A new research challenge will bring together faculty to address environmental issues facing Texas

Anna Lassmann

UT-Austin’s first University-wide interdisciplinary research challenge was announced last week by Daniel Jaffe, vice president for research at UT.

The new challenge, Planet Texas 2050: Planning for a Resilient Texas, will look at how rapid urbanization and extreme weather will affect the sustainability of Texas by 2050.

“This initiative, which has been put together by the researchers themselves, allows us to address some important local questions about the future of central Texas at large as these extreme weather events become more frequent and as we rapidly urbanize the area as many more people come into it,” Jaffe said.

The research challenge is funded by the University-wide Bridging Barriers research initiative, which was created last year to unite faculty from all over UT. More than 55 faculty and staff researchers across 14 colleges and schools will be involved in the research challenge.

“The particularly important thing about this is that it brings together people from a wide number of disciplines that are usually not in communication with each other,” said Adam Rabinowitz, Planet Texas organizing committee member.

Faculty submitted research topic proposals to Jaffe and a faculty panel convened to develop one cohesive idea, said Katherine Lieberknecht, Planet Texas organizing committee member.

“We came up with the idea of thinking about interactions between environments and humans, creating knowledge about that interaction and then using that knowledge to develop data-driven strategies to respond to these cases that will be happening in Texas over the next few decades,” Lieberknecht said.

Through the research conducted, members of the Planet Texas research challenge will develop tools and strategies that can be applied in real places, Lieberknecht said.

“(We’re) creating this new knowledge and then figuring out how to apply it by creating strategies and tools for the future,” Lieberknecht said. “The end-point is using this new knowledge and new tools to help Texas reach 2050 with a thriving economy, a healthy environment and fair social outcomes for everyone living here.”

Liberknecht said Texas is a bell-weather state for the issues the researchers will address, meaning it is experiencing several major trends facing the world, such as urbanization, population growth and extreme weather.

“In a way, we have this big state that’s also acting as a microcosm, so we can study the future of Texas and also the U.S. and perhaps the world at large,” Lieberknecht said.