Smith’s New Energy Director

8 Apr

Smith’s new energy director, Matt Pfannenstiel, was recently interviewed by the Gate. Matt will be working to reduce campus energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Welcome, Matt!

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Paradise Pond Symposium

5 Apr

Paradise Pond—the beloved campus and community landmark—is filling with sediment. In the past, the sediment was removed every six to ten years and transported to the Northampton landfill. However, as a result of the landfill closing and concerns over sediment release during excavation, a new sluicing method was proposed. This method allows sediment to continue downstream rather than being captured and removed from the Mill River.Sediment In Pond at 1.49.03 PM

This Friday, April 8th, Smith will host a symposium on the sedimentation issue. The symposium will include a series of talks and poster presentations reporting on the current status of the project. It will also feature a keynote address by Brian Yellen, adjunct faculty at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Join us at the Smith College Conference Center, 49 College Lane, for all or part of the symposium.

Schedule:

10:00 Welcome
10:05 History of Paradise Pond and past dredging operations
10:20 Downstream monitoring: sediment and hydrology
10:40 Downstream monitoring: biology
11:00 Keynote address: Climate Change and Sediment Yield From New England Rivers: Lessons From Tropical Storm Irene
12:00 Lunch and poster presentations
1:00 Analysis of September 30, 2015 sluicing experiment
1:20 Operational plan for phase II
1:40 General discussion and concluding remarks  

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Professor Bob Newton and students Heather Upin ’16 and Emma Harnisch ’18 take sediment samples while working on the R/V Silty.

 

 

Closing the loop: Recology’s composting facility

1 Apr

Matt Richtel’s NY Times article (25 March 2016, “San Francisco, the Silicon Valley of Recycling”) concludes with the spokesman for Recology’s recycling facility in San Francisco wishing that his visitors would also have the chance to tour the composting facility.  Last Monday, I had the chance to do just that.

At 9 am on a cool, sunny day, I met Greg Pryor at Recology’s composting facility in Vacaville, CA.  Greg, whose title is Organics Branch Manager, generously spent a good part of his morning with me, answering my questions and showing me around the impressive facility.  He is a wealth of knowledge and has a deep understanding of all aspects of the business, having overseen the facility for twenty years after starting his career in construction management.  We spent the morning discussing everything from business models to odor control, microbial decomposition to government regulations, and high-speed grinders versus low-speed shredders.

What is compost?  Essentially, it is the soil organic matter that is left behind after an organic waste has been decomposed.  When added to soil, compost increases aeration, water retention, and creates a healthy microbial community (think of a rich, black, earthy-smelling soil versus a beach sand).

The Vacaville site accepts yard and food waste from San Francisco, Vallejo, Dixon, Vacaville, and other communities and processes it into compost that is sold to farmers and landscapers.  Food wastes are processed first thing in the morning (and, here, first thing means 4 am).  The organic waste is loaded into a low-speed shredder which tears apart large pieces and rips open the plastic bags into which many consumers put their food scraps before tossing in their green curbside bucket.  The waste then moves through a rotating drum with four-inch openings.  Bits that are smaller pass through, while the over-sized pieces (or, “overs”, in composting parlance) continue on.  The overs travel to a sorting tent where employees pick through the waste to remove contaminants: plastics, glass, metal – usually items that should have been tossed in the recycling bin rather than the compost bin.  The sorted overs are ground up and mixed back with the waste that originally passed through the four-inch screen.

Four-inch screen at the Recology composting facility. (Photo credit: Andrew Guswa)

Four-inch screen at the Recology composting facility. (Photo credit: Andrew Guswa)

Then the process really begins.  To ensure an appropriate carbon-to-nitrogren ratio for the microbes and a bulk density that allows sufficient air to pass through the waste, one bucket of food waste is mixed with two to three buckets of yard waste (think grass clippings and brush cuttings).  The combined organic wastes are then placed on top of four perforated pipes that draw air down through the pile to ensure that the microbial decomposition remains aerobic and at the right temperature.  After thirty days “on air”, the waste is moved into rows, where it cures for another thirty days.  The finished compost is then sieved through a quarter-inch screen to remove any stray bits of plastic and glass before being sold.

Organic waste “on air” – note the pipes along the bottom that pull air down through the pile. (Photo credit: Andrew Guswa)

Organic waste “on air” – note the pipes along the bottom that pull air down through the pile. (Photo credit: Andrew Guswa)

As Greg points out, more and more farmers and landscapers are recognizing the value of organic matter as a contributor to healthy soils, and the composting business is transitioning from a focus on waste-management to a focus on creating a valuable product.  When I asked Greg to identify his biggest challenge, he indicated the contamination of their feedstocks, e.g., that stray plastic bottle that ends up in the compost bin rather than the recycling bucket.  As you might imagine, farmers and landscapers do not want compost riddled with shards of plastic and glass.  With better quality control on their inputs, i.e. with all of us doing a better job of sorting our wastes, this circular economy has the potential to really take off.

– Andrew Guswa, Professor of Engineering, is currently on sabbatical in California.

Where is She Now? Update on a Recent Grad

15 Mar
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Jackie at work.

Jacqueline Maasch (’16J) is now a diagnostic technician at the Laboratory for Molecular Medicine in Cambridge, MA. Jacqueline graduated this winter with a major in anthropology and a minor in environmental science and policy. Her participation in the sustainable food concentration taught her the importance of molecular genetics to agriculture and conservation, and ultimately lead her to pursue work in clinical genetics after graduating from Smith.

Jacqueline’s new job is through Partners HealthCare Personalized Medicine and the Human Genetics Unit of Massachusetts General Hospital. As a technician, she is responsible for extracting, quantifying, and sequencing DNA, as well as analyzing sequences for the presence of variants. 

Jacqueline has not abandoned her interest in the environment and hopes to use her skills in molecular genetics to improve human and environmental health.

Exploring the Intersection of Environmental Justice and Engineering

8 Mar
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Eleanor Igwe (’17) jots down potential project ideas during a rapid brainstorming session.

Over the past 5 months, CEEDS intern Brittany Bennett ’16 worked together with Athena Sofides ’19 to plan and carry out the Northeast Regional Conference of the Engineers for a Sustainable World at Smith College. Building upon Smith’s reputation as a place to explore all kinds of issues related to feminism and social justice, the two decided to organize the conference around the theme “Environmental Justice and Engineering”.

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Students give their 30 second pitches for their project ideas.

Over 45 students were excited to attend the Saturday, February 20th conference. In addition to Smith, the student attendees represented chapters from the University of Rhode Island, Union College, the Stevens Institute of Technology, and UMass Lowell. Participants had the chance to sharpen their spatial analysis skills through a hands on workshop in GQIS, gain insight into the world of sustainable transportation, get an introduction to radical, intersectional climate justice, and explore the many ways engineers can apply solutions to issues in the developing world.

Carbon

Laura Lilienkamp (’18) and alum Maya Kutz (’15) act out an activity demonstrating carbon emissions from industrialization.

-Brittany Bennett ’16 is a senior engineering major at Smith. In addition to her acadmic studies in the Picker Engineering Program, she is also the Senior Adviser to the Smith chapter of the Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), and the Deputy Director of the national ESW organization.

Out with the Old, in with the Insulated: The Renovation of Lamont Windows

19 Feb

One might consider general upkeep around a college campus to be pretty generic work; indeed, campuses like Smith consist of countless old buildings and houses that do not perform at modern standards. As students, we rarely think about how much these improvements benefit us. Additionally, we rarely think about how much of our comfort in our built spaces is inherently connected to the preservation of energy.

Lamont windows

Left: (Before) Original single pane wood windows. Right: (After) New Marvin aluminum clad wood with argon insulated glass.

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Left: Low-expansion foam insulation being installed behind frames. Right: Air filtration and water penetration testing.

An example of this is the renovations to Lamont House completed this past summer. Located on upper Elm Street, Lamont had all of its traditional single-pane wood windows replaced with double-pane aluminum-clad wood windows. In addition to improving the type of window, the new windows were tested to be sure that water and moisture will not find a way in between the sashes or around the frame. The edges behind the window’s frames were fully sealed with low-expansion foam to keep warm air from leaving and cold air from entering the rooms.

The results are noteworthy. Lamont House looks better, and it should be much more energy efficient and more comfortable for student residents.  

“A lot of the houses on campus have very old windows that do not have insulated glass, or the double pane set up, so a lot of heat that would otherwise be preserved escapes.” said Karla Youngblood, project manager and assistant director of facilities management, during an interview. She recalled going into a student’s room once and seeing three thick strips of duct tape placed over the cracks around the windows. She also remembered a time when she entered a room and saw the student’s bed moved to the furthest corner away from the window.

Youngblood reported that in recent years, students complaints on the cold and lack of insulation in their rooms have been on the rise. In a campus where community and collaboration dominate the daily routines of most students at Smith, Youngblood argued, no student should ever feel uncomfortable in the one space on campus that is entirely theirs. “Even if we are certain that these new window installations will help Smith’s energy bills, my biggest priority is always occupant comfort.” she said. Youngblood said that the Lamont window project is part of an ongoing effort on campus to update and insulate all of the houses. “Recently, we insulated the roof of Dewey, which is one of our oldest buildings on campus. Lamont was on our list for this summer, but houses like Tyler are definitely due to be renovated.”  

These improvements often go unnoticed by students and faculty at Smith; however, things do not have to be this way, said Dano Weisbord, director of campus sustainability and space planning. “We want to get the word out about these projects so that we can hear feedback from students who live in Lamont, and other houses that have been renovated to be more energy efficient and comfortable.”

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Before: Lamont House, west elevation.

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After: Lamont House, west elevation.

So, Lamont students, what is the verdict? As we move through February and the nights are consistently chilly, do you feel that your rooms are warmer and better insulated? The office of Campus Sustainability would love to hear your thoughts!

-Andrea Schmid, class of 2017, is an environmental science and policy major and a recently declared climate change concentrator. She is interested in environmental journalism and the role that digital media plays in the environmental movement.  She currently works as the communications intern for the Office of Campus Sustainability.

Student Spotlight: Julia Graham ’16

14 Dec

Julia Graham ’16 has a lot going on. She is an environmental science and policy (ES&P) major, a sustainable food concentrator, and potentially a Latin American studies minor. Graham is interested in how indigenous cultures and the environment in Latin America have been impacted by colonialism.

When JGraham.jpgshe transferred to Smith from Warren Wilson College her sophomore year, she decided to change directions, and instead of continuing to focus on Latin American studies, she jumped with two feet into ES&P. This jump was guided by Graham’s experiences during her year off, when she worked on two farms, including one associated with the Heifer International Program.

Julia Graham has undertaken a range of environmental work during her time at Smith. Her sustainable food capstone course has her scoping out the potential for a biogas reactor at Smith. Her special studies with professor Bob Newton (geosciences) involves exploring the relationship between vegetation, environmental history, and geochemistry. Graham even used to coordinate the House Eco Reps. She currently works as a MacLeish intern at CEEDS and as an intern for ES&P.

As part of fulfilling her sustainable food concentration requirements Graham went to Ecuador to work in a permaculture biosphere with Third Millennium Alliance. Since then she has earned a permaculture design certificate and even designed a permaculture garden in her parent’s backyard.

After Smith, Graham would like to work with a trail crew. She built trails in Alaska and the Colorado Rockies during her junior and senior years of high school, and she would love to continue the work after college. Ultimately, she would like to wind up in environmental education.

The one piece of wisdom Graham would like to pass on is how important it is while you are a student at Smith to realize that there is life beyond the Smith campus. Take a step back from academics, get off campus, see what is happening in the rest of the world.

– Brittany Bennett is a senior Engineering Science major and hails from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She hopes to educate engineers on how to best create a more sustainable world.

Marking Up MacLeish

4 Nov

This past week MacLeish has been treated to a bit of spiffing up. If you’ve ever walked the trails there, you surely noticed some colorful trail markers guiding your way. But what happens when these markers start to spend a little too much time on the path? The trees start to grow over these helpful hints, and eventually they get to become one with the tree or fall down, never to be seen or heard from again.

Not the markers at MacLeish though! With the help of CEEDS interns Shelby and Liz, as well as Lucia Delbene, a visiting biologist from Uruguay, the trails at MacLeish are staying well delineated and magnificent!  To keep the trails going these trail rescuers had a lovely walk and spent the afternoon prying out the nails holding the markers up. These markers were put back in, this time with a little more breathing room, to giving the tree some space to grow. What’s left now are freshly marked trails; feel free to check their work by having a walk-through at MacLeish.

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Shelby (l) hammering in and Lucia (r) removing trail markers.

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Shelby(l) and Lucia (r) just being photogenic professionals.

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Lucia (l) and Liz (r) are on the move for some more maintenance.

-Liz Nagy (’18) is a double major in environmental science and Japanese, and hopes this will take her to some fun places in life. She is passionate about invasive species, avocados, Japanese culture and wolves (in no particular order).

Cider Pressing with CEEDS

2 Nov

Over Family Weekend this year students and their families gathered outside the Campus Center to celebrate Fall with CEEDS faculty, staff and student interns by pressing cider, tasting apples, eating freshly made cider donuts and sampling cheese. Attendees got to press their own fresh cider the old fashioned way via hand-cranked cider presses. More apples were consumed at the heirloom apple tasting table where seven very different local apple varieties were available for tasting. Dining Services partnered with us to offer some tasty aged local cheeses to pair with the apples.

Click through the gallery to see some photos from the event.

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– Brittany Bennett is a senior Engineering Science major hailing from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She hopes to educate engineers on how to best create a more sustainable world.

Trying My Hand at Scientific Journalism

6 Oct

This summer, as I wrote about in a previous post, I helped the Bellemare lab with research surrounding the effects of hemlock tree decline in western Massachusetts. The research projects going on there inspired me to begin working on an article concerning their work. I hope that this article will shed light on the environmental issues going on in our own Western Massachusetts backyards as well as the hard work being done by researchers such as Michelle Jackson ‘15, Elizabeth Besozzi ‘16, Anna George ‘17, and Aliza Fassler ‘17. Furthermore, I hope to communicate the importance of research facilities such as Smith College’s MacLeish Field Station, where much of the research pertaining to hemlock forests by the Bellemare lab takes place.

I am passionate about both writing and science, especially ecology, and as I work to complete the requirements for both the biological science and English majors here at Smith, scientific writing is one of the career paths that I am considering. I am convinced that clear and effective scientific journalism- the communication of scientific data into colloquial terms without compromising scientific integrity or complexities- is the key to creating a more informed populace. Only then can decisions be made, individually and communally, that truly benefit and fulfill the needs of both people and the environment.

I hope to have the article completed and submitted for publication at some point this fall and will post again with an update!

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-Isabella Fielding ‘17 is a junior from Warwick, RI. She is majoring in biological sciences and English and aspires to be a scientific writer.

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