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Upcoming Events

CESR Seminar: Benjamin Sovacool

January 22, 9 - 10am CST


Passcode: cesr2021

Topic: "Decarbonisation and its discontents: A critical justice perspective on four low-carbon transitions"

Abstract: What are the types of injustices associated with low-carbon transitions?  Relatedly, in what ways do low-carbon transitions worsen social risks or vulnerabilities?   Lastly, what policies might be deployed to make these transitions more just?  The presentation answers these questions by first elaborating an “energy justice” framework consisting of four distinct dimensions—distributive justice (costs and benefits), procedural justice (due process), cosmopolitan justice (global externalities), and recognition justice (vulnerable groups). It then examines four European low-carbon transitions—nuclear power in France, smart meters in Great Britain, electric vehicles in Norway, and solar energy in Germany—through this critical justice lens. In doing so, it draws from original data collected from 64 semi-structured interviews with expert participants as well as five public focus groups and the monitoring of twelve internet forums.  It documents 120 distinct energy injustices across these four transitions.  It then explores two exceedingly vulnerable groups to European low-carbon transitions, those recycling electronic waste flows in Ghana, and those mining for cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The presentation aims to show how when low-carbon transitions unfold, deeper injustices related to equity, distribution, and fairness invariably arise.

Biosketch: Dr. Benjamin K. Sovacool is Professor of Energy Policy at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex Business School in the United Kingdom. There he serves as Director of the Sussex Energy Group. Professor Sovacool works as a researcher and consultant on issues pertaining to global energy policy and politics, energy security, energy justice, climate change mitigation, and climate change adaptation. More specifically, his research focuses on renewable energy and energy efficiency, the politics of large-scale energy infrastructure, designing public policy to improve energy security and access to electricity, the ethics of energy, and building adaptive capacity to the consequences of climate change.

AAAS 2021 Annual Meeting

February 8 - 11, 2021


To ensure the safety of program participants, volunteers, and AAAS staff, the 2021 Annual Meeting will convene entirely online.


Scientific session and career workshop formats have been modified to accommodate virtual viewing, and the following video provides an overview of those updates. The submission deadline continues to be July 14, 2020.


Meeting theme: Understanding Dynamic Ecosystems


Research topics which may be addressed include:

Toxins and pollution remediation

Artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, and human-machine interface applications

Modeling—traditional methods to quantum computing Weathering extreme climate and geological changes


Genetic engineering challenges

Social ecosystems

Systems of interaction and community-building both in-person and virtually

Invasive species



The Economist Group's 8th Annual

World Ocean Summit Virtual Week

Accelerating a sustainable ocean economy

March 1st - 5th 2021

In its 8th year, The Economist’s World Ocean Summit 2021 is going virtual for the first time. 

We are excited to launch World Ocean Summit Virtual Week, and for this year only, the event is free-to-attend . The week offers the opportunity to access 30 hours of highly curated content over five days, and the chance to make meaningful connections no matter where you are in the world.

 Although we can't meet in person, we plan to make this year bigger and better.

 Register now to join over 5,000 participants and 130 speakers across the week, in our mission to deliver a sustainable ocean economy. 

 View the event schedule here.

Every year the VentureWell OPEN Conference brings the higher education innovation and entrepreneurship world together. Educators, students, and funders share stories, start new collaborations, and learn emerging best practices in the rapidly evolving field of science and technology entrepreneurship education.

 As with past years, we will have sustainability-themed sessions. During these sessions we want to hear about what you are doing to advance sustainability initiatives in your work. What lessons, tips, and tools have you learned? What failures have you had? What best practices have you discovered? Please join the conversation and contribute to the field of sustainable innovation and entrepreneurship education by proposing a session for OPEN 2021. The deadline to submit a short abstract for a presentation is November 20 (a week from today!). Read the Call for Proposals and submit your abstract today.

 We will be inviting presenters with accepted proposals to register for FREE this year (provided registration is received by the early-bird deadline of January 8, 2021). To broaden participation, we've significantly dropped our registration fee -only $50 this year- for non-presenters that register by January 8.

Share your work at the fully virtual 2021 Emerging Contaminants in the Environment Conference (ECEC21). ECEC21 will be held on April 27-28, 2021.

Abstracts will be accepted on a variety of emerging contaminant topics such as:

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs)
Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs)
Plastic debris and microplastics
Algal toxins
Agricultural chemicals


Due to the virtual format of this year's conference, abstracts will be accepted for traditional, 15-minute oral presentations and brief, 5-minute lightning talks. There will be no poster session.

Virtual and onsite

in Brisbane, Australia

 The Sustainability Research & Innovation Congress 2021 (SRI2021) is the world’s first transdisciplinary gathering in sustainability – it will be a space of fierce advocacy for sustainability scholarship, innovation, collaboration and action.

This annual event unites global sustainability leaders, experts, industry and innovators to inspire action and promote a sustainability transformation. For the first time, the Congress will launch as a hybrid event with a diverse and innovative online program alongside onsite participation. In addition to the 100+ sessions available throughout the day and night, thanks to the global reach of SRI and partners, the SRI2021 Online Package includes exclusive events and services, starting as soon as February 2021.

 Submit a session proposal; calls due December 15, 2020

Past Events

Josiah Hester

CESR and Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering Seminar

November 12, 2020 @ 1 pm

Batteries Not Included: Reimagining Computing for the Next Trillion Devices

For decades, smart device (i.e. wireless sensing and computing systems) have relied primarily on battery power. However, batteries are not a viable energy storage solution for the tiny devices at the edge of a sustainable Internet of Things. Batteries are expensive, bulky, hazardous, and wear out after a few years (even rechargeables). Replacing and disposing of billions or trillions of dead batteries per year would be expensive and irresponsible. By leaving the batteries behind and surviving off energy harvested from the environment, tiny intermittently powered sensors can monitor objects in hard to reach places maintenance free for decades. Batteryless sensing will revolutionize computing and open up new application domains from infrastructure monitoring and wildlife tracking to wearables, healthcare, and space exploration. However, these devices intermittent power supply make power failures the common case; requiring a rethinking of hardware and software design, tool creation, and evaluation techniques. In this talk, I will I will discuss the broad implications of what a battery-free, trillion device IoT means, outline previous work on the topic, and discuss late breaking devices and approaches to mobile computing such as soil powered sensors and the world’s first battery-free Nintendo Game Boy.

Josiah Hester is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Computer Science at Northwestern University. Josiah joined Northwestern in Fall 2017 after completing his PhD in Computer Science at Clemson University. He works broadly in mobile and pervasive computing, i.e. the Internet-of-Things, wireless sensor networks, and embedded systems. He specifically investigates battery-free smart devices that harvest energy from ambient sources like the sun, human action, and wireless power. His work is involves the design of computer systems that are resilient to frequent and unpredictable power failures. He works towards a sustainable future for computing and applies these techniques to mobile healthcare, infrastructure monitoring, and conservation based applications. His work has received a Best Paper Award and Best Paper Nomination from ACM SenSys, two Best Poster Awards, and has been covered by the Wall Street Journal, The Verge, CNET, the BBC, and many others.

April 24, 2020

Evanston, IL

This past January, Northwestern, Argonne, and the University of Illinois proposed an AI for Sustainability center planning grant to the National Science Foundation.  The proposal process created a series of ideas that we would like to pursue regardless of the proposal outcome. Central to those is to roadmap research needs in AI for Sustainability.

To this end, Bill Miller and Jennifer Dunn organized a half-day workshop on April 24 to begin the roadmapping process, and was co-sponsored by Northwestern’s Center for Engineering Sustainability and Resilience and the Northwestern-Argonne Institute for Science and Engineering. 

The workshop attracted over 60 participants and featured Simge  Küçükyavuz, Luís Amaral, and Aaron Packman as speakers in addition to Raj Sankaran and Prasanna Balaprakash of Argonne.  Matt Turk of the University of Illinois also contributed a talk.  Niraj Swami of The Nature Conservancy served as the keynote speaker.  The workshop resulted in a synthesis of research needs and questions in topic areas including data needs, advances in AI to advance sustainability research, integrating human-based domain expertise into AI approaches, building trust with stakeholders, and communicating results to policy makers.  We expect there will be follow on workshops to address several of these topics as CESR and NAISE collaborate towards developing a roadmap for AI for Sustainability.  A two-page summary of the workshop is in the CESR library.

Kate Marvel, NASA GISS & Columbia University

Earth and Planetary Sciences seminar speaker, March 6th, 2020

Understanding Climate Change Past, Present, and Future: New Methods for Signal Detection and Attribution

How is climate change affecting aspects of the Earth system beyond global average temperature? And what can we expect in the future? Currently, the detection of a human fingerprint on many variables is complicated by several factors: methodological uncertainties, large internal variability, errors in the computer models used to estimate natural climate variability and future climate trajectories, and fundamentally unresolved science questions.  In this talk, I’ll explain how new methods can help to identify clear signals amidst the noise.  I’ll begin in the past, using tree-ring reconstructions of last-millennium hydroclimate to show that humans were very likely influencing global drought risk as early as the first half of the twentieth century.  Moving to the present, I’ll show how improved fingerprinting techniques reveal a detectable human influence on global and regional precipitation patterns.  I’ll end with a cautionary tale for the future, showing that estimates of future warming or “equilibrium climate sensitivity” inferred from recent observations are likely biased low,  because the cloud changes we've experienced are not necessarily predictive or reflective of the cloud changes expected in the future.  This means that conclusions inferred from past and present data cannot be simply extended to the future, but this improved understanding can help to narrow uncertainties in future climate projections.  

Dr. Kate Marvel is an Associate Research Scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University where she studies Earth’s climate system, forcings, and feedbacks. Her work is particularly adept at fingerprinting the causes of observed climatic change, and exploring the implications of these changes for the future. Kate is one of the world’s pre-eminent climate communicators – with regular pop-sci contributions to Scientific American, a much viewed and lauded TED main stage talk, and a massive social media following. She holds a B.A. in physics and astronomy from U.C. Berkeley  and a PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Cambridge where she was a Gates Scholar and member of Trinity College. Prior to joining NASA GISS, Kate was a Postdoctoral Science Fellow at the Carnegie Institution for Science in the Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University and at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. 

 Please e-mail if you have any questions.

Dr. Wendy Shaw, Physical Sciences Division Director at PNNL

LEAP Center seminar speaker, March 5th, 2020

Using an Outer Coordination sphere with molecular catalysts to enhance small molecule conversions

Enzymes are capable of shuttling gases, protons and electrons with great speed and precision.  Enzymes are also capable of very specifically controlling the local environment around the catalytic active site.  Using the large range of functional groups available with the 20 naturally occurring amino acids, and the structural control of the protein architecture, precise placement of hydrophobic or hydrophilic groups is achieved which control the enzyme active site hydrophobicity, charge, steric accessibility and electronic character. Furthermore, enzymes are dynamic molecules that can control the desired environment by a subtle or significant change in structure.  The superior rates and specificity of enzymes as compared to homogeneous catalysts demonstrate that the outer coordination sphere is as essential as the active site for efficient function.

Our program focuses on trying to capture these desirable enzymatic traits in homogeneous catalysts.  Dynamics, active site environment and proton channels are the features of the OCS that are the focus of these studies.  We are developing redox active catalysts which oxidize and produce H2 and also thermal catalysts for CO2 reduction.  Our initial work in this area has focused on incorporating small peptides around the active site of functional molecular complexes to explore how the local environment can influence catalytic rates. Amino acids and peptides enhance activity, and importantly, provide a scaffold upon which a more complex outer coordination sphere can be designed and added. Our most current studies focus on creating artificial enzymes by immobilizing our complexes within a stable protein. We use a combination of computational and experimental approaches to understand the interactions controlling these complex systems. Combining these approaches allows us to explore and develop a mechanistic understanding of the role of the scaffold in both enzymes and molecular catalysts, allowing us to capture the essential features into homogeneous catalysts, with the potential of enhancing the rates, selectivity and specificity of the catalyst.

Chris Rahn, PhD , J. Lee Everett Professor and Associate Dean for Innovation, Penn State

Seminar speaker on March 2, 2020

Battery Systems Engineering Enabling Mobility and Grid Independence

Batteries enable mobile and un-plugged electronics with applications ranging from cell phones to solar homes. Batteries are being widely adopted to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of hybrid and electric vehicles, including electric aircraft. Cost and life of the energy storage system, however, are concerns that limit the desirability of battery powered devices. This seminar introduces the electrochemistry, dynamic modeling, and controls associated with the emerging field of battery systems engineering. The governing partial differential equations are derived, simplified, discretized, and reduced in order to develop efficient and accurate models that include important aging and thermal effects. Model-based state of charge and state of health algorithms are derived that predict the remaining charge and capacity evolution of a battery pack, respectively. Dynamic current limiters and thermal management algorithms are shown to maximize power and minimize degradation. New research directions in active safety and multifunctional battery systems are described.

Alaina Harkness, Executive Director of Current

Seminar speaker, December 20th, 2019

Alaina Harkness, the new Executive Director at Current, brings a background in economic development.  She was previously at the MacArthur Foundation, where she was involved in providing early financial support for the Array of Things project.  Alaina has been at Current since September 2019 and is still working to connect with potential partners.  Alaina would like to meet and develop collaborations with NU faculty doing research broadly related to water.  

SUSPIRE Workshop

SUSPIRE workshop was held July 16th and 17th, 2019, on Northwestern's Chicago campus.  This workshop was organized by Northwestern University, Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago, Illinois CURES, and many other partners with support from the National Science Foundation.

Learn more

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