State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Spring 2016 Earth Institute Research Showcase


By Chandler Precht

DSC04333Each spring the Earth Institute brings together undergraduate, graduate and PhD students, who have conducted research in the areas of biodiversity, climate change, community development, earth science, health, and international development, to present at the Student Research Showcase. These are students who have received support, guidance or funding from the Earth Institute’s various student programs, including the Research Assistant, Internship, Travel Grant, Millennium Villages Summer Internship and Global Fellows in Sustainable Development programs. On April 8, 61 students presented posters on their research and shared their ideas for solutions to present-day environmental and sustainable development issues.

You can get a taste of their work in the video above.

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Read Flusser

For the past year, Read Flusser, a senior in the Earth Institute’s Sustainable Development undergraduate program, has been researching bamboo and its potential as a feedstock for efficient, second-generation biofuels. Motivated by the knowledge that energy is one of the biggest challenges facing sustainability, the goal of Flusser’s project is to make a carbon-neutral energy system using bamboo. Project “Bamboo Biofuel” combines his interest in sustainability, appreciation for bamboo (having lived in Asia for nine months), and desire to work in agriculture. Beginning in September 2016, Flusser plans to spend four to five months in China, Thailand and India meeting with bamboo growers, bio refineries and industry professionals. He will familiarize himself with the crop while investigating the feasibility of producing advanced biofuels, and hopes this project will help to enhance international development on a large scale.

Alixandra Prybyla, an environmental biology major and lover of paleontology, has been conducting research at the American Museum of Natural History under the supervision of John Flynn and Z.J. Tseng. Prybyla’s work focused on the genus Leptarctus, a long-extinct mammal that belongs to the weasel family, whose place within the carnivoran family tree has never been explored. By visiting specimens at Kansas University and the University of Nebraska, she was able to construct the first ever-attempted evolutionary tree of the Leptarctus, a genus that has been extinct for more than 28 million years.

Prybyla’s research project, “Character Scoring to Construct the First Leptarctus (Carnivora: Mustelidae) Phylogeny,” will serve as a building block to construction of an improved evolutionary tree for the entire Mustelidae family and their broader range of Carnivora relatives. She believes that her research will help to conserve species today by understanding what led to their ancestor’s extinction.

Marisol Rodriguez

Marisol Rodriguez, a recent alumna of the Sustainability Management graduate program, presented her work on a financial model for solar investing that seeks to empower women, schools and health centers through clean energy. Rodriguez is using the idea of a “sharing economy” as a catalyst to achieve energy equality in rural Uganda, Nepal and Colombia. The way the project works is that “SHAREnergy kits”—which contain two LED lights of 12W as a replacement for 75W incandescent bulbs—are first sold to New York residents. Per-capita energy savings are then estimated and invested in clean energy products, which are distributed in rural communities in Uganda, Nepal and Colombia. Her project began in collaboration with Millennium Villages in Uganda and then continued in Nepal following the tragic earthquake in 2015. Rodriguez will soon implement SHAREnergy in rural areas of Colombia as Phase 3 of her three-step research project.

These are just a few impressive examples of the groundbreaking work presented at this year’s Student Research Showcase. It is exciting to see the diversity of research projects and the ways in which students benefit from Earth Institute funding. For more information on other students and their projects, and to watch a video with more projects, visit the website.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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