The aim of this session is to present the latest advances in environmental research that address unprecedented climatic shifts, with far-reaching consequences for planet Earth, and foster cross-disciplinary dialogue on the existential threats facing our planet and its inhabitants.

Key Takeaways

Jonathan Losos: Charles Darwin was wrong about the pace of evolution. When the environment changes, species can evolve very quickly to adapt to their environment. Elizabeth Carlen: Cities are like McDonald’s, each with its own flavor, also affecting wildlife diets. 
Krista Milich: There are opportunities to shift humans’ negative perceptions of wildlife and reduce the potential for harmful human-wildlife interactions that lead to disease transmission and biodiversity loss. Randall Martin: Outdoor PM2.5 is a major risk factor for mortality, yet vast areas of the world have no adequate monitoring. International networks are key to addressing this knowledge gap. Burning of solid fuels drives a large fraction of the PM2.5 burden.
Jay Turner: Air pollution in many regions of Central Asia is severe, but the drivers vary dramatically across the region, and there are knowledge gaps that need to be addressed to inform science-based interventions.Sagnybek Orunbaev: As Central Asia glaciers are melting at record levels, more storage capacity is needed in the mountains (dams and reservoirs) to respond to climate change.
Hongxi Yin, Ian Trivers and Zhifang Wang: Some lessons for St. Louis from China’s Sponge City are to prioritize stormwater management early in the design and development process and to leverage stormwater management designs to enhance urban space, amenities, and increase the wider ecological benefits.
The Environment

The Highlights

From providing clean air to preserving the biodiversity of species, this plenary session, chaired by Daniel Giammar, fostered cross-disciplinary dialogue on the existential threats facing our planet and its inhabitants.

Jonathan Losos, William H. Danforth Distinguished University Professor and director of the Living Earth Collaborative at WashU and Elizabeth Carlen, postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Biology, presented two seed grant-funded projects that deal with how systems are impacted by humans: one exploring urban biodiversity and the other looking into domestic animals becoming feral. Carlen has been exploring how urban pigeons differ from one city to the next, collecting samples in New York City and Hong Kong. Together with collaborators from The University of Melbourne, Losos has been observing feral cats in Australia, demonstrating that darker habitats have darker cats. 

Krista Milich, assistant professor of biological anthropology and Penina Acayo Laker, assistant professor in the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, shared insights from their collaboration with David Tumusiime from Makerere University on human health and wildlife conservation in Uganda. They are working with communities bordering Kibale National Park to co-create solutions that improve perceptions of wildlife, especially red colobus monkeys, to reduce human-wildlife interactions and decrease the potential for zoonotic disease transmission.

Randall Martin, Raymond R. Tucker Distinguished Professor in the McKelvey School of Engineering, discussed the wealth of information collected by the SPARTAN air quality network and the GEOS-Chem Community, which include multiple McDonnell Academy partners. He focused on a theme that connects across these networks – fine particular matter (PM2.5), a leading determinant of longevity. Combining satellite observations with ground-based measurements enables more accurate measurements of PM2.5.

Jay Turner, professor of energy, environmental and chemical engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering, and Sagnybek Orunbaev, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Sustainability and Climate Sciences at the American University of Central Asia, presented the group’s ongoing efforts to better understand air quality in Central Asia and identify knowledge gaps to drive effective air quality management.

Hongxi Yin, Ian Trivers and Zhifang Wang presented a collaboration between WashU’s Sam Fox School and Peking University on improving sustainability of stormwater management, focusing on what St. Louis can learn from China’s Sponge City Initiative. The team explained what makes a Sponge City in China different and how this innovative approach to managing stormwater can be applied in the context of St. Louis.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Hillman Hall, Danforth Campus

The 21st century will be defined by unprecedented climatic shifts, with far-reaching consequences for planet Earth. As the average global temperature continues to rise, we are already witnessing sea level rise, extreme weather, and catastrophic biodiversity loss. From providing clean air to preserving the biodiversity of species, this plenary session will foster cross-disciplinary dialogue on the existential threats facing our planet and its inhabitants.

Plenary SessionThe EnvironmentLocation
7:00 – 7:45amRegistration & Continental BreakfastClark-Fox Forum / Balcony & Caleres Lounge
7:50 – 8:00am Welcome Remarks & Session Introductions
Laura Benoist, Director, McDonnell International Scholars Academy
Clark-Fox Forum
8:05 – 10:30amMODERATOR
Daniel Giammar, McKelvey School of Engineering
Washington University in St. Louis


Biodiversity Challenges & McDonnell Academy Seed Grant Project Insights
Jonathan Losos and Elizabeth Carlen, Washington University in St. Louis

Randall Martin, Washington University St. Louis

Community-based participatory action research for human health and wildlife conservation in Uganda
Krista Milich, Washington University in St. Louis
David Tumusiime, Makerere University

Air Quality in Central Asia
Jay Turner, Washington University in St. Louis
Sagynbek Orunbaev, American University of Central Asia

Improving sustainability of stormwater management through international collaboration and learning: How can St. Louis learn from China’s Sponge City Initiative?
Hongxi Yin and Ian Trivers, Washington University in St. Louis
Zhifang Wang, Peking University

Clark-Fox Forum
10:30 – 11:00amBreakBalcony & Caleres Lounge
11:00am – 12:15pm3MT Competition
Please visit the 3MT page for details
Clark-Fox Forum

Global Research Symposium Workshops: The Environment

Please check back often for updates to available workshops and registration.

The faculty-driven workshops at our symposium offer a unique opportunity for participants to dive deep into specialized topics, guided by renowned experts in their respective fields. These workshops are designed to foster interactive learning, facilitate skill development, and encourage meaningful dialogue among attendees. Join us as we embark on an enriching journey of discovery and growth through our faculty-driven workshops.

Saturday, October 7, 2023 | 2:00 – 4:00 PM

All workshops hosted at the Eric P. Newman Education Center (EPNEC) at Washington University School of Medicine, unless otherwise noted below.

Mobile Tour: Sponge City in St. Louis – Applying a New Stormwater Management Approaches to Broadway South

Led by: Prof. Hongxi Yin & Prof. Ian Trivers, Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Washington University in St. Louis and Prof. Zhifang Wang, College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Peking University.

This workshop is a tour (site visit) to the Broadway South development site (riverfront area south of the Arch grounds) to discuss research into how China’s Sponge City approach to storm-water management can inform infrastructural practices in St. Louis. We will tour the Broadway South site to examine existing conditions, including buildings and current storm-water management infrastructure and discuss the planning and plans for advanced interventions. We may also enter some buildings depending on the status of construction.

This is a walking tour and participants are advised to wear comfortable shoes, weather appropriate clothing, and be prepared for uneven surfaces and other potential small obstacles in a redevelopment setting.

Learning objectives: Participants will learn about the storm-water challenges faced by a legacy city, what applying a Sponge City approach to storm-water management in a new development in this context means, and how it might be implemented.

Site: Selected sites in the Gateway South footprint. We will likely focus on the northern half of the site.

Transportation provided from the EPNEC to the workshop site.