Environmental Frontiers

Environmental Frontiers brings together University of Chicago faculty, students, and staff to collaborate on finding innovative ways to build a more sustainable future on campus and beyond.


South Campus Chiller Plant

The South Campus Chiller Plant generates chilled water and steam for the south and east sides of UChicago’s campus.

Environmental Frontiers (EF) creates student-faculty research and educational opportunities focused on the intersection of environmental sustainability and urbanization, with the goal of giving UChicago undergraduate students a scientific and practical understanding of sustainable urban development. Spanning the physical, biological, social sciences and the humanities, the initiative complements existing and emerging course curriculum in Environmental and Urban Studies, Environmental Sciences, and other programs.

EFCampus, the campus-based component of the initiative, is a unique research and experiential learning effort. The program supports teams of undergraduate research assistants charged with analyzing campus data, operational systems, and community behaviors to identify actionable recommendations that advance the University’s sustainability goals. All projects are aligned with the University’s  sustainability plan, and are mentored by faculty and Facilities Services staff. By using UChicago’s campus as a case study, students are challenged to think deeply about what the data suggests are effective interventions to improve environmental efficiency and reduce consumption.

Current EFCampus research projects include:

Tree Ecosystem Services Analysis

Tree Ecosystem Services Analysis

Evaluate methods to quantify the benefits provided by different tree species in an urban forest, and assess opportunities to optimize ecosystem services to advance the University’s sustainability goals.

Project mentors:

  • Alison Anastasio, Assistant Instructional Professor, Environmental and Urban Studies
  • Kathleen Golomb, Project Manager, Planning and Design, Facilities Services


Laboratory Building Energy Analysis and Design

Laboratory Building Energy Analysis and Design

Evaluate the energy performance of UChicago laboratory buildings and develop tools and behavioral campaigns to reduce excess energy use

Project mentors:

  • Elisabeth Moyer, Associate Professor of Geophysical Sciences
  • Adam D’Ambrosio, Senior Director, Energy Services and Sustainability, Facilities Services
  • Sara Popenhagen, Sustainability Manager, Facilities Services
  • Ryan Hoff, Campus Energy Manager, Facilities Services


Water Conservation Assessment

Water Conservation Assessment

Benchmark current water usage at UChicago, recommending water reduction goals and conservation measures through technological improvements, behavioral methods, and cost-benefit analyses

Project mentors:

  • Sabina Shaikh, Director of the Program on Global Environment and Senior Lecturer in Environmental and Urban Studies in the College
  • Sara Popenhagen, Sustainability Manager, Facilities Services
  • Alfredo Izguerra, Energy Engineer, Facilities Services


Read the 2020-2021 End of Year Report to learn more about student research projects driving campus conservation:

EFGalápagos is an international research opportunity for UChicago undergraduate students to gain critical computational and policy skills necessary to become future leaders in sustainability. The Galápagos present an ideal case study as the islands have a controlled in/out flow of resources – energy, building materials, waste, transportation, food and goods.

During this 8-week summer program, UChicago students gain an understanding of how development patterns on the Galápagos can lead to solutions to manage urbanization in a way that is beneficial for both people and the natural ecosystems. Utilizing technological innovations, data mining, and computational analysis, if our students can understand sustainability in an ecosystem as delicate as these islands, then there may be hope for other environments across the globe.

Read about the student research experience in Summer 2019

Global Sustainability Summer School

EF Global Sustainability Summer School (GSSS) provides an intensive two-week program on the role cities play in leading a global sustainability transition, hosted in partnership with the Santa Fe Institute. Participants learn from international thought leaders, experts and practitioners about the state-of-the-art in science, technology and policy toward creating systemic solutions for urban sustainability. 

The program is organized around a set of cutting-edge, interdisciplinary lectures on topics such as the nature of social and economic networks in cities, their role in economic growth and human development, their demands on resource consumption and emissions, and characteristics of new technologies that may shift the balance between the benefits and impacts of development.

To learn more about the University of Chicago’s broader sustainability initiatives, visit sustainability.uchicago.edu.

Environmental Frontiers is an Initiative run by the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation in close partnership with the Program on the Global Environment (PGE), the Center for Robust Decision-making on Climate and Energy Policy (RDCEP), the Office of the Provost, and Facilities Services and the Office of Sustainability.

Faculty Leads

Elisabeth Moyer
Associate Professor, Atmospheric Science
Department of Geophysical Sciences

Sabina Shaikh
Director, Program on the Global Environment
Senior Lecturer, Environmental and Urban Studies

Internship Opportunities

Are you a UChicago undergraduate or MS student interested in environmental research and seeking to connect with faculty and staff who can offer research positions for Summer/Fall 2020? Check out this new resource here on RDCEP’s website.