Carnegie Mellon University

Environmental Research at CMU

The Steinbrenner Institute offers direct support for research through doctoral fellowships and small grants for research at the undergraduate level.

The institute also helps promote environment-related research across the university. Below is a collection of research centers at CMU.

Members of CAPS are recognized internationally as leaders in the study of air quality and atmospheric chemistry. Members research the behavior of particulate matter in the atmosphere, including emissions, formation, transformation and deposition of particles as well as their climatological and health effects. The Center's goal is to substantially advance the state of knowledge across this spectrum, and to provide both policy-relevant research and to participate directly and actively in the evolution of environmental policy related to particulate matter.

CAPS is conducting a major air quality study in and around the City of Pittsburgh. The study offers a detailed characterization and monitoring of the particulate matter and will quantify the impact of the various sources (transportation, power plants, natural, etc.) of pollution. 

The first center in the nation to focus on the building industry, the Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics (CBPD) is engaged in ground breaking work that investigates the impact of advanced technology on the physical, environmental, and social settings in office buildings and identifies international developments in new high-performance commercial building design.

How much will global temperatures rise in the next 50 years? What about sea level? Will there be more tropical storms and habitat loss? At the Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making (CEDM), researchers are studying the limits in our understanding of climate change and its impacts. They are developing and demonstrating methods to characterize these irreducible uncertainties and creating decision strategies and tools that incorporate such uncertainties. The center's research focuses on the real-world problems confronted by insurance managers who face financial risks from climate change and low-carbon technologies; forest, fisheries and ecosystem managers in the Pacific Northwest and Canada; Arctic-region decision makers trying to balance cultural lifestyles with modern economic development; and electric utility managers facing large capital-investment decisions in the face of climate risks. 


CEINT's vision is to elucidate the relationship between the vast array of nanomaterials and properties to their environmental and human health risks. Graduate students and faculty from seven departments within the Carnegie Institute of Technology and the Mellon College of Science study the occurrences, transport, transformations, fate, and toxicity of engineered nanomaterials in the environment, aiming to understand the potential environmental exposure, biological effects, and ecological consequences. 

The Center for Ethics and Policy is an interdisciplinary program dedicated to applying ethics and political philosophy in real world settings.  Its areas of intellectual activity now include political philosophy and social choice theory, moral theory and methodology as well as the theoretical foundations of Bio-ethics and Research ethics.

The main goals of the Center for Risk Perception and Communication are 1) to bring together researchers interested in studying risk perception and risk communication; 2) to establish a common framework within which these researchers can communicate and collaborate, and 3) to bring our collective expertise to a diverse set of risk-related projects. A common approach shared by much of the research done at this center is the mental models methodology, which facilitates the integration of relevant information into a coherent "expert" model, and provides a robust procedure for the measurement of lay perceptions and the development and evaluation of communications.

The Center for Shared Prosperity is born from efforts to reduce barriers to equitable prosperity in the Pittsburgh region while working to build healthier relationships between institutions and the communities of which they are a part. The initiative works to build long lasting community engaged projects that aim to get rid of the systemic barriers that prevent equity and true shared prosperity in the Pittsburgh region.

The electricity industry in the United States accounts for $250 billion in sales, and demand for electricity is increasing. The industry faces issues which make meeting that demand difficult. These issues include slow rates of technology adoption, a transmission system designed for an earlier era, a hybrid of regulated and deregulated jurisdictions, and incomplete markets. The problems of the electricity industry are inherently interdisciplinary, and the Carnegie Mellon University Electricity Industry Center (CEIC) has merged engineering, economics, risk analysis, decision science to study these challenges. 

The Institute for Green Science is a research, education, and development center creating a holistic approach to sustainability science. The center approaches three problem areas in which green chemists can make major contributions to sustainability. The Institute studies how to make the conversion of solar energy into chemical energy economically feasible, considers how chemical feed stocks may be obtained from renewable sources to reduce our dependence upon fossilized carbon, and finally The Institute focuses on pollution reduction.

The Remaking Cities Institute (RCI) is an urban design research center in the School of Architecture that was created to promote an improved quality of life through place-making and carefully planned economic and community redevelopment. The ability to capture and evaluate the conditions of neighborhoods and regions as well as their ability to deliver the basic tenets of a shared quality of life, and to envision futures that regenerate neighborhoods and regions, is a primary goal of the RCI.

The STUDIO is a center for experimental and interdisciplinary arts in the College of Fine Arts. Founded in 1989, the STUDIO connects artistic enterprises to academic disciplines across the campus, to the community of Pittsburgh and beyond. Work carried out over the years by the STUDIO has included projects incorporating disciplines from cell biology to robotics to neuroscience to imaging technology.

Carnegie Mellon University's Sustainability Initiative is building upon two decades of an engaged effort in support of the broader definition of sustainability afforded by the world's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), also known as the Global Goals.

The Transition Design Institute takes a transdisciplinary approach aimed at addressing the many ‘wicked’ problems confronting 21st century societies: climate change, forced migration, political and social polarization, global pandemics, lack of access to affordable housing/healthcare/education and many others. These problems are interconnected, interdependent and always manifest in place and culture-specific ways. Transition Design argues that new knowledge and skill-sets are required to address these problems, and that their resolution is a strategy for igniting positive, systems-level change and societal transitions toward more sustainable, equitable and desirable long-term futures.

Water QUEST researches pathogens and toxicants in urban water. The center focuses on the environmental sources, fate and treatment of contaminants in urban systems. Water QUEST also develops technology and integrated modeling for application of cyberinfrastructure in environmental systems research and decision-making. These efforts are intended to cultivate a citizenry ready for the challenges of managing urban water systems.

The Western Pennsylvania Brownfields Center (WPBC) at Carnegie Mellon University is no longer active, but its projects and case studies can still be accessed. The WPBC was a resource for local communities and small business and property owners. It served as a vehicle to enhance the growth of brownfields remediation and redevelopment in western Pennsylvania. The center provided access to information and research on previous development efforts, site-specific workshops that bring together national experts and local stakeholders to strategize comprehensive development initiatives for municipalities and small business owners, and education programs for professional practitioners and academics in the field.

The Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University is focused on:

  • Using and delivering the energy we already have far more efficiently
  • Expanding the mix of energy sources in a way that is clean, reliable, affordable and sustainable
  • Creating innovations in energy technologies, regulations and policies