Faculty-Led Research Initiative

Investing in Research Excellence

Launched in 2019 by Dean Amber Miller, the Faculty-Led Research Initiative supports the creation of new centers and institutes that advance cross-cutting areas of academic strength identified by the USC Dornsife community and strategic opportunities in emerging interdisciplinary fields where USC Dornsife can take the lead.

Prof. William Berelson installs a USC Carbon Census senso on a roof with L.A.'s skyline in the background
As P.I. on the Urban Critical Zone initiative, Prof. William Berelson installs a USC Carbon Census sensor near the roof of the Ahmanson Center on the University Park campus.

Each year, faculty are invited to submit proposals to be evaluated by an executive committee representing each of the three academic divisions.

Successful proposals receive a first-round of seed funding to further develop the idea with a working group. From this pool, a smaller number of P.I.s will receive more substantial funding to launch their new research initiative with the goal of becoming self-sustaining in the near future.  All USC Dornsife faculty and faculty teams are invited to submit proposals.


View the most recent REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS

Active Funded Centers and Institutes

Faculty Lead: Ian Ehrenreich
Molecular and Computational Biology, Biological Sciences

The goal of the center is to nucleate and grow synthetic biology in Dornsife and at USC. Synthetic biology is a discipline at the interface of the life sciences and engineering focused on the design and construction of living systems, both for fundamental research and real-world applications that benefit society.

Faculty Lead: Assal Habibi
Brain and Creativity Institute, Department of Psychology

The center is designed to serve as a collaborative hub for USC faculty committed to investigating music at neurobiological and social levels, and to promoting the application of resulting knowledge to foster human well-being and social flourishing.

Faculty Lead: Darby Saxbe

An interdisciplinary group of USC faculty study family systems, close relationships, and mental and physical health across the lifespan.



Faculty Lead: Karen Tongson
English, American Studies and Ethnicities, Gender and Sexuality

The Consortium on Gender, Sexuality & Race in Popular Culture brings together faculty researchers from across USC, Southern California, and beyond, to explore and contextualize shifts in representations of gender, race, and sexuality in public culture, while translating that research to the public square.

New Microbes For New Beneficial Natural Products

Faculty Lead: Jan Amend
Earth Sciences/Marine Environmental Biology

Taking a radically different approach in the search for new natural products with benefits for society, the initiative explores new classes of natural products that can be produced by and harvested from microorganisms that inhabit the largest but woefully understudied ecosystems on Earth — the
coastal and deep oceans, and the continental and marine subsurface.

Two researchers in lab coats working in a chemical hood

The Plastics Problem

Faculty Lead: Travis Williams

The Plastics Problem research group develops enterprise-ready solutions to reclaim value from waste plastics to help create a more sustainable future.

plastic pollution bags floating on marine or ocean environment

The Urban Critical Zone

Faculty Lead: Will Berelson
Earth Sciences

The Urban Critical Zone conducts research and teaches students about urban system complexity using novel measurements, data harvesting and modeling, and empirical behavioral analysis.

L.A. skyline on a cloudy day

Faculty Lead: Bill Deverell

The West On Fire places western wildfire in historical context to learn from dozens of disciplinary and other sets of fire knowledge, and to broaden public awareness of the the American west’s relationship with fire in the past, present, and future.

Summary of Seed-Funded Initiatives

Current Phase 1 Initiatives

Initiative Faculty Lead Division Cycle
Anthropocene Solutions for Water Sustainability Jefferey Sellers Social Sciences 2023
Center for Ecological Evolutionary Dynamics Matt Pennell Natural Sciences 2023
Conceptual Foundations of Conflict Mark Schroeder Humanities 2023
Experimental Humanities Lab Erin Graff Humanities 2023
Global Perspectives on Migration and Displacement Paul Lerner Social Sciences 2023

Past Phase 1 Initiatives

Initiative Faculty Lead Division Cycle
Music, Brain and Society Working Group Assal Habibi Natural Sciences 2022
Center for New Technologies in Drug Discovery & Development (CNT3D) Vsevolod Katritch Natural Sciences 2022
Working Group for Quantum Entanglement Science Susumu Takahashi Natural Sciences 2022
Center for Synthetic Living Systems Ian Ehrenreich Natural Sciences 2022
Religious Ecologies Project David Albertson Humanities 2022
USC Center for Social Medicine: Transforming Health and Society Andy Lakoff Social Sciences 2022
Prediction Science Initiative Working Group Tom Jordan Natural Sciences 2021
Confronting Global Challenges: the Plastics Problem Travis Williams Natural Sciences 2020
Consortium on Gender, Sexuality & Race in Popular Culture Karen Tongson Humanities 2020
Defusing Polarization in Diverse Democracy through Strategic Communications Morris Levy Social Sciences 2020
Taking carbon from the sky: Scope and consequences of negative emissions technologies Josh West Natural Sciences 2020
The Urban Critical Zone Will Berelson Natural Sciences 2019
The West on Fire Bill Deverell Humanities 2019
New Microbes For New Beneficial Natural Products Jan Amend Natural Sciences 2019
Center for Integrated Microbial Systems Eric Webb Natural Sciences 2019
Center for the Changing Family Darby Saxbe Social Sciences 2019
Center for Leadership by Women of Color Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro Social Sciences 2019
Center for Global South Studies Rhacel Parrenas Social Sciences 2019
Global Change Initiative A Cross-Center Program for Environmental Politics and Action John Heidelberg Natural Sciences 2019
Living Lab SC/LA Karla Heidelberg Natural Sciences 2019
Global Human Rights Alison Renteln Social Sciences 2019
Humanities and Arts in Public Daniela Bleichmar Humanities 2019
Global Legal Studies Jessica Marglin/Nathan Perl-Rosenthal Humanities 2019
Data, Society, and Technology Juan De Lara Humanities 2019
Applied Quantum Computing Rosa Di Felice Natural Sciences 2019


Questions about the Dornsife Faculty-led Initiatives program can be addressed to Stephen Bradforth or your divisional dean:

Rebecca Lemon

Life Sciences
Ian Ehrenreich

Physical Sciences and Mathematics
Moh El Naggar

Social Sciences
William Deverell