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Historically, the Smithsonian has studied species in a range of ecosystems with the goal of enhancing knowledge of biodiversity and its role in the healthy functioning of ecosystems for a sustainable planet. The Smithsonian will now also foster interdisciplinary research and harness its institutional power to expand its work and find innovative approaches to global problems that stem from biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation, climate change and human-biosphere interactions. The Consortium will support projects that combine expertise across scientific units and biodiversity disciplines to investigate natural processes and their responses to change.
Smithsonian Grand Challenges Awards—a competitive, internal granting program—advance cross-disciplinary, integrated scholarly efforts across the Institution which relate to the Smithsonian Grand Challenge Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet. These awards encourage Smithsonian staff to advance research, as well as broaden access, revitalize education, strengthen collections and encourage new ways of thinking that involve emerging technology.
Grand Challenges grants are awarded through the Smithsonian Consortia at two distinct levels:
Level One grants provide seed money to develop groups around promising concepts. Successful proposals at Level One provide the time and incentive for individuals with common interests to meet and crystallize ideas for major interdisciplinary/pan-Institutional projects. These projects are intended to be short in duration (6-12 months) and focused in purpose, such as support for arranging seminars, workshops, meetings, and brown-bag lunches.
Level Two grants are larger and aimed at maturing groups poised to confront relevant issues and prepared to secure external funding. Applicants apply for Level Two funding to conduct preliminary experiments, write a position paper, explore the design of an exhibition, conduct preparatory work for a major project or produce other evidence of scholarly capacity that is deemed essential for external competition. Successful proposals at Level Two provide a group that has defined a common goal with the resources they need to establish themselves as credible competitors for external funding. Applicants for Level Two funding may already have a collaborative history or may be building on the outcome of a successful Level One process.
Dr. W. John Kress was born in Illinois and received his education at Harvard University (B. A., 1975) and Duke University (Ph. D. 1981) where he studied tropical biology, ethnobotany, evolution, and plant systematics. Among his over 125 scientific and popular papers on tropical botany are his books entitled Heliconia: An Identification Guide, Heliconias – Las Lamaradas de la Selva Colombiana, A New Century of Biology (with Gary Barrett), A Checklist of the Trees, Shrubs, Herbs, and Climbers of Myanmar, and Plant Conservation – A Natural History Approach (with Gary Krupnick). He has recently published a book, entitled The Weeping Goldsmith (Abbeville Press), which describes his experiences exploring for plants in the isolated country of Myanmar. Dr. Kress is also interested in the intersection of science and art. To this end he has published two original art projects. The first includes the works Botanica Magnifica (Abbeville Press) and Tulipae Hortorum, with photographer Jonathan Singer. The second is a book on plant evolution, entitled The Art of Plant Evolution (Kew Publications), with Dr. Shirley Sherwood, which uses contemporary botanical art to illustrate the diversity of the plant world. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and currently Executive Director of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation. Dr. Kress is an Adjunct Professor of Biology at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Yunnan. He has mentored numerous graduate students and post-doctoral fellows as well as more than 20 undergraduate interns and summer students at the Smithsonian.