NISE Ideas

NISE Ideas

What do you get when you bring together thought leaders from 3M, the United Nations Foundation, Medtronic, the Science Museum of Minnesota, The Nature Conservancy, and two dozen other private sector, government and nongovernmental organizations with impact around the world? Ideas that make a difference, says IonE resident fellow Tim Smith, director of the NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise. Smith launched NISE last winter as a resource for building research agendas with real-life environmental and social impact. The consortium has met twice so far and launched research projects related to improving material cycling and encouraging consumers to make sustainable choices. Check the IonE website for a midsummer announcement of the next batch of initiatives to hatch from this innovative idea incubator.

Future Earth

Future Earth

We live in a time when humans are the dominant force for change on Earth. Exploring the emerging Anthropocene through the eyes of sustainability science and design is the subject of four Science Museum of Minnesota exhibits to be installed on the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, campus over the next year. First up will be a global snapshot of changes in land use over time, followed by a look at fracture-critical systems. The traveling exhibits are part of the museum’s Future Earth Initiative, an NSF-funded program that also includes a permanent exhibit slated to open in summer 2011 at the downtown St. Paul museum.

Nature of Things to Come

The economic value of nature is the focus of research by the Natural Capital Project, a partnership of Stanford University, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund—and, as of this June, the Institute on the Environment. The project works with public, private and nonprofit partners to develop tools for quantifying the value of services provided by healthy ecosystems and apply those tools to conserving natural resources. Initiatives are currently underway in California, China, Hawaii, Indonesia, Central America, South America and Tanzania. Visit to learn more.

Bright Futures

Three emerging leaders have been chosen fellows in the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE)’s Global Energy Leadership Fellows program. Jill Baumgartner, a Ph.D. candidate in Environment & Resources and Population Health at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is interested in exploring policies for reducing use of solid fuels and inefficient cooking and heating technologies in developing countries. Stephen Hawley, who received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and nanotechnology from the University of Washington, will work on systems for producing biohydrogen using cyanobacteria and wastewater in developing countries. Matt Johnston, a graduate of the environment and resources Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, will conduct research related to establishing collaborations among developing countries in support of local bioenergy production.

Meeting the Challenge

Meeting the Challenge

Boosting biogas production and improving freshwater access proved winners for the top two teams in the Acara Challenge 2010, an IonE-sponsored program that encourages entrepreneurship to help meet water and energy needs in India. Students from the University of Minnesota and the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee took first place in the clean energy contest by designing a business to provide affordable weekly maintenance for biogas units, helping improve indoor air quality and provide much-needed jobs in Indian communities. The clean water prize went to the University of Illinois at Chicago and Vellore Institute of Technology for a sun-driven system that can desalinate and purify 100,000 liters of water per day. Winning teams received support to attend a two-month summer institute focused on commercializing their ideas.


From the classroom to the lab, University of Minnesota professors and researchers continue to shine.

Abrupt changes in historical climate data will be the focus of IonE resident fellow Arindam Banerjee’s (Computer Science and Engineering) research under a new NSF CAREER grant. The highly competitive grant recognizes early career faculty with exceptional promise.

IonE resident fellow Marc Hillmyer(Chemistry), known for his work on sustainable polymers, has joined the ranks of distinguished McKnight university professors. Hillmyer also recently received U of M recognition for outstanding commitment to students and teaching.

Work on robotic sensors for environmental monitoring has earned IonE resident fellow I. Volkan Isler(Computer Science and Engineering) a McKnight land-grant professorship.

IonE resident fellow Tom Johnson(Large Lakes Observatory, University of Minnesota, Duluth), an expert on sedimentary processes in large lakes, paleoclimatology and paleolimnology, has been named Regents professor by the U of M.

The U of M has recognized IonE resident fellow Alexandra Klass(Law School), an expert in environmental and natural resource law, for outstanding commitment to students and teaching.

Ned Mohan (Electrical and Computer Engineering), recipient of numerous grants from the Institute’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), received the 2010 Utility Wind Integration Group award for leadership in power engineering and renewable energy curriculum development. In addition, the U of M recently honored Mohan for outstanding commitment to students and teaching.

Impacts of agricultural management on crop yield and global environmental change will be the focus of a highly competitive NSF graduate research fellowship awarded to IonE research assistant and conservation biology graduate student Nathan Mueller.

IonE resident fellow Stephen Polasky (Applied Economics) has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Polasky’s research includes ecosystem services, natural capital, biodiversity conservation, renewable energy and environmental regulation.

IonE resident fellow Jonathan Schilling’s (Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering) new DOE early career grant builds on IREE-funded research targeting brown rot fungi for their potential in deconstructing plant lignocellulose on route to bioproducts such as fuels and thermoplastics.

Decades of research on biodiversity, protection of endangered species and sustainable farming practices for renewable energy earned IonE resident fellow David Tilman(Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior) the 2010 Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences—the top ecology award in the world—in April.