It’s right before your eyes: The water you drink, the air you breathe, your neighborhood — in other words, your environment — can make or break your health.

A healthy environment is critical to human health: One recent study estimates that air, water and soil pollution cause up to 40 percent of worldwide deaths each year, as well as countless illnesses.

Yet the environment is often left out of medical conversations, in part because the problems are so big and so complicated.

“Because these are societal problems, no one individual can solve the problem on his or her own,” says Buzz Thompson, PhD, co-director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “And because the problems are complex, no single discipline can solve the problem on its own.”

The good news is that support for interdisciplinary environmental research and advances in technology to carry out that research are bearing fruit.

“The environment is intimately connected to human health. That’s why the Stanford Woods Institute fosters collaborations between researchers in medical fields and other disciplines,” says the institute’s other faculty director, Jeff Koseff, PhD. “Their work is leading to solutions of some of the world’s most serious health issues.”

Some of those collaborations are highlighted in a special report of the Stanford School of Medicine magazine's summer issue. It includes: 

  • Priming the Pumps:" The tale of a trip to the slums of Dhaka that led to a radical solution for contaminated drinking water - a look at the work of Woods postdoctoral scholar Amy Pickering and Woods Senior Fellows Jenna Davis (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Stephen Luby (Medicine). The story's sidebar, "Coming to a Sprinkler Near You in America, Reused Water on Tap" looks at Woods Senior Fellow Richard Luthy's (Civil and Environmental Engineering) work on ways to increase recycled water use.
  • Close Encounters:” A story on scientists, including Woods Senior Fellows Eric Lambin (Earth Sciences), Michele Barry (Medicine) and Rodolfo Dirzo (Biology), who are combining data from satellite images with studies on the ground to grasp the ecology of disease-bearing pests. 

Woods has supported research related to each of these projects through its Environmental Venture Projects seed grant program.