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Researchers aim to build a better future

In The Big Question series, faculty experts reveal what idea, technology or policy in their fields will make the world a better place.

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We hear a lot of doom-and-gloom about the future.

The world will be too hot, too crowded. There will be too few resources and more competition for them.

We asked University of Texas at Austin researchers for the opposite — the ideas, technologies, policies or combinations that will make it possible for the world to be a better place in the future.

The University of Texas at Austin has some of the world’s leading scholars in the fields of biomedicine, sustainability, materials science and global affairs. In this first installment of The Big Question series, six of our experts respond to the question, “What in your field will make the world a better place?”


Joshua Busby on Climate Vulnerability

Joshua Busby is assistant professor of public affairs in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and a fellow in the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service as well as a Crook Distinguished Scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. He has written a book “Moral Movements and Foreign Policy” (2010) and authored studies on international security and climate change.

In his essay, Busby focuses on climate change vulnerability in Africa and how enhanced preparedness could save millions of lives. Busby describes how the Strauss Center’s effort to map trouble spots in Africa can help countries and donors prioritize resources. “Within our grasp already are some tools that could help us prepare for challenges likely to test us in years to come,” Busby writes.

Alan J. Kuperman on Nonviolent Resistance Movements

Alan J. Kuperman, associate professor of public affairs in the LBJ School, teaches courses on global policy studies, is coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project and leads a Pentagon-funded project on Constitutional Design and Conflict Management in Africa.

In his essay, Kuperman says the spread of nonviolent resistance movements could lead to a more peaceful future. He references the “Arab Spring” that began late last year in Tunisia and Egypt as the latest example. “In a matter of weeks, nonviolent protests compelled regime change, the start of constitutional reform, and a path to free and fair elections — at a human cost that in historical terms was extremely low,” he explains.

Rod Ruoff on the Evolution of Materials

Rod Ruoff is a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Cockrell Family Regents Chair in Engineering No. 7. He has founded or co-founded several companies and has other research interests in energy and the environment and inventing new materials and technology.

In his essay, Ruoff explains how new carbon materials will transform the design of buildings, cars, computers, medical devices and more. “While life on earth has been based on carbon, new ways to arrange carbon atoms produce materials that are now at the cusp of a transition from basic science to scaled production that will lead systems and devices in the next several decades with heretofore unattainable performance,” Ruoff writes.

Kara Kockelman on Transportation Innovation

Kara Kockelman is a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering and the William J. Murray Jr. Fellow in Engineering No. 2. She is an expert in transportation engineering and has written research papers on travel demand, traffic safety, traffic flow and energy and greenhouse gas emissions among other topics.

In her essay, Kockelman describes how vehicle sharing and safety technologies will bring meaningful benefits to a sea of travelers. “With population and standards of living rising, associated transportation congestion, energy demands and environmental impacts are serious concerns,” she writes. “In terms of advances that will enhance our future, I am most excited about vehicle sharing, vehicle propulsion and vehicle safety technologies.”

Steven A. Moore on Sustainable Development

Steven A. Moore is the Bartlett Cocke Professor of Architecture and Planning in the School of Architecture, the director of the Graduate Program in Sustainable Design and co-director of the university’s Center for Sustainable Development. He has published several articles on sustainable architecture and teaches courses related to the philosophy, history and application of environmental technology.

In his essay, Moore focuses on affordable housing and says not only does it provide places for people to live, but can also contribute to climate protection. “Most of us tend to think that affordable housing is an ethically necessary but unproductive investment,” Moore writes. “An interdisciplinary group of UT graduate students have, however, demonstrated that homes can be affordable, equitable and contribute to meeting the City of Austin’s aggressive Climate Protection Plan.”

Christine E. Schmidt on Advances in Biomedicine

Christine E. Schmidt is the B.F. Goodrich Endowed Professor in Materials Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering Department of Biomedical Engineering. Her research on nerve regeneration has spanned 10 years, crossed engineering disciplines, garnered a patent and successfully bridged the path from lab to market.

In her essay, Schmidt describes how advances in biomedicine will make the world a better place. “I believe that we will see unimagined advances in biomedicine and health care delivery in the next 10 to 25 years,” she writes. “Biomedicine is one of the most rapidly growing technology industries and biomedical engineering is described as one of the ‘fastest growing careers.'”

Find more University of Texas at Austin faculty experts in our Experts Guide.

What to read next:

  • Critical conditions” — Faculty from the School of Social Work weigh in on what the biggest social concern of our time is. (November 2009)
  • What the future holds” — Faculty from the College of Natural Science answer “Where will science take us in the next 25 years?” (April 2008)



  • The Big Question identity graphics: Dave Holston
  • Photos of Josh Busby, Alan Kuperman, Christine Schmidt : Marsha Miller
  • Photos of Kara Kockelman, Steven Moore: Christina Murrey
  • Photo of Rod Ruoff: Beverly Barrett