Research Clusters


Beginning in 2020, the Center approved three new Research Clusters: Circular Economies, Cyber Animal Systems, and Environmental & Ecological Sensing.

Research Clusters represent projects and research areas that bring together several faculty from different disciplines who, together, approach key environmental challenges.  Smaller than Signature Research Areas (SRAs) in terms of number of participants and size of scope, research clusters receive funding from the Center for development activities and, over time, a RC may become a SRA.  Like SRAs, RCs have a faculty convener and can sponsor events and speakers.

2020 Research Clusters

Circular Economies

Convener: Abby Engelberth
Department: Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Traditionally, goods produced by our industrial system have a linear lifecycle. As a result, both industrial activities and society rely on the continuous extraction of finite natural resources with substantial amounts of waste discarded to landfills and incinerators. Concerns over this unsustainable linear production and consumption model have led to the development of the “circular economy” concept, which seeks to close the loop on material and product flows, this increasing the efficiency of resource use and reducing waste generation.

The circular economy concept aims to decouple economic growth from resource depletion and environmental degradation to achieve balance among environment, society, and economy. Transitioning to a circular economy requires fundamental changes in product design, process technologies, business models, government policy, and consumer behavior.

Many Purdue faculty are engaged in research related to the circular economy and this research cluster will leverages the existing knowledge and infrastructure and helps establish Purdue as a global leader in circular economy research. The team focuses on sustainable product development, value creation from overlooked material streams, cost effective and environmentally benign remanufacturing/recycling technologies, understanding consumer behavior and engineering behavior change, and developing policy support tools.

Cyber Animal Systems

Convener: Richard Voyles
Department: Purdue Polytechnic Institute

While precision crop agriculture technologies have helped increase sustainability through enabling reduced inputs, increased productivity, and improved capacity to combat environmental and biological stresses, equivalent growth in cyber-enabled approaches to research into sustainable animal systems has not occurred.

The faculty in this research cluster work to combine research into the environmental impacts of animal systems and appropriate and environmentally aware sensing and technology development.  Results of this work can lead to the development of innovative policies, tools, sensors and cyber systems that may reduce the rate of greenhouse gas production; ameliorate contributions to antibiotic resistance; optimize land and water use; and increase productivity of animal systems.

Purdue is already a leader in animal science, environmental impacts, biological sensing, AI technologies and data-centric analytics, so the primary ingredients are in place to have critical impact. The members of this research cluster will undertake transdisciplinary research at the intersection of these fields.

Environmental & Ecological Sensing

Convener: Jim Garrison
Department: Aeronautics and Astronautics

The collection, processing, and interpretation of observational data are critical for understanding our environment, predicting the future evolution of ecosystems and supporting relevant policy and investment decisions.  Environmental observations can be extracted from a wide variety of different sensors at spatial scales, ranging from individual plants to the global carbon, water and energy cycle.  Integrating data from vastly different sensing modalities and spatial-temporal scales presents significant challenges. Models describing the observed physical processes are essential to interpret observations and support decisions.

The members of this research cluster work with environmental researchers across the Center on conducting research and developing solutions to environmental problems that involve cross-disciplinary expertise in sensing.