The Prairie Research Institute conducts transformative research that provides innovative, at-scale solutions for a society undergoing climate and energy transitions. PRI unites scientific expertise in geology, ecology and biodiversity, archaeology, hydrology and water, weather and climate, pollution prevention, and sustainable energy to benefit the people, economy, and environment of Illinois, the nation, and the world.
PRI comprises five state scientific surveys: the Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Illinois State Geological Survey, Illinois State Water Survey, and Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. PRI also oversees the Illinois Water Resources Center, which works with scientists, water professionals, and communities to address water resource challenges.
PRI is a research powerhouse, with FY22 research expenditures exceeding $65 million, representing more than 8 percent of all research expenditures at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Research activities at PRI align with multiple U.N. Sustainability Goals and National Academy of Engineering grand challenges, such as combatting climate change; promoting sustainable agriculture and managing the nitrogen cycle; ensuring availability and sustainable management of water; ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy and developing carbon sequestration methods; promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and halting biodiversity loss; and making cities resilient and sustainable.
PRI provides experiential learning opportunities to more than 150 undergraduate and graduate students every year. These students use ground-penetrating radar to analyze archaeological sites, fly drones along the Lake Michigan coast to investigate erosion, search for endangered and threatened species using innovative techniques like environmental DNA, and monitor water and soil for contaminants. These experiences are vital to the education and professional development of University of Illinois students.
Many PRI scientists hold affiliate appointments with academic units, teach undergraduate and graduate courses, collaborate with faculty, and serve as graduate student advisers and thesis/dissertation committee members.
PRI provides scientific research, expertise, data, and services that help Illinois policymakers, communities, companies, and people make sound decisions about our natural and cultural resources. PRI helps Illinois:
- Develop sustainable energy solutions
- Keep drinking water safe
- Identify geologic and mineral resources
- Fight the spread of invasive species
- Expand and update transportation infrastructure
- Mitigate risks from flooding and other natural hazards
- Fight agricultural pests, like corn rootworm
- Combat diseases spread by ticks and mosquitoes
- Identify water resource problems and help communities develop solutions
- Protect the ecosystems and communities along the Lake Michigan coast
Because of PRI’s critical scientific service to the state, with specific responsibilities described in state statutes, the institute receives foundational funding from a line item in the Illinois budget. PRI delivers an outstanding return on this annual state investment, bringing in $5 in competitive grants and contracts for every $1 from the state of Illinois.
PRI is active in every part of Illinois and is particularly connected to the communities and ecosystems from Lake Michigan to southern Illinois where the institute maintains permanent field stations.