Computational Sustainability: Computational Methods for a Sustainable Environment, Economy, and Society

November 17, 2011
2:50 pm - 4:00 pm
Halligan 111
Speaker: Carla Gomes, Cornell University, Radcliffe Advanced Study Institute


Computational sustainability is a new interdisciplinary research field with the overall goal of developing computational models, methods, and tools to help manage the balance between environmental, economic, and societal needs for sustainable development. The notion of sustainable development --- development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs --- was introduced in Our Common Future, the seminal report of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, published in 1987. In this talk, I will provide an overview of computational sustainability projects at the Institute for Computational Sustainability at Cornell University, with examples ranging from wildlife conservation and biodiversity, to poverty mitigation, to material discovery for fuel cell technology. I will highlight overarching computational challenges at the intersection of constraint optimization, machine learning, and dynamical systems. Finally, I will discuss the need for a new approach that views computational sustainability problems as "natural" phenomena, amenable to a scientific methodology, in which principled experimentation, to explore problem parameter spaces and hidden problem structure, plays as prominent a role as formal analysis.

Bio Carla Gomes is a professor of computer science at Cornell University, with joint appointments in the Department of Computer Science, Department of Information Science, and the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. Gomes is a fellow at the Radcliffe Advanced Study Institute at Harvard University (2011-2012). Gomesís research has covered several themes in artificial intelligence and computer science, from the integration of constraint reasoning, operations research, and machine learning techniques for solving large-scale constraint reasoning and optimization problems, to the use of randomization techniques to improve the performance of exact search methods, algorithm portfolios, multi-agent systems, and game play. Recently, Gomes has become immersed in the establishment of computational sustainability, a new interdisciplinary field that aims to develop computational methods to help balance environmental, economic, and societal needs to support a sustainable future. Gomes has started a number of research projects in biodiversity conservation, poverty mapping, the design of "smart" controls for electric cars, and pattern identification for material discovery (e.g., for fuel cell technology). While at Radcliffe Gomes will look for new collaborations to address challenges in computational sustainability.

Gomes obtained a PhD in computer science in the area of artificial intelligence and operations research from the University of Edinburgh. She also holds an M.Sc. in applied mathematics from the Technical University of Lisbon. Gomes is the lead principal investigator of an award from the National Science Foundation's Expeditions in Computing program, the director of the newly established Institute for Computational Sustainability at Cornell, and a fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.