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Mark Shwartz, News Service (650) 723-9296; e-mail:

Carnegie Institution of Washington launches new ecology department at Stanford

The Carnegie Institution of Washington has chosen Stanford as the site of its new Department of Global Ecology the first scientific research center established by Carnegie in more than 70 years.

"I see it as a very positive partnership," said biologist Chris Field, interim director of the new department. "Stanford has terrific strengths in the interface between global climate change and public policy, as well as solid earth science and ecology. Our goal is to do basic science that takes advantage of dramatically powerful new ecological tools, which can help us understand what's happening to the Earth on a continental and global scale."

The Carnegie Institution in Washington was founded by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie in 1902 to encourage "investigation, research and discovery, and the application of knowledge to the improvement of mankind."

Since the late 1920s, the nonprofit institution has consisted of just five departments: Embryology based in Baltimore; Terrestrial Magnetism and the Geophysical Laboratory in Washington, D.C.; the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, Calif.; and Plant Biology established on the Stanford campus in 1929.

"For the 2002 centennial, Carnegie trustees decided to invest in a sixth department," said Field, a staff scientist with Carnegie's Department of Plant Biology at Stanford, where the new Global Ecology department temporarily will be housed.

 New faculty

In addition to Field, two other Global Ecology faculty members have been appointed: biochemist Joe Berry, currently in Carnegie's Plant Biology department, and Gregory Asner, assistant professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

"Everyone on the Global Ecology faculty will have appointments at Stanford as well," said Field, noting that he and Berry already have courtesy professorships in Stanford's Department of Biological Sciences, where they teach undergraduates and advise doctoral candidates.

Asner will have a courtesy appointment in the university's Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences.

"I think it's a remarkable deal for Stanford and Carnegie," added W. Gary Ernst, professor of geological and environmental sciences at Stanford and a member of the Carnegie Institution's national board of trustees since 1990.

"The overlapping and supporting strengths of the two organizations is very good," Ernst said. "This is a freebie for Stanford because there are many students who will do graduate and postdoctoral work at Carnegie. It's also a freebie for Carnegie because they get all the facilities and resources of Stanford at no extra cost," he added.

"Carnegie's primary obligation is to do frontier science, not teaching, so it can put a lot of resources into one area of research. That's not true of a university. But the fact is that Carnegie's resources are stretched to the max now," Ernst said.

Stanford, he added, "upped the ante with its recent Environmental Initiative," referring to a new cross-campus initiative designed in part to raise the university's visibility as a world leader in environmental research and education.

"We are active participants and strong supporters of the Stanford initiative," said Field, who has collaborated with Stanford researchers on several global climate change studies.


Green building

Stanford has given Carnegie approval to build a new 10,000-square-foot facility on the 7-acre site it currently leases from the university.

"We are trying to make our new home as sustainable and 'green' as possible to reflect the sustainability of the Earth's systems," Field said. "We are looking at using recycled materials, underground temperature modulators, energy-efficient photovoltaics and a whole range of new technologies that will make the building environmentally friendly."

Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2003 and will be financed by the Carnegie Institution and private grants. Field said the Department of Global Ecology hoped to have about five faculty members by then, with a total staff of somewhere between 35 and 50.


By Mark Shwartz

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