Atkinson Center grants $1.2 million to sustainable ideas

Ivanpah solar power facility
Gilles Mingasson
Cornell scientists will measure environmental impacts on pollinating bees that gather near at the Ivanpah solar power facility, shown here, in California’s Mojave Desert. Ivanpah generates enough power for 140,000 homes and it is currently the largest solar thermal plant in operation in the world.

Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (ACSF) has given $1.2 million from its Academic Venture Fund to 11 new university projects selected from 37 proposals. This year marks the second straight year where more than $1 million has been granted.

“We make seed grants to multidisciplinary teams with exciting ideas that address sustainability problems and opportunities. The process is very competitive and usually brings together faculty who have not previously worked together,” says Frank DiSalvo, Atkinson Center director and the John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science.

The grants will enable teams to obtain initial data or proof of principle to find external collaborators in government, for-profit or nonprofit companies, nongovernmental organizations or philanthropies to help grow the project, he said.

DiSalvo said Atkinson Center seed grants become amplified in time. “Currently, that return on investment is more than $7 for every $1 that the Atkinson Center puts into seed grants,” he said. “Our work with external organizations is necessary to implement solutions for local, national and international impact. Achieving a sustainable future is a long path and Cornell has begun the journey.”

The 2015 projects:

Quick Cleanup of Contaminated Water: Researchers have invented a promising new polymer that removes trace water contaminants – including pesticides and pharmaceuticals – more quickly than widely used sorbents like activated carbon. The scientists will analyze the polymer’s performance on emerging contaminants, demonstrate scalability and launch a pilot test.

Real Savings from Home Retrofits: A team of researchers will deploy data loggers into hundreds of pre- and post-retrofitted homes to measure building performance and energy savings. Current data is based on models and simulations.

Solar Power’s Shadow Costs: Scientists will measure environmental impacts on pollinating bees that gather at the Ivanpah concentrating solar power facility in California’s Mojave Desert.

Reviving Oysters: Oysters clarify water and build critical reef habitats, and eastern oysters are central to coastal restoration plans in New England. Researchers will examine public health risks, hatchery genetic diversity and conservation goals.

Tracking Seismic Activity: A team of geologists, engineers and social scientists will gather and analyze data, public attitudes and perceptions of geothermal energy.

Ecological Calendars for Climate Change: A multidisciplinary group of researchers will revive and develop ecological calendars that rely on natural cues, such as the arrival of birds, to guide rural communities as they adapt to climate change.

Geoengineering on a Regional Scale: Social scientists, engineers and communicators will engage Arctic communities to offer regionally acceptable geoengineering strategies to address global warming and melting ice.

Wind Energy, More Efficiently: Researchers will develop a cost-efficient new measurement technology that uses data from seismographs to better quantify wind loading on turbines, optimize wind farm design and monitor the condition of turbine components.

Cornell Climate Plan Reflections: As Cornell has embraced the goal of a carbon-neutral campus by 2035, researchers will develop an accounting tool that assesses the net climate benefits of land-management plans by revealing the carbon trade-offs behind land-use decisions.

Reassessing Roundup: Cornell scientists and partners will measure the movement of the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) in Northeastern fields and surface waters, and test the impact of trace levels on beneficial microbes.

Rapid Test for Waterborne Diseases: Scientists will develop a test kit for quick detection of common waterborne pathogens – bacteria, viruses and protozoa – that cause diarrhea and pilot the kit in Kenya and Honduras.

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Joe Schwartz