125 Stanford Stories

NO. 51

Problem-solving for our planet

Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences tackles tough issues

Given how important mineral resources were in the late 19th century to America’s growth and development, it isn’t surprising that the first professor hired at Stanford, John Casper Branner, was a geologist – who became the university’s second president.

Earth-science studies at Stanford have evolved dramatically since the university’s founding in 1891 as new technologies help scientists better understand Earth’s processes.

Today, the Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences’ scope of research and teaching ranges across a variety of science and engineering disciplines that address issues such as freshwater resources, sustainable agriculture, climate science, energy resources, and the evolution of life and land forms on the planet.

Its faculty and students work to understand Earth in order to secure humanity’s energy future and its food and water security, to find climate solutions, and to reduce natural-disaster risks.

To chart its course over Stanford’s 125 years, the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences identified every word in the title of every PhD dissertation filed by its students since the late 19th century. It collected the most common keywords into a word cloud for each decade. The project reveals not only the focus areas of Stanford scientists, but also the broader trajectory of Earth sciences, energy, and environmental research across the globe.

As the keywords change, they reveal the earth sciences’ evolution from geology to encompassing climate change and sustainability.

Listen to Dean Pamela A. Matson talk about the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences’ sustainability mission.

In 2015, the school and the Precourt Institute for Energy began hosting the Natural Gas Initiative to research interdisciplinary questions about responsible development of natural gas as a fuel supply in the United States and around the world.

In 2014, the school established the O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm for hands-on learning in sustainable agriculture. Watch Stanford Connects participants tour the Educational Farm in May 2016.