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Jonathan Gilligan is Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Vanderbilt University. They are director of Vanderbilt’s interdisciplinary Grand Challenge Initiative on Climate and Society.

Gilligan received their BA in Physics, with a minor in Philosophy from Swarthmore College and their Ph.D. in Physics from Yale University, for which they performed the first measurements of molecular spectra accurate enough to resolve quantum-electrodynamic effects.

They were a National Research Council Postdoctoral Associate at the Time and Frequency Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where they worked with David Wineland using laser-cooled trapped atomic ions to study the fundamental properties of quantum measurements and improve the accuracy of atomic clocks.

They led a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado using a multichannel gas chromatograph on a NASA airborne mission to study ozone depletion, for which they received a NASA Group Achievement Award and a NOAA Outstanding Scientific Paper award.

In 1994, Gilligan joined Vanderbilt’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, where they applied physics to material science, biology, and medicine, later becoming the Robert T. Lagemann Assistant Professor of Living State Physics.

In 2003 they joined Vanderbilt’s newly-established Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, where they collaborate on interdisciplinary research into interactions between human behavior, society, and environmental change. They are principal investigator on a National Science Foundation grant to study how the adoption of clean energy, electric vehicles, and broadband telecommunications affects urban and rural communities in the Southeastern United States. Other recent research projects include studying the role of the private sector in regulating greenhouse gas emissions, studying water-conservation policies in U.S. cities, studying interactions between climate change, land use, and rural agricultural communities in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and applying machine-learning methods to studying gentrification and its impacts on inequalities in mobility and access to public transport.

Gilligan has published one book and more than 100 scholarly articles, and holds two patents. Their paper, “Household Actions Can Provide a Behavioral Wedge to Rapidly Reduce U.S. Carbon Emissions” (co-authored with Thomas Dietz, Gerald Gardner, Paul Stern, and Michael Vandenbergh) has been cited more than 1,600 times, and their paper, “Beyond Gridlock” (co-authored with Michael Vandenbergh) won the 2017 Morrison Prize, for the highest-impact paper of the year on sustainability law and policy. Their book, Beyond Politics: The Private Governance Response to Climate Change (co-authored with Michael Vandenbergh) was recognized with a Vanderbilt Chancellor’s Award for Research in 2018 and was named one of the most important books on environmental policy of the last 50 years by Environmental Forum.

They also collaborated with their mother, Carol Gilligan, to write the play The Scarlet Letter (a feminist adaptation of Hawthorne) and the libretto for the opera Pearl.

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Contact Info:

  • U.S. Mail:

    Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences

    Vanderbilt University

    2301 Vanderbilt PL, PMB 351805

    Nashville, TN 37235-1805


  • Deliveries (Fedex, UPS, etc.):

    Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences

    Vanderbilt University

    5726 Stevenson Center (7th Floor)

    Stevenson Center Drive

    Nashville, TN 37240 USA

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My Erdős number is 4, via David J. Wineland → Emanuel Knill → Vance Faber → Paul Erdős