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Environmental sustainability is the next focus of RISE

April 22, 2024 By Elise Mahon
The University of Wisconsin–Madison campus is pictured in an aerial view looking east toward the downtown Madison skyline during an autumn sunset

RISE-EARTH will strengthen the university’s ability to address complex problems and opportunities related to the environment, translating discoveries into tangible benefits at home in Wisconsin and beyond. Photo: Jeff Miller

At the kick-off celebration for Earth Fest at the University of Wisconsin–Madison on Friday, April 19, Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin announced the next area of focus under the Wisconsin Research, Innovation and Scholarly Excellence (RISE) Initiative: RISE-EARTH.

The Wisconsin RISE Initiative, which Mnookin first announced in February, is designed to help address significant, complex challenges of particular importance to Wisconsin and the world, through accelerated and strategic faculty hiring, research and infrastructure enhancement, interdisciplinary collaboration and increased student opportunities. RISE-AI (artificial intelligence) was the first area announced under the new initiative.

Now, RISE-EARTH, the latest RISE effort, will strengthen the university’s ability to address complex problems and opportunities related to the environment, translating discoveries into tangible benefits at home in Wisconsin and beyond.

RISE-EARTH, which stands for Environment: Adaptation, Resilience, Technology, Humanity, will center on two themes. The first is to reimagine economic and environmental systems to, for example, find innovative ways to revitalize communities with new modes of transportation or renew agricultural lands to reduce erosion and enhance biodiversity. The other will be aimed at building sustainable energy and technical systems — for instance, developing new clean energy technologies and ways to capture and store carbon.

“UW–Madison has long been a leader in responding to community-identified environmental challenges, and in developing solutions to problems that can be put immediately into action,” says Mnookin. “By investing in the next generation of faculty leaders through RISE-EARTH, UW–Madison will be well poised to make even greater contributions to sustainability research, education and problem-solving in the world.”

RISE-EARTH complements a campuswide sustainability initiative Mnookin unveiled earlier this year, setting bold goals for UW–Madison, including changes to campus energy use; ensuring that sustainability is an accessible part of student education; launching a sustainability research hub to support large, interdisciplinary grants and drive innovation; and more.

“We are excited to build on our existing strengths to create new technologies and innovations that we can share with campus, all of Wisconsin and beyond,” says Paul Robbins, dean of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. “RISE-EARTH will allow us to build sustainable energy systems and transition to new economic systems while also creating new research and educational opportunities.”

For decades, researchers at UW–Madison have explored sustainability across a variety of fields, from economics to policy, to chemistry and engineering. The university is a demonstrated leader in sustainable systems innovation.

For example, UW–Madison researchers laid the foundation for the study of wildlife ecology, pioneered remote sensing of Earth’s resources and were some of the first to push business systems to account for problems deep in corporate supply chains.

“UW–Madison is well known for high-impact research led by our impressive faculty, and RISE-EARTH will help bring new thinkers with bold ideas to campus that will help fuel greater interdisciplinary collaborations,” says Provost Charles Isbell. “Challenges like those we face to achieve carbon neutrality, future-proof our economy and prepare tomorrow’s sustainability leaders are best tackled when people across multiple disciplines come together to create solutions. RISE-EARTH will help us bring new ideas to students, the state and the world.”

Hiring for the initiative will begin in fall of 2024, with 40 hires planned over the next several years. Learn more about other RISE initiatives, like RISE-AI, and how you can suggest the next focus area online.