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Academic Research


Researcher: Anabel Ford

Department: Meso-American Research Center
Research: Dr. Anabel Ford works with the Meso-American Research Center and combines archaeological research with traditional Maya knowledge. Her work involves studying patterns of settlement and environment by examining the common human aspects of the ancient Maya civilization that shed light on sustainable farming practices. Much of Dr. Ford's work takes place at the ancient Maya city center of El Pilar, which she has transformed into a living museum and laboratory. Using the landscape as a tool of conservation, Dr. Ford has turned El Pilar into a model of synergy between nature and culture, and her focus on cultural ecology is being applied to benefit of contemporary populations while simultaneously studying the co-evolution of human societies and the environment.


Researcher: Barbara Walker

Department: Marine Science Institute
Research: Barbara Walker’s research focuses on political ecology and human-environment relationships related to marine and coastal resources in California, French Polynesia, and Ghana. In Ghana, her research explores the historical, social, and environmental antecedents of contemporary patterns of marine environmental conservation and use. In French Polynesia, her research addresses disparities among stakeholder perceptions of environmental and climate change and the challenges associated with translating multiple and often opposing perceptions into effective marine management and climate change adaptation policies. In California, Walker studies new alternative seafood marketing arrangements to understand why and how direct marketing programs are adopted by fishermen and whether these marketing arrangements might increase the sustainability of fisheries and coastal communities.


Researcher: Chandra Krintz

Department: Computer Science
Research: Dr. Chandra Krintz, in collaboration with Dr. Rich Wolski, lead the laboratory for Research on Adaptive Computing Environments (the RACELab) at UCSB.  RACELab research focuses on the design and development of computer systems and data analytics that facilitate easy to use decision support for agricultural processes and, in particular, smallholder farmers. They use their research infrastructure, called UCSB SmartFarm, to investigate novel distributed systems that integrate the Internet-of-Things (sensing, actuation, and control), cloud computing, and machine learning to enable farmers to extract actionable insights from their data, to quantify the impact of their decisions and environmental changes, and to identify opportunities for increasing farm productivity sustainably. 


Researcher: Chris Funk

Department: Geography
Research: As a founding member of the UCSB Climate Hazard Group, Dr. Funk's research has focused on drought monitoring, drought prediction, and the evaluation of long-term trends in climate and food security. Recently, Dr. Funk has worked to implement improved methods of monitoring trends and predicting droughts, primarily in Sub-Saharan African communities. This monitoring and predicting is done by using satellites to track precipitation patterns that can be linked to long-term trends. Dr. Funk's research allows African officials to make sustainable decisions concerning community development and future food security.


Researcher: Craig Hawker

Department: Chemistry & Biochemistry/ Institute for Energy Efficiency
Research: As director of the Material Research Lab at UCSB, Dr. Hawker has overseen research that unlocks the valuable polymers held in plastic food packages so as to use them to benefit society. His lab is working to transform polyactide plastics into specialty chemicals commonly used by industrial and food manufacturers. Dr. Hawker's team hopes to recycle plastics into a material equally as valuable and useful.


Researcher: David Cleveland

Department: Environmental Studies
Research: David Cleveland’s research has been on small-scale, sustainable agrifood systems, including human population dynamics, plant breeding and conservation of crop genetic diversity, local and scientific knowledge, and collaboration between farmers and scientists. He has worked with small-scale farmers in West Africa, Mexico, Pakistan, California, and Indian country (Hopi and Zuni). He is currently researching the potential for food system localization and diet change to improve health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote food and climate justice, in Santa Barbara County, in California, and globally. He is a coauthor of a new book, Food Gardens for a Changing World: A resource for growing food for healthy people, communities, and ecosystems (2019) by D Soleri, DA Cleveland and SE Smith.


Researcher: David Lopez Carr

Department: Geography
Research: Dr. Lopez-Carr’s research interests include land use, deforestation, conservation, rural poverty, population, and health. He recently conducted a project to try to understand what was causing rapid land change and urban transition in Ghana. Dr. Lopez-Carr analyzed population and health surveys conducted in the region as part of the project. In Senegal he collaborates on a project attempting to eradicate schistosomiasis while improving health and livelihoods through ecosystem restoration. He additionally researches agricultural intensification in Guatemala and implications for food security and conservation in Latin America.


Researcher: David Tilman

Department: Bren
Research: Professor Tilman's research focuses on the causes, consequences, and conservation of Earth’s biodiversity, and on how managed and natural ecosystems can sustainably meet human needs for food, energy, and ecosystem services. His current research explores ways to use biodiversity as a tool for biofuel production and climate stabilization through carbon sequestration. His work on sustainable agriculture and renewable energy has critically examined the full environmental, energetic and economic costs and benefits of grain crops, of current food-based biofuels, and of biofuels made from diverse mixtures of prairie grasses and other native plants growing on already-degraded lands.


Researcher: Douglas Steigerwald

Department: Economics
Research: Dr. Steigerwald's research focuses on the development and application of frontier methods of econometric and statistical research.  Currently, he is studying the effect of water recycling on water use, how best to develop and implement markets for water, and the role of legalization of cannabis in the reduction of harm to wildlands and wildlife.



Researcher: Hilal Elver

Department: Global and International Studies
Research: Hilal Elver is a Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, part of the UN Human Rights Council. She has presented two reports to the UNHRC, one on the impact of climate change on the right to food and the other on gender and the right to food. She also published two books: Headscarf Controversy: Secularism and Freedom of Religion, and Reimagining Climate Change, which she co-edited. Elver is also recently working on UN Sustainable Development Goals (2030 Agenda), focusing on food systems, food security and nutrition, climate change, and human rights.


Researcher: Hyongsok (Tom) Soh

Department: Mechanical Engineering, Material Engineering
Research: Professor Soh's lab develops advanced biosensors that are highly sensitive and specific with rapid results. Recently, his laboratory pioneered the development of real-time biosensors that can continuously measure specific biomolecules directly in living animals. Their study of integrated biosensors have many applications in medicine, defense, food safety, and environmental monitoring. 


Researcher: Joel Michaelsen

Department: Geography
Research: Dr. Michaelsen's research focuses on analyzing climate variability and climate change using statistical modeling techniques. Along with the members of the Climate Hazards Group (CHG), he has worked on implementing improved methods of monitoring and predicting rainfall variations in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America on seasonal and longer time scales. This monitoring and prediction is done by blending data from satellites, weather stations, and models. The primary objectives of the research are to: 1) provide African officials and relief agencies with early warning of developing drought conditions on seasonal time scales that could increase food insecurity; and 2) determine relationships between rainfall and larger atmospheric circulation and ocean temperature patterns that may help officials adapt rainfed agricultural systems to longer term changes in rainfall regimes associated with global warming.


Researcher: Kim Selkoe

Department: Marine Science Institute
Research: Kim Selkoe is a marine scientist who splits her time between academic research and community work with Santa Barbara fisheries. Her academic projects include advancing scientific tools for ecosystem based management and marine spatial planning, using genetic approaches to understand marine population dynamics and biodiversity, and studying trends in seafood supply. In Santa Barbara, she has consulted with chefs and food service establishments about sourcing local and sustainable seafood, created a Community Supported Fishery program to increase local consumer access to local seafood, and works with the Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara port association and the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce on programs to ensure a thriving and sustainable future for Santa Barbara’s local fisheries.

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Researcher: Kum Kum Bhavnani

Department: Sociology/Women Culture and Development
Research: Dr. Bhavnani's documentary film "Nothing like Chocolate," offers a glimpse into the global chocolate industry, where there are allegations that enslaved children are used to harvest beans on the Ivory Coast, which produces 40% of the world's cacao. "Nothing Like Chocolate" focuses on the Grenada Chocolate Company founded by Mott Green, as well as an independent farmer, Nelice Stewart, who grows organic cacao beans. Green (deceased June 2013) created a worker-owned cooperative which brings profits back to the working shareholders, who include the farmers and all factory workers at the company. The film discusses how solar power and ethical technology can create a sustainable, community-based business, and, therefore, undermine global unethical practices. 


Researcher: Oliver Chadwick

Department: Geography, Environmental Studies
Research: Dr. Chadwick's research relates soils to ecology and earth system science. He has studied how humans prior to the Industrial Revolution and development of industrial nitrogen fixation managed their natural ecosystems and agricultural systems sustainably. He also looks at how humans impact the environment through extracting nutrients from it for agriculture and industry and then, in some cases, concentrating them or spreading them to return them to the natural environment.


Researcher: Stuart Sweeney

Department: Geography
Research: Dr. Sweeney's research interests include applied statistics and spatial analysis, research methodology, demography, economic geography, and development studies. He recently conducted a study that looked at maize, one of the most economically and culturally important crops produced in Mexico. Dr. Sweeney discovered that changes in the production of this crop, caused by increased market integration and changes in irrigated land use, can impact consumption, livelihood, and food security.