Fellows in the News

The population of Texas today stands at almost 28 million. By 2050, that number is predicted to nearly double to 55 million, with most people clustered in already-dense urban centers like Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin.

Over the next several decades, researchers also project an increase in the frequency and intensity of storms like Hurricane Harvey, as well as more heat, droughts, and floods.

What will happen as twice as many people drive Texas roads, cool their homes, drink the water, wash their clothes, and shower? In the face of a hurricane, how will twice as many people safely evacuate? What if they can't return to their homes?

To help Texas communities become more resilient and better prepared for population growth and climate change, the University of Texas (UT) at Austin undertook a multi-year, interdisciplinary research project called Planet Texas 2050 (PT2050). Launched in January 2018, the initiative brings together more than 100 researchers from more than two dozen disciplines – including archeology, architecture, biology, English, medicine, geology, engineering, and computer science – to conduct new research, launch educational programs, and partner with organizations and community groups throughout the state.

The roots of PT2050 go back to 2016. “Our former University President, Gregory Fenves, introduced an initiative with one overarching mission: break down academic silos and foster research that addresses the toughest questions facing humanity and the world,” said Dave Kramer, PT2050 Program Director.

Using the framework of a grand challenge, the university named the initiative Bridging Barriers. “Grand challenges are a relatively new trend as universities try to figure out how to bridge the gap between interdisciplinary research and societal issues,” Kramer said. However, “Bridging Barriers is unique in that every aspect – from concept to kickoff – has been dreamed and designed by UT researchers and their graduate students. Rather than dictating top-down what priorities researchers should have, we're knitting it together.”

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