e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry
e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry
view of earth from research balloon

ESF Discovery Challenge

Discovery Advisory GroupChairs: Dr. Donald Leopold, Dr. Christopher Nomura, Dr. Timothy Volk

Discovery Challenge Seed Grant Winners SelectedA letter from the Interim President

The College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) has announced the winners of the ESF Discovery Challenge Seed Grants.

The Discovery Challenge engaged the ESF community to identify five initiatives that will receive SUNY funding. Twenty-six pre-proposals were submitted, with 18 proposal teams invited to make speed talk presentations in front of the campus community in January. The Discovery Advisory Group narrowed the field to the final five proposals.

"It is important to point out that all 13 of the final proposals are outstanding and visionary and well-deserving of funding," said Interim President David C. Amberg. "Therefore, the College will work diligently with the ESF College Foundation Inc. and SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson to seek additional funding for all of these strategic priority areas."

In choosing the finalists, consideration was given to impact, relevance and importance to ESF and its constituents, with a focus on global impact. SUNY Administration has committed to fund each area with up to $200,000 a year for three years.

"Watching the collaborations that emerged during the process was both motivating and invigorating," said Amberg.

Projects chosen are:

Initiative in Environmental Data ScienceCore team: Steve Shaw, Hyatt Green, Mary Collins, James Gibbs, Colin Beier, Lindi Quackenbush 
Collaborating staff and faculty: Tim Morin, Chuck Kroll, Jim Sahm, Bahram Salehi, Brian Leydet

This initiative will create the Center for Environmental Data Science to leverage existing ESF resources to address institutional weaknesses, and to be responsive to emergent data science themes being pushed by NSF and NIH. The center will foster synergies with Empire Innovation Program-supported new hires at ESF and SUNY Upstate and coordinate new course offerings, seed grants, graduate student support, campus computing, innovative faculty training and new partnerships with other academic institutions, government and industry.

Mass Timber ConstructionCore team: Paul Crovella, René Germain and Chris Nowak, Tim Volk, Bob Malmsheimer, Tristan Brown, Bill Smith and Susan Anagnost, Aidan Ackerman

This initiative aims to implement a complete system that removes barriers, lowers costs, and reduces risk for mass timber construction.

This project reaches outside of ESF to not only share results, but to implement, demonstrate and educate the decision makers to the vast potential of mass timber. The project brings ESF forest properties to a centerstage role in transforming the built environment in cities such as New York. The social media site moves ESF into a new domain of environmental communication, activism and policy. The digital fabrication lab becomes a hub of exploration for innovation in developing new, cross-disciplinary applications in materials science, manufacturing and design.

The Center for Environmental Medicine and Informatics (CEMI)Core team: Mary Collins, Brian Leydet, Jaime Mirowsky, Roxanne Razavi, Lee Newman

With a significant portion of human disease influenced by environmental exposures, an improved understanding of these links along with rapid translation of such findings into public health policy and clinical practice is critical. Experts at ESF, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University will work together to fill this gap by creating a formal structure for collaboration centered on the application of big data, artificial intelligence, scientific computing, and informatics to pressing environmental health problems.

Pathways to a Net-Zero Carbon Future: Landscape Design for Sustainable Energy and Climate Change MitigationCore team: Colin Beier, Aidan Ackerman, Tristan Brown, John Drake, René Germain, Doug Johnston, Maren King, Robert Malmsheimer and Tim Volk

This proposal addresses the globally critical challenge of the climate-energy-land use nexus by integrating ESF's strengths in resource stewardship, sustainable energy, and landscape architecture to establish the College as a 21st century leader in sustainability science. The intersections of these strengths and a commitment to engaging with stakeholders will foster transdisciplinary scholarship and service that can identify and advance practical solutions needed by planners, landowners, communities and policy-makers, from local to global scales.

SUNY-ESF Restoration Science CenterCore team: Colin Beier, Stewart Diemont, Terry Ettinger, John Farrell, Danny Fernando, Tom Horton, Robin Kimmerer, Chuck Kroll, Silje Kristiansen, Cathy Landis, Don Leopold, Greg McGee, Dylan Parry, Bill Powell, Neil Patterson, Matthew Potteiger, Michael Schummer, Theresa Selfa, John Stella, Elizabeth Vidon, Philippe Vidon, and Tim Volk

This initiative will lead a hands-on transdisciplinary restoration effort to regain ecological function from degraded systems, restore threatened and endangered species, and rebuild our cultural relationships with the land using adaptive methodology and science. Our students and scientists will work side-by-side with research partners and communities to test, develop, and apply novel technologies to deliver ecosystem restoration, incorporating biocultural and food system restoration while drawing strongly on indigenous knowledge and land stewardship practices.

"While only five projects were chosen this time, we look forward to exploring the other submitted proposals and bringing them all to fruition," said Amberg.

The Discovery Advisory Group was co-chaired by Dr. Christopher Nomura, Dr. Donald Leopold and Dr. Timothy Volk. Committee members were Beier, Collins, Dr. Douglas Daley, Dr. David Kieber, Maren King, Dr. Karin Limburg, Dr. Shijie Liu, Newman, Shaw, Matthew Smith, Johnston, Grace Leman, James Quinn, Rea Manderino, Alex Poisson, Steve Darcangelo, Scott Shannon and Linda McNamara.

Building on prior work, a Discovery Advisory Group will prioritize three to five Discovery Challenges as strategic areas for initial investment by SUNY Administration.

Important Dates:

Pre-proposals Submitted

  1. Development of a Social and Biophysical Sciences Syntheses Center
  2. Initiative in Environmental Data Science
    1. Initiative in Environmental Data Science
  3. SUNY Center for Biosphere Reserve Studies
    1. SUNY Center for Biosphere Reserve Studies
  4. A New Vision for Onondaga Lake
  5. Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation
    1. Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Presentation
  6. Threatened Species and Ecosystem Restoration Center
    1. Threatened Species and Ecosystem Restoration Center
  7. Innovative Materials and Processes for Advanced Containerboard Technologies
    1. Innovative Materials and Processes for Advanced Containerboard Technologies
  8. Sustainable Food Systems and Environment
    1. Sustainable Food Systems and Environment
  9. The ESF Center for Environmental Solutions
  10. ESF Center for Biomass and Solar Energy Conversion
    1. ESF Center for Biomass and Solar Energy Conversion Presentation
  11. Learning and Leading from the Land
    1. Learning and Leading from the Land Presentation
  12. Strengthening the Roosevelt Wildlife Station upon its Centennial
  13. Establish a Center for Advanced Study of Adaptation CASA at ESF
  14. Geospatial Analytics for Planet Earth: Sensing and Making Sense
    1. Geospatial Analytics for Planet Earth Presentation
  15. Biocultural Restoration: ESF at the Nexus for Building Relationships Between People and Nature
    1. Biocultural Restoration Presentation
  16. ESF Restoration Science
  17. Mass Timber Construction
    1. Mass Timber Construction Presentation
  18. Center for Environmental Medicine and Informatics
    1. Center for Environmental Medicine and Informatics Presentation
  19. Creation of the Center for Transnational Biodiversity Conservation at SUNY ESF
  20. Innovative Artificial Intelligence for the Protection of Natural and Built Environments
  21. Pathways to a Net Zero Carbon Future
    1. Pathways to a Net Zero Carbon Future Presentation
  22. Land Management for Healthy People: Controlling Human Disease Through Ecosystem Management
    1. Land Management for Healthy People Presentation
  23. Creation of the Center for the Study of Contaminants of Emerging Concern
    1. Center for the Study of Contaminants of Emerging Concern Presentation
  24. Urban Environmental Practice Network
  25. Interactions of Air Pollutants, Ecosystems, Human Health and Policy
  26. Environmental Health Research: Playing to the Strengths of ESF
    1. Environmental Health Research Presentation

Supporting Documents:

Discovery Group Membership


Don Leopold
Chris Nomura
Tim Volk

Voting Members

Colin Beier, FNRM
Mary Collins, EST
Doug Daley, ERE/AG
Dave Kieber, CHE
Maren King, LSA
Karin Limburg, EFB
Shijie Liu, PBE
Lee Newman, EFB/AG
Steve Shaw, ERE
Matt Smith, Library
Doug Johnston, LSA
Grace Leman, USA
James Quinn, USA
Rea Manderino, GSA
Alex Poisson, GSA
Steve Darcangelo, Alumni Board


Scott Shannon, Dean Graduate Program
Linda McNamara, staff support