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:

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.


Research Insititutes and Centers

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Research Centers

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 Centerworks 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.