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EPA Research: A Year of Innovation

A message from Peter W. Preuss, Ph.D.,
Chief Innovation Officer for EPA’s Office of Research and Development

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For decades, EPA has conducted outstanding research in support of the Agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment. Through those efforts, EPA scientists and engineers have become widely recognized as leaders in the environmental research field.

Building incrementally on that impressive record of achievement, however, will not be enough to meet today’s complex, often far-reaching environmental challenges. Therefore, we must align our science and research efforts toward a new vision focused on sustainability, and built on a foundation of innovation.

To achieve that goal, last year EPA leadership tapped a small team of scientists to form an innovation team. The team was tasked with helping the Agency embrace innovation in all its forms, systematically advancing new ways of thinking and problem solving throughout EPA, and forging new partnerships with other federal agencies, industry, and the broader scientific community. Being naturally inquisitive, creative, and bold, it has not been difficult to excite and engage the scientists at EPA in this effort.

In just a year, the innovation team and EPA researchers have forged ahead on a three-pronged innovation campaign that has already yielded exciting results:

One: Pathfinder Innovation Projects

We launched EPA Research Pathfinder Innovation Projects (PIPs), an internal competition for Agency scientists. We asked for innovative research proposals that would help us help us advance science for sustainability at EPA. We received 117 proposals from almost 300 scientists and awarded 12 winners with seed funding to pursue their creative solutions to environmental and human health challenges.

A second round of project proposals is currently underway, with equally impressive participation thus far. It is clear that EPA scientists at every level are energized by the opportunity to innovate.

Two: Crowd Sourcing

We also began developing a program to engage the public, and cultivate partnerships that enable us to harness scientific talent wherever is exists through crowd-sourcing challenges.

Whether tracking down a better method to measure low concentrations of acrolein in air, or developing sensors and apps for community science, the innovation potential of "the crowd" can help identify environmental solutions in a faster, cheaper, and more efficient manner than ever before. Many agencies across the federal government have recognized the power and potential of this approach. For example, EPA is working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Agency for International Development, and others to use this new and exciting tool.

Three: Signature Projects

Finally, we have spent significant time this year focusing on signature projects, championing them, and working to help them succeed. Whether it's working with the U.S. Army to achieve “Net Zero” energy and water consumption at military bases, or harnessing the tools and principles of green chemistry to create alternative chemical solvents, these signature projects exemplify our goal of advancing sustainability through innovation.

EPA research has embraced sustainability as an important and necessary goal for the future of the planet, our economy, and our society. To achieve it will require asking different questions, thinking about challenges differently, and seeking innovative solutions.

Innovation is the key for achieving sustainability, and thus instead of being an “add on” to our research it will be interwoven into everything our scientists and engineers do, building a new foundation. That work has already begun. We have come a long way in 2011, and we are excited to embrace another year of innovation.


Peter W. Preuss, Ph.D.
Chief Innovation Officer
Office of the Assistant Administrator for Research and Development

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