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New Ideas for a Changing Environment

The Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment announces 2016 Environmental Venture Projects and Realizing Environmental Innovation Program grants.

Six interdisciplinary teams of Stanford researchers will launch new research on environmental problems ranging from the rise of disease spread by mosquitos to the detection of harmful benzene and particulates in the air we breathe with funding from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment’s 2016 Environmental Venture Projects (EVPs) and Realizing Environmental Innovation Program (REIP) grants.

Winners of this year’s grants will investigate methods for encouraging household energy efficiency, controlling transmission of disease, measuring the contribution of climate change to extreme events, detecting harmful chemicals in the air, and more.

Both the EVP and REIP programs foster interdisciplinary collaboration to find new ways to address critical environmental and sustainability challenges. Since inception of the EVP program in 2004 and REIP program in 2015, the Stanford Woods Institute has awarded nearly $12 million in grants to 73 research teams representing all seven of Stanford’s academic schools and working in more than 27 countries. These projects have garnered over $48 million in follow-on funding, magnifying their impact and progress across fields.

“Our EVP and REIP programs encourage Stanford faculty to bring the multiple perspectives needed to create novel solutions and match new approaches to the needs of policymakers and the private market,” said Brian Sharbono, Program Manager for the Stanford Woods Institute. “This year’s awards encompass a wide range of potential solutions to significant challenges to human health and our environment, from improved detection for a known carcinogen to predictive modeling to anticipate climate-related disease transmission.”


Through Stanford Woods Institute’s EVP seed grant program, faculty collaborate across disciplines and address global threats to the environment and sustainability.

The projects selected for funding in 2016 will each receive grants totaling up to $200,000 during the next two years to undertake unique approaches to tackle a range of environmental concerns.

The 2016 EVP Grantees (lead principal investigators in bold):

Exposure to benzene, an air pollutant found in sources like gasoline, cigarette smoke, and many industrial emissions, is associated with adverse health effects including cancer and anemia. However, benzene is not currently measured in a way that assesses people’s exposure levels in their environment, homes and workplaces in real-time. This project will develop a real-time benzene sensor using laser technology and deploy it to measure the concentrations and sources of benzene across California. By successfully deploying and eventually commercializing these sensors, the project will identify and help reduce key sources of benzene in the environment.

Dengue and other Aedes aegypti mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika and chikungunya are serious public health concerns in the world’s tropics. Improved mosquito control could dramatically reduce the prevalence of these diseases, but due to a lack of surveillance data, efforts to reduce mosquitos are currently inefficient and poorly targeted. To promote better understanding of the links between climate, mosquito abundance, and dengue infections, this project will develop improved models that use satellite imagery to predict the climate suitability for dengue transmission.  With this new information, the project can inform current decision-making procedures on where to spend limited resources for mosquito control such as insecticides and help reduce transmission of the disease.

Brick kilns in Bangladesh produce damaging air pollution, accounting for 30-50 percent of particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions, which can cause cardiovascular and respiratory disease and even death. The Bangladesh government has attempted to regulate these kilns, but weak enforcement and underreporting have allowed the kilns to continue to operate. Using satellite remote sensing, this project will collect objective information on the number, type, and location of brick kilns in use across Bangladesh. The data will be disseminated through a publicly available website and used to catalyze a discussion among stakeholders in the public, private, and community sectors to work towards a system of brick manufacturing that is less harmful to human health and the environment.

Climate change and human activities such as hydropower development have created ecological impacts and habitat loss at the Peace-Athabasca Delta in northeastern Alberta, Canada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Exploring the effects of climate change and human activity on one of the planet’s largest inland deltas is critical to understanding, mitigating, and adapting to ecohydrologic changes and preserving biodiversity in this and other parts of the world. This project will combine hydrologic modeling and population dynamics of the muskrat, a semi-aquatic rodent whose abundance is indicative of habitat health, to investigate the impacts of these stressors on the ecosystem. Researchers will also account for impacts by and upon aboriginal peoples’ subsistence and commercial trapping due to changes in muskrat demography.


REIP is designed to designed to help promising research projects that are well-defined and have developed a potential solution approach move from the discovery phase to the solution validation and translation phase of research.  Over the next two years, this year’s projects will each receive $200,000 to help bring promising ideas to fruition.

The 2016 REIP Projects:

The Girls Learning Environment and Energy program (GLEE) studied 30 Girl Scout troops over five years as they utilized specific online learning programs regarding home energy, and food and transportation designed to educate and inform them about their energy usage in daily life. Girls and their parents receiving these programs significantly changed their energy consuming behaviors. This project seeks to translate the results by deploying a business model that will lead to revenue streams and a long-term infrastructure capable of translating the approach into a sustained program of practice in all Girl Scout troops and many other youth-focused organizations nationwide.

The United Nations Paris Agreement highlights the need for governments and communities planning to mitigate and adapt to global climate change to have information on how likely extreme events such as droughts, floods and severe storms are to occur in specific areas given a changing climate. This project will quantify the extent to which historical global warming has altered the probability of extreme events in specific locations, and the extent to which future warming is likely to change those probabilities. Leveraging previous research, the project will develop a generalized analysis tool that shows the influence of different levels of global warming on the severity and likelihood of individual extreme events. The researchers will begin the release of an annual report that evaluates the year’s extreme weather events and the extent to which climate change played a role.

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