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BIG IDEAS

  • How to Think About the Largest Things that We Build

    Cities are the largest technological artifacts that we build.  We can see them from space.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, we call the things that we build which can’t be seen with the naked eye “nanotechnology.” But we don’t have a name for the largest things we build other than “cities.”  “City” is useful as a name because we all know what is meant when the word “city” is used even though formal definitions are surprisingly vague and inadequate. We understand a city as a very large permanent human settlement comprised of all the built, natural, human, political, and economic elements within its borders; however, we don’t really understand how the mechanical and technological systems of cities function together.  How can it be that we don’t understand how cities work when we design, build, operate, maintain, and inhabit them?  We are just beginning to explore the answers to this question.  One of the things that we are learning is that it will be useful to distinguish between what we understand as a city, which includes all of the human elements, and the underlying technological artifacts that facilitate the feasibility of cities. Perhaps a better name for humanity’s largest artifacts, such as cities, would be “gigatechnology.”

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Core Research Areas

Food/Water/Ecology Nexus Graphic with text overlay, "Infrastructure Ecology."
Clear, blue water being poured, with text overlay, "Provision of Clean Water."
Engineering lab scene with text overlay, "Sustainable Engineering Education."
Image of solar panels with wind generators in the background with text, "Sustainable Energy."
View of melting polar ice from high altitude with text, "Climate Change."
Hazy view of Atlanta skyline with text overlay, "Air Quality."
Electron micrograph of a nano material with text overlay, "Nanotechnology."
Diagram of how the synergy of green infrastructure elements lead to greater sustainability with text overlay, "BBISS Research Projects."

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