Category Archives: News

Featured Fellow: Computer scientist Shashi Shekhar© elenaleonova

Editor’s note: IonE’s nearly 70 resident fellows — faculty with appointments throughout the University of Minnesota system who come together here to share ideas, inspiration and innovation across disciplinary boundaries — are among the shining stars of IonE’s signature approach to addressing global grand challenges. Over the course of the next year, this series will introduce our diverse resident fellows in their own words. Here we interview IonE resident fellow Shashi Shekhar, McKnight Distinguished University Professor in the College of Science and Engineering. Let the conversation begin!

What pivotal experience led you to the work you’re doing today?

It is hard to believe that paper maps were used for routing and navigation until the early 1990s, when we worked on research projects exploring spatial computational questions underlying envisaged handheld and in-vehicle GPS-based navigation devices. It was challenging since large road maps challenged the conventional wisdom that “640K (bytes of computer memory) ought to be enough for anyone.” Today, GPS-based navigation apps are commonplace and have transformed our society. They have also reduced fuel waste — and related greenhouse gas emissions — due to fewer drivers getting lost in unfamiliar areas.

This experience has strengthened my interest in potentially transformative research by envisioning better futures for our society and taking the first steps toward that by exploring promising approaches. Continue reading

Clean fuel, cleaner airPhoto http://www.istockphoto.com/photo/traffic-at-nightfall-18676327?st=14c6e58

Cars powered by wind-, water- or solar-generated electricity reduce air quality–related health impacts by up to 70 percent compared with gasoline, according to a life-cycle analysis of conventional and alternative vehicles and their fuels.

The findings were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study authors are Christopher W. Tessum and Julian D. Marshall, College of Science and Engineering; and Jason D. Hill, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. Marshall and Hill are also Institute on the Environment resident fellows. Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Engineer Matteo ConvertinoPhoto by Michael Foley (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: IonE’s nearly 70 resident fellows — faculty with appointments throughout the University of Minnesota system who come together here to share ideas, inspiration and innovation across disciplinary boundaries — are among the shining stars of IonE’s signature approach to addressing global grand challenges. Over the course of the next year, this series will introduce our diverse resident fellows in their own words. Here we interview IonE resident fellow Matteo Convertino, assistant professor in the School of Public Health. Let the conversation begin!

What is your current favorite project?

I would say that the food system project I am involved in is very interesting because it integrates agriculture, public health, veterinary medicine and ecology via engineering models for understanding how foodborne outbreaks and other food-related emerging infectious diseases arise globally. The ultimate goal is to provide a tool for the food industry and public health authorities for designing food supply chains that diminish the risk of foodborne outbreaks, and for building surveillance systems that detect early signs of contamination and enable more rapid response to incipient outbreaks. Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Architect/artist Jonee Kulman BrighamPhoto by Teresa Boardman (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: IonE’s nearly 70 resident fellows — faculty with appointments throughout the University of Minnesota system who come together here to share ideas, inspiration and innovation across disciplinary boundaries — are among the shining stars of IonE’s signature approach to addressing global grand challenges. Over the course of the next year, this series will introduce our diverse resident fellows in their own words. Here we interview IonE resident fellow Jonee Kulman Brigham, a sustainable design program faculty member in the College of  Design and visiting scholar in the College of Education and Human Development. Let the conversation begin!

Which of your projects relates to the transdisciplinary mission of IonE?

Through my fellowship at IonE, I’m working on a project called “River Journey: Exploring the Value of the Mississippi.” This project is taking place at River’s Edge Academy Charter Environmental High School, where I am collaborating with teachers, staff and students on a yearlong art-led environmental exploration of water through their school, tracing the flows to the Mississippi River both upstream and downstream. With the assistance of project partner U-Spatial, students will use online mapping software (ArcGIS online) to share their learning about the water cycle and increase public awareness. Community contributors include the National Park Service, St. Paul Regional Water Services, Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, the Lower Mississippi River Watershed Management Organization and others. You can read more about it on the River Journey blog. Continue reading

7 things about environmentalist-corporate partnershipsNovember 19 Frontiers in the Environment - Environmentalist Corporations

In the final Frontiers presentation of the semester, Steve Polasky, IonE resident fellow, Natural Capital Project lead scientist and professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, moderated a discussion on the relationship between environmentalists and corporations. Participants included Amy Skoczlas Cole, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Pentair; J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy; and Chris P. Lambe, managing director of the Agriculture and Food Security Center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. The panel members shared their thoughts on the role of the private sector as stewards of the environment and left us with the understanding that environmentalists and corporations may not be such strange bedfellows after all. Here are seven other things we learned:

Times have changed. A few decades ago, environmental organizations and corporations barely talked to each other and sustainability was a term not often used in corporate vernacular. Now, we see many companies accepting environmental challenges and recognizing the links between themselves and the environment. In some respects, large companies have embraced environmental challenges more than have governments or society as a whole. Don’t get too excited, though — there is still a lot of work to do. Companies have started with the low-hanging fruit, but now they need to amplify their actions and tackle bigger challenges. Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Biochemist Lawrence WackettPhoto by Mickey Zlimen (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: IonE’s nearly 70 resident fellows — faculty with appointments throughout the University of Minnesota system who come together here to share ideas, inspiration and innovation across disciplinary boundaries — are among the shining stars of IonE’s signature approach to addressing global grand challenges. Here we interview IonE resident fellow Lawrence Wackett, Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the College of Biological Sciences. Let the conversation begin!

What project are you focused on now?

I am working on developing broad-based computer and practical methods for cleaning problem chemicals from the environment and setting up conditions whereby there is a business incentive to use the methods. The latter goal is typically outside the domain of academic research. But to really make an impact on the environment, I have come to believe we must go beyond publishing journal articles and op-ed pieces for people to read. It takes enormous creativity to think of environmental solutions that many people will be incentivized to implement. However, lasting environmental benefits will only accrue when business and the majority of citizens are driven by self-interest to eagerly adopt environmentally responsible practices. The carrot is more powerful than the stick! Continue reading

Energy Transition Lab will be hub of innovationPhoto courtesy of U of M Law School

Reprinted by permission from the University of Minnesota Law School.

Our energy system is in the midst of a major transition. Power sources are shifting from coal to more natural gas and renewables. The aging grid needs to adapt, becoming “smarter,” more flexible and resilient. New greenhouse gas emissions regulations and a changing climate add further complexities.

This transition has the potential to spark innovation in business and government, leading to new jobs and a cleaner environment, and the University of Minnesota has launched the Energy Transition Lab to help turn this potential into reality. Ellen Anderson, a former state senator and energy advisor to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, is the ETL’s inaugural executive director; its faculty director is Law School professor Hari Osofsky, an expert in energy law and an IonE resident fellow. Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Computer Scientist Tian HePhoto by Never House (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: IonE’s nearly 70 resident fellows — faculty with appointments throughout the University of Minnesota system who come together here to share ideas, inspiration and innovation across disciplinary boundaries — are among the shining stars of IonE’s signature approach to addressing global grand challenges. Over the course of the next year, this series will introduce our diverse resident fellows in their own words. Here we interview IonE resident fellow Tian He, a McKnight Distinguished Land-Grant professor and associate professor in the College of Science & Engineering. Let the conversation begin!

What environmental challenge concerns you most?

I am interested in utilizing the latest metropolitan-scale taxi networks for urban pollution monitoring and reduction. Currently, smart vehicles are equipped with sensors such as GPS, accelerometers and gyroscopes. This enables crowd-based sensing, a new technique for gathering information that offers unprecedented flexibility, scale and resolution. Crowd-based sensing has the potential to generate a comprehensive view of phenomena such as urban traffic patterns, real-time city pollution maps and the micro-scale monitoring of land use that is difficult or impossible for previous techniques to produce. It also can offer direct benefits to individuals, such as faster and more fuel efficient commuting.  Continue reading

Study: Ag production contributes to CO2 spikesPhoto by James Clear (Flickr/Creative Commons)

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (11/19/14) The application of a recently developed crop statistics database at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment in conjunction with a carbon accounting model developed at Boston University has shown that intensified agricultural production in the northern hemisphere is generating up to a quarter of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide seasonality, reports a paper published in the November 5 issue of the journal Nature.

Deepak Ray, research associate at IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative, who led the development of the dataset and contributed to this study, said, “This is the perfect example of assembling a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional team of experts tackling an intractable problem of why the atmospheric carbon dioxide seasonality is intensifying.” Continue reading

Can computers protect us from swine flu?Flickr: Photo by Steven & Claire Farnsworth (Flickr/Creative Commons)

This article is part of a series of profiles of IonE resident fellows highlighting the value of their collaborations across the U of M, Minnesota and the world.

What can computer models tell us about disease transmission in animals?

A lot, says Meggan Craft, an Institute on the Environment resident fellow and assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine who is working to reduce the toll of animal disease by improving our ability to understand disease transmission.

Craft uses computer modeling as an efficient and ethical tool for figuring out how diseases spread within animal populations — and between animals and humans — and beginning to understand how to control them.

Continue reading

U of M students attend national sustainability summitPhoto by David Grant (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Five students represented the University of Minnesota Sustainability Education at the largest conference on campus sustainability in North America last month. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference in Portland attracted sustainability thought leaders from every state and 12 countries to share strategies, research and leadership initiatives, and included a keynote address by Annie Leonard, creator of “The Story of Stuff.” Read the full story.

Photo by David Grant (Flickr /Creative Commons)

6 things we learned about connecting kids with natureFrontiers in the Environment Children November 12

Why should we help children connect to the natural world? And how can we best do so? Cathy Jordan, University of Minnesota Extension specialist and associate professor of pediatrics in the Medical School and Sarah Milligan-Toffler, executive director of the Children and Nature Network, shared their thoughts on the subject at this week’s Frontiers in the Environment talk. Here are six things we learned:

Screen time is full time. Studies suggest that children spend up to 60 hours per week indoors. This mirrors the growing trend of being disconnected from natural world. As technological devices become more prevalent and children are becoming increasingly overscheduled, we’ve reduced the amount of time they’re spending outside. Continue reading

A healthier diet could save you and the planetgirls, kids with carrots, salad, garden fresh

Eating less meat and fewer empty calories can help people live longer, healthier lives and also dramatically reduce environmental degradation, according to a new University of Minnesota study.

David Tilman, an Institute on the Environment resident fellow and professor in the College of Biological Sciences, and graduate student Michael Clark synthesized data on environmental costs of food production, diet trends, relationships between diet and health, and population growth. They found that adopting variations on three common diets — Mediterranean, pescatarian and vegetarian — on a global scale would not only boost health, but also reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equal to the current emissions of all cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships on Earth and prevent the destruction of an area of tropical forests and savannas equivalent to half of the United States. Read the full news release.

Banner photo by Michel Bish (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Plants will soak up less CO2 than expected in the futurePhoto  by Free Photos & Art (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Scientists have long believed that plants’ ability to soak up carbon dioxide from the air will help mitigate the effects of global warming. But a new a study by Institute on the Environment resident fellows has uncovered limits to that assumption.

IonE resident fellows Peter Reich, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences professor; and Sarah Hobbie, College of Biological Sciences professor, are co-authors with Tali Lee of the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire on the study, which was published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience. In a five-year field experiment, the researchers found that plants grown in poor soils and with less-than-average rainfall lost their ability to use extra CO2. Read the full press release.

Photo by Free Photos & Art (Flickr/Creative Commons)

7 things we learned about the ag transformationFrontiers in the Environment Agriculture November 5

What’s happening to agriculture, and how can we make the most of it? That Big Question took center stage at this week’s Frontiers in the Environment presentation by  IonE resident fellow Nick Jordan, a professor in the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, and Carissa Schively Slotterback, an associate professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Here are seven important things we learned:

Agriculture is in a period of transition. Agriculture has traditionally relied heavily on only a few crops, but now it’s undergoing a shift to growing a greater variety of crops for more purposes, including bioproducts and biofuels. Sustainable intensification — expanding the potential of farmland production while reducing negative effects on the environment — may be a good way to take advantage of this opportunity. Continue reading

Big opportunity for cereal manufacturersPhoto by Daniel Go (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Manufacturers of breakfast cereal have a far greater opportunity to reduce their supply chain carbon footprint than do the farmers who produce the grain, according to a new study by IonE’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise.

Agriculture, a leading emitter of greenhouse gas, is often the main target of carbon reduction strategies, leaving food manufacturers off the hook. But not so fast, says the NiSE study. Examining cereal’s supply chain, NiSE researchers  found that manufacturing has more than six times more opportunity than ag to reduce the carbon footprint of corn cereal products and more than three times the ability for wheat cereal products. Read the full press release

Photo by Daniel Go (Flickr/Creative Commons)

 

4 things we learned about the environment and electionsFlickr: Photo by Animesh Kumar (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Voters don’t always rank the environment high on their list of priorities during elections. With midterms coming up, Frontiers in the Environment took the problem head on and asked some local experts about the role of the environment in this year’s elections in Minnesota. David Gillette, special correspondent for Twin Cities Public Television, moderated a lively debate between Amy Koch, small business owner and former Minnesota Senate Republican majority leader, and Mark Andrew, a Democrat and former Hennepin County commissioner and president of GreenMark. Here are four things we learned.

Don’t underestimate PolyMet. What is the biggest environmental challenge facing Minnesota this year? Koch said it’s the proposed PolyMet mine. Andrew countered that this proposed copper and nickel mine in northern Minnesota promises to bring hundreds of jobs, but at what cost? Toxic waste and pollution from the mine could pose a real threat to the natural areas of northern Minnesota, especially to the watersheds that feed into Lake Superior. This wedge issue could mean a lot for the future of Minnesota and could influence future decisions as well. Continue reading

Pandas and agricultural best practices at IonEPhoto: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (Flickr/Creative Commons)

There’s a panda at the Institute on the Environment — a World Wildlife Fund “panda,” that is. Derric Pennington, a senior conservation scientist with WWF and part of Natural Capital Project–WWF, has taken up residency here and is collaborating with IonE on several research projects, including one with The Coca-Cola Company and the Luc Hoffman Institute to assess just how effective sustainability certification standards are at improving our environmental footprint.

Sustainability certification of a commodity is like a best-management-practices treaty among stakeholders in the commodity’s supply chain. Take the Bonsucro certification standard, for example. A worldwide sugar cooperative, Bonsucro requires “producers, buyers and others involved in sugar and ethanol businesses to obtain products derived from sugarcane that have been produced according to agreed, credible, transparent and measurable criteria . . .  that promote measurable improvements in the key economic, environmental and social impacts of sugarcane production,” according to its website.  Continue reading

Acara: from idea to enterprisenews_AcaraSp15_main

University of Minnesota students: Do you have an idea for a business that could help solve a social or environmental problem at home or abroad? Whether that idea has been bouncing around in your brain, written on a napkin or is in the planning stages, IonE’s Acara social venture program can help you make it a reality.

Acara guides students through the steps it takes to turn ideas into viable enterprises. Through course work, competition and collaboration Acara prepares the next generation of leaders to develop practical business solutions that address some the world’s most pressing challenges. Here’s what they have in store for spring and summer 2015. Continue reading