Ezra's Round Table / Systems Seminar: Michael Charles (Cornell BEE)


Frank H. T. Rhodes Hall 253


Including People and the Planet in our Systems' Boundaries and Engineering Approaches

Engineering was developed with the perspective that science, mathematics, and technology were tools for controlling nature to benefit mankind. This mindset led to many advancements in how we transform matter and energy to solve problems. However, this mindset centralized humans as the sole beneficiary of engineered solutions and assumed infinite sinks existed external to the boundaries, we drew around systems. Through environmental impacts and other unintended consequences, like climate change, we are understanding the impacts of these assumptions and the importance of broadening our scope in problem solving. Although the idea of sustainability has commonly expanded to include life cycle impacts of production and consumption, techno-centric approaches dominate sustainable design research rather than expanding system boundaries to include non-technological systems, like ecosystems or society. Pursuing solutions with a more holistic mindset presents both exciting opportunities and realistic challenges that we will discuss in this seminar. Further, methodological approaches will be presented for modeling ecosystems as unit operations and developing techno-ecological optimization frameworks which implement land-based solutions in climate action plans and regional air pollution regulation strategies. Previous collaborations and applications will be presented along with the future direction of Dr. Charles' lab which will include integrating community-based input with computational modeling approaches and pursuing community-identified interests and applications.

Michael Charles is a Provost’s New Faculty Fellow and incoming Assistant Professor with the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University. He earned his B.S. in chemical and biomolecular engineering from Cornell University before completing his graduate studies (M.S. and Ph.D.) at The Ohio State University. His research focuses on computational sustainable design, ecological modeling, systems optimization, and community engagement, particularly with Indigenous communities. Broadly, Michael's research incorporates ecosystems within process systems engineering approaches, highlighting opportunities for land-based approaches to meet sustainability targets of industry and institutional activity. He is Diné, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, and is also affiliated with the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program. Along with his research, he works with the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change to advocate for Indigenous rights, leadership, and self-determination within UN Climate Negotiations.