2017-2018 Faculty Research Interests


Jim Best

My research focuses on the dynamics of rivers and lakes, with current field projects in the US, Canada, Argentina, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. I have several projects working on river processes on the Wabash River in Illinois (with Bruce Rhoads) and Mississippi, as well as on rivers and lakes in Louisiana, Washington State/Oregon, Newfoundland, and the Yukon. I am also involved in projects further afield, for instance looking at crazy meandering rivers in Argentina, the huge Mekong River in Cambodia that is undergoing many man-made changes due to damming, and the Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers and delta in Bangladesh. Many of these projects link geomorphology with applications within engineering science and resource geography. Fieldwork in many of these areas is planned over the next 12-15 months; so if you have interests in seeing how rivers work and you like field work, come to chat!
As well as this field-based research, our group has many projects collaborating with colleagues in Mechanical Science and Engineering, and Civil and Environmental Engineering, examining the interactions between turbulent flows and sediment, and how these sculpt the landscape around us. There are thus also lots of opportunities for those who are interested in laboratory work, and how we can use lab models to investigate how river flows work.

Trevor Birkenholtz

I am a political ecologist and development geographer, interested in the politics of water development and agrarian change, and I’m also a South Asianist. My two primary projects now are looking at urbanization of water process, as water is being transferred from rural to urban spaces, and what that means for farmers’ livelihoods. I have a new project studying the explosion in drip irrigation, as a climate change adaptive technology, compared to conventional irrigation.

Julie Cidell

I have three projects that would be great for a Roepke Scholar. The first involves reviewing city plans and documents from Melbourne, Australia, to establish a social network of local governments and non-profit organizations involved in urban sustainability. The second is about the geography of crafts, analyzing a set of quilt patterns from around the country to see what they can tell us about craft activity and sense of place in different parts of the country. Finally, I'm starting a project on student mobility on and off campus, including how domestic and international students learn to get around independently in a campus context.

Piotr Cienciala

I am interested in stream and river ecosystems. My students and I strive to better understand how streams and rivers change in time (e.g. in response to erosion by floods) and space (as they flow from headwaters towards lowlands; or, simply within a shorter stretch of interest) and how these changes in habitat influence living organisms such as fish, aquatic insects, and bankside vegetation. We use our findings to inform habitat conservation and restoration efforts. My field sites are located on the US and Canadian west coast: in British Columbia, Washington and California. Currently, I am looking for students interested in exploring such topics or -- more generally -- in gaining experience in applying GIS and remote sensing skills to environmental science. Your work would contribute to an actual ecological restoration project, so you would be making a real difference! This research will also continue next summer, as we plan to re-visit at least some of the sites to conduct field work. Just this summer, one of the undergraduate fellowship awardees joined us and took part in exciting field work in the spectacular mountains of Washington where we collaborate and interact with other scientists, local government agencies, and environmental consultants. If you would like to find out more about the opportunities, please send me an email and I will be happy to arrange a meeting.


Chunyuan Diao

My research interests lie at the confluence of remote sensing, GIScience, and biogeography. The broad goal of my research is to develop advanced remote sensing frameworks to understand the interactions among land cover dynamics, hydrologic regimes, climate changes, and human activities. In today’s big data era, large volumes of remotely sensed information open up new paradigms for exploring these interactions. To date, my research has mostly focused on advancing time series of remote sensing at multiple spatial, temporal and spectral scales, to better understand riparian vegetation (e.g., invasive species) dynamics in response to environmental changes. I am also interested in building advanced remote sensing and GIS solutions to investigate the influence of natural and anthropogenic disturbances on the phenological dynamics of vegetated ecosystems, including riparian zones, deciduous forests, and agricultural crops.

Brian Jefferson

My work explores the political economy of ghettoization in US cities. Current projects apply interpretive methodologies to empirical research to investigate the role criminal justice policy plays in making and morphing urban spaces, particularly in relation to place-based socioeconomic conditions, subjectivities and politics. My published works chronicle community-based responses to police transformations in economically distressed areas of New York City.

Ezekiel Kalipeni

Medical Geography, Population Studies, Environmental Issues, Health Care, Africa

Mei-Po Kwan

My research addresses health, social, transport, economic, and environmental issues in urban areas through the application of innovative GIS methods. I am interested in understanding how social differences (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, religion, etc.) shape urban residents' everyday experiences and perceptions/use of the built environment. I am also interested in studying how specific characteristics of the social and physical environment affect the well-being and behavior of different social groups (e.g., health behaviors and outcomes, access to jobs, social isolation, residential segregation, environmental justice, and spatial mobility). Please visit my website for more information about my research interests and professional activities: http://meipokwan.org

Sara McLafferty

Mapping and analysis of social and spatial inequalities in access to physicians and other health care services in the Chicago metropolitan region. Are services accessible to low-income people, immigrants and other vulnerable populations? Is better access to health care associated with better health outcomes? How are political and economic transformations in the health care sector affecting geographical access to health services? Requires some basic GIS and/or spatial analysis skills, and you’ll develop new skills.

Bruce Rhoads

My research interests focus on rivers and watersheds. As a fluvial geomorphologist, I primarily look at how rivers change through time via mechanisms of erosion and deposition and how, at the watershed scale, the delivery, transport, and storage of sediment results in changes in river processes. We live in a world increasing affected by humans - through changes in land use and climate - and I am particularly interested in how humans influence the dynamics of rivers and watersheds and how these effects link to the environmental quality of water resources, including biogeochemical and ecological conditions. My work also attempts to bridge physical and human geography by looking at interactions between social, political, and economic factors and river/watershed processes. Much of my research is conducted in the Midwest, both in urban and rural environments and on small streams and large rivers. Virtually all of my work is field oriented, but it often includes GIS, laboratory, and modeling components as well, especially through collaborations with other faculty in the department (Jim Best) and elsewhere on campus (Geology, Civil and Environmental Engineering).

Jesse Ribot

Conducts research in Africa and other developing areas on a) rural representation, b) access to resources and markets, and c) social vulnerability. This policy research is in four inter-linked arenas: 1) decentralization and democratic local government; 2) natural resource tenure and access; 3) distributional equity along natural resource commodity chains; 4) household vulnerability in the face of environmental change; and 5) theatre as means of policy change. His current research projects include "Risk and Blame in the Anthropocene" on climate-related vulnerability analysis; the 'Responsive Forest Governance Initiative' (RFGI), which is assessing the democracy effects of UN Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program; and a new film tentatively entitled "The Many Heels of Achilles the REDD Millipede."

Murugesu Sivapalan

Hydrology, Predictions in Ungaged Watersheds

Shaowen Wang

The CyberInfrastructure and Geospatial Information Laboratory (CIGI: http://cigi.uiuc.edu) has research and development projects creating cutting edge web-based mapping solutions. These solutions are designed to assist staff at various state agencies such as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in project planning and resource review activities, and help evaluate potential impacts of a particular development project on Illinois wetlands, and endangered and threatened species. The undergraduate fellow working on these solutions will be provided with a fantastic opportunity to learn the newest technologies of ArcGIS server, ArcSDE, Microsoft Silverlight, C# and ESRI ArcGIS Silverlight API. Specifically, s/he will be assigned with well-defined software development and/or testing tasks, and also can expect to contribute to technical and user documentations. Furthermore, s/he would expect to work in a world-class GIS research group setting, and will have close interactions with faculty, staff, and other students within CIGI.

David Wilson

Dr. Wilson's research focuses on cities,urban politics, marginalized populations, ghetto formation and ghetto sustaining, class dynamics in cities, and race and racialization processes in metropolitan areas.