Bakshi earns two NSF 2026 Idea Machine competition awards


The National Science Foundation announced that it is advancing 25 projects to further develop themes that emerged from from its 2026 Idea Machine competition to help set the U.S. agenda for fundamental research in science and engineering, including two led by Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Bhavik Bakshi. 


Nature and Technology: A Synergistic Design for a Waste-Free World
Bakshi will collaborate with Assistant Professor Joel Paulson and Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering Professor Gil Bohrer to research the ecological capacity to provide goods and services in the face of demands imposed by a technological society. The project will receive $300,000 in funding for two years beginning January 1, 2021.

To meet sustainability goals, most engineers design and operate manufacturing processes to minimize resource use and emissions, but they may not account for—as an example—the capacity of a watershed to provide fresh water to all users (including non-human users) or of the atmosphere to absorb emitted CO2. Similarly, economists may exclude consideration of the impact on ecosystems.

The vision of this research is that through appropriate design, human activities can explicitly account for the provisions supplied by ecosystems, and can be designed to respect ecosystem limits while contributing to human well-being.

The research seeks to provide a framework for designing industries and ecosystems simultaneously to operate in a mutually beneficial or synergistic manner. The resulting "techno-ecological synergies" (TES) will rely on designing ecosystems of the future to enrich the Idea Machine winning entries of a "World without Waste," and "Large Landscape Resilience by Design." As a test case, the developed TES approach will be applied to a power plant near Cincinnati and vegetation on the surrounding landscape.

Forming a Convergent Vision for a Sustainable World Without Waste
Bakshi's second project envisions a zero-waste world that is economically feasible, socially desirable and environmentally viable. To identify the issues involved with transcending boundaries and moving towards deeply convergent research approaches, a series of workshops will be held that bring together a diverse group of stakeholders including academia, industry, government and non-governmental organizations. 

The multidisciplinary teams will explore integration of knowledge, methods, models, and data necessary for creating and evaluating potential solutions. Co-creation of knowledge with stakeholder input will inform novel business models, engagement approaches, policy options, and innovative technical and science-based advances toward a sustainable world without waste. The project received a one-year grant of $100,000 to begin work in September 2020.

Education curricula will be developed for a Masters program that will train students to work toward achieving a world without waste, and a new section will be established as part of the International Society for Industrial Ecology to foster growth and meeting challenges in attaining the goal.

Co-PIs include Agricultural, Development and Environmental Economics Professor Elena Irwin, University of Illinois Assistant Professor Thomas Theis, MIT Professor Timothy Gutowski, Georgia Technical Institute Anderson-Interface Professor Valerie Thomas, University of Kentucky Professor Dusan Sekulic, University of Pittsburgh Professor Melissa Bilec, and University of Maine Associate Professor Cynthia Isenhour.

Bakshi is the only principal investigator who received two NSF 2026 project awards. He also recently received a highly-competitive National Science Foundation Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) grant for work to eliminate end-of-life plastics.


by Wenda Williamson, William G. Lowrie Dept. of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering