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 2021

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

Spring 2022

Environment and Society — ENVS 101
Systems Modeling: Systems Thinking — ENVS 340
Research in Environmental Studies (NSMA) - Full — ENVS 504F


Mental Health Research Assistant: Ify Ezimora ’19

May 15, 2020

Ezimora is applying the professional experience she gained as a double major in psychology and environmental studies as well as her roles as a student treasurer and cochair of the Student Finance Committee.

Oberlin Students Host Earth Day Symposium Online

May 12, 2020

The organizers of the Earth Day 50 celebration shifted their plans to make a 10-day symposium of speakers and panel discussions a virtual experience that appealed to a broad audience.