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The ESF Discovery Challenge: Innovating our Future

Discovery Challenge Seed Grant Winners


Initiative in Environmental Data Science

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.

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Mass Timber Construction

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.

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The Center for Environmental Medicine and Informatics (CEMI)

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.

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Pathways to a Net-Zero Carbon Future: Landscape Design for Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Mitigation

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.

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SUNY-ESF Restoration Science Center

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.


The Challenge

A letter from Interim President Dave Amberg

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

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.