Frontiers in the Environment

IonE’s 10-year anniversary in fall 2017 sparked a shift in how we communicate engaging environmental topics.

Check out IonE’s current series, People & Planet, as well as the archives of conversations from: Frontiers in the Environment and IonE Second Mondays.


Our theme for Spring 2017 was “breaking the bubble,” where we hosted conversations that tackle environmental issues in ways that bring people together, showcase new knowledge, and challenge our assumptions and practices.

An artist, a scientist and a silver camper: Adventures in community engagement

Wednesday, February 8 – Institute on the Environment, LES R-380, 1954 Buford Ave, St Paul

Rebecca Montgomery, Associate Professor, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and Institute on the Environment Fellow; and Christine Baeumler, Associate Professor, College of Liberal Arts and Institute on the Environment Fellow

In June 2016, Rebecca Montgomery and Christine Baeumler embarked on a journey of crossing borders (art–science, University–community) in a silver camper called the Climate Chaser. This mobile lab is part of Backyard Phenology, an art + citizen science project that encourages Minnesotans to explore the changing seasonal cycles of the natural world to inspire and catalyze collective active on climate change. Montgomery and Baeumler will describe how, together and with the help of many others, they are collecting personal stories of seasonal change, sharing those stories with others and educating the public about climate change. Their work encourages deep connection to place with the hopes that this connection will motivate collective action.

Watch the recording here

Is energy storage the game changer we’ve been looking for?

Thursday, February 23 – Digital Technology Center, Walter 402, 117 Pleasant St SE, Minneapolis

Brian Burandt, Connexus Energy; Ron Nelson, Attorney General’s office; Ned Mohan, Engineering Professor, University of Minnesota, and Don Fosnacht, Associate Director, Natural Resources Resource Institute. Panel discussion moderated by Ellen Anderson, Executive Director, Energy Transition Lab

Why is energy storage called the “Swiss Army Knife” of the electric grid?  It can potentially provide many different services to enhance renewable energy, reduce unnecessary infrastructure expenses, and help smooth out demand/supply curves.  But is this a good deal for customers?  Is the technology ready for prime time? And is it just about batteries? Burandt, an electric cooperative and Nelson, a ratepayer advocate, will discuss the value proposition for utilities and customers.  Mohan and Fosnacht will discuss technology advances in energy storage.

Watch the recording here

Communicating science in a post-truth world

Wednesday, March 8 – Institute on the Environment, LES R-380, 1954 Buford Ave, St Paul

Kate Knuth, Director, Boreas Leadership Program, IonE; Lewis Gilbert, Managing Director, IonE; Gayle Golden, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Maggie Koerth-Baker, Senior Science Reporter, FiveThirtyEight. Panel discussion moderated by Todd Reubold, Communications Director, IonE

The contentious 2016 U.S. presidential election brought the terms “post-truth” and “fake news” into the limelight. How can scientists and others best contribute to public dialogue and decisions in a world in which facts hold less power in public debate? Beyond spouting facts and data, or even telling stories, how can we improve public engagement and keep science relevant in this new landscape?

Watch the recording here

Replacing agriculture’s most energy-intensive input using wind, water and intellect

Thursday, March 23 – Digital Technology Center, Walter 402, 117 Pleasant St SE, Minneapolis

Douglas Tiffany, Research Fellow, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering

A cross-disciplinary University of Minnesota research team has produced renewable ammonia since 2014 at the West Central Research and Outreach Center and now plans to improve the process with a University-developed technology. This talk will describe the process and discuss life cycle improvements over current ammonia production with consideration of policy, market forces and logistics.

Watch the recording here

Breaking boundaries in sustainability education

Wednesday, April 5 – Institute on the Environment, LES R-380, 1954 Buford Ave, St Paul

Ned Mohan, Professor, College of Science & Engineering, IonE Fellow and IonE Educator; Tiffany Richardson, Lecturer, College of Education and Human Development and IonE Educator; Michelle Garvey, Teaching Specialist, College of Liberal Arts and IonE Educator; Elizabeth Hill, Assistant Professor, Swenson College of Science & Engineering, University of Minnesota Duluth, and IonE Educator; Kris Gorman, Education Program Specialist, Center for Educational Innovation

To tackle the obstacles to living sustainably, we need innovative teaching, collaboration across disciplines and creativity. In this panel presentation, four IonE Educators will discuss how they are overcoming traditional boundaries and reaching audiences not usually associated with sustainability. Ned Mohan is creating a statewide high school course for the College in the Schools program that incorporates contemporary approaches to renewable resources. Tiffany Richardson is using professional sports to promote student learning, behavior change and fan engagement through the development of Green Teams. Michelle Garvey is creating a course that meshes gender studies, environmental justice and subjects such as climate and food justice. Elizabeth Hill is developing a course in chemical engineering and energy consumption that will allow students to implement sustainability education projects in their home communities.

Watch the recording here

Environmental education in a post-fact world

Thursday, April 20 – Digital Technology Center, Walter 402, 117 Pleasant St SE, Minneapolis

Teri Balser, Dean of Teaching and Learning for the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Curtin University; Jess Gutknecht, Assistant Professor, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; others TBD

The world is increasingly filled with information; some true, some false, some misleading, some helpful. But above all, abundant. The flood of information overloads our capacity to make sense of it, and too often the result is a retreat to social media as a source of news and the creation of “echo chambers” that reinforce our biases — with serious implications for the integrity and conduct of participatory governance. Environmental challenges are highly complex and addressing them requires the ability to discriminate among and integrate across many streams of information. Facts are not enough; in addition to providing subject-matter expertise, the classes we teach must support the development of personal agency and critical habits of mind. This may require a revision in our identity as professors to focus on our ability to empathize and connect. By meeting students where they are and challenging them appropriately, we can help them develop the cognitive capacity necessary to escape the echo chamber.

Watch the recording here