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Actionable Research

Our  research requires interdisciplinary collaboration, bringing the brightest of the bright together to solve the world’s current and future problems. We call it “actionable research” — that is, scientific progress toward real-world solutions that can have an immediate and/or lasting impact on the world we live in.

The Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) is funding and shepherding research in five distinct themes:


2014 Research Seed Funding

In early 2014, iSEE made its first call for proposals and in June awarded more than $400,000 each for two projects and $140,000 for a third:

Research will take place in the PI’s home department, and indirect costs generated from subsequent proposals derived from the seed grant are expected to track back to the PI’s home department as stipulated by the new ICR model.

2015 Research Seed Funding

In July 2015, the Institute awarded more than $1.2 million for four projects, bringing its total number of seed-funded projects to seven:

iSEE-Affiliated Centers

Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation

The U.S. Department of Energy announced is funding a $115 million Bioenergy Research Center (BRC), a collaboration between Illinois’ Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE), the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB), and 17 partner institutions.

Evan H. DeLucia, the G. William Arends Professor of Plant Biology and Baum Family Director of iSEE, is the Director for the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI), which over five years (FY 2018-22) will develop fuels and products by integrating three highly interconnected DOE priority areas:

  • GROWING THE RIGHT CROPS (Feedstock Development) — Led by Stephen Moose, a Professor of Crop Sciences at Illinois, scientists will integrate recent advances in genomics, synthetic biology, and computational biology to increase the value of biomass crops. Feedstock researchers will use the “plants as factories” paradigm, in which biofuels, bioproducts, and foundation molecules for conversion are synthesized directly in plant stems.
  • TURNING PLANTS INTO FUEL (Conversion) — Led by Huimin Zhao, the Steven L. Miller Chair in Chemical Engineering at Illinois, experts will further develop a versatile, automated “biofoundry” for rapidly engineering microbial strains that can efficiently produce diverse, high-value molecules such as biodiesel, organic acids, jet fuels, lubricants, and alcohols. Using a design-build-test-learn framework, this research will overcome challenges associated with driving biological systems to produce non-natural compounds.
  • DETERMINING THE ENVIRONMENTAL AND ECONOMIC BOTTOM LINE (Sustainability) — Led by Madhu Khanna, ACES Distinguished Professor in Environmental Economics at Illinois, researchers will provide an overarching framework for viewing outcomes from the Feedstocks and Conversion themes through an environmental and economic lens. Experts will design a closed-loop, integrated research program for CABBI.

Read the full news release >>>

The CABBI website >>>

Center for Applied Collaboration on Human Environments

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), College of Engineering (CoE), and iSEE provided seed funding for this new center — CACHE for short — in early 2016. At the heart of of the center’s mission is a desire to learn how basic services within a home — energy, sanitation, and drinking water — impact human health and the environment. Research initiatives in three thrust areas build upon one another to shape understanding of emissions at scales as small as one household system and as large as worldwide. By examining the small scale, physical and social scientists can tailor technologies and education strategies to achieve lasting improvements in human environments; and by examining collective knowledge of many small-scale studies, they can create increasingly accurate scenarios for future emissions levels regionally and worldwide.

Led by MacArthur Fellow and Illinois CEE Professor Tami Bond, CACHE integrates initiatives on modeling and sensing, global and regional scenario modeling, and the elucidation of social and technical principles governing interactions between humans and technology. Its ultimate goals are to chart plausible paths toward a better future and to provide tools and understanding that allow people to walk those paths.

Visit the CACHE website >>>

Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation

In 2016, iSEE secured $972,441 for Plant Biology Professor Evan H. DeLucia (PI) and Plant Biology and Crop Sciences Associate Professor Carl Bernacchi (co-PI) to study enhanced weathering (EW) as part of this newly formed Centre.

DeLucia, Bernacchi, iSEE Postdoctoral Research Associate Ilsa Kantola, Department of Plant Biology Technician Michael Masters, and two field technicians — Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences Undergraduate Haley Ware, and recent Molecular and Cellular Biology graduate Konrad Taube — comprise the Illinois team. For five years, team members will work on quantifying rates of EW and carbon balance of food crop/bioenergy agroecosystems; testing hypotheses about interactions between EW, crop performance, mycorrhizal growth, and soil properties; and investigating the role of rising CO2 fertilization on EW, the root microbiome, and plant performance.

Illinois is one of 10 partners in the Centre. Others include the University of Sheffield (lead), the University of Southampton, the University of Bristol, the University of California, the University of Cambridge, the Open University in UK, Cardiff University, the University of Leeds, and the Southeast Asia Rainforest Research Partnership. The work from this centre is funded by a £10m grant from the Leverhulme Trust, which was established by the Will of William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers. Since 1925, the Leverhulme Trust has provided grants and scholarships for research and education; today, it distributes approximately £80m a year.

Read more about the new centre on its website >>>

Illinois Research Scholars


The Institute is committed to showcasing the numerous research strengths that can be found on the Illinois campus that relate to sustainability, energy, and the environment.

Thus far, iSEE has coalesced the Water Scholars and the Energy Scholars on campus to showcase the breadth and depth of expertise on campus — and to make it easier for researchers and funding organizations to bring together major research teams and centers.

Other Opportunities: iSEE is Here to Help!

Beyond its own seed funding, iSEE intends to be a leader in interdisciplinary research — and as a funding facilitator — for the Illinois campus by seeking collaborators and funding for projects that address sustainability, energy, or environmental issues.

Tying Campus Sustainability to Research, Education, Funding


iSEE is working with scholars from all disciplines to help promote the Illinois campus as a “living laboratory.”

More than 500 projects and facilities at Illinois are directly tied to campus sustainability, and the iCAP Portal website has a list of them all. In addition, the portal has listings of major external funding programs — and finally, how campus projects can tie in to one or more of those funding opportunities.

iSEE is working on a seed funding program that will help researchers apply for major external funding for research and education tied to these projects and/or facilities, thereby bolstering a campus sustainability initiative at the same time.

Visit the iCAP Portal for more on projects and funding programs >>>

Building Research Teams


In Spring 2015, the Institute helped put together an interdisciplinary team with more than $220,000 in federal funding to examine and model the effects of natural and manmade disasters. The Institute helped secure the funds, including direct pay for student researchers, from the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) for a study titled “System Dynamics Modeling of the Ecosystem-Infrastructure Interface.”

Primary Investigators Paolo Gardoni, an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Yanfeng Ouyang, an Associate Professor of CEE, and Colleen Murphy, an Associate Professor in the College of Law and the Department of Philosophy, will lead a team that will examine the effects of natural events and human actions that lead to disastrous situations.

“(iSEE) was very instrumental in defining the scope of the project and in making sure it fit within CERL’s interest areas,” Gardoni said. “(iSEE Director) Evan DeLucia and (Managing Director) Jenny Kokini did a great job of matchmaking, which was essential in putting the right team together, then put a lot of effort into the scope, interest and intellectual value of our research.”

Ouyang, Gardoni, and Murphy received another year of funding in 2016.

For more about this project, please visit the webpage >>>

Levenick iSEE Fellows Program


Established in 2015 by a generous gift from Stuart L. and Nancy J. Levenick of Peoria, the Levenick iSEE Fellows Program accomplishes iSEE’s goal of actionable research — work that leads to lasting, real-world solutions to the world’s current and future sustainability-, energy- and environment-related issues — through short-term projects led by Illinois faculty Fellows and student Scholars.

Our Fellows will lead the way in making the Urbana-Champaign campus a model of sustainability, and through their research, learning, and outreach, they will carry this work forward as a significant message to the world.

Meet our Fellows >>>