Ten Years of Research Through the Resnick Sustainability Institute
November 08, 2019
In 2009, the Resnick Sustainability Institute (RSI) was established at Caltech with the mission of advancing sustainability—the practice of tailoring human activities to minimize impact on the planet—and the institute has supported cutting-edge research across multiple disciplines. The RSI provided seed funds to researchers throughout Caltech's divisions and funded 96 Resnick fellows (graduate students and postdoctoral scholars), a number of whom have gone on to found their own sustainability-focused companies.
This fall, RSI marks its 10th anniversary and celebrates the dawn of a new era of sustainability research and education thanks to a $750-million pledge from RSI founders Stewart and Lynda Resnick. In addition to funding a 75,000-square-foot building that will serve as the hub for energy and sustainability research facilities on campus and as the home of state-of-the-art undergraduate teaching laboratories, this new pledge by the Resnicks will support four core research initiatives:
Sunlight to Everything, which will focus in part on building smarter electricity infrastructure and converting the sun's energy into fuels and other chemicals;
Climate Science, which will advance efforts in measurement and modeling meant to identify the largest effects of climate change, and efforts in mitigation and adaptation to offset some of the impact of carbon emissions;
Water Resources, which aims to ensure that this vital resource is managed effectively through mapping and monitoring of surface and sub-surface water, together with improvements in water treatment and reuse; and
Ecology and Biosphere Engineering, which will consider how complex ecological relationships are being affected by a changing climate and changing resources, including investigations into how microbes may help plants adapt, and how we may best use biological tools to improve water and nutrient use.
Click through the slideshow to see some of the RSI's accomplishments during its first decade—the research it has funded, the innovations it has spurred, and knowledge it has helped foster.
Gathering data to prepare California for droughts: California's extensive reservoir system needs to adapt to precipitation levels that are growing less predictable. Data can help, says a Resnick-supported fellow who has created the first empirical statewide model of the California reservoir network.
Helping batteries pack more punch and last longer: Production and demand for electricity are often mismatched, so batteries that store electricity until it is needed will be an important part of future electrical grids. Technological advancements are leading toward batteries that can store more electricity for longer periods.
Solving a mystery behind fertilizer production: The nitrogen cycle ensures that soils can support the agriculture necessary for human populations, but part of how it worked remained a mystery until Caltech researchers made a breakthrough discovery.
Synthesizing a catalyst for nitrogen fixation: Producing agricultural fertilizers in sustainable ways is of ever-increasing importance as the human population continues to rise. Caltech researchers have now synthesized the first iron-based catalyst for the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia, research that may lead to more environmentally friendly methods of ammonia production.