Running Low #260

April 11, 2014

This week, we're looking across the Periodic Table and assessing the scarcity of modern society's essential elements. We're joined by Dr. Thomas Graedel, Director of the Center for Industrial Ecology at Yale University, to talk about the rare metals that play a role in our electronic devices. We'll speak to physics Professor Dr. Moses Hung-Wai Chan about our dwindling supply of helium. And we'll talk about the phosphorous that plays a critical role in modern agriculture, with ecology professor Dr. James Elser, co-organizer of the Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative at Arizona State University.


  • Thomas Graedel
  • Moses Hung-Wai Chan
  • James Elser

Guest Bios

Thomas Graedel

Thomas Graedel is Clifton R. Musser Professor of Industrial Ecology in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University. His research is centered on developing and enhancing industrial ecology, the organizing framework for the study of the interactions of the modern technological society with the environment. His textbook, "Industrial Ecology and Sustainable Engineering", coauthored with B. R. Allenby, was the first book in the field and is now in its third edition. His current interests include studies of the flows of materials within the industrial ecosystem, and of evaluating the criticality of metals. He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering in 2002 for "outstanding contributions to the theory and practice of industrial ecology", and recently chaired the National Research Council committee on Linkages of Sustainability in the Federal Government.

Moses Hung-Wai Chan

Moses Hung-wai Chan is the Evan Pugh Professor of Physics at Pennsylvania State University. His research centres on low temperature phase transition studies of quantum fluids and solids, and superconductivity of nanowires in the one dimensional limit. He was the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Fritz London Memorial Prize. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2007. Chan has served in a number of committees convened by the US National Academy of Sciences including the Committee on Understanding the Impact of Selling the Helium Reserve and Committee on Responsible Science. He is also a member of the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.

James Elser

James Elser investigates the theory of biological stoichiometry – the study of the balance of energy and multiple chemical elements in living systems. He and his international team of collaborators seek to understand how the coupling of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus shapes the ecology and evolution of living things. To do so, they work with a diversity of ecosystems (from lakes and deserts, to hot springs and grasslands), biota (plankton to insects, and pandas to tumors), and approaches (laboratory chemostats, field experiments and mathematical models). Elser played a major role in establishing ASU’s Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative and is now the lead investigator for an NSF Research Coordination Network on Phosphorus Sustainability.

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