Rices Shell Center rewards student researchers for sustainable development

first_imgThough work is still under way, the experiment is already showing interesting results: frog species can respond very differently to climate change. For example, the Western Chorus frog appears to be bad at tolerating increases in temperature, while the Southern Leopard frog appears to be unaffected. They also found that the simulated increase in temperature as predicted for the next 100 years could alter the competitive interaction between those two species as tadpoles.“This is among the first empirical evidence that climate change alters the interaction between species and that these interactions can alter the effect of climate change,” said Volker Rudolf, assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology. “We hope that this pattern will persist in the more complex communities we will create in our experimental ponds. Such a change in competitive interactions could alter the structure of natural communities and thereby also impact ecosystem processes.” Graduate students Emilia Stepinski and Navid Ataei are also working to protect the Texas environment by protecting its people. They are part of a team of environmental engineers, civil engineers, and political scientists working with Rice’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters center to create a new generation of flood alert systems that will accurately issue real-time warnings for both coastal storm surge and inland rainfall. The pilot project, set in the Clear Lake, Texas, area, integrates a comprehensive coastal flood warning system with a “lifeline” analysis of roadways and bridges important for evacuation and post-event re-entry.“Effective flood warning is critical to minimize the loss of life and property before and during flood events regardless of mitigation measures in place,” said Phil Bedient, principal investigator, director of the SSPEED center and the Herman Brown Professor of Engineering. “Flooding is considered the No. 1 natural disaster in the U.S., in part because the majority of the population lives within 50 miles of the shoreline.” Ensuring the safety of transportation lifelines in these flood and surge events is critical to support emergency management of these increasingly developed coastal areas, Bedient said.Environmental stewardshipWith the help of undergraduate SCS fellows Molly Goldstein, Virginia White, Henry Hancock and David Liou, postbaccalaureate fellow Katherine Sorrell is examining how local religious organizations and leaders draw on their tradition to respond to environmental issues such as the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. For example, the researchers will look at how Christian leaders might use biblical passages about Earth to motivate their congregations to recycle.This summer the students will interview constituents and leaders of various faith communities and observe eight Houston worship centers. They hope to discover the role religious communities play in promoting environmental stewardship and find ways to improve scientific understanding of environmental issues for those communities.“This is an unparalleled opportunity for undergraduates to get their feet wet doing research,” said Elaine Howard Ecklund, principal investigator and associate professor of sociology.Ecklund, the director of the Religion and Public Life Program at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, said the SCS grant was instrumental in launching this project, which will grow into a larger national survey over the next few years. SCS is an interdisciplinary research center at that focuses on the Texas Gulf Coast and the Houston-Galveston region efforts to support sustainable development research, education and outreach. To learn more about SCS, visit http://shellcenter.rice.edu. Long Description SCS fellow Amber Roman is heading up a collaboration among Rice ecologists, biochemists and geochemists to evaluate and mitigate the consequences of climate change on Texas ecosystems. The Western Chorus frog, pictured above, appears to be bad at tolerating increases in temperature, while the Southern Leopard frog appears to be unaffected. SCS fellows Kung-Po Chao and Sravani Gullapalli are overcoming previous limits of solar technology production by exploring what can be done at the solar-cell level. Long Description SCS fellows Kung-Po Chao and Sravani Gullapalli are overcoming previous limits of solar technology production by exploring what can be done at the solar-cell level. Typically, cells have been limited to converting one photon into one electron, but recent advances in semiconducting particles have led to the ability to generate more electrons, though those power-conversion efficiencies are below 5 percent. A new technique from the Rice lab, the Langmuir-Blodgett technique, improves upon that technology by dispersing nanoparticles efficiently and creating a new type of active layer in a solar cell that can obtain power-conversion efficiencies close to 10 percent. With the award from SCS, Chao and Gullapalli are now testing the performance of the composite material made up of inorganic tetrapod particles and conjugated polymers, which are solution-processable and have strong visible absorption. The principal investigator of this project, Sibani Lisa Biswal, assistant professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering, said that the hybrid solar cells are providing the desirable properties of both materials, but years of work are still needed to fully develop the process to manufacture such solar cells.Protecting communitiesSCS fellow Amber Roman is heading up a collaboration among Rice ecologists, biochemists and geochemists to evaluate and mitigate the consequences of climate change on Texas ecosystems. She has created experimental pond communities that mimic the natural amphibian pond communities found locally and is running experiments to determine whether native amphibian species differ in their sensitivity to changes in temperature. ShareRice’s Shell Center rewards student researchers for sustainable developmentBY JESSICA STARK Rice News staffThanks to grants from Rice University’s Shell Center for Sustainability (SCS), 14 Rice students are in the field with faculty members finding ways to reduce Houston’s carbon footprint, improve solar energy, protect Gulf Coast ecosystems and promote environmental stewardship. Eleven Rice faculty researchers and seven departments are involved in these efforts. “These awards have made it possible for Rice students of all levels, in all disciplines, to apply their research to creating a sustainable and healthy environment,” said John Anderson, academic director of SCS and the W. Maurice Ewing Professor of Oceanography. “At the Shell Center for Sustainability, we believe that everyone has an important part to play in understanding the combined social, economic and environmental world we live in. It’s through collaborative research that we will find the solutions to building a better world.” A group of SCS fellows are sampling water from Brays and Buffalo Bayous, pictured above, to determine how urbanization influences organic and inorganic carbon production and export into these waterways. Through computational and experimental work, postdoctoral research associate Allison Heath is developing and analyzing sustainable approaches to reduce carbon dioxide and transform it into other compounds, such as alcohols of feedstock chemicals. With Rice lab-developed, pathfinding algorithms, Heath searches large metabolic databases to find routes in which carbon is transformed. They aim to take the best combinations of enzymes identified from that computational work and reproduce them in cells.“This work would not be possible without the grant from the Shell Center for Sustainability,” said principal investigator Lydia Kavraki, the Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science and professor of bioengineering. “It has enabled us to take our research in a new direction that may lead to sustainable technologies. Based on the large numbers of CO2 fixation pathways we have found, we expect to find some new, interesting pathways that may be tested in the lab and potentially lead to sustainable ways of recapturing CO2. However, we must first solve the problem of how to extract these pathways from pathways that are infeasible or uninteresting.”Another group of SCS fellows is sampling water from Brays and Buffalo Bayous to determine how urbanization influences organic and inorganic carbon production and export into these waterways. “As we see from the recent U.S. census data, more and more people are living in cities,” said Rebecca Barnes, postdoctoral research associate and principal investigator. “Despite occupying less than 2 percent of Earth’s surface, urban centers have large carbon footprints and produce about 78 percent of global greenhouse gas. To minimize the impact that this urbanization is having on our environment, we must first understand it.”Barnes is working with two undergraduate students, Jim Elder and John (Nick) Irza, to sample bayous and conduct bioassay experiments to show how humans alter the carbon cycle.Collaborative thinking Long Description AddThislast_img