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Mapping the Structure and Evolution of Sustainability Science Research

2008-08-28

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"Progress in Sustainability Science and Technology is vital for humanity to manage its impact on the planet's life support systems, particularly as human population continues to grow, becomes more urbanized, and changes consumption patterns." [see below]

Katy Börner (SLIS Faculty Member) and colleague Luís M. A. Bettencourt (Santa Fe Institute and Los Alamos National Laboratory), received a grant from the National Science Foundation for $104,197 (January 2009 to December 2010). The grant is a SGER/Collaborative Research award, and the project is titled: "Mapping the Structure and Evolution of Sustainability Science Research."

Excerpts from the grant application:

Summary
A new field of Sustainability Science is emerging that seeks to understand the fundamental character of interactions between nature and human society and to help steer the impact of humanity's needs on the planet's natural resources towards sustainable trajectories (Clark & Dickson, 2003; Kates et al., 2001; NRC, 1999).

Sustainability Science is unified in clear terms by its ultimate goals but occupies an interdisciplinary position among traditional research fields, spanning both science and technology and spreading across disciplines as diverse as agriculture, ecology, oceanography, climate studies, economics, a diverse set of social sciences, energy and materials and several aspects of physics and chemistry. Although Sustainability Science is by now widely discussed in the scientific community, and is beginning to be connected to the political agenda for economic and social development it remains unclear to what extent its many facets are being integrated into a global perspective and whether researchers are utilizing it as a nexus to collaborate across traditional scientific and technological fields.

This project will address such issues by delineating, analyzing, and mapping both basic research and technology on sustainability. Specifically, we will compile a comprehensive dataset of scholarly publications, patents, research grants, policy documents and popular science pieces that together define the integrated knowledge of the field.

Intellectual Merit
Science at the interface of many disciplines, and addressing multiple societal needs is necessarily controversial, as it may become difficult to integrate and prioritize multiple, seemingly disparate efforts. Mapping Sustainability Science and its evolution in time provides a novel approach to understanding cross disciplinary science, in terms of geographical place, social networks, and research themes and techniques. By providing both a map across these different dimensions and a timeline for its evolution we will create novel insights into the emergence of Sustainability Science as a new field of research and new understanding about its academic, industrial, and public drivers.

Broader Impacts
Progress in Sustainability Science and Technology is vital for humanity to manage its impact on the planet's life support systems, particularly as human population continues to grow, becomes more urbanized, and changes consumption patterns. This work will map the current state of sustainability science and technology worldwide and provide actionable insights into its future development. The resulting maps are assumed to be useful for communicating the state of the art as well as to point out challenges and opportunities. They might be extended and adopted as a visual interface into research and practice of Sustainability Science.

Posted August 28, 2008