Past Rasmussen Projects

Before 2016, the Rasmussen Fund was administered by the former Center for Environmental Studies. As of Fall 2015, the Fund is now administered by the Hixon Center for Sustainable Environmental Design. This page showcases all of the awarded summer research projects from past years, which at the time were awarded by and undertaken within the Center for Environmental Studies. Project titles, abstracts and proposals are included and can be viewed. In the case that a Final Report was submitted, it can also be viewed on this page.

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2016 Summer Research Projects

Marine Plastics Monitoring in Newfoundland, Canada – Coco Coyle (Student)

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) identifies marine plastic pollution as a top environmental concern, constituting major economic losses as well as immeasurable damage to ecosystems and marine health. Monitoring is the first step in taking informed action. Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR, or Civic Lab) is headed by Dr. Max Liboiron in Newfoundland, Canada. Civic Lab is principally focused on marine plastics monitoring and is founded on principles of Action Research, Citizen Science, Participatory Research, Feminist Technologies, and a Do-it-yourself and Do-it-with-others ethos. As an engineering student at the lab, I will be involved with many of the Lab’s ongoing projects, and have the opportunity to design and begin work on a project of my choosing.

Coco Coyle – Submitted Proposal (PDF).

Transcriptomics of Bleaching and Recovery in the Alcyonacean Octocoral Sympodium sp. – Catherine McFadden (Biology) & Jennifer Havens (Student)

Corals represent a crucial component of the global marine environment. Corals are extremely sensitive to environmental conditions, and rising sea temperatures associated with global climate change threaten to destroy a significant portion of the world’s coral reefs. This is largely due to a process known as coral bleaching, a potentially lethal breakdown of the relationship between corals and photosynthetic symbionts. However, the mechanisms of the bleaching process are not well understood. The proposed research is to characterize the changes in gene expression that accompany bleaching and recovery of both an octocoral host, Sympodium sp., and its dinoflagellate endosymbiont. The desired outcome of the proposed research is the identification of genes that are differentially expressed during bleaching and recovery, for both the coral host and endosymbiont, to characterize the bleaching and recovery process, and make comparisons among octocorals with differing thermal sensitivities as well as comparisons to better studied systems.

Computation for Active Transportation – Julie Medero (Computer Science)

There was a time when almost half of K-8 students walked or rode their bike to school, but today only 13% of students do. Research shows, though, that students who participate in one of these forms of active transportation do better in school. At the same time, increasing the number of students who walk or bike to school decreases car traffic in front of schools, which leads to improved traffic safety, better air quality, and lower transportation costs for parents. In Summer 2015, my students and I worked with local advocates and city officials to identify ways to make it easier for more students in Claremont to walk and bike to school. In this project, I propose a summer student project to turn those preliminary results into one or more systems that can be put into practice in public schools. If successful, our work this summer will result in two tools: one that can be used to help schools identify and organize groups of students who want to walk to school together, and one that can be used with student groups to provide hands-on experience analyzing the factors that contribute to air pollution.

Julie Medero – Submitted Proposal (PDF).

Tunable Composite Membranes for Gas Separations – Nancy Lape (Engineering)

With increasing environmental awareness and rising energy costs, traditional gas separation methods such as absorption (for CO2/CH4 and CO2/N2 separations) and cryogenic distillation (for N2/O2 separations) are becoming less attractive, while demand is increasing for solvent-free, energy-efficient membrane separation processes.  Unfortunately, membrane processes are entirely dependent on the availability of high-performance (sufficiently high permeability and high selectivity) membrane materials that are not currently available. Recent research in nano-composite films has shown promising gains in this area: the addition of impermeable nanoparticles to an ultra-high free volume polymer can actually increase permeability relative to the pure polymer while maintaining or increasing its selectivity. This runs counter to predictions based on the Maxwell model, long proven for micron-size particles, of permeability decreases upon the addition of impermeable particles. The improvements have been shown to be the result of free volume increases in the polymer, but the mechanism behind this free volume increase, while typically attributed to the formation of interfacial voids, is not understood. Additionally, it is unknown how this permeation enhancement depends on particle size, polymer chain rigidity, and other interfacial effects.

This research aims to address this deficiency via theory and experiments and use the findings to improve gas separation membranes by tailoring free volume, and therefore gas separation properties, of inorganic/polymer composites. To achieve this, we are carrying out a systematic investigation of the following three factors: (1) primary particle and aggregate size, (2) polymer chain rigidity, and (3) interfacial effects.

Nancy Lape – Submitted Proposal (MS Word).

Delimiting species within deep-sea corals impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill – Andrea M. Quattrini (Biology Department, Postdoctoral Researcher) and Catherine S. McFadden (Biology)

The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill was one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Approximately 800 million liters of crude oil were released into the deep Gulf of Mexico over a 3-month period. This oil combined with 7 million liters of chemical dispersants deployed in surface waters resulted in a cascade of negative impacts to coastal, pelagic, and benthic communities. Among the communities impacted included deepwater coral communities. In the vicinity of the wellhead, numerous deepwater coral colonies were found to be either deceased or were exhibiting signs of stress. Species within the octocoral genus Paramuricea were among the most abundant deepwater corals impacted. Similar to corals in shallow waters, Paramuricea spp. provide habitat for a diversity of other animals. In fact, these corals are some of the most important foundation species inhabiting deep waters throughout the North Atlantic Ocean. Yet, we cannot clearly distinguish among Paramuricea spp.; thus, we presently do not know how many species were impacted by the oil spill. Because of our lack of knowledge of species boundaries, we also do not know the degree of endemism or whether populations expand outside of the Gulf of Mexico. These are critical data for ongoing management and restoration efforts to better understand the recovery potential of species impacted by the spill. In this project, we will use restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (RADSeq) to delimit species of Paramuricea collected from the Gulf of Mexico and throughout the broader North Atlantic Ocean. RADSeq is a relatively new method that uses next generation Illumina Sequencing and bioinformatics to find single nucleotide polymorphisms among samples. A next-generation sequencing approach is necessary to resolve species boundaries within the genus Paramuricea. During this project, the summer research student will use a multidisciplinary approach to address research objectives. The student will learn a variety of techniques, including taxonomy, molecular methods, and bioinformatics, while contributing to better informed management decisions of vulnerable, deep-sea species.

Andrea Quattrini – Submitted Proposal (PDF).

Development of Bio-Inspired Catalysts for Dechlorination Reactions – Katherine Van Heuvelen (Chemistry)

The nickel-containing cofactor F430 found in methyl-coenzyme M reductase (MCR) and the cobalt-containing cobalamin cofactor (Cbl) found in Vitamin B12 carry out the reductive dehalogenation of chlorinated alkenes, which can act as damaging pollutants in the environment. Both F430 and Cbl are found in biological systems and carry out this reaction under benign conditions using earth-abundant materials. This work centers on the preparation and investigation of small molecular model compounds that reproduce key geometric and electronic features of cofactors F430 and Cbl. In particular, I propose to:

  1. Prepare a series of nickel- and cobalt-containing F430 model compounds designed to investigate the influence of the supporting ligand on reactivity.
  2. Evaluate the reactivity of these complexes towards halogenated substrates.
  3. Characterize reaction intermediates using a combination of spectroscopic (UV-visible, infrared, NMR) and computational (density functional theory, DFT) techniques in order to correlate geometric and electronic structure with reactivity.
  4. Elucidate the reaction mechanism using insights gained from aims 1–3, ultimately applying a detailed understanding of the fundamental chemistry underlying dehalogenation to the rational design of an improved catalytic system to treat chlorinated pollutants before they enter the water supply.

Van Heuvelen – Submitted Proposal (PDF).

2015 Summer Research Projects

Computation for Active Transportation – Julie Medero (Professor) and Alyssa Kubota (Student)

Abstract: There was a time when almost half of K-8 students walked or rode their bike to school, but today only 13% of students do. Research shows, though, that students who participate in one of these forms of active transportation do better in school. At the same time, increasing the number of students who walk or bike to school decreases car traffic in front of schools, which leads to improved traffic safety, better air quality, and lower transportation costs for parents. Programs exist in California and across the U.S. to make healthy transportation choices available to more students. These programs tend to rely on laborious manual processes that do not scale. In this project, I propose a summer student project to evaluate the extent to which existing computational models for traffic routing can be used to support schools that want to participate in these programs. The student who will work on this project will, specifically, explore new methods for identifying meeting points and routes to make it easier for students to walk to school in groups with one or more adults. If successful, our work this summer will identify the factors that need to be modeled to define walking and biking routes automatically. I hope to use the results of this research as a basis for future work with local schools, ultimately supporting efforts to increase the number of Claremont students who walk and bike to school.

Medero and Kubota – Submitted Proposal

Investigations of Dehalogenation Reactions Catalyzed by Nickel and Cobalt Complexes – Katherine Van Heuvelen (Professor) and Sooyeol Kim (Student)

Abstract: The nickel-containg cofactor F430 found in methyl-coenzyme M reductase (MCR) and the cobalt-containing cobalamin cofactor (Cbl) found in Vitamin B12 carry out the reductive dehalogenation of chlorinated alkenes, which can act as damaging pollutants in the environment. Both F430 and Cbl are found in biological systems and carry out this reaction under benign conditions using earth-abundant materials. This work centers on the preparation and investigation of small molecular model compounds that reproduce key geometric and electronic features of cofactors F430 and Cbl. In particular, I propose to:

  1. Prepare a series of nickel- and cobalt-containing F430 model compounds designed to investigate the influence of the supporting ligand on reactivity.
  2. Evaluate the reactivity of these complexes towards halogenated substrates.
  3. Characterize reaction intermediates using a combination of spectroscopic (UV-visible, infrared, NMR) and computational (density functional theory, DFT) techniques in order to correlate geometric and electronic structure with reactivity.
  4. Elucidate the reaction mechanism using insights gained from aims 1-3, ultimately applying a detailed understanding of the fundamental chemistry underlying dehalogenation to the rational design of an improved catalytic system.

Van Heuvelen and Kim – Submitted Proposal

Monitoring floral resources for honey bees and native pollinators – Matina Donaldson-Matasci (Professor) and Gabe Rubin (Student)

Abstract: Honey bees and native bees such as bumble bees provide essential pollination services in both natural and agricultural ecosystems. Recent declines in bee populations of both kinds have been linked to decreased availability of natural food resources (blooming flowers) due to changes in land use. In particular, the timing of resource availability is critical for both honey bees and native bees, and is strongly affected both by habitat and by year-to-year climate variation. To better understand and predict how land use change and climate change may affect resource availability for our key pollinators, it is necessary to develop efficient methods for tracking resource availability over time. In this project, we propose to develop a set of automated sensors for beehives that will monitor bee activity and foraging success in real time. Honey bee colonies housed in such beehives could then serve as bioindicators of forage availability, not only for honey bees but for other pollinators as well. This novel application of engineering biology will enable the study of bee foraging at a new scale, with implications for sustainable agriculture and native pollinator conservation.

Donaldson-Matasci and Rubin – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Survey Design and Data Analysis for Vaquita Abundance Estimates Cruise – Samuel Woodman (Student), Dr. Tim Gerrodette (Advisor, Southwest Fisheries Science Center), and Catherine McFadden (Professor)

Abstract: Unfortunately in today’s world, there is a constant need for conservation biology as we humans develop more land, exploit the land for its natural resources, and thus put species in danger of extinction. Species’ ranges are being restricted, and are suffering from hunting whether this hunting I focused on them or not. One such species is the vaquita (Phocoena sinus), the smallest cetacean species in the world. Many leading biologists are doing a great deal of work to try and save the species, and in order to be able to implement policies to save the vaquita, biologists must first estimate abundance and understand their range and habits. This work focuses on survey design and preparing data analyses for a research cruise in September to the vaquita habitat in order to provide biologists with the information that they need in order to work to protect the vaquita.

Woodman, Gerrodette, and McFadden – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Evaluating Environmental and Health Hazards from Deep Underground Injection of Oil and Gas Production Wastewater into Non-Exempt Groundwater Aquifers in California – Tanja Srebotnjak (Professor) and Anjayena Malpani (Student)

Abstract: There are currently approximately 42,000 oilfield injection wells in operation in California. These so-called class II wells are part of the EPA-overseen Underground Injection Control (UIC) program and are used for different processes in oil and gas production, including waterflooding, steamflooding, and cyclic steam injection. Some 1,500 California class II wells are designated for the permanent disposal of oil and gas related wastewater by pressure-injecting the wastewater into deep underground formations. This wastewater typically contains formation brine, chemicals used in oil production, and oil residues. In 1983, California’s oil and gas regulator, the Division for Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), received EPA primary authority to regulate Class II wells. In July 2014, the EPA ordered a full review of DOGGR’s UIC program management, including permit review, approval practices, and program rules, after DOGGR found that several oil and gas producers may have been injecting into protected sources of groundwater at 11 well sites in Kern County. This research project will map the geospatial location of currently active UIC Class II injection wells and combine data on injection volumes and frequencies with geospatial analyses to determine proximity to waterbodies as well as potential health hazards. In particular, the analyses will include distance calculations to important sources of water, seismic fault lines, and sensitive receptors (e.g., residences, schools, and hospitals). Based on the results, the project’s outputs will be (i) hotspot maps of class II locations posing particular risks to water resources and public health and (ii) recommendations for improving California’s UIC program in support of public input in the ongoing UIC review process by DOGGR and the EPA. The project will be carried out in collaboration with Cleanwater.org and FracTracker.org, two non-profit organizations promoting greater transparency and protections in U.S. oil and gas development.

Srebotnjak and Malpani – Submitted Proposal

Optimizing models of laser-driven fusion experiments – Tom Donnelly (Professor) and Calvin Leung (Student)

Abstract: Fusion is perhaps the most promising long-term solution to the problem of producing carbon-free, renewable energy, however we do not yet know how to control it sufficiently for the large-scale production of power. Billion dollar research facilities such as the National Ignition Facility and ITER study the fusion process in the hopes of one day being able to build power plants that will provide cheap, clean, plentiful energy. On a smaller scale, we complement this research using university-scale (million dollar) laser systems in collaboration with colleagues in Texas and England; we study fusion that is initiated by the irradiation of fuel pellets by an intense laser pulse. This proposal requests funds for a summer student to model methods for trapping and manipulating fusion fuel pellets in a vacuum so as to optimize the laser-pellet interaction in fusion studies. Improving our existing models of this interaction will allow us to improve our experimental design and move forward more confidently with our fusion experiments.

Donnelly and Leung – Submitted Proposal

2014 Summer Research Projects

Synthesis and Screening of Tungsten Phosphide as an Acid-Stable Electrocatalyst for the Hydrogen Evolution Reaction – Ryan Seldon (Student), Nancy Lape (Professor), Nathan Lewis (Professor, Caltech), and Chance Crompton (Mentor)

Abstract: There exists a desperate need for an alternative source of energy, as the current dependence on fossil fuels is unsustainable due to its devastating environmental and geopolitical effects. Solar energy is the only feasible form of carbon-neutral energy that can meet the significant demand. Artificial photosynthesis in particular, overcomes many of the hurdles associated with solar energy, including cost and the need for storage.

Artificial photosynthesis hinges on catalysts for the reactions in which solar energy is used to split water into H2 and O2. I propose to study one such catalyst for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) in which protons are reduced to H2. Tungsten phosphide (WP) is well-known as a catalyst for another reaction, hydrodesulfurization; its catalytic activity for this reaction may predict effectiveness as a catalyst for our reaction of interest. So far, however, as a catalyst for HER, WP remains unexplored.

I plan to work as part of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) at the California Institute of Technology in the laboratory of Nathan Lewis, a preeminent scientist in the field. I propose to synthesize WP in the three ways – solvothermal synthesis of tungsten phosphide nanoparticles, solution-based conversion of tungsten films with trioctylphosphine, and temperature programmed reduction of tungsten phosphate – and then characterize product of each using surface science and electrochemical methods. The characterization of the catalytic activity for HER of WP may lead to its implementation in future JCAP technologies. This experience will help me develop academically and professionally while making a positive impact on one of our greatest environmental issues.

Seldon, Lape, Lewis and Crompton – Submitted Proposal

Classifying dolphin populations in the western Pacific Ocean – Samuel Woodman (Student), Dr. Karen Martien (Southwest Fisheries Science Center), and Catherine McFadden (Professor)

Abstract: One of the many aspects of conservation biology a scientist must consider is properly defining the population that he or she wants to protect.  For instance, if a biologist wants to protect a population of turtles in the Pacific, he must define the endangered population so he can take specific measures to protect it.  With the countless recent advancements in computational biology, genetics is becoming a more and more feasible way to define these populations.  For instance, if there is suspected hybridization between species that causes the endangered species to lose its genetic distinctness, the protection measures will change drastically to account for the newly defined population size and range.  This research focuses on using mitochondrial DNA to determine the hybridization of Frasier’s dolphins and the much more common bottlenose dolphins.

Woodman, Martien, and McFadden – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Enhancing Absorption in Thin-Film Photovoltaics Using Plasmonics – Peter Saeta (Professor) and Aaron Batker Pritzker (Student)

Abstract: A promising approach to enhancing the absorption in thin-film photovoltaics is to scatter incident sunlight into waveguide modes propagating parallel to the surface. Recent work on photovoltaic structures whose surfaces are decorated with metallic nanoparticles, which function approximately as dipole scattering centers, has demonstrated efficient coupling into guided modes. I have developed a semi-analytical model to explore the limit to the absorption enhancement made possible by point dipole scatterers embedded in an absorbing layer atop a metallic substrate.

With Laura Maguire and Luke Mastalli-Kelly, I have been working to remedy a pair of deficiencies in the model: the manner in which the dipoles scatter incoming light and incoherent treatment of the diffusion of scattered optical power. Luke is currently generalizing the treatment of the dipole scatterers to more accurately reflect their spatial anisotropy. Laura laid the groundwork for analyzing coherent diffusion of light, treating all scattering coherently, but was unable to test the model. I propose to work with one or two students this summer to complete the coherent model, to compare results of the two models in similar geometries, to obtain more realistic estimates of the maximum absorption enhancement possible using realistic dipole properties, and to begin a comparison of the coherent model with rigorous coupled wave analysis of the scattering geometry.

Saeta and Pritzker – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Becoming Chimpanzee: Learning about an Endangered Species through an Embodied, Role-Playing Game – Rachel Mayeri (Professor) and Mary Elise Elam (Student)

Abstract: According to the World Wildlife Federation, two to three hundred thousand chimpanzees are left in the world, putting them at endangered status. Yet, the public mistakenly believes that chimp populations are flourishing because of the frequency of chimps in entertaining advertisements and films, as researchers at Duke have shown. Though our closest relative is a “charismatic megafauna,” most people do not understand or appreciate the uniqueness of their behavior as intelligent, social, nonhuman primates adapted to a threatened ecological niche. Many scholars and activists are interested in how processes of empathy and learning can be combined to promote pro-environmental and conservation behavior. We believe our project, an embodied game for learning about chimpanzee behavior, which puts people into the role of chimpanzees, will promote empathy and scientific understanding. Like another successful animal role-playing game, Wolfquest, there is great promise for Becoming Chimpanzee to engage a wide audience to have fun learning about chimpanzees. Through a website associated with the game, we can give people the tools and information to act to protect chimps and their habitat.

Mayeri and Elam – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

eTrails Oregon – David Money Harris (Professor) and Jacob Higle-Ralbovsky (Student)

Abstract: The classic Wilderness Press guidebook for our nation’s finest National Scenic Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, is ten years out of date and is no longer being updated by the authors.  As a result, many hikers are carrying only maps and are missing out information about botany, geology, history, and the other sights along the trail. David Money Harris has developed a free iPhone app, eTrails, covering the PCT, and has populated the app with data for California.  The goal of this project is to publish the next set of chapters covering Oregon.  This project will involve research, writing, and 650 miles of fieldwork.  The benefits for society are a free and up-to-date high-quality guidebook, which enhances hikers appreciation of and concern for the trail.  The benefits for the student are a transformative summer wilderness experience, a deep practical exposure to natural history, and an opportunity for professional research and writing.

Harris and Higle-Ralbovsky – Submitted Proposal

2013 Summer Research Projects

Light absorption in polluted fog water in the Po Valley, Italy – Lelia Hawkins (Professor) and Lydia Jahl (Student)

Abstract: Absorbing organic compounds in atmospheric aerosol, known as brown carbon, have been a topic of recent research because, unlike soot (known as black carbon), their formation, atmospheric aging, and radiative impact remain highly uncertain. This work will specifically address (1) the role of various emissions in controlling the brown carbon loading (amount) and (2) the role of fog in enhancing the brown carbon loading by providing an aqueous medium for oligomerization reactions to occur. The analysis will take place in the Po Valley near Bologna, Italy, which is notorious for it’s highly polluted fog. Fog water has been collected during episodes of intense pollution and fog and will be analyzed by a suite of chemical techniques by the collaborators. Lydia Jahl would add to their measurements by contributing light absorption measurements with instrumentation owned by the Hawkins lab (portable instrumentation).

The expected outcome is three-fold. (1) Initial measurements from this collaboration will be used by Prof. Hawkins to prepare a proposal for funding to continue this work at HMC measuring Los Angeles fog water (and possibly in Italy). (2) Lydia Jahl will get valuable experience working abroad and make important connections for her professional future. (3) The measurements themselves will result in one of the first publications from the Hawkins lab and may be the basis for Lydia’s senior thesis project.

Hawkins and Jahl – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Chemical Force Microscopy of Individual Atmospheric Aerosol Particles – Lelia Hawkins (Professor) and Stephanie Kong (Student)

Abstract: Atmospheric aerosol properties (e.g. composition and light absorption) are one of the least understood aspects of the global radiation budget (the balance of energy entering and leaving the earth). Global and regional climate models rely on this balance to make predictions about future warming resulting from greenhouse gases. One way to further our understanding of these particles is by probing individual particles to characterize their size, shape, and chemical nature. The specific focus of the proposed work is to probe the viscosity of individual particles. This area of research was featured in several high profile conference presentations this past fall at the annual meeting of atmospheric chemists; no presentations or publications have been made on the use of AFM to measure particle viscosity.

This project is a continuation of work already underway in the Hawkins lab. In the last year, a collection apparatus was constructed and tested, and it was found to be capable of sampling ambient and simulated particles. Particles were analyzed by AFM and the measurements were of high enough quality to merit further investigation. New software and a maintenance contract have been obtained by the Chemistry Department to support this work. Students have successfully imaged many particles. The new work proposed would provide highly timely measurements that will be presented at the next fall meeting of aerosol scientists.

Hawkins and Kong – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Investigations of C-H Bond Activation in Reverse Methanogenesis – Van Heuvelen (Professor) and Philip Woods (Student)

Abstract: Methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas as well as a source of energy as a component of natural gas. The ability to transform methane into a biofuel such as methanol in a controlled fashion under benign conditions is a fundamental challenge in the chemical community. The metalloenzyme methyl-coenzyme M reductase (MCR) was recently found to carry out the oxidation of methane under benign conditions using an earth-abundant metal as a catalyst, but the details of this reaction are not understood. This work centers on the synthesis of biomimetic compounds that reproduce key geometric and electronic features of MCR’s nickel-containing active site in order to gain insight into this unusual C-H bond activation pathway.

Van Heuvelen and Woods – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Improving Models of Marine Hydrokinetic Energy Turbines Using Environmental Fluid Dynamics Code – Seth Shill (Student) and Mary Cardenas (Professor)

Abstract: Marine hydrokinetic energy (MHK) systems are a renewable and emission-free source of energy that harnesses water currents to generate electricity, most commonly by means of a turbine. However, before widespread commercial implementation can be undertaken, more research needs to be done to understand the effects of site-specific fluid dynamics, array configuration, and wake generation on power output as well as on local ecosystems. The research proposed would use Environmental Fluid Dynamics Code (EFDC) modeling software to first validate turbulence models and then analyze the effects of different turbine configurations on power output and impacts on aquatic ecosystems. By advancing knowledge of these relationships, we can improve the attractiveness of MHK turbines in open markets and thereby reduce domestic dependence on fossil fuels for energy production.

Shill and Cardenas – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

2012 Summer Research Projects

Absorption Enhancement in Thin-Film Photovoltaics – Peter Saeta (Professor) and Peter Megson (Student)

Abstract: A promising approach to enhancing the absorption in thin-film photovoltaics is to scatter incident sunlight into waveguide modes propagating parallel to the surface. Recent work on photovoltaic structures whose surfaces are decorated with metallic nanoparticles, which function approximately as dipole scattering centers, has demonstrated efficient coupling into guided modes. While on a recent sabbatical, I developed a semi-analytical model to explore the limit to the absorption enhancement made possible by point dipole scatterers embedded in an absorbing layer atop a metallic substrate. Although I was able to compute interesting limiting cases – and answer a lingering question about the ergodic limit – much work remains to be done to understand how the strong absorption enhancements are affected by resistive losses in the dipoles, by frequency-dependent coupling efficiencies of the dipoles, and by the presence of a transparent conductive oxide between the absorber and the back conducting plane. I propose to work with a summer student to explore these dependences.

Saeta and Megson – Submitted Proposal

The Design and Launch of an Educational Video Game to Promote Sustainability Phase IV (Final) – Paul Steinberg (Professor), Elizabeth Sweedyk (Professor), Russell Transue (Student), and Mary Rachel Stimson (Student)

Abstract: We are seeking support for two summer students to finalize work on the video game Green Dominion, which has been produced through a unique interdisciplinary collaboration involving computer science, political science, and the visual arts. Completing the work this summer will facilitate continuity in programming, an important consideration as the student developers are graduating and the game involves over 10,000 lines of code. The game will be distributed for free through a Creative Commons license to major conservation organizations and to over 500 faculty who teach college-level environmental studies courses.

Steinberg, Sweedyk, Tansue, and Stimson – Submitted Proposal

Effects of Suburban Landscaping on the Behavior, Seasonal Distribution, and Abundance of Anna’s Hummingbirds – Megan Wheeler (Student) and Steve Adolph (Professor)

Abstract: Large-scale development of Southern California has created a new suburban landscape, which affects the habitat and behavior of many native species.  The native Anna’s hummingbird is particularly affected by the introduction of exotic flowering plants and hummingbird feeders common in many suburban neighborhoods.  This research seeks to quantify the effects of suburban landscaping on Anna’s hummingbird seasonal distribution and overall abundance through a year-long series of bird counts beginning in the summer of 2012.  In addition, it explores the effects of artificial feeders on Anna’s hummingbird abundance and aggressive behavior by introducing feeders to previously observed areas during the summer of 2012.  These experiments will contribute to the understanding of the effects of suburban landscapes on resident hummingbird species, and may allow insight into changing distributions of migratory hummingbird species.

Wheeler and Adolph – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Evaluation of Olin Landscaping and Development of a Sustainable Solution – Mike Erlinger (Professor), Abby Korth (Student), and Katy Anderson (Student)

Abstract: Water usage in California is cause for concern as demand increases and sources dwindle. Currently, the Claremont area receives water from three primary sources. The first is the California State Water Project, which is designed and operated by the California Department of Water Resources. It brings water from northern California to dry and water-deficient southern California. The state also receives water from the Colorado River and from groundwater sources (2). The movement of water from northern to southern California is necessary as two-thirds of the state’s precipitation occurs in the north while about two-thirds of the state’s population lives in the south. However, this water transportation is not only a nuisance, it also requires a costly amount of energy: currently, 19% of the state’s electricity use is from water-related demands (1). Using water from the Colorado River is also damaging as California currently uses 4.4 million acre-feet of water annually from the river (2) and this leads to damaged ecosystems and loss of natural habitats for many species. The final water source in California, groundwater, is not an expandable option in areas such as Claremont, which are already dry and arid. According to a study done by the California Energy Commission, “the single new supply available for meeting growth in water demand over the next 25 years is water efficiency” (1). Thus, in order for Harvey Mudd to be a positive contributor to reduction in water demand and the detrimental results including energy waste and habitat destruction, the campus must work to develop sustainable water practices and policies.

A primary area in which Harvey Mudd can reduce its water usage is in areas of landscape and landscape maintenance. Currently, according to an audit performed by Harvey Mudd students, the school uses 380,000 gallons of water every year and 51% of that water goes to irrigation. This could be remedied through establishment of efficient landscape design and plant selection through a process called xeriscaping. This utilizes slow-growing and drought tolerant plants, thus reducing water necessary for maintenance (3). Another option used to reduce water usage in landscaping is modified, water efficient irrigation systems.

Erlinger, Korth and Anderson – Submitted Proposal

2011 Summer Research Projects

Separation of Valuable Minerals from Brine Output of Desalination Plants – Nancy Lape (Professor) and Matthew Kweon (Student)

Abstract: Desalination of ocean water removes impure substances and minerals from ocean water so that water is purified for other use such as drinking. Due to its arid climate and low water reserve levels, Southern California demands a great supply of clean water. In Southern California, West Basin Municipal Water District (West Basin) recycles water to provide reliable water through desalination. One problem West Basin faces is when the environmentally harmful brine is disposed of, some valuable minerals are lost. In order to solve this problem, Mr. Dave Larky is looking for a method to recover valuable minerals from the brine output as well as provide fresh water. Since concentrated brine harms the environment, if some minerals are extracted from it, this could be more environmentally friendly before the brine is disposed prior to mineral recovery. Current technology has yet not solidified the most cost-efficient and effective way to separate valuable minerals from the discarded substances, which differ in composition locally. Research in this area could allow West Basin to not only provide Southern California with fresh water but also deposit less wastes in concentrated brine through the recovery of minerals.

Lape and Kweon – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

The Design and Launch of an Educational Video Game to Promote Sustainability – Paul Steinberg (Professor), Elizabeth Sweedyk (Professor), Russell Transue (Student), and Yoyoz Zhang (Student)

Abstract: We are seeking $11,922 to support two students who will design an educational video game during summer 2011 as part of The Social Rules Project at Harvey Mudd College.  The game will be distributed for free across the Internet to promote greater understanding of the political dimensions of environmental problems.

Steinberg, Sweedyk, Transue and Zhang – Submitted Proposal

Developing an Energy Efficient and Cost Effective Schottky Diode by Oxidation of Titanium – Adrian Hightower (Professor) and Danielle Nicholas (Student)

Abstract: Our objective is to develop a novel catalytic schottky diode to generate electricity directly from chemical reactions. Conventional batteries or fuel cells use two coupled electrochemical reactions (at the positive and negative electrodes) to convert chemical energy into electrical. The propose catalytic diode will use a single chemical reaction near a platinum/titanium oxide interface to generate electricity. The platinum serves to catalyze chemical reactions that promote electrons into a conduction band. Thus this catalytic diode functions more like a photovoltaic (solar panel) than a conventional battery or fuel cell. This concept has been demonstrated for the oxidation of titanium with oxygen gas and carbon monoxide but has not been optimized. Our goal is to utilize hydrogen and oxygen gas for our catalytic schottky diode, producing water as a waste product. This would generate electricity without CO2 emissions. We would then potentially be able to recycle the water by electrolysis, in order to produce more H2 and O2. This production of energy would help to reduce greenhouse gases and address the issue of climate change.

Hightower and Nicholas – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Improving Energy Usage Monitoring System at Harvey Mudd College – Beryl Egerter (Student), Rai Feren (Student), Mike Erlinger (Professor), and Richard Haskell (Professor)

Abstract: There is a website system in place to monitor the energy usage at Harvey Mudd College. The website system is functional, but could do with improvements which this project will remedy.

Egerter, Feren, Erlinger and Haskell – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Developing a Financial Plan for a Water Reclamation Plant on the Claremont Colleges – Dustin Zubke (Student) and Richard Haskell (Professor)

Abstract: Building a water reclamation plant on the Claremont College is imperative to reaching the colleges’ sustainability goals, since the reclaimed water would effectively eliminate the colleges’ need for imported water from northern California.  To ensure that the Council of Presidents approves this project, I seek to write a detailed financial plan on the installation of a water reclamation system.  My plan intends to supplement a professional investigation into installing the plant conducted by an engineering firm that CUC will hire if the Council Presidents approve the installation.  The advantage that my plan will have over the professional survey will be my personal knowledge of the colleges.

Zubke and Haskell – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

2010 Summer Research Projects

Developing electrostatic injection techniques for the delivery of fusion fuels to the focus of a high-power laser – Tom Donnelly (Professor) and Brendan Folie (Student)

Abstract: Our research efforts this summer will be directed at developing technology that supports studies of laser-driven fusion. We propose to build and characterize a device that will electrostatically inject micron-size deuterated spheres into the focus of an intense laser pulse. The spheres will be heated by the pulse, and thermonuclear fusion will be initiated. This would constitute an entirely new method of delivering fusion fuels to a laser pulse. Our goal this summer is to improve the injection device that we have been working on for the last two years and, once we have it working and characterized, to take it to the University of Texas at Austin where we will undertake fusion experiments with our collaborator.

Donnelly and Folie – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

The Next Generation of Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells – Hal Van Ryswyk (Professor) and Daniel O’Neil (Student)

Abstract: Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) offer enormous promise as low-cost photovoltaic devices that can be manufactured in large area using environmentally benign materials leaving a small carbon footprint integrated along their production path. We are working to boost the efficiency of DSSCs by radical redesign of the architecture of the DSSC dye and photoanode. Specifically, we are exploring the use of zinc porphyrins on zinc oxide nanotubes to change the paradigm of high-efficiency DSSCs. This work has the potential to advance DSSCs beyond the plateau efficiency where they have languished for the past fifteen years and move them into the realm of economic viability.

Van Ryswyk and O’Neil – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Building a Solar-Powered Pump to Deliver Clean Water to Villagers in Ngomano, Kenya – Roxie Bartholomew (Student), Rob Best (Student), Isabel Bush (Student), Evann Gonzales (Student), Ozzie Gooen (Student), My Ho (Student), Dalar Nazarian (Student), Dmitri Skjorshammer (Student), Richard Haskell (Professor) and Susan Martonosi (Professor)

Abstract: In pursuit of the goals of environmental, economic, and social sustainability, the Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) chapter at Harvey Mudd College is planning a service project trip to Ngomano, Kenya for the summer of 2010. The purpose of the trip is to implement a solar-powered pump to deliver clean water to the Clay International Secondary School in Ngomano. Students will design a means of converting a diesel water pump to solar power. They will then travel to Kenya to execute the design as well as build upon relationships established between Harvey mudd students and Ngomano villagers during a water quality assessment trip to the village last winter. Upon completion of the trip, the students will share their design and the knowledge gained while abroad with the Harvey Mudd community through written documentation of their experiences and public presentations.

Research and initial designing of the pump will take place throughout the 2009-2010 school-year. The project will then continue for ten weeks into the summer of 2010. The first two weeks will be spent at Harvey Mudd finalizing the design before departure. Part of the team will then travel to Ngomano, Kenya for six weeks to build the solar-powered pump system. The last two weeks of the project will be spent documenting the experience and evaluating further project options at Harvey Mudd after the team returns from Ngomano.

Kenya Project – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Mathematical Modeling of Renewable Energy Sources – Amelia Musselman (Student), Andrea Levy (Student), and Rachel Levy (Professor)

Abstract: For this six-week research project we developed a model to determine optimal placement of new renewable energy installments in California. We focused on making a model that was generalizable, so it could be easily applied to other regions, especially those in which the power transmission infrastructure is not as highly-developed as in California. Data was obtained from a variety of sources in order to incorporate factors relating to energy and the environment within our model. The model minimized the sum of multiple costs, including non-monetary costs, given capacity, population, and transmission restrictions, to determine power plant type and placement.

Musselman, Levy, and Levy – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Low concentration photovoltaics – Carlo Vaccari (Student) and Peter Saeta (Professor)

Abstract: One of the most promising ‘green’ technologies is the use of solar power to produce electricity instead of burning fossil fuels. One of the most common ways to do this is with a photovoltaic (PV) panel. These use semiconductors to produce electric potential when exposed to light. They are relatively inefficient, and expensive due to the large amount of semiconductor needed to cover a large area.

To reduce this, concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) systems use optics to maximize power production for a given photovoltaic panel area. Because the price of solar panels is higher than the reflectors and lenses needed to concentrate an equivalent amount of light, the high cost of plain photovoltaic systems can be reduced. In addition, the reduced panel area allows the use of more efficient panels for maximized energy production per area of collector.

Currently, most development is in the form of high-concentration CPV systems, because of their potential for very high efficiencies, but they have the disadvantage of requiring tracking systems. These are motorized and need both advanced computer control and much more maintenance.

For this reason, many residential photovoltaic systems use plain PV panels. However, this is an expensive investment, usually many thousands of dollars, and few people have the resources and credit to purchase a system.

One possible way to alleviate this is by using low-concentration CPV systems. These can have high acceptance angles and require no complicated steering systems, allowing them to be within reach for residential customers, but they also are potentially much cheaper than plain arrays. They can be achieved quite simply, with a single mirror.

Vaccari and Saeta – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

2009 Summer Research Projects

Use of Aquatic Plants as a Sustainable Waste Water Treatment Method in Developing Countries – Mary Moore-Simmons (Student) and Mary Cardenas (Professor)

Abstract: Developing countries often have no method of waste water treatment, which results in the contamination of local water supplies, leading to illness and death. A large problem with most waste water treatment systems is the cost of upkeep. Residents of developing countries often cannot afford the cost of chemicals commonly used to treat waste water. Because of this, significant research has been done showing that the use of some aquatic plants is successful in treating waste water. It would decrease the cost and increase the sustainability of a waste water treatment system if the plants used thrived in the immediate environment. Therefore, this research project will focus on the discovery of new aquatic plants that can be used to treat waste water. The availability, effectiveness relative to plants previously studied for this purpose, and safety concerns for the local residents will be taken into account.

Moore-Simmons and Cardenas – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

A novel method to control biofouling on the surface of membrane filters using UV irradiation through optical fibers – Doo Hyun Chung (Student), Jaehong Kim (Professor, Georgia Tech), Dr. Pyung Kyu Park (Georgia Tech), and Nancy Lape (Professor)

Abstract: Membrane processes such as microfiltration, ultrafiltration, nanofiltration and reverse osmosis have been popular subject for researchers interested in water filtration system. One of the main problems with such membrane system is biofouling, which is caused by deposition or growth of microorganisms on membrane surface. One solution to this problem, as it has been used for many years now, is chlorination. However, it has a number of side effects including over chlorination, odor problems, and formation of highly carcinogenic disinfection by-products [1-3]. As an alternative solution to biofouling, UV irradiation has been used to clean the membrane system. However, it is difficult to accomplish complete disinfection with normal UV source because UV cannot be irradiated onto every part of membrane. This research focuses on UV disinfection using optical fibers, which allow the UV ray to be delivered to any site on membrane.

Chung, Kim, Park and Lape – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

The Use of Sensitivity Analysis to Evaluate the Cost-effectiveness of Off-Site Solar Electricity Generation – Tynan McAuley (Student) and Gary Evans (Professor)

Abstract: During the summer of 2009, I worked with Professor Gary Evans on assessing the cost feasibility of large-scale solar electricity generation in California. Initially, our goal was “to use sensitivity analysis to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of off-site (remote-installation) solar electricity generation, considering different technologies and grid structures for the power market in the state of California.” We wanted to determine which variables would most affect the cost effectiveness of solar power projects, and how that might impact the pace of implementation and the likelihood of realizing California program goals.

McAuley and Evans – [No Submitted Proposal Available] || Research Reports [1] || [2] || [3]

Improving Wind Turbine Efficiency through Whales-inspired Blade Design – Alex Krause (Student), Raquel Robinson (Student), Hoi Dick Ng (Professor, Concordia University), Lori Bassman (Professor)

Abstract: Due to the rapid depletion of hydrocarbon-based energy resources and their harmful effects on the environment, there is an urgent need to seek alternative and sustainable energy sources. Wind power is among the potential alternatives to fossil fuels; however, the efficiency to convert wind energy into a useful form such as electricity using wind turbines still requires some engineering design innovation. Energy efficiency in traditional horizontal-axis wind turbine (HAWT) is largely determined by the aerodynamics of the turbine blades and the characteristics of the turbulent fluid flow. The objective of this proposed project is thus to investigate improvement of HAWT blade design by incorporating the bumps on humpback whales’ fins into blades. This application is thought to produce more aerodynamic blades by creating turbulence in the airflow behind each groove. This project would focus on designing, prototyping, and testing a HAWT with whale-inspired blades to determine the differences in the associated turbulent flow field and energy efficiency compared to traditional HAWTs using an engineering approach of computational and experimental studies. The expected outcome, if successful, is that the whale-inspired HAWT prototype will offer a better energy conversion than traditionally designed prototypes.

Krause, Robinson, Ng and Bassman – Submitted Proposals [1] and [2] || FINAL REPORT

Designing a Safer Transitional Electric Vehicle – Steven Ning (Student) and Mary Cardenas (Professor)

Abstract: In effecting a society‐wide transition from “heavy” gasoline powered automobiles to lighter, more efficient electric vehicles, we would experience a period during which heavy vehicles would share the road with these lighter vehicles. Collisions between these two types of vehicles during the transition period would be inevitable. The proposed project seeks to identify and characterize design traits for light vehicles which would maximize the safety margins for vehicle occupants during collision with a heavy vehicle. Designs will be tested under simulated collisions using finite element analysis software. The results to be compiled include direct comparisons with parameters from the Department of Transportation (DoT) passenger vehicle collision safety standards, as well as a number of general design recommendations.

Ning and Cardenas – Submitted Proposal || FINAL REPORT

Feasibility of School Buses in Dhanmondi, Dhaka – Mobashwir Khan (Student), Jason Wang (Student), Patrick Little (Professor), and Charisma F. Croudhury (Professor, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology)

Abstract: Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Dhanmondi is a residential area within Dhaka that has experienced the rapid development of many private schools over the past fifteen years. Most of the schools do not have an established school bus system, and since they all follow the same schedule, the roadways are consistently gridlocked with commuters during peak hours.

Congestion is a major problem for residents of Dhanmondi because it significantly increases travel time. Residents must leave home very early, sometimes even hours in advance, to be on time for their appointments. Additionally, the excessive noise, heat, and air pollution generated by vehicles deteriorates the quality of living. Administrative agencies have attempted to curb congestion by rerouting traffic, staggering start times and enforcing stricter traffic laws, but none of these methods has proven effective.

The primary cause of congestion in Dhanmondi is the sheer volume of traffic, which far exceeds the carrying capacity of existing roads. Without a school bus system, students ride their own cars to school, so the student-to-vehicle ratio is very high (close to 1). Therefore, establishing a school bus system would be an effective approach to reducing traffic volume and environmental damage.

The Harvey Mudd College (HMC) Center for Environmental Studies sponsored a summer project to investigate the feasibility of introducing school buses into Dhanmondi. The research was conducted by student researchers from HMC in collaboration with a faculty member of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). This paper presents the details, results, and conclusions of the research.

Khan, Wang, Little and Croudhury – [No Submitted Proposal Available] || FINAL REPORT