IBES Research Areas

Brown SR-EIP -- Environment and Society

Several of the many possible summer research areas offered by the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES) are highlighted below.

Physical Scientists
Meredith Hastings
Timothy Herbert
Robert Hurt
Jung-Eun Lee
Samiah Moustafa
John Mustard
James Russell
Laurence Smith
Eric Suuberg

Social Scientists
Bathsheba Demuth
Andrew Foster
Scott Frickel
Elizabeth Fussell
Rachel Wetts


Physical Scientists

Meredith Hastings
Professor Meredith Hastings’ research group focuses on understanding links between air quality, atmospheric oxidation chemistry, acid deposition, and biogeochemistry in water and soils. We focus on reactive nitrogen, such as nitrogen oxides and ammonia, which are released as gases, chemically react in the atmosphere, and are ultimately deposited in rain, snow or on surfaces. Students can get involved in projects collecting air, rain and water samples in the field; and processing of samples in the laboratory via wet chemistry and mass spectrometry techniques.

Timothy Herbert
Reconstructions of past climate from chemical analyses of marine sediments. Marine sediments contain a host of clues to conditions in the earth’s past- temperature, biological activity, and the global carbon cycle. A summer intern working in my group would learn laboratory analyses used in reconstructing some of the variables above, working closely with a graduate student to generate a record of paleoclimate. In addition to lab work, the student would learn about oceanography and paleoclimate from a directed reading list. Regions that we are particularly interested in include the Peru-Chile coast, the equatorial Pacific, and the north Pacific.

Robert Hurt
Professor Hurt's research focuses on nanomaterials and their applications and implications for human health and the environment. Current research thrusts include the biological response to graphene-family nanomaterials, mechanisms of carbon nanotube uptake and toxicity, nano-silver and nano-copper transformations in the natural environment, safe material design, and the assembly and folding of graphene to make three-dimensional architectures for barrier and encapsulation technologies, and as electrodes and catalyst supports.

Any student interested in materials, chemistry, environmental technologies, toxicology, and/or environmental health would be a candidate for Hurt’s research group.

Jung-Eun Lee
Professor Jung-Eun Lee is a climate modeler by training and has been studying quantitative interpretation of biogeochemical signals in Earth system. Her central research question is how ecosystem functioning modulate terrestrial precipitation across multiple timescales (diurnal, seasonal, interannual, millennial, and geological) and how these variations modulate precipitation in concert with varying insolation, topography, and continental configuration.

Her research program combines the observation of biogeochemical data and integration of observed characteristics to provide insight into fundamental processes in the climate system. She works closely with scientists who make measurements, carefully examining proxy data and actively participating in field campaign. The areas of her research include: (1) how plants influence the climate over the geological timescales (2) how much terrestrial productivity and energy balance is influenced by the plant-water relation, and (3) the climate dynamics of the ice age cycle and the Asian monsoon system. Through close collaboration, she aims to understand the climate system and its history in a quantitative manner.

A student project idea: analysis of satellite data to learn how plants influence atmospheric convection.

Samiah Moustafa
Moustafa’s research focuses on investigating the impact of climate change in the Arctic. Within the Arctic, the Greenland ice sheet has experienced an acceleration in mass loss dominated by surface meltwater runoff corresponding to increased contributions to sea level rise. Further, surface albedo, or the reflectivity of the ice sheet, is a key physical variable that regulates the amount of solar radiation absorbed at the ice surface, and thus, melting. One of our primary research goals is to explore understudied scientific questions about Greenland ice sheet hydrology, its relation to surface albedo, and responses to atmospheric warming at local to continental scales. This research is founded on an innovative combination of field-derived measurements, remote sensing, and modeled data.

Scholarly interests: Greenland ice sheet, albedo, hydrology, remote sensing

John Mustard
Mustard’s group is broadly interested in land use and land cover change. how the Earth's surface is changing in response to natural and human forces and actions. My lab group is currently involved in developing advanced algorithms for analysis of hyperspectral remote sensing technology in laboratory and field settings. This is exciting work at the intersection of environmental change, advanced remote sensing, big data, and computer science

Scholarly interests: environmental change, advanced remote sensing, big data, and computer science

James Russell
Dr. Russell's research group investigates long-term changes in the climate of the tropics and their impacts on natural systems. Much of our work uses sediment cores from lakes to reconstruct how rainfall and temperature have varied through time in order to understand the fundamental mechanisms of long-term climate change. Students engage in this research by collecting core samples in the field, and processing them in the laboratory using a variety of chemical, geophysical, and paleobiological techniques. 

Student project: Understanding the links between environmental change and human evolution is an enduring scientific challenge that goes back to the days of Darwin. The most persistent problem in evaluating these connections is the lack of high-quality paleoenvironmental records from sites where our human ancestors lived in the past. We have recently obtained new long cores from East African hominid fossil locales, and we are reconstructing climate and environmental change using organic geochemical and stable isotope methods to improve our knowledge of climate-paleoanthropological connections. Students in this project will engage in interdisciplinary work on humans and the environment, and learn cutting-edge geochemical methods that can be applied to a range of environmental problems.

Scholarly interests: climate and environmental change, geochemistry

Laurence Smith
The Smith group uses fieldwork and satellite data to understand how the Arctic is responding to climate change. We invite a motivated student to consider working with us comparing satellite imagery, field data and climate models using ArcGIS/QGIS software. Options for projects include developing image processing algorithms; comparing a unique satellite-derived snowfall dataset with snowfall rates predicted by climate models on the Greenland Ice Sheet; and mapping proglacial rivers in Greenland using novel CubeSat satellite imagery.

Scholarly interests: remote sensing, climate models, snowfall, Greenland

Eric Suuberg
Professor Suuberg has been at Brown since 1981, when he was one of the founding members of Brown's Chemical Engineering program. His research interests have been in the areas of energy and environmental engineering. He has served as Associate Dean of the Faculty (2002-2005), as Chair of the Psychology Department (2004-5) and as a member of the Executive Committee of the Division of Engineering. He is currently Co-Director of the Superfund Basic Research Program, and a co-founder of the COE concentration as well as a co-founder of the new masters Program in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship (PRIME). He is a principal editor of the journal Fuel.

The project would be concerned with experimental measurements of adsorption of contaminant chemicals (e.g., PFAS or TCE) to surfaces. It would involve working in the lab and performing experiments to determine the uptakes.

Social Scientists

Bathsheba Demuth
Professor Bathsheba Demuth's research focuses on the lands and seas of the Russian and North American Arctic. As an environmental historian, she studies the relationship between humans and their environment in the past, and how social and cultural changes influenced or were influenced by the Arctic environment. Her current research looks specifically at how people and Arctic animal species related to one another at the Bering Strait, where Siberia and Alaska nearly meet, including bowhead whales, walrus, reindeer, foxes, and seals. Her work uses traditional historical sources - diaries, bureaucratic records, memoirs, photographs, and other documents - along with orals histories from Bering Strait indigenous peoples. These are combined with an analysis of changes to the region’s ecology. Put together, these allow for new perspectives on economic development - both in capitalist Alaska and communist Siberia - and on the historical conditions that shape contemporary responses and resilience to climate change. Demuth looks to answer questions about how interacting with animals and their environments shape and alter people's economic decision-making and ideas about the future over time.

A student project idea: working with Professor Demuth to assemble primary historical documents on the behavior of canids - wolves and dogs - in Arctic Alaska, and reading these sources against current behavior science to analyze how people and canids have changed their ways of interacting over the past several hundred years.

Scholarly interests: Environmental history, Russian & North American Arctic, Climate, Energy

Andrew Foster
Andrew Foster’s research group has interests in the areas of population, environment, development, and health. Recent work has examined economic growth in rural India, exploring such issues as growth in the non-farm economy, the effects of local democratization, groundwater usage, forest cover, household structure, inequality, and schooling. He also is exploring the effects of recent changes in air quality in Delhi. Foster also has a series of projects with colleagues in the Center for Gerentology examining the market for nursing home care.Foster is looking for someone to work on a project on green governance in rural India. He is particularly interested in engaging with a student who has strong empirical or computational skills.

Scholarly interests: Development, Education, Empirical microeconomics, Environment, Fertility, Health, Households, Human capital, Institutions, Labor economics, Marriage

Scott Frickel
Scott’s research group center on the intersections of nature, knowledge, and politics. A growing feature of his current research involves developing new approaches for identifying and measuring socio-environmental change and developing theories to explain those patterns. He also studies inequality in science and technology and chemical residues as cultural, material, and political objects.

Scholarly interests: Superfund community engagement, environment-society interactions, experts and knowledge/ignorance, social movements, social theory, risk and disaster, urbanization

Elizabeth Fussell
Fussell’s current research focuses on environmental drivers of human migration. She has examined the effects of Hurricane Katrina on population change in New Orleans, specifically out-migration, in-migration, and associated changes in the racial and ethnic composition of the city. She is beginning a new project on the effects of cyclones and sea-level rise on small island nations, especially Puerto Rico.

Scholarly interests: Human migration and weather-related disasters, social inequality, Mexican migration to the US

Rachel Wetts
We are investigating how American political elites have discussed the issue of climate change. We will be using computational text analysis to examine how Democratic and Republic presidential candidates have invoked appeals to either (a) moral values, or (b) science and expertise in discussing climate change during the 2016 and 2020 elections. Time permitting, we will also examine how morality- and expertise-based appeals affect Americans' attitudes and willingness to act personally or politically on climate change.  

Scholarly Interests: Climate change politics; American political culture; political sociology