Friday, January 31, 2014

Brook Byers Professors Appointed

Brook Byers Professors Bras, Brown and Reichmanis
In January 2014, three distinguished faculty were named Brook Byers ProfessorsBert Bras (Mechanical Engineering), Marilyn Brown (Public Policy), and Elsa Reichmanis (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering). Made possible by a gift from Shawn and Brook Byers, a 1968 Georgia Tech alumnus in Electrical Engineering, the Brook Byers Professorships provide resources to enable and enhance cross-disciplinary, collaborative research and education in sustainability, energy, and water. Recommended by their peers, the three recipients were chosen by the Provost and approved by the Board of Regents. The appointments recognize superior scholarly achievement and the potential for further progress. The Brook Byers Professorship is the highest title bestowed at Georgia Tech for those specifically engaged in sustainability related research and education.

Bert Bras is the director of Sustainable Design and Manufacturing group and a professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. Professor Bras excels at taking a systems view of sustainability problems resulting in novel and innovative opportunities that yield environmental as well as economic benefits. Funded by government agencies as well as major industry partners, his recent collaboration with Ford Motor Company resulted in Ford’s MyEnergi Lifestyle® campaign and the Ford C-Max Solar Energi concept car. As a Brook Byers Professor, Bras intends to expand his collaborative work with other faculty and students on campus. In particular he plans to expand and integrate his work in biologically-inspired design, energy systems, vehicle electrification, and personal mobility.

As a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Public Policy and member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee ValleyAuthority, Marilyn Brown is a leading expert on scenarios for a clean energy future.  Using sophisticated energy-engineering models, Professor Brown has brought a fact-based and authoritative perspective to energy sustainability discussions, influencing policy initiatives across the globe, the U.S., and particularly the South. Her research over the past several years has examined the impact of energy benchmarking to address information gaps in the real estate industry; trade-offs between electric and diesel urban delivery trucks; the potential for U.S. electrical efficiency improvements; the potential for co-generation to improve U.S. industrial competitiveness; and the evolution of smart grid governance. Through the Brook Byers Professorship, Brown will endeavor to expand the sustainability dialogue across campus as a means to establish Georgia Tech as a thought leader on technologies and policies for a clean energy future. 

Elsa Reichmanis, professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and a member of the National Academyof Engineering, is an expert in the design of materials architectures for advanced energy applications such as solar cells and batteries. She is specifically focused on developing processes that enable low-cost, large-area, high-throughput manufacturing that uses sustainable, environmentally benign materials and processes. Additionally, Reichmanis is working to enrich the professional development of students, along with enhancing their interest and involvement in sustainable development. Included among these activities are student led invitations to leaders in the sustainability arena; student forums related to sustainability and renewable energy; and support for the development of instructional modules that relate to the sustainability technology/policy interface. About her appointment, Reichmanis said: “Georgia Tech is home to many great programs and initiatives, and as a Brook Byers Professor, I hope to work with my colleagues to help address the many challenges associated with building a sustainable future.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Sustainability Quantified: The ‘Gigaton’ Problem

Figure 1:  Annual global material use.
The anthroposphere (the place where humans live and where human needs are provided for) needs to be recreated to exist within the means of nature. Two important implications can be drawn from this statement: (1) we must use renewable materials that nature provides, and (2) we must not overwhelm natural cycles such that they cease to provide appropriate ecosystem services. The world economy currently uses 70 Gt of materials [1], only 29% of which are renewable (Fig. 1) [2]. Excluding food and fuel from this 70 Gt results in approximately 15Gt of which only 4% is renewable. Human intervention has disrupted nitrogen, phosphorous, water, carbon and other cycles and affected human and ecosystem health through discharges of toxic compounds. 

For example, extracting nitrogen from wastewater requires almost the same amount of energy as fixing nitrogen for fertilizer synthetically from the atmosphere. One-third of the nitrogen synthesized as protein in humans comes from fertilizer that was synthetically fixed from the atmosphere. On the other hand, only about 100 years of minable phosphorous remains, which is essential for agriculture. Altogether, we use about 0.5 Gigaton of fertilizers per year, which are thought to be largely responsible for hypoxia in many coastal water bodies such as the Gulf of Mexico. With respect to carbon, about 9 Gigatons are discharged into the atmosphere annually, which cannot be removed by natural processes at the current pace. Consequently, carbon levels in the atmosphere are increasing and causing climate change. Problems of this massive scale and scope are termed as ‘Gigaton Problems’ [3]. While every incremental solution that attempts to solve these problems is welcome, the magnitude of these problems should always remain in perspective. If a ‘solution’ will address a kiloton of any of the above problems, we would require about a million of those ‘solutions’ to address any of these issues at a meaningful scale. 

The Gigaton problem was created by the billion people in the developed world. By 2050 the world population may reach 10 billion people. Ensuring a secure and safe world requires that all global citizens have sufficient access to the resources necessary to lead useful and productive lives. In other words, the lifestyles of those in the developing world must start to resemble the lifestyles of those in the developed world. Therefore the magnitude of the Gigaton problem will be multiplied by 10 unless new approaches are found. 

Counter intuitively, some aspects of development may curb population growth, thus tempering the magnitude of the Gigaton problem in the future. For example, nearly 5 million children in the developing world die every year from water borne diseases, which are preventable with better water resource development, sanitation, and stormwater control. Higher childhood mortality is one cause of population growth. Women who experience high infant mortality will give birth to more children in hopes that some may survive to adulthood. 

Any potential solution which tries to address any of these Gigaton problems should adopt a two-pronged approach. First, the solutions need to address both the supply as well as the demand side of these problems. While shifting to gasoline-electric hybrid fuel cars substantially reduces the carbon emission per vehicle mile travelled, it would be imprudent to expect that the Earth can support the production, operation and disposal of 8 or 10 billion of those automobiles. There is no conceivable approach to tackle the Gigaton problem without addressing the demands on the anthroposphere. Second, the solutions should be interdisciplinary in nature, addressing the problems simultaneously from the economic, technological and societal perspective. It is imperative to develop an informed citizenry who would facilitate informed decision making, particularly in the socioeconomic sphere. This could in turn lead to sustainable management of the demand side of the Gigaton problem. 


[1] 1 Gigaton, abbreviated as Gt, is equal to 1 billion metric tons (10^9). 
[2] Ashby, M.F., Materials and the Environment: Eco-informed Material Choice. Elsevier, 2012, ISBN 0123859727. 
[3] Xu, M., Crittenden, J.C., Chen, Y., Thomas, V.M., Noonan, D.S., Desroches, R., Brown, M.A., French, S.P., 2010. “Gigaton Problems Need Gigaton Solutions,” Environ. Sci. Technol. 44, 4037–4041.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Student Sustainability Organizations

GT student Stephanie Kehl working the SOS Community Garden
Georgia Tech has a strong tradition of student led clubs and organizations. Sustainability related groups have proven to be no exception in this regard. The list below is a comprehensive picture of the broad range of sustainability related student organizations and volunteer opportunities available. Please help us keep this list current. Contact us with updates, or additions.

  • Association of Environmental Engineers and Scientists - AEES is a student-run organization, traditionally a graduate student group, we now involve many undergraduate students in our professional and social events. Our organization’s main goal is to improve the overall educational experience  of the students in our department. We aim to provide a professional and social network to environmental engineering students  at Georgia Tech. We provide professional development services to our students, act as a communication channel between students and faculty, provide assistance to students attending conferences, and work to maintain a high quality of student life. AEES also provides a link between students and their potential employers.

  • Bicycle Infrastructure Improvement Committee - The GT BIIC was formed in late 2010 by SGA, to bring together graduate and undergraduate students with staff members of the Georgia Tech offices of Capital Planning and Space Management, Parking and Transportation, Facilities, etc. Together they are tasked with improving bicycle infrastructure on campus through the evaluation of existing facilities, the creation of events and programs, securing funding for facility improvements, and other related endeavors. They represent a commitment of students and staff to sustainability, mobility, safety, healthy living, and a choice of travel modes.

  • Cooks for Heritage, Education, Fellowship, and Service - Cooks for Heritage, Education, Fellowship, and Service, also known as CHEFS, is the cooking club on campus. We strive to provide our members with fun, interesting activities that both expand their cooking knowledge and help the community around them.

  • Circle K - Circle K is a service and leadership development organization for college students sponsored by Kiwanis International. We participate in volunteer projects around the community, such as at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Project Open Hand, Boys and Girls Club, and more. We have many leadership opportunities, including committee chair positions, and also promote fellowship among club members  by having various social events. There are also opportunities for awards and scholarships. Overall, we provide club members with as many chances to volunteer as possible and have fun at the same time.

  • Earth Day Planning Committee - Georgia Tech's Earth Day celebration is among the largest in the Southeastern US. This is possible because of dedicated people who work to bring this annual event into being. The Earth Day Planning Committee welcomes students into the process. If you are interested, conact Cindy Jackson.

  • Energy Club - The purpose of  the Energy Club is to educate students on the unique challenges and opportunities that are impacting the global energy industry. We bring together students, alumni, faculty and industry professionals in a forum that allows for interaction, discussion, exchange of innovative ideas and networking. We also develop student leadership specifically in the area of energy.

  • Engineers for a Sustainable World - Engineers for a Sustainable World at Georgia Tech promotes engineering that fosters environmental, social, and economic sustainability and focuses the combined resources of Georgia Tech students, faculty, and alumni to develop sustainable solutions for local, regional and national problems.

  • Engineers Without Borders - Georgia Tech - EWB-GT is a student chapter of a national non-profit organization called Engineers Without Borders-USA. We serve as a resource for connecting Georgia Tech students with opportunities for personal development and a stronger understanding of global health concerns and humanitarian engineering. Our student members design and implement solutions for health and infrastructure needs in developing communities.

  • Georgia Tech Model UN - GTMUN is a two day conference for high school students that takes place on Georgia Tech’s campus. Established in 1998, this conference has worked to bring international affairs to the high schools of the Southeast. The conference has grown in size over the years and now attracts schools from the entire Southeast and beyond. Run by Georgia Tech students from a variety of majors, GTMUN offers a range of committees and issues for high school students to enjoy. We strive to educate and enlighten high school students on a number of international issues. We also help develop the public speaking, writing, and leadership skills of the high schools students and our staff.

  • HyTech Racing - HyTech Racing is a student team at the Georgia Institute of Technology that formed with the intent of competing at the Formula Hybrid International Competition. The annual Formula Hybrid International Competition is an offshoot from the prestigious Formula SAE Competition. Hosted by Dartmouth College, it has been held five times starting in 2007 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. From late April to early May, teams from educational institutions around the world bring plug-in hybrid-electric, open-wheeled vehicles to perform in a variety of design and performance challenges. Design, Endurance, Autocross, and Acceleration events emphasize the importance of a balance between performance and efficiency

  • Ideas 2 Serve - I2S is a business  plan competition for current Georgia Tech students and recent alumni who have early stage product/service ideas or venture concepts that are geared towards creating a better world. Entries might focus on reducing poverty, alleviating hunger, promoting health and wellness, improving air and water quality, reducing of the rate of depletion of natural resources, or developing alternate sources of energy just to name a few!

  • The Maker's Club - The Makers Club is a collective of students who believe in the value of a hands on education. Our Mission is twofold: To provide students the resources they need to design and fabricate in a collaborative environment; and to educate the Georgia Tech community on fabrication with open, student taught classes and events.

  • Net Impact - Net Impact inspires a new generation to use their careers to tackle the world's toughest social and environmental problems. We empower student and professional leaders to act locally though our vibrant chapter network and connect globally online and through our flagship conference. By 2020, we will mobilize a million new leaders to drive positive change in the workplace and the world.

  • (ORGT) Outdoor Recreation Georgia Tech - We offer a number of programs throughout the year from caving and rock climbing to whitewater rafting and sea kayaking. Rent equipment at the Wilderness Outpost for your own camping excursion or join us on an organized outing. ORGT employs staff and students and accepts volunteers.

  • Society for BioDiversity - The Society for BioDiversity aims to encourage and facilitate student involvement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) initiatives to promote and increase the retention of underrepresented and underserved minorities in STEM careers. Many of our initiatives are bidirectional in order to impact students on-campus as well as students in local K-12 schools. Through facilitating professional development, community outreach, networking among peers, peer mentorship, we hope to help to impact the diversity and growth in the biology world.

  • (SEED) Society of Engineers for Environmental Development - Interested in organizing the biggest imagination and ideation party ever? SEED focuses on fabricating, encouraging the process of ideation, and problem solving with application to real world problems in the fields of alternate energy systems, global warming, sustainable energy, healthcare, communication, human interaction and much more.

  • Solar Jackets - The Georgia Tech Solar Jackets is a student organization dedicated to the design and construction of competitive solar racing vehicles. We seek to develop teamwork, leadership, and innovative engineering skills by providing training and hands-on experience in solving real-world engineering problems. We are a student-run organization, built on the dedication and ambition of our members. The solar race car project promotes cross-disciplinary learning and interaction, and it necessitates engineering excellence, leadership, and teamwork from all students involved.

  • Starter Bikes - Starter Bikes began as a collaborative project between Georgia Tech’s Students Organizing for Sustainability and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. Volunteers refurbish abandoned and donated bikes into low-cost, entry level bicycles for students and community members in need of inexpensive but reliable transportation. The program is also available for people who would like to try a bike, but don’t want to make a large up-front investment until they have more experience. Starter Bikes also provides free access to tools, so you can fix your bike yourself. Volunteers are available to provide mechanical expertise.

  • Student Government Association Sustainability Committee - The purpose of the Campus Sustainability Committee is to facilitate cooperation between faculty, staff and student sustainability movements and present a united front for Georgia Tech Sustainability efforts in our interactions with the City of Atlanta and larger global community, and further to be direct advocates for students' sustainability concerns in SGA.

  • (SOS) Students Organizing for Sustainability - Students Organizing for Sustainability is a student-run organization at the Georgia Institute of Technology dedicated to promoting the awareness and implementation of environmentally and economically sustainable practices on our campus and in the local Atlanta community.

  • The Sustainable Dining Committee - The Sustainable Dining Committee came together in late 2007. A few students, passionate about campus and food sustainability, initiated the meetings with GT Dining in order to express their views about current dining practices and work to decrease the environmental impact of student dining at Georgia Tech. This group meets monthly at dinner meetings to discuss action oriented ways to improve the sustainability of campus dining at Georgia Tech. The mutual respect demonstrated by both students and GT Dining management has created an environment where creative problem solving and big ideas are always encouraged. Anyone is welcome at the meetings.

  • Tech Beautification Day - Tech Beautification Day is an opportunity for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to volunteer to work on campus beautification and landscaping projects.

  • Trailblazers - The purpose of GT Trailblazers is to increase student and faculty appreciation for the outdoors through trail adventure and exploration. Throughout the fall and spring semesters, GT Trailblazers also leads a variety of environmental service projects in the Atlanta metropolitan area. These projects are open to both and students and faculty, and include but are not limited to trail-building and maintenance projects on hiking and biking trails, invasive species removal, and other conservation-related projects.

Friday, July 5, 2013

BBISS Hosts Sustainable Engineering Educators

College and university engineering educators from around the country convened at Georgia Tech to learn how to integrate sustainability into their engineering curriculum and pedagogy. About 35 participants from a wide spectrum of engineering specialties worked with experts in the field of sustainable engineering and shared their experiences to advance the state of the art in sustainable engineering education. The two day workshop is an annual event offered by the Center for Sustainable Engineering. The CSE is a partnership of five universities: Syracuse University (lead institution), Arizona State University, Carnegie-Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Texas at Austin and is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Center is dedicated to helping engineering professors update their courses, and develop new ones, to account for the rapidly changing global conditions that are transforming the practice of engineering.

Workshop participants are encouraged to not only apply what they learned in the workshop to their curriculum, but to share their curriculum as modules for anyone to use through the CSE’s Electronic Database. Modules are peer reviewed in a similar fashion to an academic journal article. This ensures that just as the variety of topics covered expands, the credibility of the content is maintained at a very high standard.  Among the reviewers are former participants in the workshops.

The workshop also serves as a catalyst for building a community of sustainable engineering teachers and practitioners.  It is hoped that as participants implement the principles and concepts of sustainable engineering in their classrooms, they will share their experiences with their colleagues, and through their curriculum modules, with the wider community of engineering educators.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

New Open Journal of the Anthropocene

February 2013

Elementa LogoBBISS Deputy Director, Michael Chang, is a founding editor-in-chief for the new online academic journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.  Elementa is based on an innovative publication model for an academic journal. It is online, open-access, and peer-reviewed. Elementa publishes timely and high quality articles that deal with the interactions between human and natural systems and behaviors. Elementa is a nonprofit initiative of BioOne, Dartmouth, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Michigan, and the University of Washington.

The editors of Elementa embrace the idea that basic knowledge can foster sustainable solutions for society.  The journal’s focus will be original research reporting on new knowledge of the Earth’s physical, chemical, and biological systems; interactions between human and natural systems; and steps that can be taken to mitigate and adapt to global change.  Elementa will report on fundamental advancements in research organized initially into six knowledge domains.  Each of the six knowledge domains is edited by one of the journal’s founding editors.  The six domains are:

  • Atmospheric Science – Detlev Helmig, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Earth and Environmental Science – Joel D. Blum, University of Michigan
  • Ecology – Donald R. Zak, University of Michigan
  • Ocean Science – Jody W. Deming, University of Washington
  • Sustainable Engineering – Michael Chang, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Sustainability Sciences – Anne Kapuscinski and David R. Peart, Dartmouth

Dr. Chang, in a Q & A on the journal’s website, puts the new publication model in context in this way, “Elementa is a ground-up reinvention of the way the research community communicates even as it holds onto the requirement of rigor in peer review. And given these changes, it is wholly appropriate then that Elementa is about the Science of the Anthropocene. The speed and magnitude of change occurring in the publishing paradigm is an excellent metaphor for the speed and magnitude of change occurring on the planet. New challenges call for new solutions.”

Submissions will be accepted beginning in April 2013 with publishing dates for the first articles in July

See other editorships held by BBISS staff at this page.