Travel Opportunities Provide New Insight for Students
Ohio State’s Office of Energy and Environment offers financial assistance to Ohio State students to attend or participate in conferences or seminars related to energy, the environment or sustainability, as well as to conduct research in sustainability issues.
Students often travel across the country to give presentations, network with professionals in their fields and gain new knowledge in their areas of study.
Public Affairs Student Examines Sustainable Urban Design in Europe
While U.S. cities such as Columbus are working to implement new transportation methods and sustainable practices, numerous European cities have already done so.
Undergraduate student Caroline Corona studied sustainable urban planning from a global perspective as a participant in the European Cities and Sustainable Urban Planning Practices program.
Corona is a third-year student with a double major in public affairs and city and regional planning. This past May, 2017, Corona traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark; Hamburg and Berlin, Germany; and Amsterdam, Netherlands, each of which are global leaders in environmental planning and sustainable living. The program included interactive studies of each city, where students traveled to different public sites and observed and discussed key sustainable projects and design elements. Corona focused on various public squares, plazas, mixed-use spaces and markets and had the opportunity to meet with professionals and planning firms such as Gottlieb Paludan Architects and officials from the City of Copenhagen.
“My biggest takeaway for sustainable urbanism was to make sustainable living the easiest option,” Corona says.
Corona learned that sustainable cities have designed their streets so it is more difficult to drive than it is to walk, ride a bike or use public transit systems. Corona and fellow students spent time walking, biking and occasionally traveling by train but never once found it necessary to travel by car. She explains that this type of city design has reduced greenhouse gas emissions and helped city residents maintain healthy lifestyles.
“I’m grateful for this opportunity not only because it introduced me to new urban design and sustainable planning principles,” she says, “but because it widened my worldview.” Corona received funding from the Office of Energy and Environment for her trip.
Corona will continue studying sustainable design principles and would like to pursue a career in public service to promote positive change through local government or nonprofit work.
Tristen Spahr is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.
Ohio State Students Help Sustain Tanzania
Seeking an opportunity to have a positive impact on society, Maddie Drenkhan was among 35 Ohio State students to travel to Tanzania this year as part of a program to help a village obtain clean water. The Sustainable and Resilient Tanzania Community (SRTC) program is a joint project between the Ohio State University’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering, the University of Dodoma, Tanzania, and the people of Marwa, Tanzania.
The coolest part of the experience for me was seeing so many different people come together and work toward one goal,” Drenkhan says. “The project is very slow moving, as all development work is, but I really enjoyed watching students and community members come together to solve problems and come up with ideas.”
Marwa is a traditional Masai community forced to settle in one place due to recent mandates by the Tanzanian government. The SRTC program, which also works closely with the Kilimanjaro Hope Organization, seeks to create solutions to the clean water shortages the village faces by fostering relationships and continuing long-term projects centered on designing a clean-water system.
The projects for the May 2017 program included constructing a rainwater harvesting system at the local dispensary (pharmacy), determining if a well could be reinstalled with a solar pump, and designing a modern water treatment system to collect water from the Pangani River, treat it and then distribute it to the village. Students from Ohio State’s College of Engineering and School of Environment and Natural Resources teamed up and worked on different aspects of the program.
In addition to helping with translation, six students and one professor from The University of Dodoma assisted each student team.
In preparation for the trip, the Ohio State students were required to take a spring semester course that included history discussions and Swahili language lessons.
The Office of Energy and Environment, through its student funding program, assisted four of these students with their travel expenses for this trip.
Drenkhan, a senior studying public health with a sociology specialization, worked on the sociological aspect of the program. Her group spent two weeks meeting with women and children in the four subvillages of Marwa — Lesirway, Njaketai, Marwa and Patel — learning about potential business opportunities they may have once it is no longer necessary for them to spend all day collecting water.
Onur Eroglu, a graduate student in civil engineering, worked on gathering information relevant to the treatment sites and distribution points of the water pump system from the Pangani River. Each morning, Eroglu and his group would drive to the villages and do map work to collect data about the terrain.
“One day we were at a subvillage, Patelli, surveying and collecting elevation data, and it started raining. We saw that on rainy days, kids couldn’t even go to school,” Eroglu explains, due to flooding and inadequate roofing. “This made us realize how much they really need our help here, and just treating their water isn’t enough.”
Rachel DuBois, a recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, and her group were tasked with creating a preliminary design of the treatment system for the collected Pangani river water to bring to the community.
“There is such a sense of selflessness and gratitude that is mutual between the community members of Marwa and the participants from Ohio State,” DuBois says.
This summer DuBois began working with the United States Peace Corps in Sierra Leone as a hygiene education and water sanitation volunteer. After pursuing an advanced degree, she one day hopes to work for the United Nations.
Patrick Sours, also a recent graduate in civil engineering, worked on the rainwater-harvesting project with his group. This consisted of creating a tank, putting in gutters and using purified rainwater for drinking.
Sours focused on overseeing data collection of the system. Working alongside local tradesmen and engineers, Sours and his team were able to build a 30,000-liter rainwater harvesting system on the Marwa medical dispensary.
This fall, Sours will be begin his master’s degree in food, agriculture and biological engineering at Ohio State.
“I made friends and memories that will last a life time,” Sours says. “And most of all, we were able to be part of something larger than ourselves and assist a community that truly deserves it.”
While it is a critical time for environmental policy in the United States, it is equally important in other countries, including Canada. Sophie Manaster experienced this firsthand through her summer internship in Ottawa, Canada.
Manaster, a sophomore studying Environmental Policy and Decision Making with a specialization in Strategic Communications, interned for John Aldag, a member of the Canadian parliament from British Columbia. Aldag serves on the Environment and Sustainable Development Committee, where Manaster assisted with the committee’s study of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act focuses on pressing environmental issues such as toxic substances and chemicals, pollution prevention, vehicle emissions, human health and recycling. Due to the act’s upcoming debate in the House of Commons, Manaster’s internship played an important role in the research process.
In addition to administrative office duties, Manaster aided in policy research, writing speeches, and was present at committee meetings. She was able to see a number of important pieces of legislation passed as Parliament approached their summer break.
“I learned so much from my first day to my last and feel much more developed professionally thanks to this opportunity,” Manaster says. The Office of Energy and Environment helped to fund Manaster’s trip.
Manaster plans to become involved in more environmental organizations on campus, and hopes to one day work as an environmental attorney.
The Office of Energy and Environment helped fund the travel for three civil engineering students to present their research in Rome to international professionals and researchers in the field of fluid mechanics. In April 2017, these students attended the 19th International Conference on Finite Elements in Flow Problems to network, gain insight and improve their own research.
Dominik Mattioli, who is working on his master’s degree, presented his research on the generation of polygon meshes, which are a collection of adjacent polygons.Together these polygons define the shape of some domain or body of water and are required for modeling hydrodynamic flow problems over surfaces of water, for instance, hurricane storm surges. Mattioli says the more pieces there are, the model will have greater accuracy but less efficiency. Mattioli’s research deals with creating these meshes in an innovatively efficient way.
“This conference served its purpose by supplying a deadline for me to make significant progress in my research,” Mattioli says. Following the completion of his degree, Mattioli intends on taking a break from academia and pursuing a career in data analysis and informatics in Chicago.
Doctoral student Dylan Wood says he wants to become more involved in hydrodynamic work by forecasting flooding from hurricane storm surges to help mitigate the effects of climate change and preserve ecosystems.
At the conference, he gave a presentation on fluid mechanics simulations, which he makes by using computational models that approximate solutions to their equations, determining how fluids behave. These models then specifically look at hurricane storm surges and their interactions with flood defense systems.
Wood pointed out that only a select few individuals are pursuing his field of research, but the conference attendees had important information applicable to his own work.
“It was a great opportunity not only for networking, but for learning as well,” Wood says. “I learned a lot about the current research that is going on, and I also learned some important aspects of my own research because of the conference,” Wood says.
Yilong Xiao is also a doctoral student in civil engineering, with focuses on environmental and water resource topics. Xiao’s research revolves around modeling soil-water flow. Xiao explains that soil-water flow is a critical subsurface component of hydrologic or land surface models.
At the conference, he presented a prototype of his model, which he is developing to accurately predict the amount of soil moisture given the physical properties of the soil, as well as rainfall conditions.
Xiao explains that this area of study is nothing new; however, older models do not perform well when taking into account heavy rainfalls or high variability in soil conditions. Xiao’s model aims to handle complicated physical conditions as he incorporates Computational Fluid Dynamics into his work.
“It is especially crucial for me, being new to this field, to get in touch with experts and understand the most challenging topics and advanced methods,” Xiao explains. “Research has always been about gap-filling, and keeping oneself updated would help in stirring one’s current work in the right direction.”
Xiao intends to publish a paper on his current work and to one day work as a researcher in a higher institution either here in the United States or in his home country of Singapore.
San Francisco, California
Two environmental science doctoral students presented their research at a conference attended by more than 24,000 scientists and other researchers focused on earth and space science studies last fall.
Jonathan Ogland-Hand and Yaoping Wang received funding from the Office of Energy and Environment to attend the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco in December 2016.
“When you sit in your lab all day, you get very focused on just what you’re doing,” Ogland-Hand says. “When you go to a conference like this and see all this cool research from other people, you realize that your research is a piece of a huge puzzle.”
Ogland-Hand presented a poster of his studies related to the modeling of subsurface fluid flow of carbon dioxide in geothermal sedimentary basins. In geothermal bulk energy storage, carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants is injected underground into a sedimentary basin geothermal resource. As more carbon dioxide is injected, the pressure builds up, making it easier to extract the heat produced from the carbon dioxide at the surface and use it for energy. With higher production flowrates, more electricity can be sent to the grid when needed, for instance when solar and wind energy resources cannot produce. In addition, geothermal energy storage decreases emissions since the carbon dioxide is injected directly underground.
Ogland-Hand points out that traction is beginning to gain for using carbon dioxide and geothermal energy resources for bulk energy storage.
Wang attended the conference and gave a presentation of her research. Her research involves computer modeling to study historical U.S. data on water use for predictions to reduce the uncertainty about how much water is actually used by thermoelectric power plants.
Wang says she was most grateful to talk to other people and find out how they have developed their research so she can apply those lessons to her own research.
Conflicting Industries Fuel Amazon Workforce
Mining is to ecotourism as oil is to water; however, in a region of Peru they intertwine, as local residents shift between the two economies to maintain their livelihoods.
Gordon Ulmer, a doctoral student in anthropology, studies extractive economies such as gold mining and logging in relation to biodiversity conservation in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. After an 18-month ethnographic study, he found that many locals participate in both gold mining and conservation jobs such as ecotourism. The link between these two seemingly opposite industries, he says, is that they both offer short-term earning opportunities to a disenfranchised population.
(Pictured right: Gordon Ulmer riding a water taxi on the Madre de Dios River.)
Since the turn of the century, and especially since the global economic recession of 2008, gold profits soared on Wall Street and gold fever broke out in Amazonia, Ulmer says. Increased market demand influenced nearly 40,000 people to move to the Madre de Dios region to look for work, predominantly in illegal gold mining, according to the University of Maryland School of Public Policy in Peru. These workers earn about the equivalent of $80 per day, while the minimum average salary in Peru is markedly lower at roughly $10 per day.
While the salary is desirous, the work is very dangerous, according to Ulmer.
“Almost every gold miner that I spoke to has witnessed a death or knows somebody who’s died in the gold mines,” Ulmer says.
Due to cultural and economic factors, however, other high-paying jobs in the region are not easily attainable.
One active service sector opportunity in Madre de Dios is ecotourism, which, according to the International Ecotourism Society, is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education. Residents of the Madre de Dios region want to work in ecotourism, Ulmer says, because deeply ingrained in their culture is an appreciation for working in the environment.
Residents pilot boats to transport visitors to and from eco-lodges, maintain the eco-lodges, cook meals, lead tours and educate visitors. Many of these are “odd jobs,” or informal short-term earning opportunities for unskilled conservation staff. The higher-paying jobs, providing economic security, are in professional positions (e.g. educated tour guides, administrators) that require higher education, multilingualism and certification. One of the primary ways to earn money for higher education, Ulmer says, is through gold mining and logging, despite the profound environmental cost to the Peruvian Amazon.
“The intensification of mining caused a tripling of the rate of deforestation and a surge in human rights issues and labor abuses in Madre de Dios,” Ulmer says, “such as de facto slavery through debt peonage, human trafficking and child prostitution, and exposure to unhealthy levels of mercury in soils, waterways and aquatic food supplies.”
The path to removing mining and logging from the labor market without further impoverishing a society is a complicated matter, Ulmer says. While extractive economies are damaging to the Amazon, numerous families across Andes-Amazonia Peru rely on this job market for survival. Cultural and social influences also affect their labor choices, Ulmer adds.
(Pictured right: Landscape mining in the Madre de Dios region)
“Working in conservation and extraction are complimentary responses to household insecurities and reflect broader strategies for surviving in a place where the informal economy is not just a means of living,” Ulmer concludes from his research, “but also a way of life.”
He presented his findings Nov. 16-20, 2016, at the American Anthropological Association 115th Annual Conference in Minneapolis. The Office of Energy and Environment helped fund his trip via a student travel scholarship.
Ulmer says the conference had an international reach, and he hopes his presentation had an impact on the anthropological community.
“A conference panel,” Ulmer says, “often pushes the envelope on a new concept or way of thinking about an old idea.”
Engineers Without Borders
Tony Satroplus, a third-year in biomedical engineering, traveled to Njau, The Gambia in Africa on an Engineers Without Borders humanitarian trip during winter break.
“The reason I joined the club is because I really want to do humanitarian work,” says Satroplus. “But also eing with people who have the same goals, I think, is a great thing.”
EWB focuses on essentials such as shelter, food, clean water, education and waste management. In The Gambia, the group has focused on water projects, specifically for agriculture.
“They get rain for about three months out of the year, and the rest is dry,” Satroplus says. “We’re working on an irrigation system so they can grow crops and eat throughout the year.”
(pictured right: Satroplus (middle) and other EWB members on the May 2016 trip to The Gambia.)
Satroplus, International Project Lead of the Ohio State Engineers Without Borders chapter, visited The Gambia for the first time in May 2016. The organization completes five-year projects in each community it visits.
“We’ve been going to Gambia for about a year and a half, and we’re still in the assessment phase,” says Satroplus. “These first few trips are about meeting with the community and establishing their needs.”
The community in Njau is seven hours away from any major city, and there is no electricity
. Satroplus says, so it is important that the local people can become self-sustaining.
He says sustainable humanitarian work is a focus of EWB; the group works with community members rather than making decisions for them.
“We educate with every project; it’s called Maintenance and Learning, so we don’t leave without significant members of the community understanding the structures,” Satroplus says.
The EWB will return to The Gambia in July to continue work on the projects.
Satroplus says he enjoys revisiting communities. Many of the EWB members make personal ties, Satroplus says, which make going back even more rewarding.
“Being there and talking to these people,” Satroplus says, “you get even closer the second time.”
Adam Cupito’s weeklong study abroad experience in the Caribbean taught him firsthand that regardless of a country’s culture or economy, the environment is an important component to everyone’s daily lives.
Cupito, a junior studying forestry, fisheries and wildlife, spent part of his winter 2016 break away from the Columbus cold in the Dominican Republic. The Office of Energy and Environment helped fund Cupito’s one-week trip to the Caribbean to learn about environmental sustainability and natural resource management. Prior to departure, students were required to take an eight-week course and additionally conduct a research project on any topic relating to the course theme in the Dominican Republic. The trip focused on how companies and organizations promote the environment and apply more sustainable practices to ecotourism in a Caribbean setting, specifically in a developing country.
Cupito called it an eye-opening trip that allowed him to see the country in a light different from the sandy beaches shown in travel brochures for the Dominican Republic. Cupito and his peers ventured through an agriculture and development forestry center, where they learned about hilltop farming that leads to soil erosion and the contamination of water, both major issues in the Dominican Republic. The students planted mahogany trees, which combat these types of processes while supporting wildlife habitats. Additionally, they toured coffee plantations and learned how such large facilities operate and impact the environment.
One of Cupito’s greatest takeaways from the culturally immersive trip was the significance of shared research. “It is imperative that we learn to communicate the importance of our resources to people,” he says. Cupito emphasized that sustainability needs to be applied on a more global scale to make lasting changes for the future.
“Everyone has different views about the environment that are culturally based,” he says. “The idea is that we are all living in the same environment; it’s just one planet that we have.”
Cupito says that the knowledge gained from this program is invaluable, and he will continue to apply a sustainable mindset in all future endeavors, including a graduate education sometime in the future.
Varsha Gopalakrishnan, a graduate student in chemical and bimolecular engineering, flew to San Francisco in November 2017 for the annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers conference, one of the biggest of its kind for chemical engineers, to give a presentation on two of her sustainable engineering research papers.
Her research entails establishing mutually beneficial synergies between chemical processes and ecological systems. Gopalakrishnan seeks to account for the role of nature in sustaining industrial activities by identifying innovative chemical process designs that are beneficial for the economy without harming the environment.
Gopalakrishnan also presented two papers at last year’s event.
“Only when you talk to others and exchange ideas do you learn about where you can improve,” she says. The conference served as a great way for Gopalakrishnan to talk to people from companies looking to recruit as well as to hear from distinguished professionals in her field.
Over the past several years, Gopalakrishnan says conferences like this have allowed more chemical engineers to educate industrial leaders about the ecological impacts of current processes, resulting in greater implementation of this sustainable design.
Gopalakrishnan plans to start her dissertation, publish her work to larger audiences and look for a company to work for to use her chemical process design ideas.
Julia Deitz and Pran Krishna Paul
Julia Deitz, currently pursuing a doctorate in materials science and engineering, attended the 43rd IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference in Portland, Ore., June 5-10, 2016 along with Pran Krishna Paul, graduate research associate in the Electronic Materials and Devices Laboratory.
The conference, where scientists and researchers came from around the globe, shared research related to photovoltaics (solar cells). At the five-day event, Krishna Paul gave a talk about his research along with presenting his poster. Krishna Paul’s research entails CIGS solar cells, which are thin-film solar cells used to convert sunlight into electric power, and focuses on the characterization of trap levels within these photovoltaic devices.
Krishna Paul presented his poster at the 43rd IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference.
In addition to learning from other peers and experts in the field, Deitz presented her research and findings on using electron microscopy to study photovoltaic materials at the atomic scale. She also had several interactions for potential collaborations with leading experts in her field. Deitz says, “This was definitely the biggest benefit to attending the conference.”
Shaun Fontanella, a graduate research assistant and doctoral candidate in geography, attended the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science 2016 Symposium in Scottsdale, Ariz., this past May.
The intent of the conference was to network, collaborate and engage with professors and researchers about Fontanella’s own ongoing projects, which include a 3-D Campus Viewer and the mapping of urban rural poverty. Among the people Fontanella spoke with were professors at Arizona State University, in hopes of taking his system and reproducing it in other academic places.
Mingui Chen, doctoral student in nuclear engineering, attended the Advances in Thermal Hydraulics 2016 conference in New Orleans June 12-16. Chen presented a paper on design and dynamic modeling of a high-temperature printed circuit heat exchanger for next-generation nuclear plants. Many scholars in attendance showed significant interest in the dynamic modeling of Chen’s research, and he continues to work on development of next-generation nuclear plants.
Learn more about funding support available for student research, scholarship, travel and projects related to energy, environment and sustainability.