Research and Scholarship

Brown researchers draw on diverse perspectives to explore the natural world, the ways in which people all over the world interact with it, and solutions to environmental challenges.

Building on Distinction, Brown’s strategic plan, identifies Sustaining Life on Earth as part of an academic focus for integrated research, scholarship and education. Research by Brown faculty and students tackles key environmental challenges from a variety of perspectives. Much of Brown’s environmental research comes from the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES), the hub of environmental teaching and research at Brown. But environmentally focused research thrives across Brown’s campus.

Brown faculty members lead field studies all over the world, gathering data to help reconstruct global climate in the past, while experts in mathematics and computing develop ever better models to predict the climate of the future. Scientists from Brown are revealing the dynamics of Earth’s fast-disappearing sea ice, while also exploring how its disappearance affects cultures and livelihoods of the people who depend on it.

Engineers are developing new ways of capturing solar energy and new battery technologies to store and deliver it. And political scientists, sociologists and economists explore attitudes about climate change and how those attitudes shape public policy.

Projects and Initiatives

The Climate Solutions Initiative, established in 2020, will spur action at the local, national and global levels to address climate change. The project leverages examples from Brown’s campus decarbonization to share lessons learned with the campus community, the City of Providence and institutions of higher education around the world. Focusing on inertial barriers to change, the effort explores ways to overcome such barriers at the regional level, with particular emphasis on barriers to decarbonizing the electricity. Finally, the Climate Solutions Lab in the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs will advance our understanding of global political barriers to climate solutions and create a network of educational resources for colleagues seeking to expand discussions of climate solutions in the political sciences.

The Climate Social Science Network is a global network of researchers studying political conflict around climate change. Housed at IBES, the group looks at the role of organizations that obstruct climate action, fossil fuel companies’ influence on politics and how misinformation campaigns affect public perception of climate.

Brown’s Superfund Research Program brings together researchers spanning engineering to medical pathology to study environmental toxicants found in homes, water supplies and elsewhere. Superfund researchers shed new light on how toxicants affect the human body, and develop new technologies for mitigating or eliminating harmful chemicals.

We will build an academic program focused on the relationship of the environment to human societies, combining the efforts of natural, physical and social scientists, together with humanists, to understand the determinants of environmental change, alter norms of human behavior, consider ethical issues related to sustainability and develop sound environmental policies.

~Building on Distinction: A New Plan for Brown (launched in 2014)