BBISS's Big Ideas Archive

  • BBISS Fellow Bistra Dilkina Co-directs 2017 Data Science for Social Good Fellowship

    Design Science for Social Good (DSSG) (link) is an intensive, paid internship program where students are challenged to solve real-world problems for on-the-ground partners, including local non-profit organizations and the City of Atlanta. The annual student showcase was held at Ponce City Market on July 24th with representatives from the City of Atlanta, local companies, non-profit organizations, and data scientists in attendance. Brook Byers Institute of Sustainable Systems Fellow Bistra Dilkina (link) advised one of the four student teams, with her team conducting two of the five projects in this latest round of the program.

    In the first project, Dilkina’s team of four students partnered with Georgia Tech Facilities Management to determine some useful predictors of energy usage beyond historical energy usage and performance modelling, such as class schedules and climatic variables. The second project Dilkina advised, entitled “Predicting and Alleviating Road Flooding in Senegal,” sought to learn which regions and roadways would be most affected by flooding, and where mitigations would best preserve capacity and access to all parts of the country.


  • Chang to Co-Lead Living Building Pilot Project

    Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems Deputy Director, Michael Chang, will lead an undergraduate research team with Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Undergraduate Coordinator Dana Hartley.  Eight Sustainable Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURFers) will develop an interactive dashboard for the Georgia Tech Living Building.  Real-time data on energy and water usage, indoor health metrics, and other site specific factors, will be formatted for display in an interactive monitoring system.  This prototype is envisioned to interface with the operations, activities, and prevailing conditions with the Living Building as a center of reference.  From there information can be shown as users expand their reference frame outward through the scales of the campus, the city, the region, and the globe.

  • Georgia Tech Tianjin University Shenzhen Institute Launches Research Center for Green Buildings and Sponge Cities in Shenzhen, China

    The Georgia Tech Tianjin University Shenzhen Institute has launched a new research center to study, and teach about, sustainable urban infrastructure.  The Center for Green Buildings and Sponge Cities will be located in the forthcoming Georgia Tech satellite campus that is being planned in the city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.  The new center, as well as the Georgia Tech Tianjin University Shenzhen Institute are elements of a partnership between the Shenzhen Institute of Science and Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Tianjin University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology.  Professor John Crittenden, Director of Georgia Tech’s Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems, has been advocating for the establishment of the center.  He says, “Urban infrastructures are the largest systems in which humans manipulate matter and energy. Accordingly, creating more sustainable infrastructure will have a significant impact on creating a more sustainable future.  China has experienced incredibly rapid infrastructure development, and is likely to continue doing so.  It is heartening to see that China is committing to study a win-win scenario, where urban infrastructure development can create greater wealth and comfort while simultaneously reducing material and energy use.”

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  • Cobb and Toktay Take Carbon Reduction Challenge from Class to Co-op

    Earth and Atmospheric Science Professor Kim Cobb’s successful Carbon Reduction Challenge class will be expanded to enable students participating in an internship or co-op to plan and implement a carbon reduction project with their employers.  This new program is a collaboration between Professor Cobb, who also serves as a Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems Fellow, and Scheller College of Business Professor Beril Toktay, Faculty Director of the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business. Of the hundreds of Georgia Tech undergraduates that will participate in internships and co-ops this year, about 30 will work to reduce carbon emissions and save money for their employers through this innovative program.  The Challenge is funded by a grant from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation’s NextGen Committee and the Scheller College Dean’s Innovation Fund, and is an affiliated project of the Georgia Tech Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain. 


  • BBISS Fellow, Cobb to Take Winning Carbon Challenge Team to Washington

    The winning project in the 2017 Carbon Reduction Challenge class will avoid the emission of six million pounds of carbon dioxide, or about 2,720 metric tons.  This is not only a record in the ten year history of the class, but amounts to more carbon emissions avoided than all the previous year’s projects combined.  A group of four students worked with Georgia Tech Facilities Engineer Craig Forte to optimize the performance of the air handler in the lobby of the Klaus Advanced Computing Building.


  • Sustainability Spotlight: Dr. John Crittenden

    Interviewed by Joseph Buehler, Student Assistant, Georgia Tech Campus Sustainability.  Republished with permission.

    Since 2009, Dr. Crittenden has led the BBISS at Georgia Tech.  He took a moment to describe some of the Institute's projects:

    "BBISS has worked on problems such as the decentralization of energy and water. In the past our infrastructure was optimized in a silo fashion, where each provider focuses specifically on their product. We look at connecting those and optimizing the system as a whole. An example that we have looked into is a combined heating cooling and power system. Basically it is a device that creates electrical energy and gives off heat. If this is close to where you live, then you can utilize that heat. In terms of water, Atlanta gets about 45 inches of rainwater per year. According to our calculations that could provide 40-50 percent of water demands. Collecting that water for use also reduces the energy impact associated with getting water because it no longer needs to be pumped from a plant to your sink. All of these play into community design which is truly dictated by what the people living there want. For a grant, we are analyzing surveys from the Atlanta Regional Commission to help determine the best way to integrate more sustainable systems into an already large infrastructure system. We have learned that the adoption rate of technologies is higher when the technologies are provided in packages and systems."


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  • BBISS Fellow Dilkina and Post-Doc Lu to Study Decentralized Water and Energy Systems

    In the not-too-distant future, water and energy harvested by individuals, communities and other non-traditional systems – think rain barrels, grey water recycling, solar panels and windmills – may be integrated into centralized municipal networks.

    With these added resources flowing into existing municipal systems, water and energy supplies around the world could become more sustainable, more resilient, and more secure in the face of potential natural disasters and possible security threats.

    However, according to School of Computational Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Bistra Dilkina, getting to a point where this is possible on a broad scale is not going to be easy.


  • BBISS Grad Student to Receive ARCS Scholar Award

    Congratulations to BBISS Graduate Research Assistant Osvaldo Broesicke for receiving a 2016-17 Scholar Award from the Achievement Rewards for Academic Scientists (ARCS) Foundation.  The $7,500 scholarship recognizes outstanding doctoral students who have a record of past achievement and who show exceptional promise of making a significant contribution to the worldwide advancement of science and technology.  Osvaldo, a Ph.D. candidate in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, researches the interconnections between the infrastructure systems of urban areas, what we at the BBISS refer to as Infrastructure Ecology.



  • The Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems’ Work in China

    China is urbanizing at an unprecedented level.  Highways, energy grids, water treatment facilities, indeed, entire cities seem to be springing forth from the Chinese landscape.  One of our main topics for research at the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems is what we call Infrastructure Ecology.  It is becoming obvious to many that the way we have been building infrastructure is not sustainable.   At the same time, much of the infrastructure in the developed world is nearing the end of its designed lifespan.  Urbanized lifestyles are not going away, in fact, they are accelerating.  It stands to reason, then, that we need new ways to think about how we build, operate, maintain, and inhabit our cities.


  • Urban Food Systems Workshop Report

    In June 2016, Georgia Tech and the Georgia Tech Research Institute released a report entitled “Urban Food Systems: Workshop Report on the Potential for Growth and Innovation in Commercial Scale Urban Agriculture at the Nexus of Food, Energy, Water, and Transportation Systems.”  Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the report summarizes the findings of two workshops and makes recommendations for funding research within NSF’s new Innovations in Food, Energy, and Water Systems research initiative. 

    More than conventional agriculture, urban agriculture presents the greatest and most immediate opportunity to fully integrate food, energy, and water systems owing to the proximity of human, industrial, water, power, and transportation resources in cities. But while small scale urban agriculture is growing as a practice, progress at the commercial scale is hampered by many technological and knowledge barriers. The workshops surfaced, and the report conveys, 25 research topics that address barriers to commercial scale urban agriculture and the integration of food, energy, and water systems. Included among the 25 are:


  • How to Think About the Largest Things that We Build

    Cities are the largest technological artifacts that we build.  We can see them from space.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, we call the things that we build which can’t be seen with the naked eye “nanotechnology.” But we don’t have a name for the largest things we build other than “cities.”  “City” is useful as a name because we all know what is meant when the word “city” is used even though formal definitions are surprisingly vague and inadequate. We understand a city as a very large permanent human settlement comprised of all the built, natural, human, political, and economic elements within its borders; however, we don’t really understand how the mechanical and technological systems of cities function together.  How can it be that we don’t understand how cities work when we design, build, operate, maintain, and inhabit them?  We are just beginning to explore the answers to this question.  One of the things that we are learning is that it will be useful to distinguish between what we understand as a city, which includes all of the human elements, and the underlying technological artifacts that facilitate the feasibility of cities. Perhaps a better name for humanity’s largest artifacts, such as cities, would be “gigatechnology.”


  • BBISS Fellow, Dilkina is GT Lead in Major Computing Grant

    Assistant Professor and BBISS Fellow, Bistra Dilkina, is the Georgia Tech lead investigator for a $10 million, 5 year National Science Foundation “Expeditions in Computing” grant.  The funds will establish the Computational Sustainability Network, or CompSusNet, with Cornell University as lead institution.  CompSusNet will be comprised of 12 academic institutions, as well as domestic and international, private and non-profit organizations.  Dilkina will also sit on the executive council for the Expedition. 

  • Crittenden Awarded Clarke Prize

    The National Water Research Institute (NWRI) announced that BBISS Director, John C. Crittenden, will be the twenty-second recipient of the NWRI Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize for excellence in water research. Consisting of a medallion and $50,000 award, the NWRI Clarke Prize is given each year to recognize research accomplishments that solve real-world water problems and to highlight the importance of the continued funding for water research. Crittenden was selected as the 2015 recipient for his outstanding contributions to treating chemical contaminants in water and his leadership in addressing water demand for transportation, energy production, and domestic use in a holistic, sustainable manner. “I consider the Clarke Prize to be one of the greatest honors that one who conducts water research can receive,” said Crittenden.

  • BBISS Appoints Twelve Fellows

    The Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems at Georgia tech has appointed 12 BBISS Fellows.  This diverse group of faculty and researchers come from all six of Georgia Tech’s Colleges as well as the Georgia Tech Research Institute.  The purpose of the Fellows program is to serve as a board of advisors to the BBISS; to foster the culture and community of sustainability researchers, educators, and students at Georgia Tech; and to communicate broadly the vision, mission, values, and objectives of the BBISS.

  • Grant to Study Regional Industry, Economic Resilience and Energy Consumption

    The National Science Foundation has awarded a three year, $300,000 grant to understand how regional economic activities and energy use interact with each other. The effort is led by Georgia Tech School of Economics Assistant Professor Juan Moreno-Cruz with BBISS Director John Crittenden serving as Co-PI. The project is entitled, "Regional Industrial Structure, Economic Resilience and Energy Consumption: Comparative Evaluation, Historical Analysis and Pathway towards a More Sustainable Economy."

  • $1 Million Joint US – China Study on Sustainable Steel Manufacturing

    A multidisciplinary research team from Georgia Tech has just been awarded $500,000 over four years to study ways in which steel production in China can be made more sustainable.  The grant is being awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  It is matched with a research grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) to a group of Chinese investigators from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and China’s Northeastern University.  The project, entitled “U.S.-China: Systems-Based Approaches for Sustainable Steel Manufacturing,” is led on the U.S. side by Georgia Tech Professors Bert Bras, John Crittenden, and Marc Weissburg.

  • NSF Awards Grant to BBISS Researchers

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $2.5 million grant to an innovative multidisciplinary research project led by BBISS Director, Professor John Crittenden.  The three year project, under the Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Processes and Systems program (RIPS), is designed to develop the theory that infrastructure systems, with their many interdependencies and complex adaptations, have many similarities to ecological systems.  The insights that arise from this grant will be useful in the future development of tools and methods used in the design and evaluation of urban infrastructure systems and their resilience under stresses like climate change, urban growth patterns, and extreme weather events.

  • Student Sustainability Organizations - 2014

    This is our annual feature highlighting Georgia Tech's student sustainability related organizations for the new academic year. Georgia Tech has a strong tradition of student led clubs and organizations.

  • Director Crittenden to be Given Honors in China

    BBISS Director, John Crittenden, will be on a whirlwind tour of China during the first part of June.  His travels will begin at the International Conference on Engineering Science and Technology (ICEST 2014) where the theme will be, "Engineering and the Future of Humankind." The event, which is sponsored by UNESCO, will provide a forum for 1,200 engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and government officials from CAETS member academies and the international engineering community. Professor Crittenden will participate in the first plenary session where he will deliver a talk titled, “Developing Sustainable Infrastructures to Solve Gigaton Problems."

  • Brook Byers Professors Honored

    On March 10th, 2014, The Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems hosted an event at the Historic Academy of Medicine to honor three Georgia Tech professors as the inaugural recipients of the title Brook Byers Professor.  Professors Bert Bras, Marilyn Brown, and Elsa Reichmanis were joined by three corporate sustainability leaders and moderator, Diana Rivenburgh as well as Professor John Crittenden in a broad ranging panel discussion.  The three corporate participants were John Gardner from Novelis, Bruce Karas from Coca-Cola, and Steve Leffin from UPS.

  • Brook Byers Professors Appointed

    In January 2014, three distinguished faculty were named Brook Byers Professors:  Bert Bras (Mechanical Engineering), Marilyn Brown (Public Policy), and Elsa Reichmanis (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering). Made possible by a gift from Shawn and Brook Byers, a 1968 Georgia Tech alumnus in Electrical Engineering, the Brook Byers Professorships provide resources to enable and enhance cross-disciplinary, collaborative research and education in sustainability, energy, and water. Recommended by their peers, the three recipients were chosen by the Provost and approved by the Board of Regents. The appointments recognize superior scholarly achievement and the potential for further progress. The Brook Byers Professorship is the highest title bestowed at Georgia Tech for those specifically engaged in sustainability related research and education.

  • Sustainability Quantified: The ‘Gigaton’ Problem

    The anthroposphere (the place where humans live and where human needs are provided for) needs to be recreated to exist within the means of nature. Two important implications can be drawn from this statement: (1) we must use renewable materials that nature provides, and (2) we must not overwhelm natural cycles such that they cease to provide appropriate ecosystem services. The world economy currently uses 70 Gt of materials [1], only 29% of which are renewable (Fig. 1) [2]. Excluding food and fuel from this 70 Gt results in approximately 15Gt of which only 4% is renewable. Human intervention has disrupted nitrogen, phosphorous, water, carbon and other cycles and affected human and ecosystem health through discharges of toxic compounds.

  • Student Sustainability Organizations

    Georgia Tech has a strong tradition of student led clubs and organizations. Sustainability related groups have proven to be no exception in this regard. The list below is a comprehensive picture of the broad range of sustainability related student organizations and volunteer opportunities available. Please help us keep this list current. Contact us with updates, or additions.

  • BBISS Hosts Sustainable Engineering Educators

    College and university engineering educators from around the country convened at Georgia Tech to learn how to integrate sustainability into their engineering curriculum and pedagogy. About 35 participants from a wide spectrum of engineering specialties worked with experts in the field of sustainable engineering and shared their experiences to advance the state of the art in sustainable engineering education.

  • New Open Journal of the Anthropocene

    BBISS Deputy Director, Michael Chang, is a founding editor-in-chief for the new online academic journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.  Elementa is based on an innovative publication model for an academic journal. It is online, open-access, and peer-reviewed. Elementa publishes timely and high quality articles that deal with the interactions between human and natural systems and behaviors. Elementa is a nonprofit initiative of BioOne, Dartmouth, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Michigan, and the University of Washington.

  • VIRTUES of a Workforce for the Next Industrial Revolution

    The Ray C. Anderson Foundation recently awarded a grant to Georgia Tech for a project called VIRTUES (Vertical Integration of Research, and Technical, Undergraduate, and graduate Education for Sustainability).  Headed by Michael Chang, Deputy Director of the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems, and Mary Hallisey-Hunt, Director of Special Projects for the Strategic EnergyInstitute, the leadership team also includes faculty and administrators from Georgia Southern University and the University System of Georgia, and industry partners from across the state.

  • Tsinghua University Students visit BBISS

    Earlier this month, eight students and one faculty member from Tsinghua University’s School of Environment visited Georgia Tech for two weeks as part of a student exchange program. It was funded by a cost sharing collaboration between Tsingua University and the BBISS. The exchange provided a cultural and academic forum for students studying many aspects of sustainable urban systems to learn from each other while gaining a cultural perspective that only international travel can foster.

  • BBISS Researchers Tour Eco-Cities in China

    It would be no surprise to anyone to hear that China is well into a building boom.  The nation is very rapidly urbanizing due to its expanding manufacturing sector.  Large cities are being constructed from scratch where there once was open rural land.  It might surprise some that many of these will be eco-cities, designed and constructed with sustainable design features, materials, and infrastructure systems.  The speed and scale of these projects affords a rich opportunity for research and innovation towards a better understanding of what constitutes an “eco-city” in the real world.