The Science of Science Communication

By: Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant, Sustainability Office.

Communication is a vital part of science. Articulating one’s research to broad audiences can have a significant impact on how that research is discovered and shared. While scientists and communicators have often relied on intuitive rules to guide communication, science communication (as a field in itself), is supported by empirical insights that inform how to best communicate about science issues.

Sara K Yeo, assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah, will describe the science of science communication at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, April 10, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Sara K Yeo. Used with permission.

Yeo’s research explores how audiences seek and process information about science from the media. Her research methods include surveys, experiments embedded in surveys (either online or over the phone), and content analysis.

“If you think about where we get science from it is very rarely now in traditional news or television,” said Yeo. “Most people go online to find information about science.”

When you are reading science information online, there are many factors that influence how you understand that information. The social component of online sources (like buttons and share options) are often embedded in the source. According to Yeo, the number of likes and shares can influence how we think about the information we are reading. But it isn’t just the social components that have an influence. The language used within the message, and its context, can also influence how the information is received.

Yeo’s current project explored tweets regarding climate change and global warming, uncovering the context in which audiences used the phrases ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’. She also worked alongside atmospheric scientists to determine if temperature variations across the United States were related to Twitter reactions.

“What we saw was the phrases ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ used in different contexts,” said Yeo. “Global warming was used in context to the weather and was correlated with temperature changes. Whereas, climate change tends to be used in more environmental and political type discourses.”

Mapping the discourse surrounding scientific issues on social media is an important part of science communication research. Collecting this data can inform how communication is being translated to different audiences and inform science communication scholars and practitioners.

To hear more about the empirical research being done on science communication and how the direction the field is moving, attend Yeo’s GCSC lecture, “The Science of Science Communication” on Tuesday, April 10 at 4 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Melding Perspectives, Finding Solutions

In Utah, the second driest state in the country, water is a critical issue. Our water systems are interconnected with human systems, and as our population expands and the climate changes, protecting and sharing this resource equitably will require collaboration between researchers, practitioners and decision makers.

When it comes to collaborative water research, the U’s Society, Water, and Climate Research Group (SWC) is leading the way. With the addition of five new faculty members, the group has undertaken an ambitious mandate – to meld multiple scientific perspectives toward finding sustainable water solutions for a changing world.

Ruth Watkins, senior vice president for Academic Affairs and incoming president, addresses faculty at the forum.

Many U faculty already had significant expertise related to water, society and climate, but there were areas that could be strengthened. A group of U researchers, led by the chair of the U’s Geography Department Andrea Brunelle, formed the SWC in 2013.

The team’s first task was to articulate gaps in the society, water and climate perspectives already at the U. Then they proposed new faculty positions to fill those gaps through the university’s Transformative Excellence Program. The Transformative Excellence Program is an ongoing hiring initiative seeking new faculty focused around interdisciplinary themes rather than discipline.

“If we are to truly address Utah’s – and the nation’s – societal issues, we must think beyond our traditional approaches,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Ruth Watkins, who is also the incoming present of the U. “The Transformative Excellence Program was designed to identify areas within the university where focusing on strategic additions to our faculty could enhance our preeminence and allow us to better serve the citizens of this state and country.”

Ten departments – Anthropology, Atmospheric Sciences, Biology, Economics, Environmental & Sustainability Studies, Geography, Geology & Geophysics, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology – invested in this unique hiring process, an unprecedented level of interdepartmental collaboration.

“This hiring process was very inspiring and rewarding,” said Brunelle. “Working with a group of faculty who obviously care so much about these topics and this research that they would invest an absolutely tremendous amount of time working on these searches even without a guarantee of a departmental hire was incredible. Even after the hires were completed, all the departments are represented on the SWC executive committee, showing continued investment in this collaborative endeavor.”

As the Chronicle of Higher Education points out, this kind of cluster-hiring can be a fraught endeavor. It is challenging to ensure the process doesn’t unravel in the context of disciplinary hiring needs.

At the U, the SWC hiring process fit in with the university’s ethos of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Several years earlier, in 2011, the U underwent a similar hiring process for a small group of faculty who would work at the fringes of their discipline on climate- and environmental change-related research. This initial search ultimately brought Diane Pataki (Biology), Gabe Bowen (Geology & Geophysics) and John Lin (Atmospheric Sciences) to the U. This first group hire, which laid the groundwork for the Transformative Excellence Program, happened through the dedicated efforts of faculty in the Global Change & Sustainability Center (GCSC), which was led at the time by director emeritus Jim Ehleringer.

Audience members at the forum gather for panel presentation from (L to R) Amy Wildermuth, chief sustainability officer; Steve Burian, director of the U Water Center; Andrea Brunelle, co-chair of the Society, Water, & Climate Research Group; and Brenda Bowen, director of the Global Change & Sustainability Center.

The GCSC is a web of 140 faculty members in 10 colleges who all work within environmental and sustainability themes. The center facilitates faculty connections and interdisciplinary grants, offers graduate fellowships and research funds and manages a sustainability-related graduate certificate. In addition, the GCSC also has a series of ongoing and one-time events aimed at bringing the interdisciplinary community together in meaningful ways. All of these endeavors work to catalyze relevant research on global change and sustainability at the U.

“The investment the administration put into the GCSC really set a tone for the value that collaborative work has on this campus and that translated beautifully to the SWC project,” Brunelle said. “A great example of this is the generous contributions of time, resources and support that my Dean, Cindy Berg, provided throughout the multi-year hiring process.”

To build the SWC research group, broad descriptions of new faculty positions were posted online. The response was immediate and overwhelming. In the first year of the search, 13 candidates were brought to campus, offering fascinating talks about climate change and impacts on water and society.

After several years of intensive searches and interviews, the group is now complete with five new faculty in four departments. These five faculty bring nationally renowned research to the university while seamlessly integrating into their departmental homes.

“The Society, Water and Climate initiative has really helped to integrate GCSC scholars from across campus around a common set of questions and problems that require scholars to come together in new ways,” said Brenda Bowen, director of the GCSC. “The SWC focus has helped us to recognize and identify common research interests between seemingly separate fields and is creating opportunities for faculty and students to advance their work in new directions. The incoming SWC faculty are interdisciplinary leaders and are already catalyzing and supporting projects and grant proposals that move all of us forward as we work towards a future where humans and ecosystems thrive.”

Meet SWC hires. These members will join existing faculty who are part of the group.

William Anderegg, Biology, 2016

William Anderegg is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Utah. His lab studies how drought and climate change affect forest ecosystems, including tree physiology, species interactions, carbon cycling and biosphere-atmosphere feedbacks. This research spans a broad array of spatial scales, from cells to ecosystems, and seeks to gain a better mechanistic understanding of how climate change will affect forests and societies around the world.

Juliet Carlisle, Political Science, arriving in 2018                                                                         

Juliet Carlisle is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science. Her research substantively deals with political behavior and public opinion with an emphasis on environmental politics and policy. In particular, Carlisle has investigated issues surrounding environmental concern, including what people know about the environment, where that knowledge originates and how that knowledge influences their opinions and behaviors. Her co-authored book, “The Politics of Energy Crises” (2017), applies policy theories to energy crises and explores energy policy during energy crises with specific attention on the role of public opinion, business interests and environmental activists.

Gannet Hallar, Atmospheric Sciences, 2016

Gannet Hallar is an associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Utah and the director of Storm Peak Laboratory in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, operated by the Desert Research Institute. Her research focuses on using high-quality measurements of trace gases, aerosol physical and chemical properties and cloud microphysics to understand connections between the biosphere, atmosphere and climate, along with the impact of anthropogenic emissions on these connections.

Summer Rupper, Geography, 2015

Summer Rupper is an associate professor in the Geography Department at the University of Utah. Her research focuses on glaciers and ice sheets as recorders and indicators of climate change and as freshwater resources. Recent and ongoing projects include quantifying glacier contributions to water resources and sea-level rise, assessing glacier sensitivity to climate change and reconstructing past climate using ice core snow accumulation data and geomorphic evidence of past glacier extents. These projects are all part of a larger effort to characterize climate variability and change and the impacts of these on society.

S. McKenzie Skiles, Geography, 2017

McKenzie Skiles is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Utah. She is an alpine and snow hydrologist whose research interests center on snow energy balance, remote sensing of mountain snow and ice and cryosphere-climate interaction. Her research methods combine numerical modeling, laboratory analysis, and field, in situ, and remotely sensed observations to better constrain the timing and magnitude of mountain snowmelt and to improve our understanding of how accelerated mountain snowmelt is impacting this critical natural reservoir over time.

The SWC is one of 10 Transformative Excellence cluster hiring initiatives currently in place at the U. Current projects include families and health research; society, water and climate; statistical science and big data; digital humanities; biophysics; sustaining biodiversity; health economics and health policy; resilient spaces (aging); science and math education; and neuroscience.

Banner image: Members of the SWC chat at the November 2017 Water Forum, the inaugural event for the Society, Water & Climate Research Group, organized by the SWC, the Global Change & Sustainability Center, and U Water Center. 

Antifreeze Adaptations

By Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

The Antarctic snailfish, Paraliparis devriesi, named after Professor Art DeVries from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, lives perhaps 700 m down and has insufficient antifreeze to cope with ice crystals. Courtesy of Peter Wilson.

Reaching temperatures as low as -89°C, Antarctica is the coldest, windiest and driest continent on the planet. The Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica doesn’t offer much relief for species. In the winter, the ocean surface freezes solid, doubling the continent’s size. In the summer, temperatures rise just above freezing and melt away some of the sea ice.

Despite water temperatures remaining around -1.5 to -2°C, the Southern Ocean is teeming with life.

Peter Wilson, visiting distinguished professor at the University of South Florida and associate dean at the University of Tasmania Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, will provide a general overview of the Southern Ocean and explain how species have adapted to survive in and around Antarctica at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, March 27, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Over the course of millions of years, marine species have adapted to the harsh, cold water in the Southern Ocean.

“A fish from the coast of California would freeze solid like a popsicle if it was placed in the waters around Antarctica,” explained Wilson. “The fishes around Antarctica, and in the Arctic, have evolved to create these wonderfully interesting protein molecules that bind to the ice crystals and stop the crystals from growing.”

One of the species Wilson will discuss is the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni). The Antarctic toothfish produces antifreeze glycoproteins that allow it to survive in the freezing waters of the Southern Ocean. The glycoprotein comes in a variety of size ranges, and can be found in all body water, not just in the blood. But Wilson suggests it isn’t the protein itself that is interesting. Rather it is the way the proteins bind with ice crystals.

Species with these antifreeze proteins can be classified as either freeze tolerant or freeze avoidant. Freeze tolerant species include those species who can handle a significant amount of freezing. Up to 81 percent of their body water can be frozen solid and these species will still survive, said Wilson.

Don Juan Pond is a small, hypersaline lake in the west end of Wright Valley. With a salinity of over 40%, Don Juan Pond is the saltiest of the Antarctic lakes and remains liquid even at temperatures as low as −50 °C. Courtesy of Peter Wilson.

Freeze avoidant species are the species who prevent the freezing of their bodily water all together. There are a few ways for species to be freeze avoidant. Some might avoid freezing by supercooling—chilling a liquid below freezing temperatures without the liquid becoming solid.

But it isn’t just Antarctic fish that have antifreeze capabilities, insects and mammals have also adapted to the cold temperatures under and on Antarctica. Some insects are able to avoid freezing completely by having gooey hemolymph (the insect equivalent to blood) that slows the formation of ice crystals. In his talk, Wilson will show how a number of species have adapted to the cold.

At the end of his talk, Wilson will indicate some of the ways humans are using this information about antifreeze proteins to transform our own lives. From producing smoother ice-cream to deicing airplanes, Antarctic species might hold the key for future innovation.

To hear more about Antarctic adaptations and Wilson’s journeys through the Pacific to Antarctica attend his GCSC lecture, “Antarctica—Fishes, Adaptations and Dealing with Ice” on Tuesday, March 27 at 4 p.m. in 210 ASB.

 

 

Cover Photo: Ross Island, with Mt Erebus in the background and McMurdo Station seen at front right.  The photograph was taken standing on about 6 feet of sea ice. Courtesy of Peter Wilson.

Exploring the Politics of Space

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Sarah Kanouse was aware of the ways Los Angeles transformed from a desert community to a bustling city by building water and power structure. Later, when Kanouse found herself in “small college communities surrounded by cornfields,” she began to realize that rural landscapes are not as bucolic as they are portrayed.

“Being a person curious about where I am and what is surrounding me made me realize that the idealized landscape of rural America was heavily industrialized and engineered,” said Kanouse. “It is just as engineered as the city of Los Angeles.”

Landscapes, both urban and rural, are actively produced. Sarah Kanouse, Department of Art + Design at Northeastern University, works towards uncovering the historical, material, and social processes that have shaped a landscape through a range of artistic mediums.

Kanouse will present several of her recent works that address the ways in which environment and society influence one another at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Kanouse identifies with an emerging area of creative work known as artistic research or practice-based research. A single medium does not define this artistic practice, rather it is defined by ones’ inquiry.

“For artistic research, the media you select needs to align with the set of ideas you are working with,” explained Kanouse. “Artistic design realizes that mediums are not neutral carriers of meaning. They have legacies that can be used productively, critically, or skeptically in your work.”

Kanouse’s artistic research is focused on the social production of landscape. The social production of a landscape recognizes the social and cultural processes that have shaped our ecological surroundings—sometimes in overlapping and conflicting ways. Kanouse researches these social landscapes by looking both at the way we create pictures of the land, but also the social practices that shape how we and perceive it. 

“Both the art genre [of landscape painting] and social expectations tend to make landscapes seem monumental and eternal. They generally conceal the ways [landscapes] are the product of historical, material, and ecological processes that have been going on for a long time,” said Kanouse.

This inquiry inspired Kanouse to create a film titled Around Crab Orchard—which she will share clips from in her presentation. Kanouse, along with many others, enjoyed spending time in Crab Orchard as a place of recreation. Crab Orchard is the only wildlife refuge in the United States who hosts active industry. What began as defense contracting site in WWII has evolved over time to address the economic needs the community and the state’s desire to open a maximum-security prison, said Kanouse.

The Monsanto Hearings by Sarah Kanouse. Used with permission.

“The film weaves together all these different stories of Crab Orchard that are usually told separately, or not at all,” said Kanouse. “It does so in a way that unpacks how the visual manifestation of recreation, hiking, and camping conceals all of the other aspects of this space.”

Kanouse’s work often alternates between solo projects and collaborative socially engaged projects. In the collaborative projects, Kanouse takes on the role of a facilitator who enables the creative expression and participation of people who may not identify as artists. One socially engaged project Kanouse has facilitated is The Monsanto Hearings. In this performative series, the courtroom became a stage for small communities dependent on agriculture to share their stories.

“We created this space for people to present evidence about how the decade-long practices of Monsanto had negatively impacted their community,” said Kanouse.

To learn more, attend Sarah Kanouse’s lecture, “Entanglements: artistic strategies for complex ecologies” on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 4 p.m. in 210 ASB.

 

Cover Photo: Around Crab Orchard by Sarah Kanouse. Used with permission. 

Using Time as Our Guide

By Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Both urban and rural areas around the world rely heavily on groundwater to support agriculture, energy, residential, and industrial use. This demand for groundwater—from a global population of over seven and a half billion—combined with impacts of climate change places more stress on these systems. In order to sustainably manage these resources, we first need to quantify it.

Kip Solomon, department of Geology & Geophysics at the University of Utah, will show how understanding the age and recharge of aquifers can lead to more sustainable use at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

“While we have a hint that we are overexploiting a number of these large regional systems,” said Solomon, “the amount of data we have to make these assessments is rather limited. Part of my pitch is that we need to make more measurements in these kinds of systems.”

Groundwater recharge is a hydrologic process where water moves from surface water to groundwater—like an aquifer—by draining through the soil. Recharge can be a slow process, especially when the body of water is deep underground. The longer it takes water to reach the aquifer, the lower the rate of recharge. This makes measuring the rate of recharge a challenging process. For Solomon, the most promising tool is dating the groundwater.

“By getting the mean age of water we can calculate the recharge,” explained Solomon. “By dating the groundwater and using the geologic information to determine the volume, we can infer the rates of replenishment to the aquifer.”

There are a few tools that can be used to date water—namely isotopes and trace atmospheric gasses. Elements can have several isotopes depending on what the element has come in contact with. In aquifers, isotopes are often generated in the subsurface. Their concentrations build up the longer the water is in contact with the subsurface rock. A higher concentration of an isotope, like Carbon-14, thus signifies older water.

For younger water, atmospheric gasses can be used to date it. Over the past few decades, gasses produced in the industrial processes—like sulfur hexafluoride—have been increasing. When exposed to the air, water absorbs concentrations of these gasses. The longer the water interacted with the gas, the greater the concentration will be. Once the water moves below the surface those concentrations of gas are essentially “locked in.” Measuring the traces of these gasses in groundwater can show how old that water might be.

Determining the recharge rate is important for both hydrologic understanding of subsurface bodies of water and for natural resource management. The recharge is a vital component of understanding the amount of water that can be extracted without overexploiting or compromising the integrity of the groundwater body.

“99 percent of unfrozen freshwater is in the ground,” explained Solomon. “As our world approaches eight billion, it is a growing question of whether or not these big regional aquifers can be sustainably exploited to support agriculture in arid and semi-arid regions.”

To learn more, attend Solomon’s lecture, “Can Groundwater Feed the World? It’s All About Time” on Tuesday, Jan. 23 at 4 p.m. in 210 ASB.

 

Cover photo via USGS public domain. 

Re-Imagining Relationships

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Climate change threatens everything about our social organization. But that shouldn’t immobilize us. Instead, Kari Norgaard, associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oregon, encourages us to view climate change as an opportunity to re-envision our social, political, and economic systems.

Norgaard will show how climate change provides the opportunity to rethink our relationships to the human and other-than-human world at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

In her seminar, Norgaard will discuss the phenomenon of socially organized denial. Norgaard suggests that it isn’t the lack of information that leads people to inaction, but rather the emotions that climate change invokes.

“Denial is a form of environmental privilege,” explained Norgaard. “People who have benefited more from the current system find it harder to grapple with the idea of very large system change and experience a lot of guilt, helplessness, fear of future and present.”

Norgaard suggests the normalization of climate change is an avoidance mechanism. While we can make daily changes in our lives to help reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, individuals alone will not be able to slow or stop climate change. There is also an urgent need to rethink many larger aspects of our current systems—like reducing our use of fossil fuels or changing cultural norms of over-consumption.

In her seminar, Norgaard will bridge her work on the social organization of climate denial with her recent work with the Karuk Tribe. The Karuk are an indigenous community in Northern California and are highly mobilized around climate change. The biggest problem they face is the increasing forest fires. Climate change has been producing warmer, dryer conditions in the region—the ideal environment for larger, hotter, and more destructive wildfires. Future mega-fires threaten local ecosystems and cultural practices.

The Karuk have used controlled burns to manage wildfire threats and cultivate traditional plants for generations, but their use of fire has continually been suppressed by management agencies. Recently, wildfire research has begun showing the importance of controlled burns for fire risk management and indigenous practices. Thus, creating an opportunity for cultural and ecological revitalization.

Re-introducing controlled burns is one example of how climate change has created a new possibility for cooperation across worldviews and communities. By incorporating elements of Norgaard’s subtitle—imagination, responsibility, and community—we can start a discourse that inspires action and moves our society to become a more socially and ecologically equitable place.

The “imagination” in Norgaard’s subtitle is defined by the idea of the sociological imagination, which generates awareness between the individual experience and society. It shows how the society we live in shapes what we understand, what we don’t understand, and influences what we think is possible. Norgaard sees that we all have a “responsibility” to be engaged in the world. Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, or guilty doesn’t mean we should give up or disengage from climate change action. Despite these feelings, we still have a responsibility to act. Closely related is Norgaard’s third term, “community”. No one can tackle climate change on their own. Rather, we need one another. We need to know how to work together and understand each other to create a community of action.

To learn more about the opportunities to re-imagine our relationships to one another and the natural world, attend Norgaard’s seminar, “Climate Change as Strategic Opportunity: Imagination, Responsibility, and Community” on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

 

Cover Photo: “Wildfire” by NPS via flickr. Public Domain Mark 1.0.

 

curating global ecology through big data

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Ecologists seek to answer the big questions about how the world is changing, and how species and ecosystems are responding to those changes. To answer these questions, a new network of analysis is needed. Community-curated data sources can provide new insight on how systems are have changed in the past and how they are changing now.

Jack Williams, professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will show how two community curated data sources are bringing reliable, big data to bear on the challenges of a changing world at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Jack Williams, used with permission.

According to Williams, four V’s (volume, variety, velocity, and veracity) characterize ecological big data. Volume refers to the size of data, variety is the heterogeneity – diverse nature – of data types and measurements, velocity is the rate data needs to be generated or analyzed at, and veracity is the potential uncertainties.

Community-curated data sources have been developed to enable global-scale science. These data networks are also changing the way data is analyzed.

“The standard has been to run ecosystem models and analyze data somewhat independently of each other,” Williams said. “But now we have the opportunity to do more simulations where the data doesn’t constrain the simulations and improve the parameterization and forecast.”

Multiple groups have begun building databases that bring the data and paleoecological records from multiple networks to larger scales. These data sets can be applied to testing and improving the predictability of ecosystem models.

Williams will structure his talk around two different data networks—Neotoma and PalEON. Neotoma gathers large amounts of records from around the world and assembles it into one common resource that is publically available. PalEON is an example of one type of research that can be done with this kind of global platform for ecological and paleoecological research.

“Neotoma and PalEON are part of a broader set of efforts to gather many different kinds of ecological data into extended observational networks,” Williams explained. “We can now look at ecological dynamics at long timescales and at large spatial scales.”

Williams studies species’ responses to climate change. By using the last 2,000 years as a model, he can look at how species have migrated or changed in past climate. His work with PalEON is interested in using ecosystem models to forecast and predict species responses to climate change at decadal and centennial time scales.

“An interesting initial finding is that, as a result of climate change and human land use over the last century, the climatic niches of trees have changed,” explained Williams. “A lot of our predictive models use modern climates and modern tree species distribution as the basis of our predictions of forest responses to current and future climate change. Seeing how niches have changed suggests there is perhaps there is some disequilibrium with current climate change.”

To learn more about ecological big data, attend William’s seminar, “Achieving global ecology via dispersed community-curated data resources: Neotoma and PalEON” on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

 

Cover Photo by geralt via pixabay. CC0.

Intentional Change

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Designers are agents of change. They research how our everyday actions and behaviors are conceived, planned, and acted on. By making these intangible aspects of society tangible, designers have the ability to communicate about or change these societal features. In the past, design has been leveraged as a way to create social change. But, these attempts have not always articulated ways to catalyze change.

Transition Design is a nascent idea that acknowledges we are living in transitional times, and recognizes the need to change at all levels of society.

Dr. Terry Irwin, Director of the Carnegie Mellon University School of Design will explain how Transition Design can address the wicked problems of the 21st century at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

“Transition Design is a new area of design practice, study, and research focused on systems-level change,” Irwin explained. “It addresses the need for entire societies to transition towards a sustainable future.”

Transitioning into sustainable futures will require the development of new tools and methods that can be used to create societal change. By understanding the interconnectedness of social, economic, political, and natural systems, Transition Design confronts multifaceted problems from different levels and different scales.

“Instead of creating one-off solutions, we are advocating for a systems approach where you are involved in the process of creating solutions over a very long period of time in ways that connects projects, but also connects to future visions of where you want to go,” said Irwin.

Transition Design is a framework that combines a range of practices and approaches from different disciplines to create a new way of addressing problems in a specific location. In other words, Transition Design advocates for creating communities that are in tune with their natural and social systems.

Transitioning to a sustainable future will require change at all levels of society. Not only are politicians, legislators, activists, academics, and other professionals needed to design change, Irwin explains how all stakeholders need a seat at the table.

“The approach we are developing calls for stakeholder engagement and co-design with stakeholders,” said Irwin. “We define stakeholders as anybody that is being affected by the problem.”

Transition Design provides the framework that gets people involved and working together. It pulls from multiple theories across several disciplines. Transition Design also embodies ideas and concepts from non-profit and community sectors. Transition Design empowers and educates a new group of designers who work together to develop solutions to the wicked problems of our time.

“Design is not something that only designers do,’ Irwin explained. “Societal transitions need to be intentional not accidental. The minute you bring intentionality into it, it becomes design. In that way, we are all designing all the time.”

To hear more about Transition Design, attend Irwin’s seminar, “Designing for Systems-Level Change” on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

Embodied Sustainability

By: Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant

As a socially engaged artistic process, dance can be a powerful medium for communicating the ideas, facts, and figures of sustainability and environmental justice. Engaging with these ideas on a physical level can lead to a new perspective of the interconnections between our bodies and the environment.

Dr. Ananya Chatterjea, professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Theatre Arts & Dance and founder/artistic director of Ananya Dance Theatre, will explain how dance can connect and ground us at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, October 24, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

For Chatterjea, the body is both at the center of her work and in the middle of the environmental justice movement. Through dance, Chatterjea has been able to understand her connectivity to the world and engage with environmental justice in a different way than she would have without art.

 “Everything ultimately filters through the body,” Chatterjea explained. “When you cannot breathe in the way you need to, or when the food you eat or the water you drink does not refresh or rejuvenate your physical body, your humanity begins to diminish.”

Dance is a way to connect with our bodies to help us understand ourselves and how we interact with others. Chatterjea knows that for some, the idea of dancing may seem intimidating.

“Dance has been taken over by this idea that only people with highly able and fit bodies are the people who can dance,” Chatterjea noted.

Pushing against the way dance has been taken over by reality shows and single body types, Chatterjea works to create a form of dance that allows for femininity and resistance by embracing the body’s strength and beauty. In her dances, Chatterjea layers Odissi — a classical Indian dance form — the martial art form Chhau, and vinyasa and pranayama yoga.

All these different movement forms are connected through the idea of being grounded. While each form brings different ideas and aesthetics to the piece, weaving them together creates a language that allows for a powerful feminist presence.

“Women are constantly doing beautiful work,” Chatterjea said. “They are the sustainers of humanity, but a lot of their work doesn’t go down into ‘history’ with a capital H. We have to tell these stories and archive them through our bodies.”

The narrative arc Chatterjea creates in each dance is partly remembered, partly researched, and partly imagined. The stories told in the choreography come from a collective voice. Chatterjea describes her choreographic process as collecting stories. Sometimes through story circles or workshops, voices come together to create a collaborative, connected narrative.

Bringing different voices and bodies into dance is at the core of the Ananya Dance Theatre’s work. The company is comprised of women artists of color who create socially engaged, embodied art.

“I want to fill dance with the most unlikely bodies and the most unlikely of faces and to see dance everywhere,” Chatterjea said.

To hear more about how embodied art can be resistance, attend Chatterjea’s seminar, “Choreographies of Resistance: Dancing Ecosystems” on Tuesday, October 24, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB. The entire company will perform their latest work, “Shyamali: Sprouting Words” as part of UtahPresents’ 2017-18 season on Saturday, October 28, 7:30 pm. 

Merging Research and Design

By Ashley Babbitt, public relations specialist, College of Architecture + Planning. Originally posted on July 3, 2017.

The University of Utah recently approved the creation of the Center for Ecological Planning and Design. The new center merges the provisional Ecological Planning Center and the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center — both in the College of Architecture + Planning — in a new partnership with the Global Change and Sustainability Center. The Center for Ecological Planning and Design is positioned to bridge the gaps between research and the design and planning fields, both within CA+P and across campus, with a focus on the built environment and the human communities that inhabit it.

Sarah Hinners, director for the provisional Ecological Planning Center, answers questions about the new center:

Tell us about the significance of the work of the new research center?

The built environment refers to buildings, roads, parking lots, etc. — all that stuff that humans build for ourselves to make life easier, safer and more comfortable or convenient. Cities are dominated by the built environment and it is becoming more and more the dominant habitat of humanity worldwide. But our environments are not always a healthy and life-enhancing and can be vulnerable to environmental changes and disasters. The built environment affects people’s lives and in turn, human communities shape and influence the built environment.

At the center, we’re focused on bringing together the people who study the built environment, such as scientists, social scientists and engineers, with the people who plan, design and build it. We have most of these disciplines represented here on campus, but they are widely dispersed among multiple colleges and dozens of departments. We’re interested in bringing these experts from across campus and outside of academia together to generate ideas and knowledge, ultimately to build better places for humans.

How will this center allow the college to collaborate in new ways?

There are challenges to interdisciplinary work. People in different disciplines and in different colleges on campus don’t necessarily speak the same language and it can be difficult to work with others without the feeling of stepping on toes or coming into competition with one another. There is a tremendous opportunity, one that is so often missed, to build collaborations and this potentially has the power to transform the way cities and communities take shape. The center is intended to build bridges between departments in the College of Architecture + Planning and across campus. By working under the umbrella of the Global Change and Sustainability Center, we offer a place to collaborate on disciplinary neutral ground — a place where people interested in resilient communities and built environments can meet in the middle and do great things together.

What types of research will emerge from this center?

We anticipate building a research portfolio of collaborative solutions for cities, including sustainable and resilient infrastructure systems, highly functional and beautiful urban ecosystems, strong inclusive communities and equitable access to a high quality of life in cities.

 Who are the key participants and collaborators of the center?

The center started out as the Ecological Planning Center, established as a provisional center in 2012 and funded with a donation from the Swaner family. As we grew, we came to understand just how interdisciplinary this work needed to be. A bunch of pieces fell into place within the past year that really opened important doors for us. One was an opportunity to join forces with the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center that has been doing research on the ecology of construction practices and building materials for a long time. The second was a desire, with the Global Change and Sustainability Center, to coalesce some of its expertise into a smaller number of topical themes, one of them being the built environment and communities.

In addition to myself, the new center includes Diane Pataki, associate professor of biology, and Ryan Smith, director of Integrated Technology in Architecture Center. The steering committee also includes members from city and metropolitan planning, parks recreation and tourism, mechanical engineering, biology, geology and geophysics, environment and sustainability studies, the Environmental Dispute Resolution Program in the Law School and a member of the local planning professional community.

How can a person get involved?

We’d love to engage with anyone who is interested in these topics through collaborative interdisciplinary research, education, events and symposia. One opportunity is to get involved with our work associated with Red Butte Creek here on campus. We have been working on a plan for revitalization of the U’s portion of the creek and the intent is to create a hub for implementation of the plan as well as the development of research and education programs associated with Red Butte Creek.

Our website: cepd.utah.edu
Contact Sarah Hinners: sarah.hinners@utah.edu