Design and create sustainable materials, technologies, landscapes, and communities
Informed by systems thinking, McGill researchers respond to the challenges of sustaining the life support systems of the planet for now and for future generations with fundamental and applied science that advances renewable materials, energy, agricultural, and transportation systems. Global landscapes provide vital “ecosystem services”—air, water, food, energy, and natural resources but can do so only when they are biologically diverse and maintain their ability to adapt.
By working together across disciplines, McGill researchers are driving the new field of evolutionary cell biology and molecular biodiversity, linking the study of cellular processes to the fitness of organisms faced with rapidly changing environments. Biological diversity and adaptive capacity of landscapes depend on advances in clean technology and renewables along with development of sound environmental policy that involves and impacts multiple stakeholders, jurisdictions, and timescales.
The vast majority of Canadians, and more than half of the global population, live in urban communities. Sustainability challenges of rapid urbanization will mean that cities will be at the forefront of the adoption of technologies and policies that allow humans to thrive while protecting the ecosystem services of global landscapes.
McGill Arctic Ecology Lab study site on Coats Island, Nunavut. Photo courtesy of Kyle Elliot.
The McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative (MSSI) supports researchers from multiple disciplines and Faculties to co-develop projects that move society toward a sustainable model of existence along major research themes such as sustaining landscapes, creating sustainable materials, and adapting urban environments for the future. Integral to the MSSI are emphases on student research opportunities and engagement with stakeholders, including industry, government, non-governmental organizations, and civil society.
Examples of research areas:
Sustainable working landscapes
The study of sustainable working landscapes—land actively used for production of resources, such as food, fish, and forest products—is an active area of research at McGill. Historically, the focus in working landscapes has been on the cheap, reliable, and efficient production of individual ecosystem services, such as food, energy, or timber. Sustainability-focused research in this area provides an understanding of how human activities and social-ecological dynamics can alter productive landscapes, affect biodiversity and the provision of a suite of interconnected ecosystem services across a range of scenarios.
Northern, arctic and circumpolar
Northern, arctic, and circumpolar researchers at McGill study Northern systems from a combination of physical, social, and health perspectives. McGill’s approach to Northern research emphasizes university-community partnerships dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of Northern landscapes, community well-being, and environmental sustainability. Northern researchers at McGill focus on a diverse, interrelated set of issues, from infectious and zoonotic disease, mental health, housing, Indigenous food systems and food security, through to arctic contaminants, the cryosphere, biogeochemical cycles, climate change, and sustainable mining.
External resource: National Inuit Strategy on Research
Precision agriculture science
Precision agriculture science is a transdisciplinary area of research that relies on emerging technologies to improve the efficiency of modern agricultural production systems and reduce their negative effects on the environment. This research focuses on the development of new soil and plant sensing technologies, the integration of multiple spatial and temporal data sources to enhance farm management, and the implementation of automated solutions to increase farm efficiency. The resource optimization from precision agriculture leads to increased farm yield, maximized profitability, improved food quality, farming sustainability, and climate adaptability of farmland, with the ultimate aim of addressing global food security.
Green chemistry replaces critical chemicals and processes with cleaner, more sustainable alternatives. These alternatives underlie the transition to sustainable resource utilization (energy and materials)— enabling new methods for clean resource extraction and harvesting, utilization, and reutilization. Our researchers focus on the discovery of new, “benign-by-design” catalytic and solvent-free chemical processes to make functional molecules, advanced materials including polymers, and nanomaterials, as well as the creation of novel highly functional materials, such as semiconductors for solar cells, electrodes for batteries, membranes for water desalination/purification, and much more.