On Nov. 16, the University announced the establishment of the Thomas A. and Currie C. Barron Family Biodiversity Research Challenge Fund to support environmental research on biodiversity.
The fund will be overseen by the recently-renamed High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) and will support individuals or teams conducting research critical to preserving species and ecosystems.
“The Grand Challenge Program within HMEI is structured to provide research grants to Princeton faculty to support cutting-edge research defined broadly within the topical area, in this case Biodiversity,” wrote Michael Celia, Director of HMEI and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, in an email to The Daily Princetonian.
The Grand Challenges program also gives funding priority to faculty projects that include undergraduates and their activities.
The Biodiversity Research Challenge Fund will join five ongoing Grand Challenge areas at HMEI, in climate and energy, water, urban environments, health, and development. HMEI also hopes to develop an additional grand challenge on the topic of food and the environment, according to Celia.
“Collectively, these represent the most pressing environmental issues of the twenty-first century,” Celia wrote, noting that these topic areas are strongly interconnected with each other.
Tom Barron ’74 and Currie Barron have been influential in and supportive of HMEI for many years, particularly in the area of environmental humanities. They previously established a professorship in the humanities and the environment, the Barron Visiting Professorship, and a freshman seminar in environmental writing.
Tom Barron completed a history degree at the University, received a Rhodes scholarship, and studied business and law at Harvard University. He has written more than thirty books and emphasizes the power of narrative in contextualizing human-environment relationships.
In a statement to the ‘Prince’, Barron pointed to the importance of addressing two ongoing severe environmental crises: the worsening perils of climate change and the accelerating extinction of species.
“Our hope is to encourage Princeton to throw its weight behind solving the extinction crisis,” Barron wrote. “In addition to the impact on humans of biodiversity loss,“ he wrote, “as a matter of ethical principle, every creature on Earth has a right to live.”
Barron and Celia both discussed interdisciplinary efforts in the work that is expected to fall under the Biodiversity Research Challenge.
“Princeton has special strengths in bringing together people from many academic disciplines, something that’s essential to solving complex problems,” Barron wrote. “As important as science, engineering, and public policy are to finding solutions to environmental problems, those realms alone are not enough.”
Celia also emphasized the importance of the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering divisions within the University.
“Without these kinds of interconnections and multi-disciplinary contributions, the most critical environmental problems of the 21st century cannot be solved,“ Celia wrote.