Large areas of land are needed to satisfy the food, energy, and water (FEW) needs of an increasingly populated earth. This can lead to challenging land use competition where local FEW needs cannot be met with current land use practice. For instance, in areas where solar energy is produced, standard solar panels can cast large ground shadows on agricultural land throughout the day, which greatly impedes crop growth. An urgent need exists to develop solutions for sustainable FEW systems (SFEWS) where food, energy, and water needs can be met using available land collaboratively rather than competitively. One approach could be to use the entire solar spectrum to maximize resource production from a given land area. Achieving such solutions requires effective interdisciplinary education and training to generate the resources and human capital for leadership for a sustainable solar economy. This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) award to Purdue University and Florida A&M University will form an interdisciplinary traineeship program that will train graduate students in the skills needed to produce sustainable supplies of food, energy and water (FEW) for a more heavily populated earth. The project anticipates training 48 PhD students, including 24 funded trainees, from agronomy, agricultural and biological engineering, electrical and computer engineering, chemical engineering, materials science and engineering, chemistry, and agricultural economics.

The SFEWS project aims to meet food, energy and water management needs locally with local solar energy. Achieving this state requires studying highly complex systems with previously unappreciated interdependencies and then developing innovative solutions by combining basic scientific and technical principles from the diverse fields of agriculture, engineering, and science. Out of many possibilities, solutions will be identified based on their system-wide simplicity, economic impact, and environmental footprint, in light of government policy and social impact. The SFEWS cohorts performing these studies will provide a workforce trained in interdisciplinary skills to identify underlying factors leading to competition for land, to suggest innovative solutions, and then lead in global implementation as researchers, business and industry leaders, policy makers, teachers and entrepreneurs. The new scientific and technical knowledge, unique systems analysis methods, and tools developed from this program will have impact well beyond the SFEWS NRT. This team will develop new interdisciplinary courses and training modules, globally disseminated through vehicles such as Through well-planned diversity recruiting and engagement, the SFEWS NRT will help underrepresented and women students to help forge a sustainable FEW economy. Successful execution of this program will introduce a new paradigm where local FEW needs can increasingly be met with local solar energy for a highly resilient economy, with the U.S. serving as a world leader in sustainably meeting FEW needs.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training. The Traineeship Track is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary research areas, through comprehensive traineeship models that are innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs.

This project is co-funded by the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program. The LSAMP program supports comprehensive, evidence-based, and sustained approaches to broadening participation of students from racial and ethnic groups historically underrepresented in STEM.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Graduate Education (DGE)
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Vinod Lohani
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Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
United States
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