Spotlight on... Catalina Spataru

Catalina Spataru
Catalina Spataru
This week we meet Catalina Spataru, Director of the Energy Institute. Catalina chats to us about working teams across the globe on climate resilience and adaptation, her interest in the blue-green economy and her favourite island with colourful sand dunes and the best pineapple.

What is your role and what does it involve? 

I’ve been at UCL since 2010. I am currently the Director of the Energy Institute and the founder/director of the Islands & Coastal Research Lab (ICR). My role involves various activities: I teach undergraduates and postgraduates and supervise PhD students but I also work with research teams across the globe. In particular, I led the development of various practical toolboxes with mixed methods on topics such as climate resilience and adaptation, sustainability and circular economy. We analysed tradeoffs between energy and other resource use Öland, materials, water, food) under different climatic conditions to determine the most economic, environmentally and reliable solutions for governments to adopt and how to adapt to climate change, the role of innovative technologies and their integration in the market. I also write and edit books, journal articles, reports, policy briefs. I have built up a network of connections and collaborate globally with academics, industrial partners and international organisations in 27 countries. I also serve on journal editorial boards, conferences, and association committees, and advise and collaborate with decision makers. As you see, I am juggling several balls! 

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

I have been involved in lots of projects and have taken several initiatives that have had an impact - from developing models for energy systems for national grids, to informing decision-makers where investments should be made and working with the government and communities to build up resilient and adaptative solutions to climate change, particularly floods, heatwaves, droughts.

There are many achievements that I am proud of, but the one I am proudest of is the Belmont funding I received for the project Re-Energize DR3. I led Re-Energize DR3, working with partners from all’over the world and developing a toolbox for DR3 governance based on the nexus approach, aimed at finding solutions for communities, with implementation in islands and coastal cities, a toolbox that could improve the lives of millions of people. I am also proud of the networks I’ve built throughout my professional life so far. Research with real-world impact isn’t possible without collaborations worldwide, teamwork and mutual trust. 

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list 

In my network I am well known for brilliant ideas, however implementation comes down to resources and funding! Over the years, I’ve managed to build up a large portfolio of research and consultancy projects with a focus on island countries from small island states (such as Mauritius) to large island countries (such as Indonesia), as well as islands within countries (such as Scottish islands, Greek islands). Currently, I am interested in the governance of blue-green economy and innovative solutions for islands of all sizes to adapt to climate change. So, despite having a full to-do list - this is now at the very top!

What is your favourite album, film and book?

I like different types of films, music and book so it is difficult to choose from so many choices. My favourite album could be Evolve by Imagine Dragons, my favourite book The Code Breaker, where the author Isaacson captures the scientific process well, from the flashes of inspiration, to the importance of conferences, the friendship, the rivalry, and the sense of common purpose. For my favourite movie, I would say Enola Holmes, a fun watch, light-hearted and breezy and charming.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

My boss said "dress for the job you want, not for the job you have." So I went in as super woman.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Magicians, for their combination of storytelling and illusion. The mystery allows for so many possibilities to potentially be true.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be yourself, work smartly and don’t let anyone define you. Navigating the boat comes with different challenges, but you are the captain.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I am an artist and I have done multiple works. There is incredible chemistry and creativity behind painting, as there is in being a scientist. 

What is your favourite place?

Mauritius island. Mauritius is a melting pot of cultures, with influences from Africa, Europe, India, and China, with unique species of flora and fauna, sand dunes of seven distinct colours, cascades, white sand, and tasty pineapple.
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