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Research Institutes and Centers

Research Institutes

Over more than 50 years, CU-Boulder has developed a tradition of interdisciplinary collaboration throughout the university community and beyond. At the heart of this tradition is a system of world-class research institutes that create a dynamic environment for discovery and learning.

Since the first institutes emerged a half-century ago, research teams of faculty, students, and external partners have tackled complex questions from multiple perspectives, leading to important advances in human knowledge. These learning enterprises offer common ground for scholars and students to collaborate on issues that confront the world -- in such areas as climate, energy resources, atmosphere, outer space, human behavior, solar energy, the human mind, and atomic, molecular and optics studies.

CU-Boulder's 11 research institutes account for more than half of all sponsored research dollars at the university, and they employ some of the most productive researchers in the country. With more than 900 researchers and supporting staff, the institutes make a major contribution to the university's research and education missions as well as the local and area economy. Numerous graduate students are employed by the institutes, which contribute to the quality of graduate education at CU-Boulder.

The Alliance for Technology, Learning, and Society (ATLAS)

facilitates and supports innovative research, education, and outreach programs in which information and communication technology is an enabling force. ATLAS offers graduate degrees, an undergraduate minor in Technology, Arts and Media, and houses the Center for Arts, Media and Performance (CAMP), the National Center for Women and IT (NCWIT), among a variety of professionals in residence. ATLAS provides state-of-art facilities for faculty and students across the CU campus who are interested in the intersection of society, innovation and technology.

The BioFrontiers Institute

The BioFrontiers Institute was founded at the University of Colorado to:

  • Advance human health and welfare by exploring critical frontiers of unknown biology and translating new knowledge to practical applications.
  • Educate a new generation of interdisciplinary scientists, empowering them to work together to push the boundaries of human knowledge and reap its benefits.
  • Leverage and expand Colorado’s leadership in biotechnology and its promise for human advancement.

The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)

research programs involve field investigations conducted in the mountains of Colorado, the Aleutian Islands, the Arctic and Antarctic regions, Hawaii and various Pacific atolls, and elsewhere. Current CIRES research programs include ecosystem science, cryospheric and polar processes, solid earth sciences, weather and climate dynamics, environmental chemistry, and environmental observations, modeling, and forecasting. CIRES offers competitive fellowships and supports an interdisciplinary graduate student association.

The Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR)

is an interdisciplinary research institute, focused on Earth systems and environmental change, with ongoing programs in most earth/ocean environments and alpine and polar regions of the world. It operates the Mountain Research Station and publishes the quarterly journal Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research. Disciplines include plant and animal ecology, paleoecology, palynology, geochronology, climatology, paleo-environments, oceanography, hydrology, remote sensing, sedimentology, geophysics, glaciology, glacial geology, and geochronological research.

The Institute for Behavioral Genetics (IBG)

conducts research on the genetic bases of individual differences in behavior
and provides research training in this interdisciplinary area. This rapidly
developing field brings to bear upon behavioral research the perspectives
of biochemical genetics, cytogenetics, developmental genetics, evolutionary
genetics, molecular genetics, pharmacogenetics, and quantitative genetics.
Facilities are available for research on a variety of organisms, including
humans, laboratory mice, and nematodes.

The Institute of Behavioral Science (IBS)

conducts research through its five programs: problem behavior, population
processes, environment and behavior, health behavior, and political and
economic change. IBS includes the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, the Natural Hazards Center, and the CU Population Center.

The Institute of Cognitive Science (ICS)

promotes interdisciplinary research in the fields of psychology, computer
science, linguistics, philosophy, and other cognitive sciences. Its major
research programs fall into five areas: natural language processing; human-computer
interaction and knowledge-based systems; connectionist modeling; human
information processing and skilled performance; and judgment and decision
making. These programs include the use of artificial intelligence techniques
and cognitive simulations.

JILA (formerly the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics)

is a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). It is a world leader in research in the physical sciences. JILA offers training for academic researchers and industry scientists as well as fostering the invention of new applications for research laboratories in academia and business. Academic disciplines span theoretical and experimental atomic, molecular, and optical physics, chemical physics, astrophysics, biophysics, nanoscience, and precision measurement science.

The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP)

is a center for basic theoretical and experimental research in planetary,
atmospheric, solar, and space physics. LASP scientists also explore the
potential uses and development of space operations and information systems,
and scientific instrumentation. LASP has experiments on several NASA spacecraft
and has developed a data-handling system for use with its space experiments.
Laboratory experiments are also pursued. Active sounding rocket programs
complement the research in planetary atmospheres, atmospheric processes,
and solar physics.

The Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI)

an interdisciplinary joint research effort between the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), is advancing solutions for producing energy economically from low carbon sources, decreasing reliance on foreign oil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and using energy more efficiently to meet the global energy challenge. RASEI's efforts focus on interdisciplinary energy research, training the next generation of energy professionals, and the development of market-ready leading-edge technologies.

University of Colorado Museum of Natural History

Celebrating 100 years of service to the University of Colorado and the community, the CU Museum houses the largest collection of natural history in the Rocky Mountain region. Of the four million objects in the museum’s collection are world-class collections of Navajo textiles, Mimbres ceramics, cryptogams, mammals and birds, and bees. These collections in anthropology, botany, entomology, geology/paleontology, and zoology are utilized by hundreds of researchers, teachers, students and more than 28,000 public visitors each year. The CU Museum has a long tradition of university and public education and offers regular speaking events, workshops, and family programs that allow people to interact with museum personnel and collections directly.


In addition to the large research institutes, there are nearly 90 research centers housed within academic departments or as subsets of the research institutes themselves. They can be found in all fields of the university, including humanities and the arts, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, business, and law. The centers cover a broad range of topics, from multicultural education and astrophysics to glaciology and prevention of violence. They grant fellowships, sponsor internships, house archives for research, conduct competitions with cash awards, host public debates and programs, and support graduate study in many other ways.

CU-Boulder's relationships with several nearby federal laboratories have stimulated extensive collaboration by the university's centers on matters of atmospheric research, science and technology, and environmental research. For example, the National Snow and Ice Data Center works closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on studies of sea ice conditions. The university also is home to three of the highly prized NSF-funded research centers. The Extended Ultraviolet Engineering Research Center is operated jointly with Colorado State University and the University of California at Berkeley. The Liquid Crystals Materials Research Center, one of the leading centers of liquid crystal study in the world, fosters collaboration among CU-Boulder's physics, chemistry, and chemical engineering departments. The Center for Membrane Applied Science & Technology (MAST) is a Multi-site Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (MUC I/UCRC), headquartered at CU-Boulder with sites at other affiliated universities.

CU-Boulder's centers help prepare students for productive careers and add to the body of knowledge about critical issues in a rapidly changing world. The Center for Environmental Journalism, for example, helps enhance public understanding of environmental issues by adding to journalists' knowledge of the subject. The Natural Resources Law Center has gained national recognition for objective research and programs that inform public policy on resource issues. The Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship works to elevate the debate around technology policy issues, promote entrepreneurship in the Colorado technology community, and inspire student interest in technology law and entrepreneurship.

Centers in the arts and humanities enrich the university environment for students, faculty, staff and the community, while adding to the body of knowledge on important issues. The Center for Humanities and the Arts (CHA), for example, serves as a focal point for humanistic scholarship, creative work, and artistic performance at CU-Boulder, with year-long activities organized around a specific theme. CHA also supports innovative research and creative work through monthly "work-in-progress" sessions and events with other units on campus. In addition, CHA plays an important role in supporting graduate education: CHA grants approximately $500,000 in graduate fellowships each year.

Other examples include the Center of the American West, which brings together diverse experts for discussion and interaction on such issues as multiculturalism, community building, fire policy, and land, water, and energy use and the Entrepreneurship Center for Music, where musicians hone their entrepreneurial instincts with training in communication, business, and technical skills within a global music market.

The above are just a few examples of the centers affiliated with CU-Boulder. A complete list is available on CU-Boulder's main website's research section.