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Mark Borsuk on Interdisciplinary Collaboration

“These opportunities have enriched my first two years at Duke tremendously”

Mark Borsuk was quick to embrace opportunities to pursue collaborative research and teaching with his new colleagues after joining the faculty of the Pratt School of Engineering in 2016.

A headshot of a smiling man

The Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering teamed up with faculty from the Law School, Sanford School of Public Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment, and Pratt to explore shared interests in risk analysis, decision-making, and climate change.

He received an Intellectual Community Planning Grant (ICPG) for the Duke Project on Risk and Resilience with Jonathan Wiener, Christine Hendren, Tyler Felgenhauer, Nita Farahany, Buz Waitzkin, and Lori Bennear, and a Research Collaboratory grant on the Decisions, Risks, and Governance of Geoengineering with Wiener, Felgenhauer, Billy Pizer, and Drew Shindell.

Borsuk is also involved in a Bass Connections project, Decisions on Complex Interdisciplinary Problems of Health and Environmental Risk (DECIPHER). Now in its second year and focusing on drinking water quality, the project is currently led by Hendren, Borsuk, Wiener, Ryan Calder, Richard Di Giulio, Priscilla Wald, and graduate student Kathleen Burns. DECIPHER will continue next year with a focus on the risks and benefits of climate geoengineering.

Recently he reflected on some of the impacts of his involvement with these groups. Below are excerpts from his remarks.

External Grant Proposals

The Duke Project on Risk and Resilience ICPG, along with Catalyst funding from the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, led to an NSF Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS) proposal submitted in September 2018.

The Risk ICPG also contributed to an NSF Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI) Year-Long Program Proposal on “Games and Decisions in Risk and Reliability,” which was selected for funding and will start in August 2019.

The Geoengineering Collaboratory is leading to an NSF Decision, Risk, and Management Sciences proposal, which will be submitted in January.

Extending Networks

The Geoengineering Collaboratory led directly to a day-long session at the Society for Risk Analysis Annual Meeting in December 2018. The Duke team proposed, organized, and participated in this session [see part 1 and part 2], which included a number of leading researchers in geoengineering, thus greatly extending the Duke team’s professional network.

Posters on the team’s preliminary geoengineering work were also presented at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Annual Meeting in December 2018, further extending the team’s reach.

The Risk ICPG supported a series of campus-wide events. These included several Risk Watering Holes and Head-to-Head Discussions on issues of risk analysis and policy from diverse perspectives. The events generated a lot of participation, including more than 30 faculty speakers and many more attending faculty, staff, and students.


The Geoengineering Collaboratory has already led to one submitted manuscript and two more in preparation. Two publications are in preparation as a result of the ICPG and Catalyst funding.

Engagement with Students

“The Bass Connections project has opened my eyes to the potential of fully inquiry-based, student-initiated teaching, learning, and research,” Borsuk states. “I have been impressed with students’ ability and ambition in structuring their own experience and drawing on the resources available to them, including faculty mentors, university resources, and community organizations. In addition to being an incredible experience itself, it has also informed the way I teach my more ‘conventional’ classes by identifying new ways to engage students in their own education.”

A poster about climate change and ozone depletion

Borsuk goes on to say, “The Risk ICPG has expanded the interdisciplinary scope of approaches and examples that I have incorporated into the classes I teach, including CEE 201: Uncertainty, Design, and Optimization; EGR 305: Engineering Systems Optimization and Economics; and CEE 690: Risk and Resilience in Engineering.”

To support student networks, the Risk ICPG provided funding support to two students to attend professional meetings and present their risk-related work. The group has also been coordinating with an undergraduate student group interested in organizing a “Risk Hack-a-Thon” in addition to other student activities.

Duke student and postdoc attendance at the Society for Risk Analysis and AGU annual meetings was paid in part from the Geoengineering Collaboratory.

Borsuk concludes, “I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that these seed programs have provided. They have enriched my first two years at Duke tremendously!”

See all current initiatives in the Together Duke academic strategic plan, and learn more about these seed funding opportunities:

  • Research Collaboratories (see RFP for projects in Energy and Water Resources; Race, Religion, and Citizenship; and Population Health, due February 15)

Photos at top: Borsuk (far left) with colleagues at the Society for Risk Analysis annual meeting; Hendren (bottom row at right) and Wiener (far right) with students at the Bass Connections Showcase