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OU Leaders Discuss Plans to Help Achieve Global Sustainability

February 8, 2023

OU Leaders Discuss Plans to Help Achieve Global Sustainability

In January, over 80 people gathered for the 2023 Sustainability Forum at the University of Oklahoma to identify ways to overcome current technological hurdles, maintain a diverse, inclusive, and equitable society and ultimately achieve a better, more sustainable world.

Panels included speakers from both OU and across the globe, each focusing on a different topic: social aspects of sustainability, technical research on sustainability, industrial approaches to sustainability and outlooks on sustainability.

In the session, “VPRP Initiatives Toward a Sustainable Energy Transition,” OU Vice President for Research and Partnerships Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, Ph.D., and Tim Filley, Ph.D., director of OU’s Institute for Resilient Environmental and Energy Systems, contributed on the topics of nuclear fusion and hydrogen, respectively.

“We’re at a 650,000-year record for greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere and we’re not making much progress mitigating global carbon dioxide emissions,” Díaz de la Rubia said. “Could we reproduce fusion energy to create carbon-free energy for humankind? The scale and challenges are significant, but I want to see how the University of Oklahoma can become a leader in fusion engineering technology.”

During his talk, “Data Science and Sustainability,” David Ebert, Ph.D., director of the Data Institute for Societal Challenges, presented information about technology, artificial intelligence and data.

“We need to ensure that the algorithms we develop are transparent and explainable so that people use them and know the accuracy of the data. That’s why I’m a strong proponent of human-guided AI that can produce trustable information that is fair, robust and reliable,” said Ebert, a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at OU. “Once we incorporate these factors, we can help achieve climate adaptability, resiliency and sustainability.”

Ebert joined presenters Sanat Kumar, Columbia University, and Ngoc Bui, an assistant professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering at OU, for the panel, “Technical Research on Sustainability.”

OU Institute for Community and Society Transformation Director Shane Connelly moderated the panel, “Social Aspects of Sustainability” with presenters Paul Upchurch, University College London Department of Earth Sciences; Craig Styan, University of South Australia; and Laura Bray, OU Center for Applied Social Research.

The panel, “Industrial Approaches to Sustainability” included presentations by Boudewijn Neijens, Copperleaf Technologies; James Collard, Citizen Potawatomi Nation; and Mark Myers, Neste. It was moderated by Brian Grady, a professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering at OU.

The panel, “Outlooks on Sustainability,” was moderated by John Klier, Ph.D., dean of the Gallogly College of Engineering. The session included presentations by David Sholl, Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Bhavik Bakshi, Ohio State University; and Jill Cooper, Orion RP.

“OU was the perfect location for this forum because of the research strength in important technical areas ranging from plastic upcycling, environmental remediation, and energy production, among others, as well as for the strong emphasis across the university on societal impact, inclusion, and social justice,” said Alberto Striolo, Ph.D., event organizer and a professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering at OU.

Achieving the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals will require synergism between academia, industry, government and the population. The United Nations adopted the goals in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

By Josh DeLozier, Office of the Vice President for Research and Partnerships