Ming Xu

Meet the SNREds: Ming Xu

Meet Ming Xu, Ph.D.: Assistant professor
Field: Sustainable Systems

What is your current research focus?
For the past few years I’ve been assessing human mobility patterns (i.e., how people travel) using big data to determine what kind of electric vehicle would be most appropriate for each pattern.

Basically, for different travel demands, you need different configurations of electric vehicles—for example, how large the battery should be—to achieve maximum environmental benefit. If the battery is too large, that’s not good. If it’s too small, that’s also not good. There is a sweet spot for different types of travel habits in terms of efficiency and environmental impact.

A PhD student, Hua Cai, was very involved in this project, in particular analyzing the travel patterns of taxis in Beijing. She just defended her dissertation and will become an assistant professor at Purdue in the fall.

I’m also examining the sustainability of international trade. Globalization separates the production of goods from their consumption. It also separates consumers from the environmental impacts of production. To boost sustainability, consumers must share the responsibility of environmental impacts that occur in the supply chain. My team is developing methods and metrics to link consumption and supply chain sustainability on global, national, and regional scales. Our ultimate goal is to provide insight on how trade contributes to global environmental issues.

Dow Sustainability Postdoctoral Fellow Sai Liang has been instrumental in this research, and Shen Qu, also a fellow, recently joined us.

What’s your favorite thing about working at SNRE?
At the University of Michigan, you can find experts to collaborate with in almost any field. This is something you cannot always find at other universities. Within SNRE, it’s the same on a more focused scale. There are experts in almost every environmentally related field right here in the Dana Building. That’s really convenient and inspires a lot of interdisciplinary research.

What kind of interdisciplinary partnerships have you been involved in?
Right now I’m working with SNRE Assistant Professor Josh Newell on urban sustainability. I’m an engineer by training, so I work on the technical assessment side. He is a geographer by training, so he works on issues of equity and the social aspects of urban sustainability. We combine those two perspectives. We recently were awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study water scarcity risks for industries with global supply chains, with the goal of helping businesses mitigate those risks and contribute to global water conservation.

I just finished up another NSF grant project with SNRE Associate Professor Shelie Miller. She does life cycle analysis, and I do agent-based modeling, so we were able to combine our expertise to create models that can better predict the life-cycle environmental impacts of bioenergy systems.

You’ve had a big year. Tell us about your latest achievements.
I recently was nominated for and actually won the Laudise Medal, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the field of industrial ecology by a researcher younger than 36. It’s been given out at the International Society for Industrial Ecology biennial conference since 2003.

I also became editor-in-chief for Resources, Conservation, and Recycling, an important monthly journal that’s been around for 20-plus years. I’ve contributed to it in the past, and I’d been an associate editor since 2013. Editing the journal definitely involves teamwork. There are two associate editors who help me evaluate papers for publication, and we are actively looking for another.

And, I worked on a special issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology. A group of us in my subfield sent a proposal, and the editor-in-chief approved it, and we began organizing it. The topic is “Advances in Complex Adaptive Systems and Industrial Ecology.” I served as co-editor and contributed two articles to the issue.

What aspect of your work are you most proud of?
Last winter I taught my first two courses—a graduate class and a PitE class. During the whole term, I felt like I had a lot of room to improve in terms of my teaching. So at the end, before the evaluations, I was actually very nervous because I felt I didn’t do a good enough job. But when I looked at the evaluations, they were pretty good. It was a good surprise. I was very touched by how the students saw me as a teacher even though I feel I have a lot of room to improve. They supported me, and it was a very good experience.

What else do you do besides work?
I spend time with my daughters; one is 8 months old and one is four and a half. It’s still too early to teach the older one about systems analysis. We do whatever she wants.