Announcing new programs and global research initiatives at the Buffett Institute

May 6, 2016

We are pleased to announce the 2016 winners of the Buffett Institute’s “Big Ideas” grants as well as the graduate student–organized conference award. These new programs and awards were all made possible by Bertie Buffett’s transformative gift to Northwestern. Here are the exciting 2016 additions to the growing roster of innovative, collaborative research programs here at Buffett:

New Research Groups

Global Climate Change Governance


Building on Northwestern’s existing research strengths in fields like law, engineering, business, energy and the environment, and the social sciences, this group will examine the most pressing questions in climate change governance, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as geoengineering. By supporting and strengthening existing research efforts in a collaborative, interdisciplinary setting, the group hopes to establish Northwestern as a university at the forefront of climate change policy analysis and debate.

The group will address topics such as how regulation of emerging technologies might impact the earth and its climate, addressing climate change at the local vs. international level of government, social perceptions and public opinions regarding climate change, and the relationship between climate change and social justice.

Like Buffett’s other research groups, the Global Climate Change Governance group intends to create a community of scholars and students that will pursue university-wide research projects. Future plans include a reading group and graduate student seminar, research roundtables, and eventually a research conference. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the topic of climate change and climate change governance, the group hopes to develop exchanges and co-programming with other relevant groups at Buffett and the greater Northwestern community.

Global Medical Cultures and Law


All societies have healing systems. Yet over the last 150 years, one system has become dominant globally: biomedicine. While it might be tempting to attribute biomedicine’s successes to its effectiveness in curing diseases and extending lives, the historical reality has been less clear-cut. The resurgence of interest in traditional medicine in the second half of the twentieth century arguably grew out of critiques of biomedicine’s limits and a burgeoning awareness that different healing practices, long stifled or marginalized, deserved closer scrutiny. 

In response to these issues, Buffett’s Global Medical Cultures and Law research group will examine the globalization of biomedicine and the recent rise of traditional medicine. Until now, few scholars have attempted to examine them together or unravel their connections on a global scale and assess their impact on global health programs.

Group members represent disciplines such as history, law, anthropology, political science, sociology, and public policy, and bring a wide variety of regional expertise. They hope to appeal to a broad cross-section of scholars and students who work in global studies, medical humanities and anthropology, global health, and legal studies.

Research questions to be addressed may include:

  • To what extent and through what legal, institutional, and political instruments has biomedicine been globalized?
  • In what ways did different disciplinary, geopolitical, economic, and legal phenomena play a role in codifying “traditional medicine”?
  • What kinds of ideas about culture, heritage, and ancestry operate in controversies over patenting traditional knowledge and medicine? How are these conflicts different from those surrounding access to drugs and patent-protected versus generic options? 

The group is planning on hosting several incubator seminars this year, kicking off November 8 with a presentation from Mark Harrison, medical historian Oxford University and director of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine. The group also plans on hosting a conference on medical cultures and law in May 2017.

Graduate Student Organized Conference

Science, Technology, and the Politics of Knowledge in Global Affairs

Graduate student co-leaders:

  • Kevin Baker (history)
  • Savina Balasubramanian (sociology)
  • Omri Tubi (sociology)

Scientists, state actors, international institutions, and lay activists vie for credibility and legitimacy to both frame and control global issues. Science and technology experts are routinely cast into a supporting role to bolster their claims. From nuclear weapons in war, to nuclear energy in the battle against climate change; from new information technologies in surveillance regimes, to the use of randomized controlled trials in international development research – scientific and technological expertise operate as instruments of power and authority, which can serve to legitimate or contest new policies and regimes of global governance.

The Buffett Institute’s second annual graduate student conference will investigate expert knowledge in global affairs, looking at the ways this knowledge is created, invoked, circulated, and contested in the international political arena. The conference will provide a platform for answering questions such as:

  • How do various international actors attempt to position themselves as credible participants in global politics?
  • Under what conditions does expert knowledge come to be seen as legitimate?
  • In what ways do international actors frame global issues and what must be done about them?
  • How do global problems become understood as primarily technical, rather than political?
  • How is scientific and technological expertise marshaled among various epistemic communities in processes of claims-making and action?

The conference will take place in the spring quarter of 2017. Conference details will be posted later this year.

Buffett Institute Faculty Fellows

Starting in the 2016-2017 academic year, the Buffett Institute will support four full-time, tenured Northwestern faculty with core research interests in global, interdisciplinary, and/or comparative research. The Buffett Institute Faculty Fellows will be devoting significant time to building sustained, collaborative, world-class research programs within the Institute, and will also engage in their own research that contributes to Buffett programs and groups.

Faculty fellows receive a one-course teaching reduction per year and are expected to devote significant time to collaborative research on campus and participate in Institute activities.

We are pleased to announce the 2016-2017 faculty fellows: 

Visit the Buffett Institute Faculty Fellows page for award details and application/eligibility info. A full list of Buffett Institute funding opportunities can be found here.

New funding for faculty: The Scholars in Israel Collaboration Fund

Open to full-time Northwestern faculty from any discipline, the Scholars in Israel Collaboration Fund provides support for project collaborations between Northwestern faculty, scholars, and artists and their counterparts at any of the nine accredited research universities in Israel: Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Weizmann Institute of Science, Bar-IIan University, Tel Aviv University, University of Haifa, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Open University of Israel, or Ariel University.

This grant supports individual or group projects in collaboration with faculty and scholars who will advance durable partnerships with colleagues and institutions in Israel. Application deadlines are October 15, February 15, and April 15.

For Graduate Students, Global Health, Law, Technology