John Petersen ’88

  • Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology


  • BA, Oberlin College, 1988
  • MS, Yale University, 1992
  • PhD, University Maryland Baltimore County, 1998


I am a “systems ecologist” by training, which means I study flows of energy, cycles of matter, and control mechanisms operating in complex systems.

At Oberlin, much of my research has focused on understanding the role that communication and feedback control play in both ecological and social systems. From a practical perspective, our group of faculty and student collaborators have been developing real-time feedback display technology for buildings, organizations, and whole cities with the goal of engaging, educating, motivating and empowering resource conservation and pro-environmental and pro-community thought and action.

Our work currently centers on the Environmental Dashboard ( , a technology and approach for promoting systems thinking, sustainability, and resilience within communities. The project team collaborates closely with k-college educators, businesses leaders, government and non-profit organizations.

The city of Oberlin serves as a pilot of this technology. Several of our student collaborators have gone on to careers that build on this work. Together with three former students, I cofounded the company Lucid Design Group. Lucid’s software is now used to track energy and water use in thousands of buildings, across the United States and Canada.

More recently the Oberlin team started CommunityHub, which is developing a suite of communications and feedback technology to expand this work to other communities.

  • Systems Ecology
  • Wetland Restoration
  • Energy Monitoring

Fall 2024

Ecosystem Ecology — ENVS 316
Practicum in Environmental Communication — ENVS 354


John Petersen Coauthored Paper to Appear in "Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems"

April 10, 2024

Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology John Petersen recently published the paper "Biochar has positive but distinct impacts on root, shoot, and fruit production in beans, tomatoes, and willows" in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems with undergraduate collaborators and coauthors Sunniva Sheffield and Taylor Hoeffer. Additional Oberlin College students acknowledged for their research contributions include: Grace Gao, Aidan Kirchgraber, Stephanie Macedo, Elise Steenburgh, Qiao Hui Zhang, and Sophia Cartsonis.