The Azimuth Project
Graduate programs


This should become a page that helps people find graduate programs related to environmental issues.

Physics and environmental issues

On the Azimuth Blog, Blake Pollard wrote:

Though my passion is physics, most of my undergraduate research has been in climate and sustainability. I would really like to find a graduate program enabling me to do both physics and something useful for the environmental movement, hence I haven’t committed to a Ph.D. program in pure physics. [] Your blog served me well as a guidepost in my early college years for reading good stuff, and I would appreciate any advice you have on:

1) graduate programs where I could do work on both mathematical physics and the environment

2) good people/places/projects that I could participate in in the coming year.

The Azimuth Project web resources have already been helpful in finding people to reach out to, but I figured you might have something or someone popping out of your head in particular.

I have programming experience in data mining, numerical simulations, remote sensing, and just having fun programming; decent math/physics background; and really just want to find a good place where good people are working hard. Like Göttingen way back in the day.

Nathan Urban replied:

The Center for Atmospheric and Ocean Science at the Courant Institute (NYU) is strong in mathematical physics, and has people who do atmosphere/ocean fluid dynamics, stochastic dynamics, multiscale modeling, and glacier mechanics. Check out their faculty and research pages. It could be a strong all-around option.

Last year the UCLA Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM) hosted an extended workshop, Model and Data Hierarchies for Simulating and Understanding Climate. I didn’t attend, but there were a lot of mathematical physicists participating (mostly in numerical analysis and stochastic dynamics/statistical physics). It might be worth looking through the list to see if any institutions stand out (e.g., as being well represented).

If UK or other European programs are of interest, one could look at the participants of the Mathematical and Statistical Approaches to Climate Modelling and Prediction workshop in Cambridge, which I did attend. Many of the participants were statisticians, but there was a strong contingent of statistical physicists working on stochastic dynamics; see the particpants of the Stochastic Methods in Climate Modelling sub-workshop.

Another approach would be to pick a topic area and find out who’s good in that field and where they are.

Another person suggested looking at:

Phillip Staniczenko wrote:

Ecology is a fun area to apply physics-based techniques: with larger and more complex data sets emerging, the field is crying out for better analytical approaches (both for modelling ecosystems and for extracting information from data).

The Oxford group (CABDYN) is excellent for more general research on networks (lots of “former” physicists and mathematicians working there on a variety of problems). But, common with most Universities in the UK, there is no explicit graduate program.

I’m now in a fantastic group at the University of Chicago (based in Ecol & Evo) that comprises theoreticians from a range of backgrounds (physics, comp sci, stats). Our focus is theoretical community ecology (food webs, population dynamics and general analytical methods) than climate or species-specific work, but we also do more general network theory. (And there is the excellent NICO research cluster at Northwestern nearby.)

The graduate programs at UChi are supposedly very good and I’m sure you could cherry-pick courses from different departments (UChi has a very good math and stats dept, and [of course] physics dept). There are also good opportunities for doing research very quickly in my group–we have undergrads getting first-author papers into good journals. There’s a PhD candidate in the group who is happily taking courses in eco and stats and the group head teaches a nice theoretical ecology course.

Phillip Staniczenko referred to CABDYN. That stands for “Complex Agent-Based Dynamic Networks” – it’s highly interdisciplinary program which, true to its name, is part of a network of groups, including the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society at the Saïd Business School, the Oxford Complex Systems Group in the Physics Department, and the Nuffield Network of Network Researchers (NNNR) at Nuffield College.

Oxford has a lot of institutes and programs related to climate change, renewable energy and the like. This page has links to all these:

21st Century Ocean Institute

Biodiversity Institute

Institute for Carbon and Energy Reduction in Transport

Institute for Science, Innovation and Society

Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests

Oxford Geoengineering Programme

Plants for the 21st Century Institute

Programme in Nuclear and Energy Materials

Programme on Globalising Tidal Power Generation

Programme on Modelling and Predicting Climate

Programme on Solar Energy: Organic Photovoltaics

The Programme on Modelling and Predicting Climate is run by Tim Palmer, who was interviewed Azimuth.

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