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A cross-divisional department spanning

Research Areas

Risk Sciences and Public Policy


Risk professionals are under increased pressure to interpret complex environmental and health situations in creative ways. This research area provides multidisciplinary education designed to increase awareness of the scientific underpinnings of risk assessment and provide a bridge between science and policy that allows innovative public health solutions to complex problems. Risk assessment methods are applied to address a wide range of environmental and public health issues including chemical, microbiological, radiological exposures, natural and man-made disasters, and to evaluate new technologies. Risk assessors are employed in academic, governmental and non-governmental organizations across multiple sectors such as agriculture, energy, environmental protection, armed forces, public health, and transportation.

The Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is dedicated to the protection of public health through education, service, and research in risk policy, providing scientists and decision makers with the tools necessary to ensure that environmental health policies result in improved public health, and offer multidisciplinary education designed to broaden the base of scientific knowledge underlying risk assessment and thus bridge the gap between environmental health science and policy. Research and service activities improve the science base for risk assessment, cultivate better risk assessment methods, and enhance the risk management process.

Research Highlights

Assessing the Bioweapons Threat

The US government (USG) has taken steps intended to diminish the likelihood of misuse of research—in one recent action, declaring a funding moratorium on gain-of-function studies on influenza until a risk-benefit analysis can be conducted. The analysis examined biosafety concerns, the potential for such research to produce a biological weapons agent, and the possibility that publication may lower barriers to bioweapons development. To analyze the security risks of biological research, however, it is first necessary to determine the likelihood that bioweapons will threaten national security and to what degree legitimate research is at risk of misuse.

Mitigating the Risks of Synthetic Biology

As part of the Center for Health Security’s continued effort to raise awareness of and offer policy recommendations for emerging biotechnologies, this project uses “red teaming” methodologies to identify and analyze new scientific advances and technologies that have the potential to be deliberately misused to create a biological weapon. Numerous firms in the public and private sectors benefit from red teaming exercises that help identify and quantify risks, as well as to generate new ideas to protect vulnerabilities by challenging exercise participants to view a problem through the lens of an adversary. Vulnerabilities identified during the red team exercises are analyzed and validated to inform the Center’s development of technical and policy solutions that protect emerging biotechnologies for their benefits while minimizing the possibility of misuse.

Associated Faculty

Joseph Bressler, PhD*

Bressler's laboratory has been studying transporters and their interaction with environmental toxins.


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Paul Ferraro, PhD

Ferraro's research focuses on behavioral economics and the design and evaluation of environmental programs in the private and public sector. Because these research areas are multi-disciplinary and applied, he collaborates with scientists and engineers from a variety of social, natural and physical science disciplines, as well as practitioners in the field.


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Gigi Gronvall, PhD

Gronvall’s work addresses the role of scientists in health security—how they can contribute to an effective technical response against a biological weapon or a natural epidemic. She is particularly interested in developing policies that will boost the safety and security of biological science activities while allowing beneficial research to flourish.


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Shima Hamidi, PhD*

Dr. Hamidi has expertise in geospatial data, built environment, housing and transportation and their connections to public health.


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Chris Heaney, PhD*

Heaney's research focuses on environmentally-mediated impacts on health and well-being, specifically community land use, waste disposal, and food production practices, and integrates the academic disciplines of environmental microbiology, molecular biology, immunology, epidemiology, and community-based participatory research (CBPR).


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Ben Hobbs, PhD

Hobbs research encompases policy, planning, operations and environmental impact of energy systems and, decision analysis and economics of ecosystem restoration.


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Paul Locke, JD, DrPH

Locke’s research and practice target the intersection of environmental health sciences, policy and law in the areas of radiation policy and law and toxicity testing.


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Keeve Nachman, PhD*

Nachman's research program focuses on the human health risks posed by drugs used in food animals. His publications include studies of antibiotic use in food animals and the development of antibiotic resistance, the use of arsenicals in poultry production, and environmental health policy and decision-making.


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Roni Neff, PhD*

Neff's research focuses on food system environmental sustainability and resilience, including equity issues. Her current COVID-19 projects include a U.S. national and Maryland survey related to food security and access, serving on the executive team for the National Food Access and COVID Research Team (NFACT); performing a survey of U.S. food system workers, and supporting a food system indicator project. 


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Kellogg Schwab, PhD*

Schwab’s research focuses on environmental microbiology and engineering with an emphasis on the fate and transport of pathogenic microorganisms in water, food and the environment. Data gathered during these studies are then integrated into exposure assessments for risk analysis and microbial risk assessment.



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Monica Schoch-Spana, PhD

Schoch-Spana is a medical anthropologist whose areas of expertise include community resilience to disaster, public engagement in policymaking, crisis and risk communication, and public health emergency preparedness.


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Crystal Watson, DrPH

Watson's policy research focuses on public health risk assessment, crisis and risk-based decision making during contamination emergencies, public health and medical preparedness and response, biodefense, and emerging infectious diseases.


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*Denotes faculty who are accepting PhD students.