This past fall, undergraduate health communication and software engineering students were asked to work together to design an application that would improve accessibility around Wake Forest’s campus.
From wheelchairs to long boards, students considered the unique ways people maneuver around our 340 acres each day. One student team chose cycling, a theme proposed by the Office of Sustainability that supports our campus-wide transportation demand management goals. The collaboration showcases the advantages of faculty working transdisciplinarily to solve big problems and the benefits of engaged learning for sustainability.
“Working with the theme of sustainability was interesting,” said Jesse Akman, a junior who developed an application for cyclists with his partner, sophomore Adelina Cato, “we ended up looking at a lot of statistics about bikes saving CO2 and alternative transportation options.”
Akman, a Computer Science and Philosophy double major, took the Health Communication course with Professor Steve Giles as an elective. Cato registered because it applied to her pre-med requisites.
The application’s map-like format is interactive and specific for bike users, explained Cato. It is similar to Ride the Wake, a smartphone application developed by another computer science class that provides users with a real-time locater map for the shuttles that transport students to and from off-campus apartments and other locations.
Giles and Professor of Computer Science, Paul Pauca, realized how beneficial collaboration could be after working together on a grant proposal to develop a smoking cessation application.
“We both knew that our disciplines complemented the other,” said Giles, “but we struggled to really understand what the other person did within his discipline.”
By connecting the two classes, the computer science students were challenged to think about health problems and user interaction with an application, while the communication students learned how to develop the actual technology that makes their creative ideas possible.
Pauca, who bikes to work and stores his set of wheels in his office each morning, explained how groups such as Akman’s had to understand how different people approach biking and what major barriers might prevent them from doing so, such as motivation, convenience, or even physical barriers, like stairs.
“For me, it’s transportation, but if I am elder, I would want to make sure I take the path that is safer,” said Pauca.
Pauca’s youngest child inspired his first experience developing an application when he was diagnosed with Pitt Hopkins Syndrome. Named VerbalVictor for his son, Pauca’s program helps to reduce the high price and bulkiness of existing tools available to people challenged by the genetic disorder. VerbalVictor can be downloaded to a smartphone for just $11.99.
Though this semester’s student applications are not ready to sell in an online application store, they are still significant achievements. “The process itself has educational value,” said Pauca, “and it also allows students to create something of value to society.”
According to Giles, the goal for the application is to build it for Wake with the hope that it could ultimately be replicated for other college campuses.
“I’m hopeful we can do this again in the future,” said Giles on the coming together of the two classes, “and perhaps be more strategic in building this collaboration into other courses.”
By Sydney Leto (’14), Staff Writer
If you take a look at your hands, your wrists, or your neck, you will likely see something special, precious even. It is quite dense, glows with an almost aura-like quality, and, as of press time, costs about $1,350 an ounce. The material – gold – is familiar to all of us. Less known, however, is how it gets to us and the role of another unique metal in that process. Liquid Mercury, a toxic substance that has been phased out of equipment and processes in the US over many years, is essential to artisanal gold mining in much of the world.
On October 16th, Luis Fernandez the director of the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Ecosystem Project visited Wake Forest for a lecture on the use of mercury in artisanal, or manual gold mining and its impacts on the environment and people of the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Madre de Dios is a region of eastern Peru extending into the Amazon basin and is marked by some of the most intensive artisanal gold mining activity in South America.
The process of gold mining in the Amazon is much as it was a few hundred years ago here in the US. Water cannons are used to wash away the topsoil from small areas of forest, a few hundred feet square. This leads to extensive deforestation; a new study from Greg Asner, also with the Carnegie Institute, determined that over 120,000 acres have been deforested for gold mining in Madre de Dios and small artisanal mines have become the main culprit. After removing the vegetation and topsoil, the pay dirt is then washed through equipment to separate the gold by gravity. The problem with the pay dirt in Peru, and other areas where artisanal gold mining is common, is that the gold is present only in small flakes, not the stereotypical nuggets. So, miners use mercury to bind the small flakes of gold and concentrate them, separating the gold from other sediments. In the end, the mercury is burned off, releasing it into the atmosphere and environment. This mercury finds its way into soil and rivers, where it is slowly accumulated in crops and fish, contaminating some of the only reliable sources of food in the region.
Fernandez’s research focuses on identification of mercury contamination in fish and people in the region and his latest work has produced alarming information: over 60% of fish sold in markets in Puerto Maldonado, the capital of Madre de Dios, are contaminated with dangerous levels of mercury and 78% of people in Puerto Maldonado had unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies. Even worse, the most vulnerable population, women of childbearing age, had the highest mercury levels at 3 times the safe amount.
So, with all this bad news we ask ourselves, what can be done? What are the long-term effects on these populations? What are the long-term effects on the environment? Can the contaminated areas be reforested and, if so, how can it be done? Can the demand for gold be reduced so that it is not profitable for these small-scale, mostly illegal operations to persist? The answers to many of these questions are still unknown. There are currently few identified major health effects due to the low but chronic exposure to mercury, but cryptic effects such as decreased intelligence in children are being identified. Methods of removing mercury from the environment on a large scale are in their infancy and the gold mines are small but spread across a vast area, further complicating restoration efforts. What is known, however, is that if consumers demand safely and responsibly mined gold, as has been done with diamonds, or if they simply demand less gold, artisanal gold mining activity and the damage it causes will fade.
Contributed by Max Messinger
As a chemistry major with an environmental studies minor, I enjoy the chances I get to take classes that depart from the sciences. I have developed a great fondness for a course I am currently taking – Religion and Ecology, with Dr. Lucas Johnston. It has made me look beyond my knowledge of the environment, beyond my knowledge of religion, and realize that human history is not necessarily a story of the conflict between religion and nature. Religion and Ecology merges what seem to be two very different bodies of study into one, examining preconceived notions, and taking a deeper look into the impacts of each upon the other.
During the first weeks of class we addressed the intimate dance between the roots of various religions and the environment. The class is mainly discussion-based, and requires students to lead two of the classes in the semester on selected readings. The readings are captivating and diverse, covering topics related to environmental history in Eastern and Western religions, American romanticism, and radical environmentalism. We also read The Story of B by Daniel Quinn and essays from American Indian environmental activist, Winona LaDuke, who spoke on campus this semester. The final project for the course is the presentation of either an annotated bibliography on a topic of choice related to the course, or an engaged project which explores the relationships between religions and their habitats.
This class has given me a chance to discuss the history of how and why religions ranging from Christianity to Hinduism to Radical Environmentalism began, and what kinds of values shape these ways of viewing the world. Religions often define how nature should be viewed and valued, whether it is claiming “dominion” over the land, or connecting with the gods that reside in rivers and mountains. Conversely, there are also cases where habitats shape religious expression.
This class has caused me to examine more closely the culture in which we live, as well as other cultures and habitats around the world. For me, it’s more scientific than an anthropology class, more discussion-based than a religion class, and more historical than an environmental studies class. It links the human species with their habitats, and explores how the values we place on those habitats shape our lives and determine whether we thrive or struggle within them.
Contributed by Claire Nagy-Kato (‘14)
“When you die, God will not ask you how old the earth is. He will ask you ‘what did you do with what I gave you?’”
In celebration of World Food Day, the WFU Divinity School’s Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative and the WFU Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability hosted Richard Cizik for a discussion of what some refer to as creation care, or a scriptural call to care for God’s creation.
Cizik served for ten years as Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, the top staff position in the organization. In a 2008 interview with NPR’s “Fresh Air,” he expressed support for addressing climate change and sparked a national uproar within the evangelical movement. Soon thereafter, he was discharged from his post.
In his work as the president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, Cizik is now empowered to address the interconnections between food, poverty, and climate change. He references Bob Doppelt’s book, The Power of Sustainable Thinking in saying that we cannot be good stewards of creation without understanding the systems that surround us. Global hunger is not simply a matter of inadequate distribution: floods, draught, poverty, the subjugated roles of women, and regressive global economic and agricultural policies all play a role in the inability of families and communities to access food.
According to Cizik, food and climate have become two of the most important issues to young evangelical voters. He believes that leadership on these issues requires bold action and a commitment to morally just behavior. In the conversion from climate denial to climate action, he witnesses a deny-deliberate-do-defend cycle. He sees more and more faith leaders making the conversion and answering the call to action because it is aligned with their intrinsic biblical values.
By Dedee DeLongpre Johnston, Director of Sustainability
WFU was the host site for the Piedmont Triad Green Roof & Wall Market Development Symposium in mid-September. The conference, which was organized by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities in partnership with the Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability (CEES), brought experts from around the state and across the country together to display the newest green roof and wall technologies as well as to discuss the benefits of living architecture and how to advance the field.
Learn more about the symposium from the Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability website.
Rolling into the second year of the Triad Interuniversity Planning Project (TIPP) Grant, the project also entered phase two: collect sunlight in a more cost effective way, capture leftover waste heat, and convert the heat into usable energy. The Solar Consortium, a group of experts from Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University, N.C. A&T State University, and UNC Greensboro, has high expectations, which they are working collaboratively to meet. The overarching goal of the project is to decrease costs and increase efficiency of solar energy. The team foresees potential contributions to increased national security and economic opportunity, in the long term.
Learn more about the exploratory project in an article from the Winston-Salem Journal.
On March 6th, assistant professor of mathematics, Dr. Rob Erhardt, addressed a full room of eager listeners on the topic of global climate disruption. His talk, sponsored by the Math Club and titled Measuring Climate Change, drew a crowd from across campus, including Dr. Erhardt’s fellow Mathematics faculty, students, and staff members from the Office of Sustainability and the Wake Forest Humanities Institute.
Dr. Erhardt hoped to achieve two goals through his talk: “I wanted to show the Math Club students one way they could apply their mathematical education and I wanted to give a general talk about the science of climate change [for other members of the audience].”
The talk began with basic definitions of the words climate and climate change. Dr. Erhardt, a statistician himself, proudly pointed out that the American Meteorological Association defines climate change as “any systematic change in the long term statistics of climate events (such as temperature, pressure, or winds) sustained over several decades or longer.”
After defining terms, Dr. Erhardt laid out the talk’s single equation: a calculation of Earth’s temperature based on the interaction of solar energy received by the Earth, reflectivity (the degree to which Earth reflects solar energy), and emissivity (the degree to which of Earth’s atmosphere allows radiated solar energy to escape into space).
Dr. Erhardt explained that, while solar input remains roughly constant, both the reflectivity of Earth’s surface and the emissivity of Earth’s atmosphere can change. As Dr. Erhardt pointed out, these factors have changed since the mid-20th century, resulting in an overall increase in global surface temperatures. Dr. Erhardt cited the conclusions of the most recent report by the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which stated “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and attributed most of the increase in global average temperature to human beings, who have increased the atmosphere’s concentration of greenhouse gasses, changing the atmosphere’s emissivity.
Dr. Erhardt went on to discuss how global climate models can predict how much temperatures will rise in the future based on different scenarios. He also reviewed current research trends, which involve creating regional climate models and grappling with the difficulty of “single event attribution,” or attempts to take one particular extreme weather event (like a hurricane) and determine if the changed climate has increased the risk of such an event.
“Climate science can be intimidating. I wanted to present the science in an accessible, friendly way”, says Dr. Erhardt. He explains, “People have a general respect for scientists, but I want them to understand a little bit more about what climate scientists are actually doing, like where they are getting their data and how they are using it.”
On March 27th, Dr. Erhardt will deliver Measuring Climate Change at a brown bag lunch for the Biodiversity and Environmental Science group of the WFU Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability.
By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow for the Office of Sustainability
Thanks to a matching grant from the Provost’s Fund for Academic Excellence, twelve faculty members from across the university came together last May for a sustainability-across-the-curriculum workshop. The aim of the workshop was to build a trans-disciplinary community of scholars committed to addressing issues of sustainability in their courses.
The pioneer cohort was charged with naming the newly minted workshop at the end of their second day together. Though they generated many creative ideas (including the popular Flying Squirrel Project), the workshop will be known simply as the Magnolias Project.
Following the workshop, participating faculty infused what they learned about sustainability into a course they currently teach, regardless of content area or discipline. Some opted to design a new course. The revised syllabi are now posted online and serve as examples for future cohorts.
The second annual workshop is scheduled for May 13-14, 2013 and will be facilitated by cohort 1 alumni Sarah Mason (mathematics) and Luke Johnston (religion). Applications for this year’s workshop will be available in April 2013.
The mission of the center, which was launched in 2010, is to “support the development of prosperous, secure, and resilient human communities that create a sustainable balance between resource use, the maintenance of ecosystems, and the social, cultural and economic vitality of the citizenry. [The center] serves as a catalyst and facilitator, bringing together the expertise of the faculty, the passion of students, and the knowledge and needs of the community to advance the research, teaching, and practice of sustainability across the region and globe.”
More than 30 faculty and several staff members met outside, on what turned out to be a beautiful fall afternoon, to enjoy one another’s company over seasonal refreshments. Attendees’ home affiliations spanned the Law School, the School of Divinity, and departments across the College including biology, chemistry, physics, math, religion, psychology and anthropology. Affiliates from Winston-Salem State and UNC-Greensboro also attended, following a meeting on solar energy generation.
In its research and scholarly activities, CEES seeks to “create a vibrant, multidisciplinary community of scholars at Wake Forest focused on effecting change in energy, environment, and sustainability.” According to professor of religion, Luke Johnston, “The work of the center is important. The structure, operations, and intellectual foundations of the contemporary academe are fundamentally unsustainable. Part of the problem is that disciplines don’t interact with, and learn from each other. Mixers like this are one of the catalysts for such interaction. I appreciate the opportunity to relate to other like-minded faculty and staff in such a causal environment.”
At this gathering, the second such meeting of CEES affiliates, community was, indeed, fostered. Chemistry and math faculty members talked about text books for green technology courses. Divinity and Law professors exchanged ideas about potential speakers to bring to campus. And, invitations to give guest lectures were exchanged.
Center director and professor of Biology, Miles Silman, feels the momentum of the center gathering: “We’ve gone a long way toward building a community of scholars here, and we’re now at a point where things are starting to snowball. Research is taking off, and we’re building connections within the university that allow faculty to realize their passions for teaching and scholarly activities around the environment. It’s exciting to see.”
The center has hosted a number of important events and speakers on campus, including Bill McKibben and Robert Kennedy Jr. This month, in partnership with the North Carolina Sierra Club, CEES will host a symposium on wind energy for North Carolina: First in Flight, First in Wind. Law professor Dick Schneider sees the future strength of the center as bringing together the synergies of CEES with local schools and local environmental organizations to benefit Wake Forest and the community at large.
As for the fall gathering, attendees reported enjoying seeing familiar faces and meeting some new friends. “It was great to see the energy our colleagues have for scholarship and teaching in sustainability in the broad sense, to hear about their plans and successes, and to learn from them. I leave these gatherings energized, full of new ideas and directions for research.”
After the film, a panel comprised of University Police Chief Regina Lawson, Associate Vice President for Facilities and Campus Services, Jim Alty, Dr. Vaughn McCall, a sleep science specialist and Wake Forest Baptist Medical School and Paul Bogard, English professor and author of The Geography of Night responded to campus concerns about light pollution.
Often, people equate increased lighting with a safer campus. Lawson commented that the perception that crime occurs at night in dark areas is counter to the crime data from campus. Alty mentioned that many things go into making a place feel safe, not simply the lighting. In the end, it is not a zero-sum game. “Good lighting doesn’t just mean brighter lights,” Alty said.
Decreasing light pollution does not have to mean walking through a dark campus. Instead, Facilities and Campus Services can and does install light shields that direct light where it is needed instead of into the night sky. They are also working to replace outdated light bulbs with LEDs, which produce light that is easier to direct leading to decreased light pollution. Concerned students, faculty, and staff are invited to participate in a campus safety walking tour each fall that is a partnership between by Facilities and Campus Services and Student Government.
Dr. McCall emphasized the impact of light pollution on sleep health. As mentioned in the film, an increase in light pollution and the accompanying decrease in the quantity of deep sleep leads to a decrease in melatonin, which can have serious impacts for overall health and waking behavior. Some scientists even suggest a correlation between this decrease in melatonin and an increase in cases of breast cancer. “There is a belief that we control our own biology,” Dr. McCall said. “We insist on behaving in ways that are counter to how we are engineered.”
This event was made possible by the Office of Sustainability and the Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (CEES).
By Tiffany White and Caitlin Edwards