Cutting-edge research on sustainability

Transdisciplinary Research Area Innovation and Technology for Sustainable Futures

Sustainability means using resources in a way that the needs of today are met without neglecting or even disregarding the needs of future generations. This raises questions in a wide range of areas: poverty, hunger, food security, demographic change, health, protection of the environment, climate change and the responsible use of resources pose a global challenge for us all. To achieve progress with regards to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, our researchers apply an interdisciplinary approach focused on solutions combined with basic research, actively engage in global networks and collaborate with Bonn-based UN organizations.

© Bialek/Uni Bonn

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Importance of Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainability: The significance of the Sustainable Development Goals

Prof. Dr. Joachim von Braun, Center for Development Research (ZEF) and former Speaker of TRA Sustainable Futures, outlines the significance of the UN's sustainable development goals for global development.


Save the Date! The next TRA Sustainable Futures General Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday 11 July 2023 at 10 a.m. In the course of the General Meeting, this year's Töpfer Prize will be awarded and an interactive poster session will follow. More information and the registration form will be available here soon.

The lecture series "Innovation Pathways to Sustainability" welcomes its first speaker in 2023. On 6th of April 2023, at 13:30 CEST we will host Prof. Dr. Michels. More information here.

TRA Sustainable Futures welcomes J.Prof. Dr. Wolfram Barfuss as new Argelander Professor for Integrated System Modeling for Sustainablity Transitions to the University of Bonn.

Members directory: From now on, members of TRA Sustainable Futures can be found by name or by their research focus.

Our Open Call for seed funding is still available to all TRA members. Please feel free to contact us in advance if you have any questions.

Report on the General Meeting of TRA Sustainable Futures

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Member meeting TRA 6 on 15.12.2022 top right: Ute Nöthlings, newly elected TRA speaker below from left: Prof. Dr. Jan Börner, re-elected TRA speaker, Prof. Joachim von Braun, former TRA speaker and Prof. Dr. Christopher McCool, presenting the project AI4Crops © Christina Schiegl

On December 15th 2022, the members of TRA Sustainable Futures met again to exchange ideas and to decide on important directions for 2023. With broad approval, changes in the administrative structure were voted for. We congratulate the new TRA speaker Prof. Ute Nöthlings and the re-elected TRA speaker Prof. Jan Börner. Our thanks go to the now former speaker Prof. Joachim von Braun and Prof. Gabriel Schaaf, who left the Steering Committee of TRA Sustainable Futures.    

In the main plenary, overviews of TRA's development and reports on funded projects were presented. In addition, members were able to actively discuss with each other in three open barcamp groups. The diverse topics were suggested by members themselves. They were about possible applications of infrared sensors in measuring activity of animal live stock, which help to make decisions for more animal welfare. Another group addressed the rights of future generations and the ethical question of the duty not to leave irreversible damage to the environment with current decisions and actions, especially due to climate change and biodiversity loss. The third barcamp addressed the implications of COP27 (Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, November 2022) for the TRA Sustainable Futures research agenda, including centrally the question: what interdisciplinary research is currently essential to enable a sustainable future through innovation and technology?

We look forward to further networking opportunities in TRA Sustainable Futures.

Award of the Klaus Töpfer Research Prize 2022


During our general meeting on July 12, 2022, Dr. Melanie Braun from INRES was awarded the Klaus Töpfer Research Prize 2022. Her project idea "Colloidal and Nanoplastics in Soil" prevailed over strong competition in a multi-stage review process. With the help of the prize money of €50,000, Melanie Braun now wants to develop an analytical method that can be used to quantify the smallest plastic particles in soil.

Prof. Dr. Joachim von Braun said at the award ceremony: "Melanie Braun's project fits perfectly with our focus on modeling, foresight and risk assessment capacity, as it provides for the first time data on soil pollution by nanoplastics that can later be used for forecasting and other purposes."

Dr. Klaus Töpfer (on the left in the picture) took the journey to Bonn for the first presentation of the award that bears his name and used his speaking time to emphasize, among other things: "In the question of how we can still feed the growing world population in the future, research on soil is immensely important."

In her acceptance speech, Dr. Braun explained the motivation behind the project idea: "There has been evidence that soils receive plastic input, mainly by agricultural practices like application of sewage sludge and compost as well as irrigation. As soils are one of the most important bases of our food production, there is an urgent need to investigate the prevalence of colloidal and nano-sized plastics in soil, to adequately safeguard worlds food production."

To the complete report including a video.

Press releases
Investigating Collective Action

How can people work together to forge new, environmentally sustainable paths in a complex system? This is the question being tackled by Jun.-Prof. Dr. Wolfram Barfuss, the new Argelander professor in the Innovation and Technology for Sustainable Futures Transdisciplinary Research Area (TRA Sustainable Futures) at the University of Bonn. He is developing mathematical models for collective learning and linking different research areas, including complex systems, artificial intelligence and social ecology, in order to identify key levers for easing the transition to sustainability. Barfuss and his team are based at the Center for Development Research (ZEF).

International Conference on Sustainable AI

What impact does artificial intelligence (AI) have on the environment? And what might the ramifications of AI be for society? These are some of the questions being tackled by the research group led by Prof. Dr. Aimee van Wynsberghe, a Humboldt Professor at the University of Bonn. She will now bring international experts in the field together between May 30 and June 1. At the Universitätsclub Bonn, the researchers will discuss cross-cultural perspectives of sustainable AI on a global level.

Paper-based packaging has a good eco-image

German consumers consider paper-based packaging to be particularly environmentally friendly. Nevertheless, they tend to be skeptical about innovative products such as paper-based bottles. This is shown by a recent study by the University of Bonn and Forschungszentrum Jülich. Almost 3,000 women and men from all over Germany were surveyed for the study. The results have now been published in the journal “Food Quality and Preference.”

8.1 million euros for innovative research greenhouse

Research for more sustainable crop production: A new type of research greenhouse is now being built at the University of Bonn's Klein-Altendorf campus. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is providing 8.1 million euros in funding for the project, called START. Partners from various institutions will be working together here on an interdisciplinary basis over the next four years. Construction of the deep water culture greenhouse at the Klein-Altendorf campus is scheduled to begin this year so that demonstration operations can begin in 2024.

Press review

Members of TRA Sustainable Futures in the media (in German)


Prof. Dr. Ute Nöthlings
Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences (IEL) - Nutritional Epidemiology

Prof. Dr. Jan Börner
Institute for Food and Resource Economics (ILR)


Hanna Zimmermann
Manager TRA Sustainable Futures

Strategic Development and Quality Assurance
Vice Rectorate for Research and Early-Career Researchers

Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn 
Poppelsdorfer Allee 24
53115 Bonn  

Phone:  +49 228 73 54469

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