James Hoffmann

James Hoffmann

Jim Hoffmann is the major director for Ecosystems and Human Impact.  He teaches Ecology and Systems Modeling, having received a Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Wisconsin, and a B.Sc. in Marine Biology from Cornell University.

I grew up on Long Island within walking distance of water. My family actively maintained a large vegetable garden, composted all kitchen waste, and spent our free time being out in nature. Those early experiences shaped and continue to shape my personal and professional life. I developed a fascination for both fresh and salt water environments and chose to major in marine biology with a minor in chemistry. I then went on to get a PhD in aquatic botany with dual minors in water chemistry and applied statistics. If I had to label myself, I would choose aquatic ecologist, but I’m really a student of everything – a pursuit that serves me well in our transdisciplinary program where a combined literacy of the arts, humanities, and science is essential to our goal of transforming us into a sustainable society.

I bring 31 years of experience as an educator, student mentor, researcher, and administrator to our program. Of the 32 different courses I have taught in my career, the seven I currently teach in sustainability are the most rewarding – these are: sustainable natural resources, ecosystem-based management, green technologies for water treatment, systems modeling, sustainability of the Long Island Pine Barrens, teaching practicum, and agro ecology (I have been an organic gardener for 45 years!). I also participate in our Costa Rica field course.

My entire research career, both within and outside of academia, emphasized numerous interdisciplinary collaborations that focused on solving environmental problems. Within academia, I collaborated with many faculty from Vermont and Stony Brook in civil and environmental engineering, mathematics and computer science, natural resources, geology, biology, chemistry, as well as internationally with simulation modelers from Université d’Auvergne and Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand, France. Outside of academia, I collaborated with researchers at IBM in developing evolutionary algorithms for optimizing simulation models, and I received an IBM Invention Achievement award and a US patent.

My research has centered on aquatic ecosystems and has included computer simulation modeling of these complex systems. I have worked on the physiological and nutritional ecology of algae and aquatic plants, and the use of attached algae for wastewater treatment. Most enjoyable for me is the mentoring of students doing independent research and internships projects. This touches the core of my educational philosophy: we learn best through the process of “hands on” experiential learning. I mentored several students doing projects on optimizing the efficiency of algal turf scrubbers (ATS) for wastewater treatment, both in Vermont and more recently here at Stony Brook. The latter projects included the designing and building of a recirculating aquaculture “living machine” system on the Southampton campus for growing Tilapia. This ecologically engineered system included an ATS, pond and constructed wetland. The algae harvested from the ATS were used as feed for the Tilapia. I also designed our current solar-powered recirculating ATS that some of our undergraduate students in environmental chemistry are using for their research projects.


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