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Ausubel studies environmental sciences and technologies important for the environment. His group examines long-term technical change; its relationships with the productivity of energy, materials, land, and other resources; and consequences for nature and human populations. Underlying the work are studies of the mathematics of growth and diffusion. The program houses research, organizes meetings on topics of interest to the campus community, and encourages collaborations ranging from complex international fieldwork to studies with local high school students.

Ausubel founded and helped lead the Census of Marine Life, a worldwide effort to study the diversity, distribution, and abundance of ocean life. Researchers in the program advanced the use of short sequences of DNA (including extracellular or eDNA) for species identification. Studies on birds and hominids align datasets of thousands of short DNA “barcode” sequences to understand evolutionary patterns and implications for evolutionary theory.

Ausubel helped create and lead the international Deep Carbon Observatory, which searched for the origins and limits of life and for the roots of petroleum and natural gas. Another stream of work analyzing changes in land use addresses the question, “How much land can 10 billion people spare for nature?”

He also seeks to better understand and conserve cultural heritage by analyzing traces of DNA found on works of art, notebooks, and other sources. Human DNA sequences might offer new insights about the sensory attributes, family history, and materials used by artists and other important cultural figures, and microbial sequences might advance knowledge about how to slow the degradation of cultural heritage.

Ausubel leads the university’s Insight Lecture Series, as well as the Hurford Initiative on Science and Diplomacy, a set of activities for graduate students and postdocs that explores international implications of their work.