Nelson Institute assistant professor bridges policy and climate science

Morgan Edwards
Morgan Edwards

Fossil fuel phase-out is at the heart of Morgan Edwards’ research. A Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) member and assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs, Edwards utilizes her background in engineering, science, and policy, to study the intersection of energy transitions and the climate crisis, specifically focusing on the multi-dimensional impacts of human energy use.

“Since I was in high school, I knew I wanted to work on climate change. It’s a big, complex problem that’s deeply intertwined with many other societal problems,” Edwards said. “As a student, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to focus on science or policy. At first, my plan was to go into policy. Along the way, I kept noticing how the way we measure environmental impacts can shape policy outcomes in hidden but important ways. This got me really interested in the science.”

After high school, Edwards attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she earned her degree in environmental science and economics. She continued her education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) earning a master’s of science in technology and policy and later, a PhD in engineering systems. Upon graduation, Edwards worked as a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Maryland before joining the Nelson Institute and La Follette School of Public Affairs in 2020.

Edwards now focuses much of her research on accelerating the phase-out of coal power plants, fixing leaks in natural gas distribution systems, and assessing the equity implications of large-scale use of negative emissions technologies.

My research focuses on energy transitions and the climate crisis. I draw on mixed quantitative and qualitative methods, combining large datasets and community knowledge with systems modeling, to assess and track the multi-dimensional impacts of human energy use” said Edwards. “My projects focus on fossil fuel phase-out and, more recently, carbon dioxide removal. For example, right now I’m assessing policies to accelerate the phase-out of coal power plants, fix leaky natural gas pipelines and transition to alternative heating systems, and evaluating the environmental and equity implications of large-scale use of carbon dioxide removal.”

In addition to her research, Edwards is also teaching several courses including the Cost-Benefit Analysis at the graduate level and Evidence-Based Policymaking at the undergraduate level. Edwards says her goal as a professor is to empower students to create and critically evaluate evidence for policymaking.

“Even though Morgan joined SAGE during the pandemic, she hit the ground running and is already a familiar face within SAGE and in the broader campus community,” said Nelson Institute SAGE director, Carol Barford. “Her research, teaching and outreach really strengthen SAGE’s mission of policy relevant science.”

Edwards shared that she is honored to be a part of the UW-Madison community and is looking forward to continuing to work on new research.

“I felt an immediate connection with the Nelson Institute and the Wisconsin Idea, that research should solve problems and improve people’s lives beyond the classroom,” Edwards said. “I love being at a world-class research institution that is so deeply connected to communities throughout the state and brings an interdisciplinary perspective to tackling complex environmental problems.”

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