Catalyst Conversations

To encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration and address pressing issues, the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research. and Columbia World Projects launched a series of small faculty gatherings to generate solutions to specific societal challenges.

With faculty drawn from across Columbia's campuses, the conversations aim to nucleate collaborations in research, education, and innovation, leveraging Columbia's unique strengths to create societal impact.

To encourage next steps, the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research opened an RFP to participants for a limited number of Post-Catalyst Conversation Initiator Awards. These awards of up to $25,000 are intended to build upon ideas developed at the dinner.  (Deadline was January 30, 2023)

Past Event Recaps

On November 16, 2022, Professors Kate Orff and Andrew Smyth led a lively discussion between faculty leaders with a variety of perspectives spanning transformative technologies (such as low-carbon materials and manufacturing and computational models for design), urban design, as well as multi-sector models and policies.

The participants discussed challenges and opportunities in sustainable infrastructure, defined for the purpose of the conversation as "all systems that are planned, designed, constructed, operated, and decommissioned to ensure sustainability in a range of realms— economic, social, environmental, institutional, and more. We are interested in built, natural, and hybrid forms, and not just in the creation but also adaptation of existing infrastructure, from buildings to streetscapes and coastlines to services."

On December 7, 2022, Professors Ira Katznelson and Olatunde Johnson convened an evening of discussion with faculty across schools and disciplines on how to address threats to liberal democracy, characterized by multi-party competition with constitutional limits on executive power, lawmaking by at least partially independent legislatures, judiciaries that guard citizen rights that ensure free speech and assembly, protection from predatory action by rulers, and the freedom to pursue plural forms of religious faith, and peaceful transitions of power.

Participants discussed pathways-- conceptual, institutional, and practical-- to help secure, renew and improve the globe’s constitutional representative democracies, while also making them more just, more inclusive, and less divided.   

Post-Catalyst Conversation – Initiator Awards II

What: In an effort to capitalize on the creative exchange of ideas during the Catalyst Conversation Dinners, the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research is offering a limited number of Post-Catalyst Conversation Initiator Awards. These awards of up to $25k are intended to build upon the interdisciplinary Big Ideas developed during the dinners (Healthy Longevity, Maternal Health, Artificial Intelligence and Human Values). Applications must involve at least two faculty from different schools. Supported activities may include, but are no limited to, workshops, honoraria for guest speakers, a series of meetings, design contest, hackathon. In all cases, project leads must present a clear description of the novelty of interdisciplinary approach, expected outcome of the proposed activity (grant application, significant impact on policy/practice, program development), intended use of award funds. Applicants are encouraged to secure additional support for the planned activity from their department or school (i.e., meeting space, administrative support).


Who: The following eligibility terms apply.

  • The competition is open to Columbia faculty. One of the co-leads on the application must have attended a Catalyst Conversation Dinner.
    • Postdocs or graduate students may participate, but not as co-leads
  • There must be at least two co-leads, each from different schools.


When: Internal Deadline - 9:00 a.m. on May 23, 2023

How: To apply, please visit the internal application and instructions on our InfoReady Review site at: Please click the “Columbia University Login” button to view instructions and begin your application.

Questions: [email protected]

Related: The Office of the Provost is accepting proposals for the development of four interdisciplinary courses starting in Fall 2023 or Spring 2024. Full details and RFP are available at