NSF Research Traineeship Data-Driven Sustainable Engineering for a Circular Economy

OUR MISSION. Our team of dedicated scholars, teachers and students come together from three schools at WPI, School of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering, and the Robert A. Foisie School of Business, driven by one common vision of a sustainable environment and well-being of our society. This vision of the “Circular Economy and Data Analytics Engineering Research for Sustainability” (CEDAR) drives us to build partnerships between WPI, industry, science and engineering communities, as well as the general public to collaboratively tackle thorny sustainability challenges plaguing our society by applying data science driven techniques to solve science and engineering problems.

THE PAST TO BE OVERCOME. For centuries, we have followed an unsustainable take-make-waste economic model that relies on the irreversible conversion of non-renewable raw materials where harmful wastes are co-produced, either during manufacturing or disposal. We must overcome the fallout from this linear economic model that leads to environmental and health problems: global climate change due to waste CO2 emissions, toxic algae blooms from agricultural fertilizer runoff, and marine microplastics that threaten wildlife and human health, long-lingering costs on our society contributes to widespread social disparity and injustice.

OUR VISION OF A BRIGHT FUTURE. Our vision is thus to build a new model, termed the circular economy, to move into a green economy that maximizes the use of renewable materials, maximizes the efficiency of the processes that convert raw materials into products, upcycles waste into valuable byproducts ( “waste as a resource to generate value”) and minimizes the harm of irreducible waste streams (“benign by design”). The net effect is a more equitable society with improved health outcomes for all and sustainable stewardship of our environmental resources.

We plan to train a total of 120 graduate students over 5 years, including awards of 30 NRT-funded fellowships for Ph.D. – level trainees. We aim to recruit and retain a diverse group of trainees. Students in disciplines from chemical sciences (chemistry, biology, physics, engineering) to data sciences (computing, business analytics, statistics, mathematics) with convergent research focus on the advancement of circular economies are welcome to apply. Any student can apply to participate in this traineeship. Selectively, Ph.D. students that are U.S. citizens or U.S. legal residents can apply to be also funded as NSF NRT fellows by NSF on this project. The program aims to train the next generation of data scientists who are passionate about a sustainable future that will lead to improved outcomes for all, especially vulnerable populations.

TRAINEESHIP OPPORTUNITY. We provide one integrated traineeship model with innovative components including training technical skills, convergence CEDAR research seminars and experiential learning. We also offer professional development opportunities from impact-driven internships to the CEDAR workshop series and industrial projects.

To drive change, our trainees understand the implications of their work from scientific, social justice, economic, and environmental perspectives. We will foster effective communication and collaboration between scientific experts, business leaders, policymakers, technical managers, and the lay public. This way our trainees are ready to advocate the importance of their work using modern advocacy tools including social media, youtube videos, and other means to reach the general public and policymakers.

Let us all work together to make the world a sustainable place we all call home now and into the future.