All posts by douglashfisher

Director of Outreach, Education, Diversity, and Synthesis (OEDS) of CompSustNet

University Courses in Computational Sustainability

CompSustNet is a network of researchers who are developing new computational approaches to addressing challenges in environmental and societal sustainability. In my role as CompSustNet’s Director of Outreach, Education, Diversity, and Synthesis, I plan to blog regularly about each of the topics indicated in my title, as well as posting publicly-accessible overviews of the research being undertaken in the network. For this latter area of responsibility, in particular, I will also recruit graduate and undergraduate students with an interest in communicating science and technology to the public, as fellow bloggers and co-authors of articles. Contact me if you are interested.

Because registration at most schools for Fall 2016 courses is starting soon, or is very recently underway, higher education in computational sustainability is a timely topic.

In the last 5 years or so there have been a number of college-level courses in computational sustainability, some with an emphasis in one subarea, but most with broader coverage. Here is a list of the courses that I know.

Beyond the topics themselves, at least two things strike me as notable about these courses.

  • Instructors openly use and acknowledge educational content from other courses and other instructors, in addition to making nontrivial use of guest lecturers. As I plan for my Fall 2016 special topics course, entitled Computing, the Environment, and Energy, I will be using much from my earlier 2011 course, but I will also undoubtedly take Stefano Ermon (Stanford) and Dan Sheldon (UMass) up on their offers to share resources. I’ll consider drawing from other courses as well, and I expect to line up a few guest lectures over video conferencing as well.
  • These are not courses that fit the stereotype of “computing and society” or “computing and ethics” that require little or no computing background. Such introductory courses would be a good addition to the course portfolio, but consistent with the CompSustNet mission, the courses so far have opted to advance the education of committed and knowledgeable computer science students.

In the future, I will be posting more on computing courses, including my own Fall 2016 course. I invite others to contribute one or more posts on their experiences too. In addition to standalone courses in computational sustainability, I will be posting on “deep infusion of sustainability material into NON-sustainability-themed courses”.  Deep infusion doesn’t seek to spinoff computational sustainability to specialized courses, but seeks to make it ubiquitous across the entire computing curriculum.

Douglas H. Fisher is CompSustNet’s Director of Outreach, Education, Diversity, and Synthesis. The opinions expressed herein are Doug’s and not necessarily those of Cornell University. Contact Doug at

NSF Expeditions of Computing award funds CompSustNet

In January 2016, the National Science Foundation announced the $10 million, 5-year Expeditions of Computing award for CompSustNet, to support a research network in computational sustainability led by Cornell University, and including Oregon State University, Bowdoin College, California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Howard University, Princeton University, Stanford University, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, University of Southern California, and Vanderbilt University.

CompSustNet is “a transformative computational sustainability network, bringing together computer scientists, environmental and social scientists, biologists, physicists and material scientists to expand the nascent field of computational sustainability,” says Carla Gomes, the Principle Investigator on the lead Cornell award.

This is the second Expeditions of Computing award led by Gomes on Computational Sustainability, a testament to how important it is that computer scientists and researchers in related disciplines take up the challenges of environmental and societal sustainability.

In addition to the funded network nodes referenced above, there are many other collaborating network members from the United States and across the world.

  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) – Land and Water Flagship
  • Data61 (formerly NICTA), Australia
  • Delft University of Technology, Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO)
  • Distributed Sun LLC
  • Earth Networks Inc.
  • International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – Materials Measurement Laboratory
  • Nature Trust of British Columbia
  • Northwest Watershed Research Center
  • Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ)
  • Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL)
  • Technical University of Dortmund
  • Technical University of Lisbon
  • The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
  • United States Geological Survey – Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
  • Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Instituto de Ecología Aplicada (ECOLAP)
  • Università di Bologna
  • University College Cork, Insight Centre for Data Analytics
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of British Columbia,
  • University of Idaho,
  • University of Lleida – Artificial Intelligence Research Group
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Sydney
  • University of Washington, Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST)
  • USDA Forest Service – International Programs
  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

The research leadership and contacts from all institutions are listed on the CompSustNet website.

In the coming weeks, months, and years, look here and to the CompSustNet website, for updates on CompSustNet activities, as well as for opportunities for participation with the network. Please tell us about computing research in computational sustainability, whether previously called by that name or not, and please tell us of efforts to effectively communicate computational sustainability research to the public.

Douglas H. Fisher is the Director of Outreach, Education, Diversity, and Synthesis for CompSustNet, and is an associate professor of computer science at Vanderbilt University.

Twitter: @compsust #compsustnet