Our Mission

Provide a data-driven understanding of complex urban systems that are governed by both physical and behavioral sciences by pursuing novel science and technology to observe, measure, analyze, and model urban dynamics from city to global scales.

Understanding and Optimizing the Impact of Future Technologies, Policies, and Populations

The world is urbanizing rapidly, experiencing an unprecedented rate of population growth that is increasing demand for energy, food, water, and other natural resources and raising concern about environmental impacts and matters of human security such as poverty, crime, and pandemics.

With this growth has come an explosion in Big Data, fed by citizens’ billions of inputs on social media as well as countless other cyber platforms. In this sea of information lies a singular opportunity to understand and anticipate human dynamics in urban environments. The Urban Dynamics Institute (UDI) at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) was established to develop novel science and technology to observe, measure, analyze, and model urban dynamics—from the city to the global scale. UDI’s work gives researchers a data-driven understanding of complex urban systems, governed by the rigor of both physical and behavioral sciences.

World Class Analysis

Using scalable computing, data visualization, and unique data sets from a variety of sources, the institute fosters innovative interdisciplinary research that integrates ORNL expertise in energy, transportation, cyber, and data sciences. UDI’s ability to model, analyze, and simulate urban environments at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolutions provides an unparalleled opportunity for scenario-driven analysis, where the consequences of future technologies, policies, demographic and socioeconomic changes can be studied.

In addition to Big Data analysis of large cities, a core function of the institute is to provide data and analytical capabilities to smaller and emerging cities, helping them to make scientifically informed infrastructure decisions that create resilient, sustainable communities where energy, environment, and mobility are optimized together. By collaborating with public- and private- sector partners, UDI bridges foundational research and development, the operational community, and industry.


  1. Characterize the impact of future water, energy, and transportation strategies and societal interdependencies to discover the emerging behavior of urban systems over large spatial and temporal scales through large-scale, data-driven analysis, modeling, and simulation and visualization. 
  2. Measure and evaluate land use, energy, transportation, and cyber technologies and policies through dynamic monitoring of resources, critical infrastructures, and human conditions. 
  3. Develop fresh insights into sustainability, utility, and the validity of Big Data resources for incorporation into science, infrastructure operations, and, ultimately, governance through novel analysis of social media and volunteered geographic information. 
  4. Provide effective access to and delivery of domain knowledge, tools, and skills for land use and critical infrastructure planners, practitioners, and decision makers through emerging data and computational architectures.