New Mini Grants fund research into climate change adaptation and more
Promoting conservation of medicinal plants in Minnesota, evaluating the role of cellphone use in climate change adaption in Burkina Faso, and quantifying the water conservation potential of drip irrigation in India are among 23 projects chosen to receive spring 2016 Institute on the Environment Mini Grants. The projects will receive grants of up to $3,000 each for a total disbursement of $64,500.
Mini Grants are designed to encourage collaboration on environmental themes among faculty, staff and students across University of Minnesota disciplines, units and campuses. Along with funding, each recipient is provided space for meetings, workshops and conferences and some administrative support for a year.
Following are brief descriptions of the projects. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Environmental entrepreneurship models for institution building
Aparna Katre, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota Duluth
With an eye toward understanding how social ventures can empower social change for the disenfranchised, the project team will host a representative of Gram Oorja, an organization that helps implement solar and biogas micro-grids in rural villages in India, on the Duluth and the Twin Cities campuses. The representative will present a series of workshops and lectures about Gram Oorja’s vision and mission to solve energy problems and overcome challenges unique to remote villages.
Dissemination of antimicrobial resistance from wastewater treatment plants via wild birds
Randall Singer, College of Veterinary Medicine
Antimicrobial resistance is a well-recognized global public health threat, and wild birds that come into contact with wastewater treatment plants are thought to be potential disseminators of antibiotic resistant genes. This project will assess and quantify the presence of antibiotic-resistant genes in wild birds that are exposed to wastewater treatment plants.
Forest to fork: Optimizing food security, conservation and health
Dominic Travis, CVM and Institute on the Environment Fellow
Wild meat is a significant source of easily accessible protein for landless rural people throughout developing countries, yet there are concerns about whether it can continue to be replenished as a food resource and for its inherent value within its own ecosystem. The project will convene a transdisciplinary workshop to characterize the risks and optimize the benefits of wild meat in global food security.
Birds of a feather: A climate change workshop
Julie R. Etterson, Swenson College of Science and Engineering, UMD, and Kathryn Schreiner, Large Lakes Observatory
Climate change and its accompanying ecological, societal and environmental impacts are among the most urgent topics of our time. To address this important issue, a diverse group of UMD faculty who are interested in or are currently doing climate change research and outreach will attend a two-day workshop to cultivate meaningful conversations that lead to interdisciplinary collaborations, grant proposals for basic and applied climate change science, and local citizen and professional outreach.
Community water workshops at Water Bar
Kate Brauman, IonE’s Global Water Initiative
Managing our water resources responsibly and sustainably is fundamental to human well-being. Engaging citizens, both to teach them about the technical underpinnings of their water system and to learn from them about the water outcomes they value, is a critical step in sustainable water management. The project team will host a two-part workshop for a diverse array of stakeholders at Water Bar, a public art venue in Northeast Minneapolis that allows people to connect and communicate about local water issues.
The art and science of medicinal plants in Minnesota
Lisa Aston Philander, College of Biological Sciences
Many plant species are commonly used in healing arts by immigrant and indigenous people in Minnesota, yet as many as 400 species of medicinal plants are considered threatened. To promote support for biodiversity and conservation of medicinal plants, the project team will host a public tour around the University and the Twin Cities that showcases the links among plant use, environment, culture and the arts. The tour will include places such as the CBS Conservatory — which houses the most diverse collection of plants in the region — and select galleries, cultural centers and parks.
Can migrants’ use of cellphones reduce the climate vulnerability of their community of origin?
Kathryn Grace, College of Liberal Arts
Perhaps no other communities on Earth are as vulnerable to the negative effects associated with climate change as subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. These farmers sometimes travel away from their communities of origin in search of economic opportunities, then communicate back via cellphone. In this project, the team will conduct five focus groups to evaluate how rural-to-urban migrants in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, use cellphones to share information with their rural communities of origin.
Labeling campus trees
Stan Hokanson, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
The University’s St. Paul campus has a wealth of diverse and important urban trees that can serve as tools to educate the public about urban environmental issues as well as create opportunities for public engagement in environmental research. This project will install signs around notable campus trees that provide taxonomical information and a QR code that links to a website containing practical, cultural and scientific information. The signs will also interface with an app that allows visitors to participate as citizen scientists by entering information about plant growth or seasonal changes, inspiring them to engage with science and feel a deeper connection to urban environmental issues.
Building biocatalytic systems for biomanufacturing
Claudia Schmidt-Dannert, CBS
By integrating biology and engineering we can harness the power of biological systems to manufacture products useful to humanity, including pharmaceuticals, fuel and chemicals, in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way. This project will establish an international multidisciplinary team with complementary skills to develop a biomanufacturing approach for the synthesis of commodity chemicals using cheap feedstocks from agricultural waste.
Sustainable food security programs in Jamaican schools
Petrona Lee, School of Public Health
The Trelawny Diabetes Management Project has assisted with breakfast programs in primary schools in rural Jamaica, West Indies, since 2010, where chronic food instability has increased cases of type 2 diabetes in children. This Mini Grant project will install chicken farming and aquaponics as a sustainable food source at three schools to serve as models for expansion of school-based farming in the country. Project leaders will host a two-week intensive workshop for Jamaican school principals in poultry farming and aquaponics on the University campus.
Soybean aphids & prairie butterflies: Unintended invasion outcomes
Heather Koop, Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center
Prairies butterflies in Minnesota are in decline, with some species, such as native skippers, nearing local extinction. The soybean aphid is a severe agricultural pest that invaded the Upper Midwest in 2000. This project will convene a roundtable of interdisciplinary faculty, researchers, land managers and public officials from around the state in fall 2016 to discuss the relationships between the invasive soybean aphids and the effects of pesticides on the Dakota skipper and other insect populations.
Reimagining the American Dream through tiny home systems
Tom Fisher, College of Design/Landscape Architecture
Tiny houses can represent a movement toward reimagining our relationship to Earth systems, meaningful lifestyle shifts and healthy, mindful living. This project will mobilize thought and action around housing for humanity and the environment through the platform of tiny houses. Among the artifacts the project aims to create for display during Welcome Week are an interactive art exhibit that features different cultural notions of house and space across the globe, childhood artifacts that may contribute to our cultural notions of home and a model of a tiny home vs. an average-size American home.
Minnesota aquatic invasive species
Chan Lan Chun, Swenson College of Science and Engineering, UMD, and Natural Resources Research Institute
Invasive species pose a common threat to the health, structure and function of aquatic ecosystems; damage human infrastructure; and reduce water recreational value. This Mini Grant will support a meeting at UMD in summer 2016 to promote communication, interinstitutional collaborations and external grant proposal preparation on aquatic invasive species research.
The Exchange Project: A collaborative design project in Entonet, Kenya
Kelly Watters, CoD/LA
The Maasai people have begun experiencing challenges that are redefining their way of life. Though traditionally pastoral with shared land management, they are becoming increasingly dependent on farming and a market economy. With the shift in land use, the Maasai have also seen an increase in communicable disease. They have identified a need for a public gathering space with health resources and space for training farmers, which the project team will help design during a two-week stay in the village of Entonet.
Developing a national network for society, scholarship and sustainability leadership
Kate Knuth, IonE’s Boreas Leadership Program
Institutions of higher education have begun to take on the work of transitioning society to a sustainable economic system. This project seeks to speed up creation and enhancement of efforts springing up around the country (Boreas and Acara at the University of Minnesota; Leopold Leadership Institute and Compass elsewhere) by convening a two-day workshop to explore the development of a national network of people working on leadership development at the intersection of society, scholarship and sustainability.
Planning for bees in the Twin Cities
Fernando Burga, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
The ongoing loss of honeybee colonies around the world signals the potential of an unsustainable future where food systems will be endangered by inadequate crop pollination. This project will forge an interdisciplinary team to address how the global honeybee crisis and the urgent need for pollinator planting can influence urban planning policy innovations. Using the Twin Cities as a case study, the project team will investigate existing urban planning policies across the U.S.
Early-career cross-disciplinary science communication group
Lindsey Sloat, IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative
Cross-disciplinary science communication is a critical but underpracticed skill for early-career researchers wishing to have a substantial impact outside of their specialty. With this grant the project team will form an interdisciplinary writing group for postdoctoral scholars and early-career scientists with the goal of improving writing of participants by increasing the quantity and quality of manuscripts, conference abstracts and grant proposal applications, as well as to engage an increasingly interdisciplinary audience — which will meet bi-weekly during the 2016–2017 academic year.
Sustaining local college collaborations in sustainability
Mary Hannemann, IonE’s Sustainability Education Program
The project team will identify the best method for maintaining ongoing communications among various colleges and universities to share opportunities and resources and build connections among sustainability research, education and outreach. Outcomes will include a survey and research of local and external sustainability networks and programs to determine if the local higher education network could be incorporated into their programs or if a separate network is needed. The team will also convene local sustainability faculty and staff to build relationships with those who are not already connected and provide feedback on the proposed mechanism.
Characterizing the distribution, co-occurrence and functional traits of plants and their associated pollinators in a fragmented landscape
Dan Cariveau, CFANS
Habitat fragmentation is a major issue in species conservation and is especially relevant in Minnesota prairies. With only 2 percent of native prairie habitat remaining, species endemic to this ecosystem are relegated to increasingly small and isolated patches. To better understand the factors that link the distributions of plants and pollinators, the project team will create a shared database that combines measurements of functional traits and occurrence for plants and pollinators to test hypotheses on the relationship between plant and pollinator distributions.
Quantifying water savings from drip irrigation
Kate Brauman, IonE GWI
Despite widespread interest in improving water productivity in agriculture and beyond, there are no comprehensive studies of the water and food impacts of switching irrigation technologies. Yet there is widespread interest and ongoing investment in improved irrigation for small farmers, who constitute nearly 70 percent of the world’s farmers. This grant will support a literature review that is already underway to provide information on the range of yield and water efficiency gains from drip irrigation and identify other variables (climate, soil type, nutrient limitations) that may narrow the efficiency response.
Community gardens strengthen healthy food access
Noelle Harden, Extension, Center for Family Development
Community gardens can support access to healthy foods, improve family economics, support the development of entrepreneurs and urban farmers, and contribute to local events such as farmers’ markets. This project will host workshops that aim to leverage learning and best practices from a network of gardens and develop partnerships with organizations within the University and across Minnesota currently conducting garden projects, such as the Northwest Regional Sustainability Development Partnership, the Clay County Cultural and Historical Society and Cultural Diversity Resources.
The data harvest
Gianna Short, CFANS
Farmers markets are central to urban food systems and serve as valuable intersections of society and the environment, yet there is a critical lack of data about them. This project will collect and analyze data from Twin Cities’ markets to demonstrate their collective social, economic and environmental impact. Products will include estimates of the capacity of farmers markets to generate income while providing social and cultural assets to communities and development of shared marketing tools such as a “Buy Local” marketing campaign to encourage support for local food systems.
Designing plants as environmental sensors and companions for health
Diane Willow, CLA
This project will convene a group of faculty, students and postdocs to envision and develop a project proposal to submit in the next round of Minnesota Futures research grants on the role of potted plants as environmental sensors and as agents for human health and well-being. While visually signaling the local state of air quality, the physical presence of living plants also embodies contemporary conceptions of nature with its associated positive, ambient effects on human health. Experimental studies confirm that people can access an increased sense of well-being from sensory interaction with a green potted plant.
Photo by Borut Trdina (iStock)