Northeastern's Fifth Pop Up Open Lab Experience & Reception...
Brought to you by the Office of the Provost.
A sustainable breeding ground for collaboration
The event highlighted the range of the university’s innovative, interdisciplinary research focused on sustainability. Drawing faculty researchers across many disciplines, the interactive expo dually served as a breeding ground for new opportunities to collaborate, some of which might go untapped without the open forum for such discussions.
A list of interdisciplinary teams of faculty for interactive demos of their research in sustainability, including:
Our focus has been on understanding the science of climate extremes and uncertainty, translated into impacts, with a particular focus on the water sector and policies for adaptation and mitigation. This research is performed in the Sustainability and Data Science (SDS) Laboratory where interdisciplinary methodological approaches have been blended with methods from statistics and econometrics, data mining and machine learning, complex networks, and graphical models. We aim to develop fundamental understanding of the multi-scale processes governing severe weather and hydrological events under climate change, in addition to developing projections and predictive insights relevant to adaptation and policy decisions.
PIs: Sara Wylie (CSSH), Phil Brown (CSSH), Monica Ramirez-Andreotta (Bouve))
Achieving sustainability requires making complex, fossil fuel, and petrochemical intensive consumer economies developed in the 20th century visible and transformable for individuals and communities. The Northeastern Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI) is collaboratively developing new ways for people to produce more sustainable large scale industrial systems by changing how we think about and study consumer industrial economies. Such projects include developing children’s toys that teach about industrial supply chains; developing low cost, community based approaches to environmental health research that empower communities to study industries that surround them; and developing university and community collaborations that support healthy alternative food systems
PI: Akram Alshawabkeh (COE)
Preterm birth, the leading cause of neonatal mortality in the U.S., is also associated with a number of chronic health conditions and developmental disabilities that cause lifelong consequences. In Puerto Rico, the preterm birth rate is 17.7% of live births. At 50% above the U.S. average, it is the highest rate of any U.S. jurisdiction, below only Malawi (18.1%) globally. Our investigations suggest that the higher preterm birth rates in Puerto Rico cannot be explained by changes in obstetric practices, and that there is compelling preliminary evidence that exposure to hazardous chemicals contributes to preterm birth. Puerto Rico has 16 active superfund sites and 200+ hazardous waste sites. Risk of exposure to contamination is high as many of these sites are unlined landfills that overlie karst aquifers which present highly susceptible pathways for exposure to contamination.
ROTECT brings together multidisciplinary researchers to study the transport, exposure, health impact and remediation of contaminants, with particular attention to chlorinated solvents and phthalates commonly found at Superfund sites, as both suspect and model agents in the high preterm birth rates in Puerto Rico. To do so, PROTECT uses an innovative, holistic, source-to-outcome structure, integrating epidemiological, toxicological, analytical, fate-transport, and remediation studies, along with a unified sampling infrastructure, a centralized, indexed data repository, and a data management system. Administrative, research translation, training and community engagement cores engage and inform stakeholders, provide knowledge-transfer activities to the greater SRP and environmental health community, and provide extensive cross-disciplinary training. PROTECT is responsive to NIEHS, EPA and CDC strategic goals, and addresses priority areas identified by the Institute of Medicine Committee on preterm birth.
Since the Center’s inception in 2010, PROTECT researchers have obtained significant and novel results indicating (1) extensive groundwater contamination in the northern karst region of Puerto Rico (2) potential mechanisms by which chemicals can stimulate preterm birth; and (3) suspect chemicals that are elevated in the women in this study. We have also developed a new environmentally-friendly technique for efficient decontamination of groundwater and an improved large-volume urinalysis technique. PROTECT will build on these successes with continued research and training to provide the much needed understanding of the role of hazardous chemicals and other environmental factors in preterm birth, and to develop new methods for contaminant remediation in Puerto Rico and beyond. This work will advance environmental health science in general, and potentially lead to a reduction in preterm birth rates.
PI: Geoffrey Trussell (COS)
Nahant is located on the North Atlantic at the entrance to Boston Harbor, one of the world’s busiest seaports. Since the mid-19th century, Nahant has played a prominent role in marine ecological research. Today, the world’s oceans face major challenges that were virtually unknown one hundred years ago: climate change, collapsing fisheries, invasive species and biodiversity declines, pollution, and marine security. Each of these threats poses unique challenges to urban coastal environments. Exciting plans are being developed to build on Northeastern University’s existing Marine Science Center at Nahant and create an internationally leading research center for urban coastal research. The University is committed to tripling the faculty in a half dozen years, by adding world-leading researchers in climate change, coastal oceanography and ecology, ocean engineering and sensing, and environmental science, management and policy-making to address the critical problems facing urban coastal environments. The Center will become an interdisciplinary hub of innovative, basic, and translational research by maintaining and creating global collaborations that attract the best talent and solutions to the Boston area.
Coastal ecosystems contribute an estimated $4.5 trillion to the US economy annually, and support more than 60 million jobs. Yet, these ecosystems are under increasing stress from human activities including global climate change, which in turn can have significant impacts on coastal communities. Because of the highly heterogeneous nature of global climate change, preparing for ongoing and future impacts requires that we understand where, when, and with what magnitude ecosystems- and the services that they provide to humans- are likely to be affected. Using a combination of modeling and field and lab experiments, our group explores how climate change is affecting coastal ecosystems around the world. Part of this effort involves continuous monitoring using custom sensors and imagery. This event will offer a window into the coastal ecosystems that we study, and the equipment that we use, via a series of interactive, 3D gigapan tours.
Every day consumers benefit from the pervasive influence of chlorine-based products. When someone takes a drink of water, checks their e-mail on a computer, fills a prescription in a drug store, or flies in an airplane, they are benefiting from chlorine. Most people are only aware of chlorine’s direct uses – e.g. for water treatment and swimming pool disinfection – but these only make up a small fraction of the ways chlorine is used in our lives. Indirect uses take advantage of chlorine’s unique physical and chemical properties. In many of these applications, chlorine is used to facilitate a process but is not found on the final product. Did you know that chlorine chemistry can harness the power of the sun and can help stop a speeding bullet? From your medicine cabinet to your dinner table, from your car to the subway, from your cell phone to the solar panels – chlorine is the ultimate element of surprise. In contrast with these broad economic benefits, chlorine products can be a source of environmental danger through exposure and use while shipments of chlorine and certain chlorine derivatives pose a public health risk in the case of natural or manmade disasters. This research initiative takes a comprehensive look at the chlorine “tree” and evaluates the economic importance of each major branch.
Land use, energy generation, and many other decisions that have long-term implications for the livability and competitiveness of a region must take into account present and future climate conditions, as well as changes in the socioeconomic and technological environment. This project uses an interactive computer model to explore adaptation options and their long-term ramifications of their decisions.
What will our urban waterfronts look like in the future? How will they work? Who will have access to them? Who will pay for them? The complex culture of the urban shoreline is rapidly changing and resists singular interpretation. Diverse design approaches are explored in the work displayed here, with a focus on novel strategies for brownfield remediation, habitat regeneration and coastal protection that pair public waterfront amenities with ongoing industrial or infrastructural land uses. Of primary interest is how designers create frameworks for land use change that leverage an environment’s aptitude for flexibility. Design models are process-based, multi-scalar, and structurally adaptive. Sites, systems, and contexts are understood in terms of granularity, edges, adjacencies, connectivity, material inputs, material outputs, material exchanges, and performance capacity. Moving forward, innovative design planning and management of the urban environment will contribute to a more resilient future for coastal cities.
Throughout the world, modern engineering and construction practices seek to minimize the risk of building collapse in a major hazardous event such as an earthquake or hurricane. However, it is common for structures to require significant repairs or to be condemned after these events. In addition, structures are rarely designed with any regard for objectives related to minimizing the weight of the structure. Are there strategies for designing structures that directly address sustainability objectives while simultaneously helping to ensure resiliency – the ability of the structural system to be ready for use soon after the event? We will highlight several strategies for designing sustainable and resilient buildings, including the Controlled Rocking Structural System, in which replaceable energy-dissipating structural ‘fuses’ are combined with self-centering mechanisms to develop high-performance structures that can be reused after hazardous events. The research culminated in the testing of the system at E-Defense, the largest earthquake shake table in the world.
New green technologies can help reduce resource use and move away from non-renewable or toxic materials. However, we need to ensure that new technologies do not lead to unintended consequences that create new environmental impacts somewhere else. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is an engineering model that allows us to quantify resource use and emissions over the life cycle of a technology, from extraction of its constituent raw materials, to its use, to its eventual disposal. Recent work has examined fluorescent and LED lighting technologies using LCA to analyze the environmental and health trade-offs from their use on a national scale.
PI: Lee Breckenridge (NUSL)
This presentation will showcase innovations in legal systems for coordinating human water uses and instream flow needs in aquatic habitats. We will discuss the Sustainable Water Management Initiative of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the process of stakeholder engagement as the Department of Environmental Protection works to revise the state’s water management system. We will look at how choices in legal design can affect the ability of human and natural systems to cope with droughts and floods.
Northeastern University Solar Boat is an undergraduate engineering club that designs, builds, and races a solar-powered boat. This is an opportunity for undergraduates to get involved in research with sustainable renewable technologies in the marine sector which is a vital sector of our transportation infrastructure and to apply concepts and skills they have learned in the classroom and experienced on co-op. Some of these skills include, solid modeling, engineering design and analysis, teamwork, and machining. Relevant courses include Fluid Dynamics, Finite Element Analysis, Mechanics of Materials, and more.