Tech, NSF collaborate to promote sustainability

Photo courtesy of Kee Seng Heng

The National Science Foundation will fund a $12 million network of universities and institutes looking to design more sustainable cities, with Tech as an anchor institution.

The project, officially titled “Integrated Urban Infrastructure Solutions for Environmentally Sustainable, Healthy, and Livable Cities,” aims to test and refine strategies to make cities more eco-friendly and desirable to live in. Nine universities, including Tech, University of Minnesota, and Columbia University, will work with policy analysts and industry partners over the course of the next four years to implement new infrastructure in “test cities” throughout the United States and India. The candidates for those test cities include New York, Detroit and Atlanta.

Tech will play a critical role in this Sustainability Research Network (SRN). According to Armistead Russell, Regents Professor of Environmental Engineering at Tech and Co-Principal Investigator with the sustainable cities project, there are three primary roles Tech will play in the network.

“First, we bring unique research capabilities to the network investigators,” Russell said. “In particular, we are actively engaged in research directly related to health, be it the linkage between air pollution and health, community involvement and the constructed environment and health, or climate extremes, [such as] drought and flooding risks.”

Secondarily, Tech will be leading the educational component of the program, with Nisha Botchwey, Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning, at the helm. In addition to hosting training workshops and summer school sessions, Tech will begin offering a new interdisciplinary graduate certification in “Integrated Infrastructure Solutions for Sustainable, Healthy, and Livable Cities” and will also be conducting outreach efforts with the K-12 community in Atlanta.

Thirdly, Tech personnel are playing key roles in the network’s leadership cohort. In addition to Russell and Botchwey, Dr. Marion Usselman, Associate Director of Federal Outreach and Research, will be working with Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics & Computing (or CEISMC) on creating and implementing K-12 lesson plans on sustainability and eco-friendliness.

Tech’s contributions to the SRN will focus primarily on creating solutions to sustainability problems in Atlanta, according to Russell.

“We plan to conduct specific studies linking Atlanta’s infrastructure, air quality, health, and well-being,” Russell said. “This is to be done, in part, using smart phone technology, advanced heat and air quality forecasting, and community air quality monitoring sensors.”

Over the next four years, the SRN will bring a renewed focus on sustainability research and education to Tech, according to Russell. In addition to integrating with the current Serve-Learn-Sustain initiative, Tech students will be engaged in research, working with city partners and earning a three-course certificate in Sustainable Healthy Cities.