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A Tale of Two Institutes

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peter_reich_web.jpgIt's not unusual for university faculty to have multiple affiliations. Less common is to have them 9,000 miles away from each other.

Institute on the Environment resident fellow Peter Reich, a Regents professor and Distinguished McKnight University professor in the University of Minnesota's Department of Forest Resources, recently added a joint affiliation as founding director of the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (HIE) of the University of Western Sydney (yes, as in Sydney, Australia) to his list of titles. For Reich, the distance involved is worth every inch for the opportunity it offers to connect scientists around the globe in the search for knowledge of what we must do to help our planet survive and thrive in the face of human-induced change.

The Hawkesbury institute, which opened last month, is one of the world's most advanced research sites for studying how terrestrial ecosystems respond to environmental change. Reich is helping guide, with two full-time onsite co-directors, the new institute as it grows and develops. His primary role is to "stir the pot" science-wise and cultivate a culture of collaborative team science. He will also use his international connections to draw researchers to HIE for short-term collaboration, permanent employment and everything in between. Research taking place at HIE builds on, complements, and will link with work at University of Minnesota field stations such as Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve and Cloquet Forest Center focused on exploring how ecosystems respond to variations in the composition of the atmosphere.

The logistics of having two offices half a world away from each other may be a bit complicated, but Reich says Skype calls at all hours of night and day help bridge the distance. Moreover, benefits abound in the synergies and insights to be gained as the two institutes work together to understand and mitigate the impacts of global change.

"This is an ambitious, challenging goal," Reich said, "but a crucial one at a time in history when the largest challenges facing society involve learning how to adapt to a warming planet, while at the same time figuring out how to turn down the heat."

To learn more about HIE's research, check out this just-published BBC story and watch the short video here:


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