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Dr. Dickson Despommier

Emeritus Professor - Columbia University


Tomorrow's city will be self-sustaining

With the next 20 years, cities will be able to produce most of what they consume - food, water, energy. Integration of municipal functions leading to the conservation of these valuable resources will be the norm. All of this will be achieved by mimicing what already goes on in a balanced ecosystem. Nature has evolved efficient, resilient mechanisms for nutrient recycling, water conservation and energy use. We can translate those characteristics into the built environment using technologies developed over the past 20 years. In doing so, we can stop using up our natural capital and return large portions of land to hardwood forest. Sequestration of carbon by reforestation will slow down and perhaps even reverse the current rate of climate change, giving us humans time to adjust to a world that has higher sea levels and less habitable land. 


Dickson Donald Despommier Ph.D, professor of public health and microbiology, has been a faculty member at Columbia University since 1971. He is Emeritus Professor of Public Health and Microbiology, having retired in 2009. During his tenure at P&S, Dr. Despommier made significant contributions to the life of our campus. He served on numerous committees, including heading up the admissions committee for the Mailman School of Public Health, and still serves on the Medical School Admissions Steering Committee, to which he was appointed in 1988. He was chair of the Animal Care Committee and served on numerous doctoral qualification committees. He was a faculty advisor for the P&S Club and was the advisor to the P&S Photography Club until his retirement.

From 1978-2009, he was course director for Parasitic Diseases, a required course in the pre-clinical years. During that time, he was recognized by the second year medical students as Teacher of the Year no less than eight times. He was the Dean’s Distinguished Contributions to Teaching medalist in 1989.

In 2003, he earned further recognition for his teaching skills from the American Medical Student Association by becoming the recipient of their annual National Golden Apple Award for Teaching Excellence. Many of those who regularly instruct medical students consider this award the equivalent to the Noble Prize for teaching. It should be noted here that he is the only faculty member at P&S to ever earn this distinction.

His outreach teaching has also earned for him numerous teaching awards, including Teacher of the Year for the third Grade at Roscoe Central School, in New York state. He conducted laboratory-based research for 27 years, funded by a single continuous grant from the NIH. He has published four books, and numerous peer-reviewed articles in Science, PNAS, and a host of other top science journals. He is currently engaged in a project to bring fresh produce to the urban environment by growing edible crops in vertical farms (see: The Vertical Farm, Picadore Press, New York).