Grand Challenges Highlights: Fall/Winter 2009

Carol Peters ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Now in its third year of funding, the Grand Challenges Initiative, administered by PEI in collaboration with the Woodrow Wilson School and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has created a diverse research and scholarship endeavor. Below are a few recent highlights from each of the Grand Challenges:

Energy Grand Challenge

This summer, the Siebel Energy Grand Challenge supported 20 undergraduate student interns who explored energy technology, energy policy and climate science through placements with faculty research labs, NGOs, government agencies and for-profit enterprises. Sara Peters ’11, interned as a science writer at The New York Times where her contributions to Green, Inc. can be found at http://greeninc. and Dmitri Garbuzov ‘10, who interned at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory with Paul Ginoux, Lecturer in Geosciences and Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, focusing on implementing a dynamic parametrization of dry aerosol deposition that could be used for aerosols and various gaseous species based on a previous work. From his work with Dr. Ginoux, Dmitri is planning on publishing an article.

The Siebel Energy Grand Challenge also put much energy into the Oil, Energy, and the Middle East series of lectures and conferences this past year with speakers such as Paul Stevens, Senior Research Fellow (energy) at the Royal Institute of International Affairs who spoke on “The Coming Oil Supply Crunch” and “Ending Dependence: Hard Choices for Oil-Exporting States.” The very popular Ethics and Climate Change Lecture Series continued with its deep exploration of the ethical implications of climate change. One such lecture, “The Ethics of Climate Change,” presented via video conference by Robyn Eckersley, a Professor and Head of Political Science in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, was cited as a strong example of how videoconferencing can enhance faculty use of technology for research and teaching in “It’s Academic,” a blog for and about Princeton University’s use of current technologies.

One of the four University Latsis Prizes for 2009 was given to Elie Bou-Zeid, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Associated Siebel Energy Grand Challenge faculty, on October 5th. He has been recognized for his work done on numerical simulations of the outer layer of the atmosphere. The Latsis Prize is awarded annually on behalf of the Genevabased Latsis Foundation by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and honors the outstanding scientific achievements of a research scientist under the age 40 working in Switzerland.

Catherine Peters, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will be the Acting Director of the Siebel Energy Grand Challenge for the 2009-2010 academic year while Robert Socolow, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is on sabbatical.

The Siebel Energy Grand Challenge “Ethics and Climate Change Lecture Series” attracts thousands on iTunes U, UChannel and YouTube. The spring 2009 Ethics and Climate Change (ECC) Lecture Series appeared on iTunes U, UChannel, and YouTube, and over 10,000 people viewed or downloaded the lectures from these sites. Donna Liu, Director of the UChannel Project at the Woodrow Wilson School, posted the lectures at the series organizer’s request. Liu noted the series even appeared on the front page of iTunes U for a week. According to Liu, from March 15 to April 15, “At least 1,659 ECC lectures were downloaded from iTunes U. This represents about 5% of UChannel’s total downloads from iTunes U for that month.

In addition, 4,000+ ECC lectures have been downloaded directly from the UChannel website since the beginning of this year. We also distribute on YouTube (, and the ECC lectures registered an additional 5,000+ views there.”

Development Grand Challenge

In collaboration with the Health Grand Challenge, the Development Grand Challenge provided funding to support the final year of a project using community-oriented theater and marketing to strengthen HIV/ AIDS prevention and education in Kenya. The project, “Provoking Hope and Preventing HIV/AIDS in Kenya,” is led by Principal Investigator Mahiri Mwita, Lecturer, Comparative Literature (Swahili) and the Program Director of Princeton in Dar es Salaam.

The project sought to identify, recruit, train and engage a theatrical-based educational narrative as the basis for community- wide tailored communication campaigns to engage and empower individuals and rural communities in discussing and solving the threat of HIV/AIDS through local and sustainable solutions. The project replicates and incorporates best practice approaches in Theater for Development, health literacy, and social marketing from Dr. Mwita’s earlier research to mobilize people in rural and low-income communities to overcome taboos, customary practices and values that stigmatize HIV/AIDS, preventing community members from seeking AIDS-preventative services.

On a related note, the Health Grand Challenge Daniel Echelman ’11, was supported by the Health Grand Challenge this summer as he worked with TEARS Group in Kenya. TEARS is an NGO based in Nakuru, Kenya which uses theater as a means of affecting behavior change as it relates to HIV/AIDS and implementation of a breast cancer awareness pilot project.

Health Grand Challenge

Although U.S. local water authorities often treat water supplies with fluoride to promote dental health, another side to the story is that too much fluoride in drinking water can cause irreparable harm. Some 200 million people drink ground water containing levels of fluoride beyond the World Health Organization guidelines. High fluoride levels in drinking water cause fluorosis, which deforms bones and damages teeth.

The Health Grand Challenge funded a two-year project, commencing in the spring of 2009, to study “Endemic Fluorosis in Rural Villages of Northeastern India: Development of a Robust Water Treatment Technology, Field Implementation, and its Health Effects.” Led by Principal Investigator, Peter Jaffe, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Health Grand Challenge and the Woodrow Wilson School’s Center for Health and Well-Being are both providing funding for this crosscutting research. The researchers’ goal is to develop and deploy a simple and robust technology to remove fluoride from drinking water at impoverished villages in India.