Big Ideas are transformative and transdisciplinary solutions to society’s grand challenges and represent a new approach to supporting SDSU’s faculty. Through Big Ideas, faculty-led research teams promote SDSU’s distinctive strengths for the betterment of the world.


2021-2022 Big Ideas Finalists

Six projects have been named finalists for SDSU’s Big Ideas initiative. These faculty-led proposals embody SDSU’s distinct strengths and represent the 5-year strategic plan and dedicated outcomes to continue progress toward helping to resolve some of society’s greatest challenges. 

Comics Big Idea Image

Comics and Social Justice

Faculty Leads: Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence Elizabeth Pollard in the College of Arts and Letters and librarian Pamela Jackson

Generations of children and youth have spent many hours reading comics, feeding their fascination for superheroes and learning about people much like themselves facing real-life issues. Research shows comics are a great medium to address timely social issues, to include diseases, racial injustice, wealth inequality, immigration and more. A grassroots collaboration between humanists, educators, librarians, scientists, and artists from across SDSU and the wider San Diego community envisions becoming the nation's leading comic studies collaborative. 

Big Ideas Finalist on Climate Action Network

CCAN: Community Climate Action Network

Faculty Leads: Rebecca Lewison, an associate professor in the Department of Biology, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Geography Doug Stow, research ecologist Megan Jennings and Jessica Barlow, a speech language professor 

The capacity to create equitable, vibrant, sustainable communities in San Diego is threatened by climate change related threats, such as catastrophic fires, drought food and water insecurity, disease and environmental injustice. This is especially true for underserved, under resourced communities. The Community Climate Action Network will leverage SDSU’s expertise in public health, sciences, arts education and business to create actionable research and scholarship that will result in community driven transformation.

Big Idea Finalist on Addressing Homelessness

Addressing Homelessness

Faculty Lead: Mounah Abdel-Samad, an associate professor of public administration in the School of Public Affairs  

Homelessness and affordable housing are urgent socioeconomic issues that are closely interlinked. San Diego County has more than 7,600 homeless people per the latest Count-in-Time data for 2020, while statewide there are 114,000 homeless individuals.

A cross-disciplinary team of SDSU researchers drawn from public affairs, public health, economics, anthropology, engineering and other fields will come together to understand what’s at the core of homelessness, and how to prevent and reduce it.

Big Idea Finalist Lung Health

Digital Platform for Lung Health

Faculty Lead: Kee Moon, a mechanical engineering professor

A diverse group of researchers will develop a transformative digital health platform that can monitor lung health status in real-time for large numbers of people, through innovative wireless sensors and rapid digital diagnosis and intervention. Excellence in research is evident in this project by the cutting-edge collaborative research teams. The platform contains three primary nodes of expertise including lung health monitoring, mathematical models of lung function, and sensor engineers. From chronic lung diseases to lung cancer, the lungs represent a part of the body with immense potential for health monitoring and quality of life improvement. 

Big Ideas Finalist on Zero Fossil Fuels

AZTEC: Advancing Zero-fossil Technologies for Engineered Carbon

Faculty Lead: Marina Kalyuzhnaya, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology

The use of energy and water for the production of food and materials critical for the survival of humanity has begun to pose a threat to the future of humanity. Leveraging expertise in renewable energy, electrocatalysis, GHG bioconversion and biomaterial engineering, a team of biologists, chemists and engineers will work on Advancing Zero-fossil Technologies for Engineered Carbon (AZTEC). AZTEC serves to create a new model of eliminating fossil fuels and GHG emissions from animal husbandries, anaerobic digesters and wastewater treatment plants. 

Big Idea Finalist Transboundary Water

Reimagining Transboundary Water

Faculty Leads: Natalie Mladenov, the William E. Leonhard, Jr. Chair and director of the Water Innovation and Reuse Lab, and geography professor Trent Biggs

Water in the California-Mexico transboundary region is more valuable and stressed now than ever before. A team of civil, construction and environmental engineers, geographers, economists and public health scientists will build a transboundary community that will focus on solving critical water problems. The team will tap sensor technology for real-time water quality assessments and develop advanced water treatment technologies, and also identify, map and model flood risks and microbial risks. The combined knowledge of SDSU researchers in San Diego and Imperial Valley and their Mexican counterparts is needed to address issues related to water scarcity, flooding and border sanitation and to also re-imagine sustainable solutions to water conflicts that benefit both humans and the environment.