelling focus for major private funding—a SUS-CG would be is hugely compelling theme, politically neutral (who does not want sustainable cities?), and well suited for a range of major investor goals.

The U of M is unique in having the combination of a land grant college (CFANS) alongside major schools of public health, architecture, law, and public policy; complemented by strong science and liberal arts departments. Arguably the U of M is the best-positioned school in the country to initiate a SUS GC.

Designing Solutions to the Grand Challenges

Lead Submitter: Thomas Fisher, Director, Metropolitan Design Center
Co-Submitters: Abimbola Asojo, Design, Housing and Apparel; Marilyn DeLong, College of Design; Richard Graves, Sustainable Building Research; Pat Hemmis, Design, Housing and Apparel; Lin Nelson-Mayson, Goldstein Museum; Richard Strong, Sustainable Building Research; Theresa Tichich, External Relations; Matt Tucker, Landscape Architecture; Becky Yust, College of Desiegn

We need to devise creative responses to the Grand Challenges that are affordable, implementable, and sustainable. To do this, the University of Minnesota should include, on every grand-challenge team, the disciplines that have a long history of creating out-of-the-box solutions to problems that require a paradigm shift in thinking: the design disciplines. Designers are trained to develop inventive solutions and to integrate multiple perspectives in a collaborative way.

The private and public sectors have successfully used design methods to address systemic problems not normally thought of as design-related, enabling companies and communities to come up with creative new solutions to their greatest challenges. The University of Minnesota would set itself apart from the many other institutions focused on grand challenges by using design methods to develop innovative, actionable ways of resolving them. Designers could also help in coordinating the diverse disciplines on each team and in moving projects to completion.

A Hotter, Drier World Drives Diversity in Minnesota Agriculture

Lead Submitter: John Erwin, Horticultural Science
Co-Submitters: N. Anderson, M. Clark, J. Luby, S. Hokanson, V. Fritz, M. Rogers, J. Cohen, A. Hegeman, Horticultural Science; J. Slavin, Food Science and Nutrition; R. Blanchette, Plant Pathology; C. Rosen, Soil, Water and Climate; C. Yue, Applied Economics; N. Mohan, Electrical and Computer Engineering; D. Handeen, Center for Sustainable Building Research; N. Phelps, Veterinary Population Medicine/Food Policy Research Center; Greg Schweser, Kathy Draeger, Minnesota Extension Service; Carissa Schively Slotterback, Urban and Regional Planning

Existing fruit and vegetable production regions are increasingly hot and dry. As temperatures increase, photosynthesis and crop yield decrease. Water availability and quality are also decreasing resulting in greater competition between farmers and the public. Therefore, fruit and vegetable production will increasingly move to places with greater water availability and moderate temperatures; Minnesota is one such place during the growing season. We propose to: 1) understand the basis for temperature effects on crop yield and quality, 2) identify and breed temperature tolerant crops, 3) utilize new energy technologies to produce food in different systems in Minnesota.

Minnesota faculty are uniquely positioned to identify or breed temperature tolerant fruits and vegetables, produced with fewer pollinators, with high nutritional value, explore alternative ways to capture, store, and utilize energy for food production in controlled environments, and identify novel ways to design homes, yards, parks. and cities to produce healthier foods for Minnesotans.

Remaking the Mississippi River Corridor

Lead Submitter: Samuel Geer, Adjunct Assistant Instructor, Landscape Architecture

The University of Minnesota will remake the Mississippi River as a resilient ecological corridor capable of sustainably supporting people and wildlife within a symbiotic and regenerative landscape. This is a complex interdisciplinary problem that requires systems thinking to understand the social, economic, and environmental processes at work.

Given its location on the Mississippi River and its role as a land grant university, the University is uniquely positioned to develop new approaches to land use planning, conservation, ecological restoration, and cultural interpretation. This project could involve students and faculty from disciplines such as entomology, forestry, public policy, urban design, horticulture, and the humanities. The University is already on the cutting edge of research regarding the protection of endangered species, invasive species control, and developing new land use typologies which enhance the ecological performance of human landscapes. This new approach can establish the UMN as a global precedent for others to follow.

A Grand Challenge to Support All Other Grand Challenges: Teaching Computational Thinking to All Students

Lead Submitter: Maria Gini, Computer Science & Engineering

This grand challenge is to teach computational thinking to every U undergraduate. Everyone encounters computational artifacts throughout their employment, home, travel, academics, business, in fact everywhere: it pervades all of society. It is a grand challenge because it impacts everyone regardless of major. Computational thinking is not computer programming nor technology literacy, it is a way of organizing the thought processes needed to generate a logical sequence of decisions to accomplish an intended task. It uses abstractions to deal with complexity and scale. What sets it apart from general problem solving is the precision needed in the solution so that the task can be accomplished by a human or a digital device despite the complexity of the goal. Students will be better informed citizens when it comes to making decisions that impact society.

The University is uniquely qualified because of its strength in computational disciplines, educational research, and interdisciplinary work.

A 21st-Century Grand Challenge: Investing in Urban Futures

Lead Submitter: Michael Goldman, Sociology and Global Studies

The 21st century is the era of rapid global urbanization: Global cities of 15-30 million people are being built, converting “under-valued” rural land into “higher valued” real estate. As they compete for scarce resources, and as they displace millions of people, global cities create tremendous social and ecological uncertainty. Our concern is that this grand social experiment lacks interdisciplinary, transnational, and collaborative study and evidence-based policy input.

Our University is uniquely situated as preeminent in researching this “global urban turn”: Our Global Urbanism Group has successfully organized conferences in Minneapolis (2008), Shenzhen (2010), and Jakarta (2012), and sparked collaborative research on questions of urban water, land, energy, and social

equity. Minnesota is well positioned to intervene in these urban futures: Minnesota produces minerals for Asia’s urban expansion, its insurance and finance corporations invest in infrastructure risks and investments, and its firms export water, medical, and food technologies for new middle classes.

Building Community Resilience in a Dynamic World

Lead Submitter: Richard Graves, Director, Center for Sustainable Building Research, College of Design,
Co-Submitters: Ann S. Masten, Institute of Child Development; Ozayr Saloojee, Architecture; Imagine Fund Chair in the Arts, Design and Humanities, Founder of the Duluth Studio

What is Resilience? The Rockefeller Foundation defines resilience as the capacity of individuals, communities and systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of stress and shocks, and even transform when conditions require it. Our communities must become regenerative and resilient not only to be sustainable, but also to respond and adapt to stress and change in a dynamic global environment.

What does resilience mean for Minnesota? Resilience focuses on the challenges communities face in responding to their increasing carbon footprint, dependence on fossil fuels, and impact on our irreplaceable natural resources. Economic resilience in urban and rural communities focuses on the statewide impact of a changing population as well as a changing physical environment. Some communities exude hope as they grow and confront the future, others decline in fear as the process and pain of change causes despair.

The Problem of Water: Civic Engagement, Community, Identity, and Place

Lead Submitter: Jennifer Gunn, History of Medicine Endowed Professor; Director, Institute for Advanced Study
Co-Submitters: Katherine Hayes, Anthropology, American Indian Studies; Patrick Nunnally, River Life Program, Institute for Advanced Study

Minnesota and the region face a grand challenge: adjusting our values and treatment of water to meet changing climate and demographic trends. Historically, water management has been delegated to scientists and engineers; we need an interdisciplinary approach that embraces diverse human understandings and experiences of rivers and lakes.

The University of Minnesota can leverage its location in the Mississippi River ecosystem to develop new, inclusive, and sustainable solutions to water issues at a local scale, with potential for global applications. We have world-renowned water scientists and engineers (WRS, GLI, SAFL, IonE) who provide path-breaking applied research. Programs such as IAS collaboratives and River Life; and scholars in art, anthropology, history, and the professions, explore and communicate changing narratives of water and engage in community-based research and teaching. They complete the triad of perspectives necessary to manage water and encourage broad community buy-in, from the region’s Indigenous to most recent residents, for the future.

Grand Challenge in Discipline-Based Educational Research

Lead Submitter: Ken Heller, Physics
Co-Submitters: Michelle Driessen, Chemistry; Leon Hsu, Education; Duane Nykamp, Mathematics; Emily Pelton, Chemistry; Christina Petersen, Center for Educational Innovation

We propose building a structure to support the continuous improvement of post-secondary education based on the research ethos of the University. Such an education would enable the University to marshal its disciplinary strengths, empowering its students to address rapidly emerging societal issues. Discipline-based educational research (DBER) would strengthen education in the disciplines while providing the interdisciplinary connection to coherently reinforce student learning across disciplines.

DBER builds on the expanding knowledge of the cognitive sciences while building on each discipline’s knowledge base, ethos, and culture. DBER has been developing primarily in the STEM fields and our University has some of the leaders of biology education research, engineering educational research and physics education research on which to build this emerging area. We have a template in the successful structure of our History of Science, Technology, and Medicine program that locates its faculty in their departments while interacting across department lines.

Toward a Sustainable Infrastructure System

Lead Submitter: Jia-Liang Le, Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering (CEGE)
Co-Submitters: Catherine French, CEGE; Lauren Linderman, CEGE; Dominik Schillinger, CEGE; Arturo Schultz, CEGE; Carol Shield, CEGE; Henryk Stolarski, CEGE; Yingling Fan,Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Tian He, Computer Science and Engineering; Frances Homans, Applied Economics; Nikos Sidropoulos, Electrical and Computer Engineering

A multidisciplinary approach is proposed for research and curriculum required to improve resilience and sustainability of infrastructure systems essential for economic and physical wellbeing of each individual, family, community, and nation. The proposed research features a multiscale approach from the material-level to the infrastructure component-level, all the way up to the infrastructure network-level, which can be applied to numerous types of infrastructure systems, including roadway networks, power grids, and gas networks. Multiple disciplines including engineering, science, economics, regional planning and public affairs are required to investigate funding models, planning, decision making, design, construction, and maintenance of these systems.

UMN is uniquely positioned to tackle this grand challenge due to its human and physical recourses including 1) outstanding faculty with expertise well suited for this research; 2) unique world-class large-scale structural testing facilities; 3) available in-state testbeds; and 4) strong relationship with the state legislature for research implementation.

Restoring Earth’s Climate

Lead Submitter: Clarence Lehman, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior
Co-Submitter: David Tilman, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior

The National Academy of Sciences has articulated a major societal need, "climate intervention," which includes the active removal of atmospheric greenhouse gases. Our Climate Restoration Grand Challenge is to discover ways of restoring global climate while simultaneously meeting global energy needs.

Climate restoration might be imagined as best occurring when energy-generating technologies themselves remove excess greenhouse gases. This would seem plausible with energy systems combining the abilities of ecosystems to store carbon in soil, advances in mechanical and chemical engineering to produce energy and pure streams of carbon dioxide, and geological heat extraction and carbon storage. This grand challenge thus involves several disciplines where the University already has great strengths. It is the kind of grand challenge that a research university should tackle—apparently feasible but at the limits of current knowledge. It is a necessary part of maintaining a sustainable, habitable, and equitable planetary ecosystem into the distant future.

(Re-)Designing Cities to Maximize Opportunity, Health, and Happiness

Lead Submitter: David Levinson, Professor, Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering (CEGE)
Co-Submitters: Adam Boies, CEGE; Alireza Khani, CEGE; Julian Marshall, CEGE; Saif Benjafaar, ISYE; Yingling Fan, Humphrey School; Greg Lindsey, Humphrey School; Xinyu (Jason) Cao, Humphrey School; Ying Song, Geography; Matteo Convertino, Public Health

Cities have never been more important—more than 50% of global population lives in cities, rising to 70% by 2050 (UN 2008). These growing populations need places to live, work, and play, they need energy and water, they need means of getting around. Today’s cities were designed around yesterday’s populations and technologies, and are far from optimal for current and future needs.

Designing and re-designing cities to maximize opportunity, health, and happiness is a Grand Challenge the University of Minnesota should pursue. The Twin Cities possess unique features to enable design focused on maximizing health, happiness. and opportunity. The metropolitan area has a growing public transportation network, has the largest network of bike lanes and is among the top third of cities in terms of parkland per person (68.8 m2/person). Additionally, the city has relatively large tracts of underutilized land poised for redevelopment around the urban core.

Towards a Sustainable Global Environment: PM2.5 Health Effects and Control Technologies

Lead Submitter: David Y.H. Pui, Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Director of the Center for Filtration Research, Mechanical Engineering
Co-Submitters: Gurumurthy Ramachandran, Environmental Health Sciences

Fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) is one of the defining problems of our age, affecting many aspects of our lives—electricity production and use, cooking fuel, automobile use, human health, and climate change. These challenges involve technical engineering and medical and public health issues, but also social, economic, and cultural aspects.

We have assembled a world-class team of scholars from four different schools within the University (the Medical School, School of Public Health, College of Science and Engineering, and College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences) to collaboratively address this multi-dimensional problem as well as to propose sustainable solutions. The team has strong partnerships with industrial stakeholders for whom this issue presents economic opportunities. Collaborative scientific projects with international partners have already begun to address air pollution problems in China. This initiative will position the UMN as a world leader on an important global health and sustainability issue.

Sustainable Infrastructure and Cities: Reimagining Urban Infrastructure

Lead Submitters: Anu Ramaswami, Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Jason Cao, Associate Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Matteo Convertino, Assistant Professor, School of Public Health; Sairaj Dhople, Assistant Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering; Yingling Fan, Associate Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Greg Lindsey, Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Julian Marshall, Associate Professor, Civil, Environmental, and Geo­ Engineering; Paige Novak, Professor, Civil, Environmental, and Geo­Engineering; Elizabeth Wilson, Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Jerry Zhao, Associate Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Tom Fisher, Professor, College of Design

Through a $12M grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation, our group is leading a network of researchers across several colleges at UMN to address the challenge of developing environmentally sustainable, healthy, and livable cities through a focus on infrastructure. We explore and integrate engineering, urban design, economics, behavioral and policy solutions to transform urban infrastructure in the areas of energy, water supply and sanitation, transportation, green infrastructure, and food systems. Expected outcomes include enhancing the health and well-being of more than 70% of the world’s people who will live in cities by 2050, while also preserving environmental and ecosystem resources during an era of climate change.

In addition to UMN faculty, our network includes city partners in Minneapolis and St. Paul, The Met Council, businesses such as Xcel Energy and Ecolab, and international organizations such as ICLEI and UNEP to translate research into action, befitting a Grand Challenge initiative.

Initiative of Building Eco-Community

Lead Submitter: Roger Ruan, Professor, Director, Center for Biorefining, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, and Food Science and Nutrition.
Co-Submitters: Paul Chen, Center for Biorefining, Bioproducts and Biosys Eng,; Gerald Shurson, Animal Science; Dean Current, Center for Integrated Natural Resource and Agricultural Management, Forest Resources; Bradley Heins, West Central ROC Morris; Rob Gardner, West Central ROC Morris; Chi Chen, Food Sci. and Nutrition; Ce Yang, Bioproducts and Biosys Eng

The conflict between humans and natural environment is intensifying. Technology advancement in the developed world has contributed in part to this by excessively exploiting natural resources and creating pollutants at unprecedented rates. Urbanization, especially in the developing countries, is asserting tremendous pressure on already fragile natural environments. This initiative will focus on developing and demonstrating systematic solutions to help restore disturbed ecosystems and developing sustainable ecosystems that integrate human society with natural environment. An eco-community demonstration project would require tremendous technical and financial resources and long-term commitment and a holistic approach. UMN as a land grant university is in a unique position to involve researchers and community leaders with diverse expertise.

Tackling the grand challenges identified above not only provides solutions to countries experiencing rapid urbanization but also benefits the local communities. An initiative like this will certainly help build and maintain UMN’s leadership and reputation in this important field.

Developing Infrastructure Resilience to Natural Hazards

Lead Submitter: Arturo Schultz, CSE/CEGE
Co-Submitters: Catherine French, CEGE; Patrick Huelman, BBE; Joseph Labuz, CEGE; Jia-Liang Le, CEGE; Lauren Linderman, CEGE; Rajesh Rajamani, ME; Dominik Schillinger, CEGE; Carol Shield, CEGE; Carissa Slotterback, HHH; Henryk Stolarski, CEGE

Resilience of the built infrastructure to natural hazards, that is, the capacity to recover quickly when major disasters occur, affects life-safety and the nation’s economy. Natural hazards vary regionally and include coastal storms, tornados, straight-line winds, and earthquakes.

The University of Minnesota is ideally positioned to address this challenge through its faculty expertise, world-class research facilities, strategic location, and its relationships to the government and private sectors. Multidisciplinary research and education is proposed to improve the understanding of extreme events, develop resilient and sustainable infrastructure systems, and formulate effective mitigation strategies in three categories: Understanding the Effects of Extreme Loading from Natural Hazards on the Built Infrastructure; Improving the Resilience of the Built Infrastructure; and Developing Computational Tools for Natural Hazards.

Disciplines required include atmospheric and earth sciences; computational fluid dynamics; sensor development, monitoring and structural control; structural and geotechnical engineering; sustainable design; building science; and planning and policy development.