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Fung Global Fellows to focus on ‘Sustainable Futures’

 Left: Han Ul Min. Top row: Wesam Al Asali, Sefa Awaworyi Churchill, Uzuazo Etemire. Bottom row: Andressa Monteiro Venturini, June Park, and Anish Sugathan.

By Pooja Makhijani, Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies

Seven exceptional scholars from around the world began a year of research, writing and collaboration in September as the ninth cohort of Fung Global Fellows.

The 2021-2022 Fung program includes many firsts. Six of the seven scholars are engaged virtually, rather than in person, due to continued coronavirus-related travel restrictions, but one scholar is currently on campus. This year’s research topic — “Sustainable Futures” — also broadens the program’s interdisciplinary approach. This cohort includes social scientists and humanists as in years past, as well as an architect, an engineer and a lawyer.

“Topics will include responses to COVID-19; AI technologies in free societies; state attempts to manage energy transitions, and energy poverty even in rich countries; soil’s transcendent importance in mitigating adverse environmental phenomena; the craft of sustainable architecture using solely local materials; and the implications of transregional environmental law in Latin America and the Caribbean for the rest of the world,” said Stephen Kotkin. He is the John P. Birkelund ’52 Professor in History and International Affairs, co-director of the Program in History and the Practice of Diplomacy, director of Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), and acting director of the Fung program. “For the first time, the Fung Global Fellows program has a scholar who will engage in laboratory work — on solar energy.”

The seven fellows are: Wesam Al Asali, postdoc in architecture at University of Cambridge; Sefa Awaworyi Churchill, associate professor and principal research fellow at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT); Uzuazo Etemire, senior lecturer and acting head of the Department of Jurisprudence and International Law at University of Port Harcourt; Han Ul Min, postdoc in energy engineering at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST); Andressa Monteiro Venturini, postdoc in science at University of São Paulo’s Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture; June Park, researcher at the National Research Foundation of Korea; and Anish Sugathan, assistant professor at Indian Institute of Management.

“The pandemic has profoundly reconfirmed how much the world is and will remain interdependent,” Kotkin said. “Our incoming fellows are from all over the globe, a supreme challenge for an online program.”

Min is currently the only fellow in residence at Princeton. His work in the field of energy engineering necessitated being in a lab, and an exception was made to allow him to work on-site. He arrived in New Jersey from South Korea in September, and then self-quarantined and applied to be vaccinated, before moving into his on-campus apartment and visiting the lab. Barry Rand, associate professor of electrical engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, is supervising his research. Despite the logistical hurdles, Min has settled into life at Princeton. “During my fellowship year, I want to improve long-term stability of highly efficient next-generation perovskite solar cells,” he explained. “I’m currently fabricating perovskite solar cells with two graduate students. Since the detailed experimental conditions which the devices were fabricated in my previous lab in South Korea, such as humidity and temperature, are different in here, I’m currently modifying and adjusting the conditions to fabricate high-efficiency solar cells. After we achieve high enough efficiency, we can try various strategies to improve its long-term stability.” And despite the distance from his cohort, Min keeps in close contact and collaboration. “I have regular Fung [meetings] on Thursdays,” he said. He finds the interdisciplinary exchange of ideas very constructive.

Awaworyi Churchill, who is currently in Australia, is cautiously hopeful that he, too, will be on Princeton’s campus in the spring. Though distance and the time difference are currently a challenge, he said the commitment from the program’s manager, Nicole Bergman, as well as its director, have “ensured [that] COVID-19 restrictions, which have prevented my physical presence on Princeton campus, have not affected the quality of the program,” he said. As an applied economist, Churchill’s interdisciplinary research focuses on environmental economics, development and energy economics. As part of his fellowship, he is working on the impacts of climate change on energy poverty. “The Fung program is one of the most well-organized and structured fellowships I've been a part of. The resources [that have been] made available support the opportunities to make the most impact with research.”

Andressa Monteiro Venturini, who is currently in Brazil, concurred. “It’s been a remarkable experience to be part of the Fung Global Fellows Program,” she said of her experience so far. Her main research interest is the study of microorganisms from tropical soils in the light of land-use and climate change using molecular, bioinformatic and statistical approaches. “In addition to working on my research, I also participate in weekly seminars with the other fellows of the cohort and Princeton faculty members, where we have the opportunity to discuss the theme ‘Sustainable Futures’ from different perspectives. Our meetings have allowed me to think more broadly about the importance and the impacts of my research.”

The program is administered by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), and is funded by a portion of a $10 million gift from Princeton 1970 alumnus William Fung of Hong Kong that is designed to substantially increase the University’s engagement with scholars around the world and inspire ideas that transcend borders.