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Research Initiatives



CU-Boulder's Flagship 2030 strategic plan has inspired the development of five research initiatives that draw upon the knowledge and skills of people in multiple fields to address critical needs of society:

Aerospace Initiative

In 2008, CU-Boulder launched a wide-ranging research and education thrust through the AeroSpace Systems Science and Engineering Initiative (AS3E) that seeks to address some of the most challenging and critical problems in earth and space science as well as create stronger connections between engineering and the sciences. The initiative will combine climate and environmental research conducted from Earth orbit with space weather research, planetary exploration astronomy and astrophysics. AS3E brings together scientists from three departments - aerospace engineering sciences, astrophysical and planetary sciences, and atmospheric and oceanic sciences - under one interdisciplinary umbrella.

One of the key elements of the initiative is a planned $40 million Aerospace and Energy Systems Building that will enable student/faculty and engineering/sciences interactions and provide an incubator for small-scale space system development. Graduate fellowship and educational programs in the initiative offer expanded opportunities for interdisciplinary graduate student research. Joint faculty appointments will be placed strategically to enhance cross-discipline interaction. An executive committee of leaders from each of the participating units oversees the development and outcomes of the initiative.

Biotechnology Initiative

The Biofrontiers Institute was founded in 2003 to foster research, teaching and technology development at the interfaces of the life sciences, physical sciences, math, computational sciences, and engineering. Advances in biology are creating an explosion of new information that is redefining the understanding of life at the molecular level. CIMB scientists work to harness that knowledge for diagnosing, treating, and preventing disease, among other purposes.

The molecular biotech initiative is led by CU-Boulder's Nobel laureate Tom Cech, who returned to the university in April 2009 after 10 years as president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Computational Sciences and Engineering Initiative

The Interdisciplinary Computational Sciences and Engineering Initiative addresses a rapidly growing field of study with long-standing historic ties between applied mathematics, computer science, engineering, and the natural and social sciences. Focused development of the initiative began in 2007 with four faculty meetings followed by a Boulder campus town hall meeting attended by more than 100 people in February 2008. An ICSE Steering Committee developed a set of recommendations for launching the new initiative in their report of October 2008.

One early benchmark manifestation of this initiative is the acquisition of a ~200 TF research 'supercomputer’ in 2010. This research computing resource, developed in close collaboration with NCAR, will facilitate research endeavors across campus and will allow CU-Boulder to provide formal training in and develop graduate level programs in high performance computer science to support this industry.

As noted in the Steering Committee report, the underpinnings of this emerging field involve numerical mathematics, algorithm development, and software and program implementation - but the implications for a broad range of scientific inquiry are significant. Current research problems often require computer modeling, complex programming and advanced visualization methodologies that demand high-performance computing power. At CU-Boulder, the potential already exists for applications of ICSE in such areas as: climate and weather prediction; geosciences and Earth system science; aerospace, manufacturing and engineering design; astrophysics and planetary sciences; bioinformatics and biology; digital arts; material sciences; renewable energy; computational chemistry and molecular dynamics; fusion energy science; and computational physics, to name a few. Computation is utilized in all these fields, fueled by rapid advances in computing power, algorithm speed and reliability, and the emergence of complex visualization software tools, according to the ICSE report.

Energy Initiative (EI)

The Energy Initiative (EI) was launched in 2005 to help find solutions for the world's urgent energy needs. With more than 180 faculty and researchers engaged in some type of energy research, the initiative builds on existing strengths in climate and environmental science, behavioral studies, policy analysis, and entrepreneurship to seek answers to a growing global crisis.

The Energy Initiative acts as a catalyst to bring researchers from multiple fields together to address key problems and opportunities. Research efforts range from energy-efficient construction to energy storage, from solar and wind energy to hydrogen production. By 2008, the initiative had 43 funded research projects in renewable and sustainable energy. In 2009, the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI) was formed. RASEI is a joint institute between the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Geosciences Initiative (GI)

CU-Boulder's Geosciences Initiative (GI), still in the early stages of development, addresses one of society's greatest challenges: environmental sustainability. The initiative reflects a general recognition that Earth is not limitless - that there are observable and accelerating changes in climate, the health of ecosystems, and the purity of air, water, and land. The effort builds upon a tradition of excellence in earth and atmospheric research in order to meet the challenges of sustainability and environmental change. Nearly 800 faculty and more than 1,000 graduate students are involved in related projects reaching beyond traditional academic boundaries.

By taking an interdisciplinary approach, the Geosciences Initiative intends to bring the best minds to bear on complex problems. The initiative combines natural sciences research, which describes how Earth systems function, with social sciences, humanities, law, journalism, and business research and education - which describe how human societies function. It also seeks to form partnerships that draw upon federal and private-sector expertise to help solve the great environmental challenges.

These initiatives are bringing together faculty and students, from CU-Boulder and other campuses, to join in intellectual inquiry and discovery as they confront issues affecting humankind. Three of the five strategic initiatives (aerospace, biotechnology, and energy) mirror key priorities set by the Colorado governor for economic development in Colorado. Other key initiatives across campus address societal needs at the state, national, and global levels.

Other Key Initiatives

Beyond the five strategic initiatives described above, CU-Boulder's schools and colleges also have launched a number of key initiatives that are both discipline-specific and interdisciplinary. These strategies address societal needs at the state, national and global levels in areas such as materials, health care, security, communications, energy, natural resources, and education. Examples include:

  • An international education program has been initiated by the College of Music, with study abroad cooperative arrangements with the Renmin University in Beijing and the Sydney Conservatorium in Australia.
  • Under a general heading of "Engineering for Global Society," the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences has launched key initiatives in material sciences and engineering, bioengineering and biotechnology, aerospace systems science and engineering, computational science and engineering, energy systems and environmental sustainability, and engineering education research and assessment.
  • The anthropology department has a focus on local and global dynamics in human development.
  • The communications department is working toward the creation of an interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Conflict, Collaboration and Creative Governance with a focus on communication to reduce conflict and enhance sustainability.
  • The department of speech, language and hearing sciences is collaborating with the Colorado Department of Education, Colorado school districts, and other universities to address the immediate and critical need for well-trained speech-language pathologists to help people who face communication challenges.
  • The School of Journalism and Mass Communication has established the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture which is examining the nature and evolution of religion in the media age.
  • The Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS) brings together more than 50 faculty members from a wide variety of departments and programs in the humanities and social sciences to explore medieval and early modern culture across the globe from 400 - 1800. Tel: 303-492-0520.