November 2, 2012
As a doctoral student in History and Philosophy of Science at Arizona State University, Lydia Pyne ended up sharing an office with her father Steve Pyne, a professor of environmental history in the university’s School of Life Sciences and senior sustainability scientist with the Global Institute of Sustainability. Steve’s extra storage space – for housing his many books and projects – also offered his daughter a small, private workspace away from the crowded graduate student office.
It also offered the pair the opportunity to turn their frequent, playful intellectual banter into a co-authored book and, for Lydia, a dream come true. Their exchanges inspired “The Last Lost World: Ice Ages, Human Origins and the Invention of the Pleistocene.” This nonfiction book is an intergenerational work representing the authors’ intellectual adventure into the rich scientific and historical underpinnings of an important geological time period.
The Pleistocene, an era that lasted from more than 2.6 million years ago to approximately 10,000 years ago, is defined by the last great ice age and the appearance of modern humanity’s ancestors. Yet, as presented in the book’s title, just what is the “invention” of the Pleistocene?
“Even the ideas we developed to explain the epoch have a history – they are themselves cultural inventions,” explained Steve. “This work argues that we need to supplement science of human origins and evolution with other scholarship.”
October 31, 2012
In a feature on Phoenix NPR station KJZZ, ASU’s Aaron Golub discusses the proposed increase in terms of the balance between affordability and cost recovery that all public transit needs to maintain.
“Periodically, as costs, ridership and revenues change, transit agencies need to update their fares to take into account the new reality,” says Golub, who is an assistant professor of urban planning and sustainability.
October 30, 2012
As an environmental anthropologist, Shauna BurnSilver is concerned with people’s relationships with their environment, how these relationships are changing, and what this means for vulnerability and well-being. She joined Arizona State University’s faculty last year and has already earned accolades for her research. Most recently, one of her research collaborations was recognized by the Ecological Society of America with a Sustainability Science Award.
The awarded research developed out of many discussions BurnSilver had with her fellow researchers and community collaborators about how to do better science. They wanted to implement a new collaborative method that could help alleviate poverty and support sustainable livelihoods and conservation in East African pastoral regions.
“As somebody who really cares about outcomes in terms of poverty and well-being—you can’t help but begin to really think about what your research means and how it is used,” says BurnSilver, a senior sustainability scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability and faculty member in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.
October 30, 2012
Note: Matei “Matt” Georgescu is a Senior Sustainability Scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability, assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, and adjunct faculty at the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. His work focuses on the environmental impacts of renewable energy expansion, as well as the water and climate effects resulting from large-scale urbanization. Prior to joining ASU in 2010, he conducted research in the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University and, while at Rutgers, was the recipient of a NASA Earth System Science Fellowship.
When did sustainability become an important part of your research?
Although my research has gradually integrated sustainability elements from my days as an undergraduate student at Rutgers University, it wasn’t until I arrived at ASU in the summer of 2010 that sustainability became a special focus. ASU’s campus-wide emphasis and concerted efforts toward sustainability-related research were essential in facilitating this focus.
What are your most important sustainability-related research projects?
First, I am a principal investigator of a five-year bioenergy project funded by the National Science Foundation under its Water Sustainability and Climate initiative. This project, which includes Sustainability Scientists from across ASU, focuses on the long-term sustainability of growing perennial grasses for ethanol production in the United States. These perennial grasses, such as miscanthus and switchgrass, offer significant advantages over their annual competitors, such as maize.
October 23, 2012
Sun Devil Stadium tailgaters may have spoken with small student groups roaming around before recent home ASU football games. These students are not there primarily as sports revelers, but zero waste ambassadors. Outfitted in “Zero Waste by 2015” emblazoned black T-shirts, their mission is simple; to educate football fans about the university’s 2015 zero waste goal.
“Achieving the university’s zero waste goal is something that requires well-engineered, back-of-the-house recycling and waste disposal operations, as well as ASU community involvement to recycle, and to avert and divert waste headed to local landfills,” said Nick Brown, director of university sustainability practices at ASU.
October 23, 2012
Emily Talen, ASU professor of planning and senior sustainability scientist, talked about how city zoning, coding and laws got started, and how they need to be changed to help build more livable cities, as a guest on the nationally syndicated Wisconsin Public Radio show “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” which aired around the country the week of Oct. 21.
In the program, Talen makes the case that in the contemporary United States, the reasons behind zoning codes and laws aren’t always clear, and don’t always foster livable communities.
The history of zoning “is a story of taking a good idea too far, and trying to make zoning solve all kinds of perceived social problems,” argues Talen. She explains that the form-based code movement, in which zoning is backed up by a visual plan, provides an alternative to current zoning code.
“The end goal is to create communities that are walkable, diverse, compact, and are transit-oriented,” she says.
October 22, 2012
Sustainability Science for Sustainable Schools was honored at the 32nd annual Valley Forward Environmental Excellence Awards, held September 29th. The awards ceremony brought together over 600 community members from all spectrums—business, nonprofit, education, and technology—to give recognition to those exemplifying sustainability and environmental responsibility in the Phoenix metro area.
This year, Valley Forward chose among over 120 entries. Sustainability Science for Sustainable Schools received a merit award for the category, Environmental Education/Communication in the Public Sector. The Sustainable Schools project was recognized for its wide reach and ability to tailor sustainability education to a diverse range of communities and populations.
“We appreciate Valley Forward’s recognition of our graduate students’ and their partner teachers’ work to implement sustainability projects in Valley schools,” says Monica Elser, education manager at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability and co-principal investigator of the Sustainable Schools project. “This award provides us with even more incentive to share our program both locally and nationally.”
October 16, 2012
Anthony J. Brazel, ASU professor emeritus and senior sustainability scientist, has received the Helmet E. Landsberg Award for 2013 from the American Meteorological Society’s Board on the Urban Environment. The AMS is this country’s primary professional society for atmospheric scientists.
“Tony’s recognition by the American Meteorological Society highlights the prominent recognition his work has garnered across a spectrum of geophysical disciplines,” said Randall Cerveny, ASU President’s Professor and climatologist in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “His research papers, with topics that include everything from Phoenix urban dust storms to the intricacies of urban climate energy fluxes, are some of the most highly regarded works by geographical climatologists.”
“Brazel’s work in urban climatology – particularly in desert urban climatology – over the last four decades has, quite literally, shaped the fundamental concepts and themes for current research into this increasingly vital and important scientific and social topic,” observes Luc Anselin, Regents’ Professor and School of Geographical Sciences director.
Brazel will receive the Landsberg Award at the society’s national meeting, which takes place in Austin, Texas, Jan. 6-10, 2013.
October 16, 2012
ASU SkySong, in conjunction with ASU Lightworks and ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, hosted Arizona Solar Summit III: Game Changers. The summit focused on highlighting the game-changing efforts of Arizona’s statewide solar industry.
More than 250 people throughout Arizona participated in Summit III, which began Oct. 5 with a pre-summit tour of Tucson’s top solar sites and projects and culminated with a two-day event hosted at ASU SkySong.
The four working groups that were formed out of the first summit will continue their efforts in the areas of Supply Chain, Building Arizona’s Solar Narrative, Policy and Finance, and Research and Development. The working groups are critical to the success of furthering Arizona’s solar future. Members of the solar community are encouraged to visit azsolarsummit.org to stay engaged with the working groups and to see latest updates on Summit IV.
October 11, 2012
A team of faculty from ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) traveled to Ghana in May to install an innovative pit latrine that purifies human waste and generates electricity.
Mark Henderson, professor in the engineering department at CTI, and Brad Rogers, associate professor in the department of engineering technology at CTI, are co-principal investigators on the project and collaborated with Caitlyn Butler, a civil engineering professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Butler developed the primary design and implementation of the microbial fuel cell latrine while Henderson and Rogers supported the global sustainability efforts of the project. The project was funded by a $100,000 grant from the Grand Challenges Exploration program supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The pit latrine was developed as a response from many rural African communities who experience problems with waterborne diseases because of poor sanitation facilities. In the process, principal investigators designed a system in which liquids are used to generate electricity while solids can be used as compost for farming.
October 10, 2012
Arizona State University researchers have developed a new software system capable of estimating greenhouse gas emissions across entire urban landscapes, all the way down to roads and individual buildings. Until now, scientists quantified carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at a much broader level.
Dubbed “Hestia” after the Greek goddess of the hearth and home, researchers presented the new system in an article published Oct. 9 in Environmental Science and Technology. Hestia combines extensive public database “data-mining” with traffic simulation and building-by-building energy-consumption modeling. Its high-resolution maps clearly identify CO2 emission sources in a way that policymakers can utilize and the public can understand.
“Cities have had little information with which to guide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – and you can’t reduce what you can’t measure,” said Kevin Gurney, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, and senior scientist with the Global Institute of Sustainability. “With Hestia, we can provide cities with a complete, three-dimensional picture of where, when and how carbon dioxide emissions are occurring.”
October 9, 2012
Arizona State University chemical engineer and sustainability scientist César Torres is the winner of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) 2012 Young Investigator Award. The honor recognizes his contributions to bioenergy research.
Torres is an assistant professor at the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. His research is conducted in the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at ASU’s Biodesign Institute.
“We look at microorganisms to find ways to convert either biomass or solar energy into electricity or fuels,” Torres explains.
Torres also recently began work with the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship: Solar Utilization Network, a program supported by the National Science Foundation that will train doctoral students in the solar-energy field.
October 8, 2012
Based on his work to develop and implement innovative approaches to teaching engineering, ASU faculty member and sustainability scientist Thomas Seager has been selected to participate in the National Academy of Engineering’s Frontiers of Engineering Education Symposium. Seager joins Jeffrey LaBelle from ASU’s School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering and Aviral Shrivastava from ASU’s School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering.
More than 70 university and college engineering faculty from across the country will gather for the event Oct. 14-17 in Irvine, Calif., to share ideas, research findings, and teaching methods.
“It is absolutely critical that U.S. engineering educators learn how to become more effective in the classroom, utilizing technology and pedagogy in creative ways in order to produce more innovative graduates who have the ability to address the complex problems of the 21st century,” said symposium chair Larry Shuman.
October 2, 2012
Florida, co-founder of The Atlantic Cities and expert in U.S. urbanization says “the United States economy grew substantially more slowly than initially estimated between April and June of this year, a torpid 1.3 percent.” This economic downturn began during the Great Recession but has lasted so long, experts say the nation is facing a “lost decade” of economic growth.
Lobo analyzed the growth and decline of metros across the country, identifying how the Great Recession affected economic growth. “Which metros have grown and which have faltered over the past decade? How has the geography of growth changed since the onset of the Great Recession?” Florida writes.
Lobo then used data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to chart the economic growth of more than 350 metropolitan areas during 2001 to 2010 and during the post-crisis period, 2008 to 2010. Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute mapped the results.
The Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale area made the top-ten list of large metros (more than 1 million people) who had the best economic growth over the past decade (2001-2010). However, during 2008 through 2010, Sun Belt metros like Phoenix were hit the hardest during the Great Recession, leading Florida to ask: “Are there metros that defy the boom-bust pattern, where growth has remained relatively consistent before and after the crisis?”
October 2, 2012
Arizona State University researchers will embark on a novel renewable energy project with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its Water Sustainability and Climate program (WSC).
NSF is providing $1.5 million to ASU to identify suitable locations across the United States where perennial biomass energy crops (e.g., miscanthus and switchgrass) could be grown sustainably. The five-year interdisciplinary project will integrate physical, agricultural and economic elements, embedded within a high-performance computing (HPC) framework, to identify geographically sustainable “hot-spots,” areas best-suited for expansion of perennial bioenergy crops.
“This effort brings together researchers from diverse backgrounds to explore critically important questions related to domestic energy security and large-scale climate change,” said Matei Georgescu, assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and Sustainability Scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability. Georgescu is the principal investigator of the project.
October 2, 2012
Perhaps inspired by Arizona’s blazing summers, Arizona State University scientists have developed a new method that relies on heat to improve the yield and lower the costs of high-energy biofuels production, making renewable energy production more of an everyday reality.
ASU Biodesign Institute researcher Roy Curtiss, a microbiologist who uses genetic engineering of bacteria to develop new vaccines, has adapted a similar approach to make better biofuel-producing cyanobacteria.
“We keep trying to reach ever deeper into our genetic bag of tricks and optimize bacterial metabolic engineering to develop an economically viable, truly green route for biofuel production,” said Roy Curtiss, director of the Biodesign Institute’s Centers for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology and Microbial Genetic Engineering as well as professor in the School of Life Sciences.
October 2, 2012
Arizona State University chemical engineer Jean Andino will share her expertise in renewable energy development with research colleagues and students in Panama with the support of a prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar award.
Andino is on the faculty of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Her teaching and research focuses on atmospheric chemistry, chemical kinetics, and air pollution sensing and control. In the energy area, her work at ASU involves seeking ways to convert carbon dioxide into fuels.
Andino plans to spend a semester at Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá with the Centro de Investigación e Innovación Eléctrica, Mecánica y de la Industria, as well as with the Facultad de Ingeniería Mecánica, where she will consult on air quality and energy issues, give seminars and teach a short course.
October 2, 2012
A dramatic rise in atmospheric oxygen levels has long been speculated as the trigger for early animal evolution. In the Sept. 27 issue of the journal Nature, researchers for the first time offer evidence of a causal link between trends in early biological diversity and shifts in Earth system processes.
The fossil record shows a marked increase in animal and algae fossils roughly 635 million years ago. Researchers, including sustainability scientist Ariel Anbar, believe that oceanic oxygen levels spiked suddenly at this time, in the wake of a severe glaciation, reaching the level necessary to allow animals to flourish. The new evidence pre-dates previous estimates of a life-sustaining oxygenation event by more than 50 million years.
September 27, 2012
By Hunter Lovins
Note: Hunter Lovins is a past Wrigley Lecture Series speaker at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and was a keynote speaker at the inaugural conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education held at ASU in 2006.
Business is probably the only institution on the planet that is nimble and well-managed enough to respond to the global sustainability crises facing humanity. Such challenges as the impacts of climate change, soaring resource prices, poverty, and loss of biodiversity are threats, but are also opportunities. The businesses that successfully respond will be big winners in the marketplace.
Business sustainability leaders already outperform their less sustainable peers. Over 40 studies from all the major management consulting houses, as well as from academic journals such as Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Review, show that the companies that are sustainability leaders have higher and faster growing stock value, better financial results, lower risks, and more engaged workforces than other companies.
Despite all this, we’re losing. The international Convention on Biological Diversity report, Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, highlights a sobering loss of species and habitats among the world’s ecosystems. Threats like the acidification of the oceans could, worst case, end life as we know it on earth. This has happened several times before on our planet with up to 90 percent of species going extinct. Meanwhile, both the International Energy Agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warn that unless global leaders implement more sustainable practices immediately we will, perhaps as early as 2017, lock in an unsurvivable amount of global warming.
September 26, 2012
It’s called mile-a-minute weed or “forest killer.”Mikania micrantha is an exotic, invasive species that spreads quickly, covering crops, smothering trees and rapidly altering the environment.
Researchers at Arizona State University are spearheading a four-year research project that will explore what factors cause people and the environment to be vulnerable to rapid environmental change, such as an invasion by Mikania.
Study findings likely will serve as a harbinger of the future as humans increasingly experience abrupt, extreme conditions associated with climate change, said Sharon J. Hall, the study’s co-principal investigator, sustainability scientist, and ASU School of Life Sciences associate professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“There are many communities that have to deal with and adapt to rapid change. Mikania is just one example,” Hall said. “We’re looking at how social and ecological forces in communities make them more resistant or vulnerable to rapid environmental change.”