In September 2015, the University of California, Berkeley hosted a FEW workshop entitled “Designing Intelligent Food, Energy, and Water Systems (DIFEWS).” Organized by Dr. Matthew Potts, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, and his colleagues, the workshop investigated FEW systems in semi-arid regions, where the supply and demand of resources are spatially disconnected.
The workshop identified three key challenges for FEW systems in these regions: closing the loop across FEW systems, resolving spatiotemporal disconnects in FEW systems, and creating actionable information.
Potts took time to answer some questions about FEW nexus research.
Ariela Zycherman (AZ): What is your disciplinary background and how do you see it relating to the nexus?
Matthew Potts (MP): The FEW nexus to me is about identifying synergies and missed opportunities. My multi-disciplinary background in mathematics, ecology, and economics, along with substantial experience working on the sustainable management of tropical and temperate ecosystems, positions me well to explore the nexus. My research career is focused on quantifying and exploring the social, ecological, and economic tradeoffs concerning the use and misuse of natural resources.
AZ: What do you enjoy about interdisciplinary collaboration?
MP: Interdisciplinary collaborations bring together people with different perspectives and approaches to conducting research. I find that these different perspectives and approaches force me to better articulate my own research as well as discover new ways of looking at a problem. Innovation occurs at the boundaries of disciplines, and interdisciplinary collaborations can catalyze discovery.
AZ: Do you have any advice for young scholars who are interested in pursuing Food-Energy-Water nexus research?
MP: My advice for young scholars who are interested in working at the FEW nexus is to make sure you have a good grounding in a least one discipline before stepping into the nexus. Being well-grounded will allow you to most effectively use your tools and knowledge to solve FEW challenges. It will also help you use the FEW nexus to help identify exciting new science within your discipline.
AZ: What is the next step for you in terms of Food-Energy-Water Nexus research?
MP: My FEW research is currently heading in two key directions. First, I am deeply interested in food waste. A tremendous amount of food is wasted globally, and little is known about exactly how much food, why it is wasted, and how to stop this waste. Preventing and better utilizing food waste could be a “win-win” in terms of economics and environmental sustainability. Second, I am training a new generation of researchers to solve FEW challenges that underlie the UN Sustainable Development Goals by using the concepts and methods of development engineering. Development engineering focuses on the use of technology innovations to improve human and economic development in low resource settings.
Matthew Potts was interviewed by Ariela Zycherman, PhD, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow, Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems, Directorate of Engineering, National Science Foundation.
Image courtesy Matthew Potts.