Skip to main content



How the ISEN Community Came Together in 2020

December 15, 2020

The Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) community found creative and ambitious points of connection in 2020. Despite the many challenges presented during the year, faculty forged new research partnerships and led new educational opportunities, students pressed onward with academic and experiential learning, and partner organizations came together to learn and advance shared initiatives.

Highlights from this memorable year can be found here.

Northwestern and Universität Hamburg Partner for First-of-its-Kind Virtual Poster Session on Sustainability

December 15, 2020

An international exchange of ideas on sustainability was on the agenda for two virtual poster sessions jointly organized by Universität Hamburg in Germany and Northwestern University.

Two dozen undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students presented their research and attended fellow student presentations during virtual “fireside chat” poster sessions held on November 10th and November 17th, 2020.  

Read more about this event and presentations here!

Northwestern's ISEN Integrates Multidisciplinary Lab Space for Sustainability Solutions

December 4, 2020

Finding solutions to climate science takes multi-faceted collaboration from physicists, chemists, earth scientists and engineers in several different fields.

The Institute for Sustainability and Energy, or ISEN, at Northwestern is tackling this immense task through such collaborations. The institute launched in 2013 as a way to provide space for different research groups to come together with academic and corporate partners to accelerate advances in technologies, such as more efficient photovoltaics developed with innovative materials.

Read more about it here!


Northwestern Welcomes First Master of Science in Energy and Sustainability Student Cohort

November 20, 2020

This fall, Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Energy and Sustainability (MSES) program welcomed its first cohort of 27 students.

Administered by the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN), MSES is a rigorous 10-month program that prepares students to become versatile leaders in the fields of sustainability and energy.  Graduates earn their degree from the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. 

Learn more here

New Technique Seamlessly Converts Ammonia to Green Hydrogen

November 18, 2020

Northwestern University researchers have developed a highly effective, environmentally friendly method for converting ammonia into hydrogen. Outlined in a recent publication in the journal Joule, the new technique is a major step forward for enabling a zero-pollution, hydrogen-fueled economy.

The idea of using ammonia as a carrier for hydrogen delivery has gained traction in recent years because ammonia is much easier to liquify than hydrogen and is therefore much easier to store and transport. Northwestern’s technological breakthrough overcomes several existing barriers to the production of clean hydrogen from ammonia.

Learn more about the project here!

Graduate School Workshop for EPC Minors Recording

November 13, 2020

On October 30th, EPC hosted a virtual workshop with Tracie Thomas, the Director of Career Development at NU.  The event was designed to help undergraduate students who are considering environmental studies in graduate school but need help navigating programs and options.

The recording for this event is now available here!


Recording for Careers in the Environment Panel

October 30, 2020

Recent graduates working in climate change, ecology and conservation, food and agricultural law and policy, and civic engagement through the environment spoke on a panel for undergraduate students this week! The recording can be found here. Some topics covered were: the experiences these alumni had in college that helped them figure out what they wanted to do post-graduation, how they landed their first job/internship and how that impacted their path, and advice for networking in their industry during these uncertain times.

Speakers included Lauren Wustenberg '15 (Environmental Science and Environmental Policy and Culture): J.D. Candidate & Master’s Student and Student Clinician at the Food & Agriculture Law Clinic at Vermont Law School; Christian Keeve '15 (Environmental Science and African-American Studies): Budding Geographer and AOF Fellow at University of Wisconsin; and Jessie Moravek '16 (Environmental Science): PHD Student at University of California, Berkeley.

Here's the recording again!

Widespread Electric Vehicle Adoption Would Save Billions of Dollars, Thousands of Lives

October 16, 2020

Northwestern University researchers have combined climate modeling with public health data to evaluate the impact of electric vehicles (EVs) on U.S. lives and the economy.

A new study found that if EVs replaced 25% of combustion-engine cars currently on the road, the United States would save approximately $17 billion annually by avoiding damages from climate change and air pollution. In more aggressive scenarios — replacing 75% of cars with EVs and increasing renewable energy generation — savings could reach as much as $70 billion annually. 

Read more about this here!


Northwestern's ICEP Receives $4.5 Million Renewal from the Department of Energy

September 16, 2020

The Institute for Catalysis in Energy Processes (ICEP) at Northwestern received $4.5 million in renewed funding from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Basic Science for a three-year term beginning this September. The funds allow the research center to tackle timely issues in energy production through three united research thrusts centered on selective oxidation catalysis, while offering faculty and students ongoing opportunities to adapt their investigations in response to future discoveries.

Read about it here!

Scientists Tackle Plastic Waste with $12.8M Award from Department of Energy

September 16, 2020

Plastic is everywhere: in our homes, offices, schools. The material is cheap, versatile, lightweight, and durable. In fact, it is so durable that, unlike many other kinds of materials, most types of plastic do not decompose. This raises a host of environmental and human health concerns as plastic particles can drift throughout the environment indefinitely, often travelling up the food chain and ending up on our dinner plates and in our drinking water.    

Now a team of scientists from the multi-institutional Program on Plastics, Ecosystems, and Public Health (PEPH) at the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern University (ISEN) is taking an innovative approach to tackling the challenge of plastic waste. The new initiative, known as the Institute for Cooperative Upcycling of Plastics (iCOUP) and housed at Ames National Laboratory, is made possible by a recent $12.8 million research award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s transformative Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) program.

Read more here!


Experts Highlight Importance of Water Security Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

August 16, 2020

Doctors and epidemiologists have continually emphasized the importance of handwashing during the COVID-19 pandemic, but still people across the globe struggle to access the clean water necessary to keep themselves and their families safe. In Nature and Sustainability, Institute for Policy Research (IPR) anthropologist Sera Young and her co-authors, including former Northwestern study coordinator Josh Miller, urge policymakers to focus on three key areas to ensure better water security. 

Read more about this work here.

Exploring the Unknown: How plastics impact human health

August 16, 2020

Exposure to plastic waste creates a threat to public health that involves a domino effect of environmental hazards. And we are still in the early stages of studying the interplay of how plastic trickles through ecosystems, and just as importantly, how microplastics (plastic fragments measuring less than 5mm in length), can jeopardize human health. 

The Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern University (ISEN) is filling in clues with a network of partners from across academia, industry, and government. ISEN’s Program on Plastics, Ecosystems, and Public Health (PEPH) is working to understand the interplay of environmental issues and develop solutions to problems caused by plastic contaminants as they disperse. The multidisciplinary culture in PEPH is the key to solving the problem. 

See this link for more.

Virtual Seminar Addresses Issues of Plastic Waste in the Environment

August 16, 2020

The infiltration of plastic waste into the environment constitutes a growing challenge for people and ecosystems across the globe, according to experts at a July virtual seminar hosted by the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN). Panelists with expertise in biology, ecology, engineering, and Earth and environmental sciences discussed their research and opportunities with more than 120 scientists and industry experts during the webinar: “How to Track, Measure, and Communicate the Flow of Plastic Waste in the Environment.” The online event was part of a speaker series by the Program on Plastics, Ecosystems, and Public Health (PEPH) at ISEN.

Read more here!


sustainNU's 2018-2019 Year in Review Sustainability Report

March 6, 2020
Check out the report put out by sustainNU that examines how 2018-2019 was for sustainability at Northwestern University! The report can be found here!

NU Thrift—A Student-Run Pop-Up Shop Driven by Sustainability

March 6, 2020

Noticing a lack in affordable second-hand clothes near campus, sophomore Sam Liu had an idea—a student-run thrift shop located on Northwestern’s campus. She approached the Student Enrichment Services office to ask about assistance and was connected to Melissa Batz, another student who had a similar idea. Together they worked on a plan for a permanent space, but they knew it was important to pilot the concept in order to gauge student interest and get feedback.

Near the end of spring quarter 2019, NU Thrift was launched. Boxes were placed around residence halls asking for donations and the pair picked up the clothes. The pop-up shop in Norris ran for a few days, and students were excited about the startup.

“A lot of people came up and just said this is such a great idea; you should keep doing this; I’m so glad you’ve done this,” Liu said.

Sustainability was a driving force behind the idea from the start. Liu noted that the Integrated Solid Waste Management Planfrom sustainNU mentions that Northwestern has no source for recycling textiles. Part of the mission of NU Thrift is to become one of those sources. Liu hopes that NU Thrift helps students think critically about their consumption habits, and that it becomes a permanent space as a resource for low-income students.


Read more about this amazing effort here

Arbor Day Foundation Honors Northwestern University with 2019 Tree Campus USA® Recognition

March 6, 2020

Northwestern University was honored with 2019 Tree Campus USA® recognition by the Arbor Day Foundation for its commitment to effective urban forest management. 
"Tree Campuses and their students set examples for not only their student bodies but the surrounding communities showcasing how trees create a healthier environment,” said Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation. “Because of Northwestern University’s participation air will be purer, water cleaner and your students and faculty will be surrounded by the shade and beauty the trees provide.” 
The Tree Campus USA program honors colleges and universities for effective campus forest management and for engaging staff and students in conservation goals. Northwestern University achieved the title by meeting Tree Campus USA’s five standards, which include maintaining a tree advisory committee, a campus tree-care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program, an Arbor Day observance and student service-learning project. Currently there are 385 campuses across the United States with this recognition.

Read more here!

Green Office Spotlight: Winter 2020

March 6, 2020

The Green Office Program engages faculty and staff in the process of adopting environmental best practices in the workplace. The program offers guidance on conserving energy and water, reducing waste, and increasing environmental awareness on campus. The process empowers all of our faculty and staff to become green leaders, and its success is based on broad engagement and collective impact.

Read here about two new initiatives carried out by the Green Teams at School of Professional Studies Facilities/IT and Pritzker School of Law Facilities as a part of their Green Office Certification efforts!


Partnership Explores Funding Measures for Colorado Water Plan

February 28, 2020

The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental non-profit organization, partnered with the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Environmental Advocacy Center (EAC) at the Bluhm Legal Clinic last semester to pursue an ambitious research project to explore potential opportunities on the Front Range of Colorado to increase funding for the implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan.  

Collaborations and partnerships with prominent organizations such as The Nature Conservancy are routinely facilitated by the Institute of Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN), which works to build connections with partners throughout the university to provide opportunities and resources. Past projects offered through the EAC program and ISEN have included partnerships with global conservation organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, but this particular project was a first-time collaboration between the EAC and The Nature Conservancy.

Read more about the project here!

Research Hub at Northwestern Powers Next-Generation Solar Cell Research

February 21, 2020

Next-generation solar cells might power personal electronics such as watches and backpacks that could recharge your cell phone.

These solar cells are being tested and prototyped in a research hub launched this year by the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern University.

The ISEN research hub, named Glovebox Inert Atmosphere (N2) Thin-film Fabrication and Testing or GIANTFab, allows academic and commercial users to explore new materials for solar cells in a set of connected and airtight glove boxes that eliminate air interference. The goal is to find more efficient alternatives to expensive and rigid silicon solar cells, a game-changer for solar energy.

Read more here!

Team of Researchers Awarded $2.5 Million for Sustainable Plastics Innovation

February 14, 2020

A team of engineers and scientists from Northwestern University, Argonne National Laboratory, and several global industrial partner institutions will receive $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for research toward the development of new sustainable polymers, recycling methods, and environmental impact assessment tools. The collaborative initiative, known as Responsible Innovation for Highly Recyclable Plastics, or “ResIn” for short, will initially focus on polyurethanes—a popular class of polymer used in everything from construction and insulation to furniture and textiles.

“Global production for polyurethanes is about 18 million tons per year with market size in excess of $55 billion. These materials have a wide range of applications, but the reality is that their current recycling rate is zero percent,” says Linda Broadbelt, principal investigator for ResIn and Sarah Rebecca Roland Professor of chemical and biological engineering as well as associate dean for research in engineering at Northwestern.

ResIn’s research could have far-reaching implications for addressing plastic pollution. “The focal point for ResIn is polyurethanes, but the methodology that we’re test-driving could also be applied more broadly to other types of polymers,” Broadbelt says. Scientists estimate that the world produces about 300 million tons of plastic waste per year, with 80 percent ending up in landfills or the environment.

Read more about this amazing project here!

Meet Will Schafer: Vice President of Marketing for Beyond Meat

February 14, 2020

As a Kellogg graduate ('05), Will Schafer learned how to think big picture and recognize system problems, which he applied in his work with Beyond Meat to clarify a cow’s lack of efficiency as a part of the larger meat production system. “We believe by taking the protein that people put at the center of the plate and switching it from traditional animal protein to one that's plant based, you're going to have a huge impact on four major areas,” says Schafer. Those four areas are: human health, climate change, sustainability (in terms of resource conservation), and animal welfare. 

“The Beyond Meat mission is founded on a realization,” Schafer says. “By making meat directly from plants and skipping the cow, this piece of technology, you can actually make a piece of meat that's not only healthier but is way more sustainable.”

Read more about his mission here

Evanston Ecology Center teaches generations about environment

February 6, 2020

Outside, the wind whips trees and snow coats the ground. But the Evanston Ecology Center has brought nature inside, with lizards and turtles and bunnies — oh my! — among the many animals in its classroom. Here, three- and four-year-old students learn about animals’ winter habitats before having the option to see real-life examples during their first lesson of the “Saplings and Oaks” series.

In sunshine or snow, the center offers programs for children and adults to learn about nature. Dedicated in 1974, the center has taught Evanston residents about the environment for more than 45 years, supported by the Evanston Environmental Association.

Read more about their work here!


The Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern Joins the Planetary Health Alliance

January 30, 2020

As 2020 opens the doors to a new decade, the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) shines a spotlight on the connections between global environmental challenges and human health as a new member of the Planetary Health Alliance.

The Planetary Health Alliance is a consortium of over 200 universities, non-governmental organizations, research institutes, and government entities from around the world committed to understanding and addressing global environmental change and its health impacts. 

As a member organization, ISEN will facilitate new opportunities for students and faculty to share Northwestern’s strengths with the global community through research and education, and to interface with members of the organization in new ways. 

Read more here!

From Qubits to Climate Change: Northwestern Quantum Experts See Powerful Potential

January 24, 2020

At Northwestern University, researchers are contributing to the field of quantum computing through the Initiative at Northwestern for Quantum Information Research and Engineering (INQUIRE) — an interdisciplinary consortium harnessing faculty thought leadership from across the University’s top-ranked departments, such as chemistry, materials science, engineering, and physics and astronomy.  An illustrative example of the problem-solving power of quantum computing involves one of the most complex problems facing the world today — climate change.

With quantum computers, researchers could flawlessly model complex molecular systems, leading to the development of new materials for higher efficiency batteries. We could more easily replicate processes like photosynthesis and fertilizer production that effortlessly occur in nature but require tremendous amounts of energy to reproduce in the lab. Worldwide industrial production of nitrogen fertilizer alone emits more greenhouse gases than the entire United Kingdom every year, and more efficient methods would be a game-changer, both for the climate and global economy.

Read more about this amazing work here!

Northwestern to Launch Master’s Degree in Energy and Sustainability

January 17, 2020
Northwestern University will offer a new Master of Science in Energy and Sustainability (MSES) degree beginning in fall 2020. Graduates of the full-time, one-year program will be prepared to navigate the complex intersection of technology, economics, and regulation in the growing industries associated with sustainability and energy innovation and leadership. Read more here!