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Tom Ptak

Tom Ptak

Assistant Professor


McClure Hall 405B



Mailing Address

Department of Geography
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive, MS 3021
Moscow, ID 83844-3021

I am a human-environment geographer. My work is driven by a strong motivation to help solve some of the world’s most pressing human and ecological challenges, which are often embedded within processes linked to the production, distribution, consumption (and storage) of energy. The range of challenges covered by my research include—but are not limited to—human-induced climate change, energy centered inequality, access and exploitation of resources, uneven, unsustainable and inequitable development, water, food & energy security. 

Centered in the rapidly emerging sub-discipline of energy geography, I have three current streams of research. The first analyzes a range of outcomes driven by the proliferation of small hydropower in the Nu River valley of Yunnan Province, China. Second; I analyze how the current rescaling of energy networks in the United States—from regional grids and utility scale models to household systems and smart grids—shapes a range of social, political and environmental challenges. Here, I am interested in the interplay between federal and state energy policies, geography, and development of commercial, industrial and community based solar projects. Finally, I am working to advance new theoretical considerations of energy security and policy. This conceptual work is informed by field research and critical analysis of transboundary energy projects between Southwest China and Southeast Asia.

I am an active member of the Energy and Environment Specialty Group of the American Association of Geographers, and play a leadership role in a network of scholars focused on small hydropower research.

If you are interested in collaborating on research, or are considering applying to graduate school, please contact me to discuss current research and funding opportunities in the Geography program at the University of Idaho.

(2017) Ptak, T., Considering Multiple China’s in the Geopolitics of Mekong River Dams, Political Geography,

(2016) Ptak, T., Hommel, D., The Trans-political Nature of Southwest China’s Energy Conduit, Yunnan Province, Geopolitics,

(2014) Ptak, T., Dams and Development: Understanding Hydropower in Far Western Yunnan Province, China, Focus on Geography, Vol. 57, No. 2, pp. 43–53, doi: 10.1111/foge.12028

Small Hydropower Development in Yunnan Province, Southwest China Borders and Regional Integration, New Energy Paradigm & Energy Security, Transnational Energy Networks

  • 2016 Recognition Award, Asian Geography Specialty Group Graduate Paper Competition, Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting
  • 2015 Best Panel Award, University of Oregon Graduate School Research Forum, Panel Organizer and Presenter, Water: Our Planets Most Valuable Resource
  • 2014 President’s Award for best PhD Student Paper, Association of Pacific Coast Geographers Annual Meeting, Tucson, Arizona


Physical Address:
McClure Hall 201

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive, MS 3021
Moscow, ID 83844-3021

Phone: 208-885-6216


Web: Department of Geography