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U.S., China collaboration establishes environmental research network

National Science Foundation grant supports international environmental solutions.

A new grant sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) will support an environmental research network designed to identify transdisciplinary research opportunities and collaborations for scientists in the U.S. and China working to achieve sustainable use of natural resources for food, energy and water systems.

U.S. collaborators establishing the network include scientists with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA), the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The effort will be directed by Frank Löffler, a University of Tennessee/ORNL Governor’s chair in microbiology and civil and environmental engineering with an adjunct appointment in the UTIA department of biosystems engineering and soil science.

In addition to the $300,000 being provided by NSF, the Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) is contributing approximately $150,000 to the project. The initial goals of the effort are to: (1) identify transdisciplinary environmental research opportunities that address challenging global issues involving food, energy or water systems, (2) develop a framework to overcome hurdles to interdisciplinary research both between and among collaborating U.S. and Chinese researchers and (3) establish models for education, training, communication and efficacy evaluations of the outputs of the international cooperation.

The ultimate goal of the project is to enhance the use of natural resources to meet the needs of the growing human population while maintaining resource levels that are environmentally acceptable and sustainable.

Nicknamed “EAGER: FEWSTERN: U.S.-China Food-Energy-Water Systems Transdisciplinary Environmental Research Network” (FEWS Research Network), the project will build upon and extend the efforts of the Joint Research Center for Ecosystem & Environmental Change, which was established in 2006 and is the foundation for a U.S. Department of State-designated Ecopartnership with China. The FEWS Research Network is expected to add new conduits for information exchange, student training opportunities and collaborative efforts between U.S. and Chinese researchers in the broad areas of sustainability and environmental change.

The FEWS Research Network, along with other UTIA-based U.S./China programs, will accelerate the formation of academia/industry partnerships by helping identify cutting-edge research opportunities, team formation and proposal submission in the food, energy and water nexus arena. Over a two-year period of strategic research planning, identification of grand challenges, teaming workshops and proposal development conferences, the FEWS Research Network will generate technical white papers and guidance documents supporting international collaboration and research that might be jointly funded by NSF and NSFC.

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