NSF Announces Award for National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center ("SESYNC")

NSF Announces Award for National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center ("SESYNC")

$27.5M Fed Award to University of Maryland Launches National Center to Synthesize Shared Environmental Solutions

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland (UMD) is launching a cutting edge research center to develop novel policy solutions for today’s most pressing environmental challenges. Principally funded by a newly announced $27.5 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation, the multidisciplinary UMD center will bring together the expertise of environmental, social, and computational scientists, engineers, economists, public policy experts and others from around the world.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, known as SeSynC, will be home for collaborative research on such critical issues as water availability, sustainable food production and the interaction between human activity and healthy ecosystems. The grant is the largest NSF award ever received by the university.

“The collaborations of this new University of Maryland center represent exactly the kind of innovative, interdisciplinary approaches that are essential if we are to tackle the complex environmental challenges facing our nation and world,” said Wallace D. Loh, president of the University of Maryland, College Park.

“The enormity of today’s environmental problems requires a new approach to how we conduct research,” said Margaret Palmer, a University of Maryland entomologist and environmental scientist who will serve as the executive director of SESYNC. “There is a fundamental mismatch between the specialization required for research excellence and the integrated nature of today’s global challenges. This center will bridge that divide, in effect ‘synthesizing’ knowledge, data, and methods from divergent disciplines with the unifying goal of creating effective, workable solutions."

Reflecting the state, national and international reach needed to address 21st century environmental challenges, the center will be located in the Maryland state capital of Annapolis, located less than 40 miles from the U.S. capital. The center will receive additional support from the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD), and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), Resources for the Future, a Washington, D.C-based nonprofit research organization, and the state of Maryland.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley said it is indeed fitting that the center will have the Chesapeake Bay on its doorstep because the bay and SESYNC each perfectly reflect the multifaceted challenges and responses to today's major environmental issues. "The Chesapeake Bay is vital to all around it, but the health of this national treasure is threatened by our use of the land, the water, the air and energy around the bay region. The new center's approach to environmental challenges of developing collaborative science-based responses drawing from many disciplines and factoring in human and ecosystem needs is exactly the approach that the bay needs and which our administration is taking in our efforts to restore it."

Science, public policy and engineering faculty from the University of Maryland, environmental economists from Resources for the Future, and social scientists from the University of Michigan will lead activities of the center, which will also draw experts from around the world.

"SESYNC provides an unprecedented opportunity for researchers to combine information, ideas and concepts from disparate science and engineering fields into solutions for the complex environmental problems now confronting society," said Joann Roskoski, NSF Acting Assistant Director for Biological Sciences.

"It will foster the development of tools and approaches to educate people at all levels about the importance of synthesizing research results, and will involve policy-makers, environmental managers, and the private sector in the translation of scientific synthesis into societal benefit," Roskoski said.

Donald Boesch the president of UMCES, said, “SESYNC will address the most urgent questions on ecosystem management, while also educating and advising public policy experts on solutions.”

“We plan to address questions that not only are of interest to scientists, but also of immediate interest to decision makers,” said Resources for the Future Senior Fellow and environmental economist James Boyd, who will be the director of social science and policy at the new center.

Synthesis Education

Education research and activities will be embedded throughout SESYNC’s programs to expand the ability of researchers and students to effectively synthesize environmental science with social science research and knowledge. Programs will focus on teaching synthesis methods and strategies for the analysis of complex information on the environment to diverse educational communities, with an emphasis on undergraduate education.

The center will also feature the latest in information technology environments designed to foster collaboration and put scientists and policymakers on the same information plane. “We intend to create a new model for accelerating environmental discovery,” said University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies Professor Joseph JaJa, who will oversee information technology and computational needs at SESYNC. “And that will come from the seamless communication and collaboration between disciplines as diverse as computer science, engineering, biology, public policy, geography, and economics.”

NSF Award Link: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=1052875

For more information on the center and its activities, please visit www.sesync.org.