Warren Distinguished Lecture Series Home

The Warren Distinguished Lecture Series is made possible by a generous, renewing gift by Alice Warren Gaarden in 1961. Since 1989, we have been bringing in accomplished researchers and speakers from around the world to share their work with students, faculty, and friends of CEGE. Please join us for these lectures!

Upcoming Warren Lectures

December 2     **Cancelled:  No lecture on Dec. 2**
December 9     Sarah Billington, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford
December 16   Mary Armstrong, Environmental Science and Environmental Studies, Lafayette (online only)

Hybrid Physical and Digital Spaces for Enhanced Sustainability and Wellbeing

Hybrid Physical + Digital Spaces for Enhanced Sustainability and Wellbeing
a Warren Distinguished Lecture with
Sarah Billington
Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University

"A scientific approach to designing buildings for wellbeing" 
see the full abstract

Past Warren Lectures

CO2 Removal from Air and Permanent Solid Storage

"Carbon Mineralization for CO2 Removal from Air and Permanent Solid Storage"
Peter Kelemen
Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University

Smart Learning Pilot for Electric Vehicles

Future sustainable transportation systems will be automated, connected, and electrified. Transition to this new system requires completely new paradigms for smart infrastructure built upon data, control, and optimization. In this talk, Moura highlights SlrpEV (Smart LeaRning Research Pilot for Electric Vehicles) – a novel cyber-physical and human system research platform. SlrpEV seeks to resolve critical obstacles for public and workplace EV charging stations via novel pricing and power scheduling that learns and adapts to user preferences to minimize costs and emissions, and increase accessibility. Moura closes with broad perspectives on building a smart transportation and energy infrastructure that advances both sustainability and equity.

Career Panel at the Warren Lecture

Panelists talk about their experiences and advice for those beginning an engineer career

Forensic Engineering Lessons from the Linea 12 Mexico City and Fern Hollow Bridge Collapse

"Forensic Engineering Lessons from the Linea 12 Mexico City and Fern Hollow Bridge Collapse" 
A Warren Distinguished Lecture with Roberto Leon, Virginia Tech

Read the abstract and author's biography

Physics to Machine Learning and Machine Learning Back to Physics - A Warren Lecture

Pierre Gentine
Earth and Environmental Engineering & Earth and Environmental Sciences
Columbia University

ABSTRACT: Over the last couple of years, we have witnessed an explosion in the use of machine learning for Earth system science application ranging from Earth monitoring to modeling. Machine learning has shown tremendous success in emulating complex physics such as atmospheric convection or terrestrial carbon and water fluxes using satellite or high-fidelity simulations in a supervised framework. However, machine learning, especially deep learning, is opaque (the so-called black box issue) and thus a question remains: what (new) understanding have we really developed? 

I will here illustrate the value of lower dimensional, latent, representations to build new physical understanding of complex physical systems using machine learning. I will present several examples where machine learning and physics can advance together our understanding of complex physical systems and highlight the emergent behavior of the system. 

We will start with the example of  convective organization (i.e. the spatial organization of clouds) and their impact on precipitation, and will discuss new strategies for the terrestrial carbon and water cycles, where new physics can be learnt implicitly by building hybrid (machine learning+physics) models.  We will finally show next causal strategies going beyond standard correlations so that we can build more trustworthy and explainable algorithms. 

BIO: Pierre Gentine is the Maurice Ewing and J. Lamar Worzel professor of geophysics in the departments of Earth and Environmental Engineering and Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. He studies the terrestrial water and carbon cycles and their changes with climate change. Pierre Gentine is recipient of the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA and Department of energy (DOE) early career awards, as well as the American Geophysical Union Global Environmental Changes Early Career, Macelwane medal and American Meteorological Society Meisinger award. He is the director of the new NSF Science and Technology Center (STC) for Learning the Earth with Artificial intelligence and Physics (LEAP), the largest funding mechanism of the NSF. 

Hydrology in the Digital Age — A Warren Lecture with Laurel Larsen

Comparative and Placed-based Hydrology in the Digital Age: Building understanding, promoting inclusivity, and forecasting the future

Laurel Larsen
Geography and Civil and Environmental Engineering
University California Berkeley

ABSTRACT: Hydrologic studies and forecasts have traditionally been place-based, focused on a single watershed or hydrologic region. For this reason, it has often been pointed out that the discipline of hydrology lacks a general theory or set of organizational principles, with a primary disadvantage being difficulty in making predictions for regions without a long-term data record (also known as the PUB, or Prediction in Ungauged Basins, challenge). With the recent proliferation of environmental “big data,” coupled with the rapidly advancing field of data science, opportunities abound to advance the subdiscipline of comparative hydrology—investigations that span many watersheds—and make progress on the challenge of PUB. In this talk I will discuss how the Environmental Systems Dynamics Laboratory is addressing challenges of data curation, using tools from information theory to understand functional classes of behavior that watersheds exhibit, and advancing the integration of physically based and data-driven models to forecast streamflow across the scale of the coterminous United States. Much of the success of this work depends on the Open Science movement and the hydrologic science community’s adoption of principles of transparency, reproducibility, and accessibility. In the second part of the talk, I will explore how these principles are also transforming place-based hydrology, with a case-study focus on the Sacramento—San Joaquin Delta. I will argue that an inclusive shared visioning approach, enabled by technological advances and the Open Science movement, can help transition the science and governance community to one that is well equipped to manage the Delta in the face of rapid climate change. 

BIO: Dr. Laurel Larsen is an Associate Professor at UC Berkeley with appointments in the Departments of Geography and Civil and Environmental Engineering. For 2020-2023, she is on leave to serve as the Delta Lead Scientist, a USGS position housed within the Delta Stewardship Council in Sacramento. Dr. Larsen runs the Environmental Systems Dynamics Laboratory at Berkeley, which has a focus on understanding the interactions and feedback among the physical, biological, and social variables constituting ecosystems, and to apply that understanding to restoration and management challenges. Dr. Larsen has a bachelor's degree from Washington University in St. Louis, with dual majors in Systems Science and Mathematics and Environmental Studies, a master's degree from Washington University in Earth and Planetary Sciences, and a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder in Civil and Environmental Engineering. She has worked in the Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, coastal Louisiana, and most recently, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. 


Chemical Exposures: Novel Approaches for the Identification of Toxic Organic Chemicals in Complex Mixtures 

Carsten Prasse
Environmental Health and Engineering
Johns Hopkins University

ABSTRACT:  Exposures to anthropogenic chemicals are a key contributor to the human “exposome”, or the sum of environmental stressors that shape and determine health outcomes. In addition to more 85,000 chemicals in commercial use today, we are exposed to thousands of chemicals formed when anthropogenic and natural organic compounds degrade in the environment and/or engineered systems. Frequently it is exposure to a complex mixture of chemicals that results in additive, adverse health effects. However, engineered systems for human and environmental health protection–like drinking water and wastewater treatment–rely on chemical-by-chemical assessments and regulations that rarely consider complex mixtures. Moreover, approaches that help prioritize identification and treatment of the most toxic chemicals are widely missing. As a result, adverse environmental and human health outcomes, unintended consequences of engineered treatment solutions, and inadequate regulations only become evident years after populations have been exposed. If we want to address this issue, we need to develop approaches that help us identify those chemicals that are of highest concern for human health and the environment. In this seminar, I will discuss the development and application of a novel analytical approach, called reactivity-directed analysis (RDA), which can be used to identify and prioritize those compounds that are of particular health concern. RDA combines approaches from analytical chemistry, molecular toxicology, data science, and environmental engineering to detect and identify toxic organic electrophiles, the largest class of known toxicants. RDA provides a new framework for identifying toxic byproducts and their precursors that can be used to optimize engineered treatment systems and minimize risks from toxic byproducts.

BIO:  Carsten Prasse, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering in the Johns Hopkins Whitening School of Engineering and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Carsten received his Master’s degree in Environmental Sciences from the University of Bayreuth, Germany in 2008. In 2012 he obtained his PhD in Chemistry at the Federal Institute of Hydrology in Koblenz, Germany, under the guidance of Dr. Thomas Ternes for which he was honored with the dissertation award of the German Water Chemistry Society. After completing postdoctoral work at the Federal Institute of Hydrology and the University of California at Berkeley (research group of Dr. David Sedlak), he joined Johns Hopkins University in 2018.

Resilient Infrastructure: a Warren & Dexter Lecture with Constantin Christopoulos

Why We Need to Redefine Our Infrastructure Design Focus towards Resilience and a Few Examples of Novel Seismic Resilient Systems

Constantin Christopoulos, Ph.D., P.Eng. is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Seismic Resilience of Infrastructure and Director of Structural Testing Facilities, at the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering, University of Toronto. He is also the Associate Editor, Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering.

ABSTRACT: Protecting our infrastructure is fundamentally important to public safety and to all sectors of our economy. Even if loss of life is averted when designing structures following modern codes, major catastrophic events such as earthquakes or hurricanes, may produce significant damage, economic loss, and place major strains on entire nations’ well-being. To address this challenge engineers are evolving their traditional methods of designing “safe” structures to achieving more “resilient” ones; the ultimate goal being to design and build a new generation of infrastructure that remains damageless and fully functional even after major disasters.

In this presentation, an overview of emerging broader risk and resilience analysis and decision-making frameworks will be presented to emphasize the benefits of our design focus shifting towards resilience. The presentation will then provide an overview of structural engineering research over the past 20 years at the University of Toronto that has been aimed at defining and validating a new set of systems that can provide the structural performance that is required in order to achieve resilience goals. The presentation will focus primarily on steel structures, but, given the limited damage that structural elements sustain in these systems, the findings are also applicable to structures constructed using numerous available materials. This research includes large-scale experimental and numerical research and discussions on design aspects. Finally, the presentation concludes with a discussion on how the implementation of these technologies, which has been lackadaisical at best in North America, can be accelerated to achieve a timely mass implementation of resilient structural systems.

Constantin Christopoulos is a Professor in the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering at the University of Toronto. He completed his undergraduate and Maters degrees at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and his Ph.D. at the University of California at San Diego before joining U of T. He is the author of more than 150 technical papers, of two textbooks that are used in graduate courses in numerous countries, and named as an inventor in more than 40 international patents.  

Dr. Christopoulos is an associate member of the CSA-S16 Canadian Steel Code Committee, has been involved in a number of high-profile consulting projects involving the implementation of supplemental damping devices in structures, and has presented numerous lectures on advanced seismic engineering and damping systems with an emphasis on high-performance systems throughout the world.

Over the past 20 years, his research has pioneered the development and implementation of novel resilient self-centering structures. His team has also developed advanced damping technologies for both wind and seismic protection of high-rise buildings. He has also supervised research over the past decade on the use of cast steel in seismic engineering applications, which has led to numerous innovations. Professor Christopoulos has also been active in transferring research into practice through startup companies that he has co-founded with his former students.

Three Minute Thesis Contest

ABSTRACT: An 80,000 word Ph.D. thesis would take 9 hours to present. Their time limit... 3 minutes. The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition celebrates the exciting research conducted by graduate students in CEGE. The 3MT competition cultivates students’ academic, presentation, and research communication skills. The competition supports graduate student capacity to effectively explain their research in three minutes, in a language appropriate to a non-specialist audience. The (in-person & online) audience will determine the winner in an online vote. Bring your cell phone or laptop to vote! The winner and runner-up will represent our department at the college level 3MT completion on October 20th.

Featuring: CEGE graduate students from all research areas in the department

Advancing Predictions of Ecosystem Responses - a Warren Lecture with Xue Feng

Advancing Predictions of Ecosystem Responses through Ecohydrological Feedbacks

Abstract: Many ecosystems around the world are increasingly affected by climate change. The lifeforms within those ecosystems take up, store, and use carbon for growth and maintenance, such as plants that photosynthesize, or microbes that decompose soil carbon. Importantly, their metabolism and function are controlled by water. As a result, the ecohydrological processes that make water accessible to these lifeforms will not only control ecosystem responses, but also their contributions to climate change, by regulating how much carbon is released back into the atmosphere as greenhouse gasses.

My research group aims to quantitatively uncover how water shapes ecosystem response to climate change and use this knowledge to advance Earth system and watershed predictions. Understanding water-carbon interactions at the ecosystem scale is complicated by the variability of water across multiple timescales and the nonlinear responses to water across multiple spatial scales. In this presentation, I elaborate on our work in three contexts: (i) the hydrological controls on peatland carbon emissions, (ii) plant hydraulic regulation and forest responses to drought, and (iii) vegetation impacts on urban hydrology. Using statistical, computational, observational, and analytical tools, our work has shed light on ecohydrological feedbacks at local scales and improved carbon and water flux predictions at ecosystem scales.

Xue Feng is a McKnight Land-Grant Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering, University of Minnesota. Feng conducts research at the Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory.