The Institute Announces Four Awards for Novel Environmental Research

Allison Carter
Rotunda Photo

The Environmental Institute awarded four grants to UVA faculty studying topics such as environmental impacts of artificial intelligence, equity and sustainability concerns with electric car data storage, low-carbon building design, and hurricane evacuation orders.

From proposals representing projects from multiple disciplines, UVA’s Environmental Institute selected four to award seed funding grants involving faculty and students, each seeking to address environmental challenges through different approaches.

MC Forelle and Jess Reia will research data justice and environmental sustainability as related to electric cars; Mar Hicks and Erik Linstrum will work to develop a history of artificial intelligence’s environmental impacts; Mohamed A. Ismail will host a Ph.D. student to conduct research on sustainable development through low carbon design; and Majid Shafiee-Jood will conduct a comparative analysis of two hurricane evacuations in Florida to advance preparedness understanding.

“These new projects, which the Institute is pleased to support, represent UVA’s commitment to facilitate interdisciplinary teams that will develop solutions which are transformative and have societal impact in the face of some of the toughest climate challenges,” said Karen McGlathery, director of UVA’s Environmental Institute. “These projects are each unique. We are excited to watch how these faculty  develop their projects and impact with this seed funding."

headshots of Forelle and Reia
MC Forelle (left) and Jess Reia received a CoLab grant to study electric cars and data storage issues.

MC Forelle (Engineering) and Jess Reia (Data Science) received a CoLab grant from the Institute to explore issues of data justice in the face of a growing electric car industry.

Electric cars are seen as a solution to reduce carbon emissions, yet they also pose new challenges around data justice and environmental sustainability. Electric cars collect and process data on various aspects of the vehicle, such as driver behavior, engine conditions, and the surrounding environment.

The storage and extraction of that information relies on nonrenewable resources, such as energy-intensive data centers and supercomputers. These create waste and pollution that are often overlooked or externalized by the automotive industry (and the governments that regulate it).

Forelle and Reia will provide a holistic and critical analysis of the environmental and social implications of data-driven electric vehicles and offer policy recommendations that promote data justice and climate resilience.

Learn more about this project here. CoLab grants are awarded biannually to novel interdisciplinary pan-University collaborations focused on climate change research with high potential for societal impact. Learn more about CoLab grants here.

headshots of Mars Hicks and Erik Linstrum
Mar Hick (left) and Erik Linstrum received a Spark grant to capture the history of AI, particularly surrounding sustainability.

Mar Hicks (Data Science) and Erik Linstrum (History) received a Spark grant from the Institute to capture the history (and potential future impacts) of artificial intelligence (AI) on the environment.

While AI is being heralded as a remarkable step forward for society, there are still unanswered questions around the environmental costs of this technology. This interdisciplinary team will compose a history of AI’s environmental impacts which focuses on energy and water use as well as the resources required for the manufacture, sale, and shipping of underlying components. 

Hicks and Linstrum will convene an online public conference and workshop around the issue of AI and environmental impact in the Spring of 2024.

Learn more about this project here. Spark grants are awarded biannually to provide seed funding for the creation of interdisciplinary teams that will go on to conduct solutions-focused research on specific sustainability-related issues. Learn more about Spark funding here.


Ismail headshot
Mohamed A. Ismail received a Rapid grant to help launch a new group at UVA.

Mohamed A. Ismail (Architecture) received a Rapid grant from the Institute to support a Ph.D. student to help launch a new interdisciplinary research group at UVA, the Open Structures Group.

With society growing at an unprecedented rate, urban construction comes with critical ecological consequences. Buildings and construction already account for 36% of global energy use and nearly 40% of carbon dioxide emissions.

The new Open Structures Group works with local industry partners and faculty from multiple disciplines to advance accessible methods for designing and fabricating low-cost, low-carbon building structures. Key to this process is the optimal workflow needed to generate high-performance structural systems, which can be immediately available to building designers worldwide.

headshot of Majid
Majid Shafiee-Jood received a Rapid grant to continue work on hurricane evacuation orders assessments.

Majid Shafiee-Jood (Engineering) received a Rapid grant from the Institute to study the effectiveness of hurricane evacuation orders.

A recently published database of hurricane evacuation orders in the U.S. presented a new statistical methodology to estimate the effectiveness of evacuation orders. With this grant, Shafiee-Jood will build on the opportunity this data set provides.

This project will include a comparative analysis of two hurricanes, Hurricane Ian (2022) and Hurricane Idalia (2023) in Lee County, Florida. Findings will offer critical insights into the complex dynamics between evacuation orders, evacuation decision-making, and hurricane impacts. The intention is to better understand the determinants of evacuation decision-making to improve disaster responses and preparedness plans.

Rapid grants are awarded biannually to support research requiring bridge funding and/or immediate impact funding on a shortened timeline. This includes research on environmental disasters to both inform responses to the ongoing climate-based crises and anticipate future climate-based emergencies. It also includes time-sensitive funding needs for ongoing research aligned with the Institute's mission. Learn more about Rapid grants here.


A committee composed of select UVA faculty reviewed all applications and made final determinations on awards. The deadline for the next round of funding opportunities from UVA’s Environmental Institute is midnight on May 17, 2024. For more information, visit funding opportunities for UVA faculty.