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Jonathan Gilligan is The Alexander Heard Distinguished Service Professor, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Vanderbilt University. He is director of Vanderbilt's interdisciplinary Grand Challenge Initiative on Climate and Society.

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

He was a National Research Council Postdoctoral Associate at the Time and Frequency Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where he 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.

He 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 he 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 he applied physics to material science, biology, and medicine, later becoming the Robert T. Lagemann Assistant Professor of Living State Physics.

In 2003 he joined Vanderbilt's newly-established Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, where he collaborates on interdisciplinary research into interactions between human behavior, society, and environmental change. His 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 100 scholarly articles and holds two patents. His 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 1,200 times and his 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. His 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.

He also collaborated with his 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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Academic/Professional Data:

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

My Schedule:


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