CAREER: Ethical implications of connected critical infrastructure in the food-energy-water nexus

Project: Research project

Project Details


Sustainably managing Earth's physical resources and natural systems for food, energy, and water (FEW) resources is of critical importance for society now and into the future. Recent decades have seen the emergence of food-energy-water nexus research that seeks to understand the interconnections and interdependencies associated with these resources. Although progress has been made in this regard, quantification efforts are needed to integrate the built environment and human values into FEW research. The objective of this research is to provide explicit consideration of critical infrastructure and stakeholder values in quantification efforts to further understand FEW environmental sustainability. The integrated research and educational plan builds the foundation for the investigator's long-term career goal to cultivate and grow a transdisciplinary research laboratory that catalyzes cross-cutting efforts to elucidate complex interactions across critical infrastructure, developing predictive understanding and offering solutions to food, energy, and water management.

The specific aims of this research are to: develop inter-infrastructural datasets and network-theoretic models to quantify FEW supply chain sustainability through connected critical infrastructure (CI) and use environmental ethics frameworks to deploy values-informed mental models that will develop understandings on socio-ethical implications of FEW-CI sustainability. The project will develop fundamental theory surrounding FEW nexus sustainability by filling several gaps in prior scholarship and advance the state of knowledge regarding: i) how multilayer FEW-CI networks behave under conditions of environmental sustainability, ii) how accounting for critical infrastructure influences FEW quantification efforts, and iii) how stakeholder values alter FEW modeling and resource management for sustainable systems. Additionally, the investigator's Education plan, integrated with the research plan through the theme of ethics, will offer undergraduate and graduate students career-strengthening opportunities through international engagement, provide engineering ethics teaching resources for the University and beyond, and engage with policymakers to ensure that research outcomes are relevant to achieving societal goals. The intellectual merit of the educational plan is grounded in theory on best practices for ethics education across STEM disciplines. Finally, the combination of data from FEW-CI open sources, theory-based socio-experimental designs, and assessment and advice from leaders in multiple fields will allow the investigator to build capacity for developing and deploying transdisciplinary convergent research in environmental sustainability, forming the basis to launch her 5- and 10-year career goals. The research and educational activities will contribute to the following seven societal outcomes: full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in STEM; improved STEM education and educator development; increased public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology; development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce; increased partnerships between academia, industry, and others; improved national security; and enhanced infrastructure for research and education. Highlighting three of the activities that contribute to these outcomes, the PI will: implement a study abroad program in Vietnam and Singapore for undergraduate and graduate students from underrepresented groups, furthering equity and career readiness of participants; develop engineering ethics modules that directly contribute to accreditation requirements; and organize virtual workshops to engage policymakers in research and educational outcomes. Assessment and evaluation will occur through a distinguished advisory board of senior faculty from multiple institutions as well as consultations with an expert in educational pedagogy.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date1/1/2010/31/22


  • National Science Foundation: $509,880.00


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