December 31, 1969 |

For their groundbreaking accomplishments with the Internship and Co-op Carbon Reduction Challenge, Kim Cobb and Beril Toktay have been selected as the recipients of the 2018 Innovation in Co-curricular Education Award, administered by the Center for Teaching and Learning.  

Kim Cobb is Georgia Power Chair and ADVANCE Professor in the College of Sciences. Beril Toktay is Brady Family Chair in Management, ADVANCE Professor, and Director of the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business in the Scheller School of Business.

In 2008, Cobb launched the Carbon Reduction Challenge for an undergraduate course in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences: EAS 3110, “Energy, the Environment, and Society.” In this course, she challenged student teams to develop projects during the semester that will yield real-world reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, if implemented.

The challenge took off. Over the years, winning projects have resulted in aggregate reductions of more than 2,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the annual carbon footprints of 100 Americans.  

“A focus on innovation and experiential learning are key differentiators of Georgia Tech. The Carbon Reduction Challenge gives students a hands-on experience in innovating for sustainability."

In 2016, Toktay teamed up with Cobb to translate the challenge into a co-curricular offering for Georgia Tech students participating in co-ops and internships. The initiative was supported by a philanthropic donation from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation NextGen Fund and matching funds from the Scheller College of Business Dean’s Innovation Fund. They bet that students embedded within their partner organizations would have easy access to key decision-makers and data that would enable them to  achieve even larger carbon dioxide reductions.

They were right. Launched in summer 2017, the co-op and internship version was immensely successful. In just one semester, student developed and implemented projects that will avoid more than 5,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over 10 years. That amount offsets the carbon footprints of at least 300 Americans for one year. Furthermore, projects will translate into reduced costs at their partner organizations amounting to tens of thousands of dollars over 10 years.

“When I first started the Carbon Reduction Challenge, I never dreamed that it would result in such massive impacts,” Cobb says. “I am excited to work with Beril to grow the challenge at Georgia Tech and beyond.”

Participating students acquired valuable, real-world experience. They learned to harness their creativity and navigate complex organizational hierarchies in companies large and small. Embraced by partner organizations, such as SunTrust Bank and Delta Airlines, the Internship and Co-op Carbon Reduction Challenge is helping to establish Georgia Tech as a regional leader in sustainability.

Students "are learning a life-long lesson: that saving carbon can save us money, while strengthening key partnerships."

One student says the challenge “made me more aware of the importance of being a steward for the environment.”

“A focus on innovation and experiential learning are key differentiators of Georgia Tech,” Toktay says. “The Carbon Reduction Challenge gives students a hands-on experience in innovating for sustainability. My hope is that it inspires them to continue to do that throughout their careers.”

Cobb and Toktay not only perform world-class research, but also inspire and equip the next generation of sustainability champions to solve society’s most pressing challenges. As a colleague puts it, “they are wonderful examples for our entire faculty.”

“As a climate scientist, I take great heart in seeing the next generation take such concrete, scalable action on climate solutions,” Cobb says. “They are learning a life-long lesson:  that saving carbon can save us money, while strengthening key partnerships.”

Says Toktay: “I’m proud of the unique educational innovation this challenge represents: a collaboration of the Colleges of Business and Sciences and a format that empowers interns to pitch their ideas at the highest levels of the organization.”

December 31, 1969 |

James J. Wray has been selected to receive the 2018 Outstanding Achievement in Early Career Research Award. An associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Wray is a planetary scientist who studies the surfaces of planets. He is motivated by the search for life in the universe or conditions that support life. His research focuses on Mars and icy moons in the outer solar system.

Wray’s research has advanced understanding of the surface properties of Mars. He and his students use spacecraft imaging, spectral, and in situ data to explore surface compositions, search for organic molecules from the soils and rocks, and map minerals across the Martian surface. His work has contributed substantially to our understanding of water on Mars throughout the planet’s geologic history.

Modern Mars is cold, dry, and inhospitable, despite the planet’s rich aqueous history. Yet in 2011, a team including Wray found dark streaks that form and propagate down the warmest Martian slopes in summer and fade in winter. The process, called recurring slope lineae (RSL), was reported in Science.

RSL could be driven by water flows or by dry granular flows. Wray and then-Ph.D. student Lujendra Ojha developed methods to analyze the process. Using NASA’s imaging spectrometer for Mars and infrared spectrometry, they detected water-bearing perchlorate localized to RSL during active periods.

The finding, reported in Nature Geoscience in 2015, caught the public’s imagination, because – at least on Earth – life as we know it requires water. Scientists widely discussed the confirmation of wet activity on modern Mars. The paper has been cited close to 200 times, indicating its wide impact.

“With record federal support and renewed public and commercial interest, it is a fantastic time to be a planetary scientist.”

However, water is not enough. Using instruments in Curiosity, the car-sized rover exploring a crater on Mars, Wray contributes to the next step in the search for life outside Earth: finding organic building blocks for biochemistry. Wray has focused his efforts on the search for nitrogen-bearing compounds in Martian rocks and soil and on establishing a global inventory of carbon, including the carbon locked in carbonate-bearing rocks.  

The work on water on Mars has influenced research and planning at NASA. Wray has participated in a group that studied the implications of RSL on international policies to protect planets. He is involved in the design of the next robotic orbiter to characterize RSL throughout the Martian day.

Wray enables NASA’s “Journey to Mars” program, which aims to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. With the help of his expertise on spectral analysis of the Martian surface, a research team recently found massive subsurface ice sheets, which could be accessible to astronauts. 

Beyond Mars, Wray is focused on the icy moons of giant planets, such as Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus. His work is informing high-level discussions of what instruments would be most useful for outer-solar-system missions.

“I am humbled to receive this honor from Georgia Tech, where so many others are also doing outstanding research that is changing the world every day,” Wray says. “I am grateful to my supportive colleagues at Georgia Tech and beyond, and most of all to the students I have been able to work with here, who have consistently exceeded my grandest expectations. With record federal support and renewed public and commercial interest, it is a fantastic time to be a planetary scientist.”

December 31, 1969 |

By depositing molten plastic layer upon layer, three-dimensional printers can crank out almost anything, including toys, guns, and artificial limbs. The surging 3-D printer market has made desktop versions affordable for schools and libraries. But the printers’ growing prevalence has raised concerns about potential negative health effects from inhaling toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particles given off by the devices.

Although the government has set workplace standards for a few of the VOCs released by 3-D printers, these are for healthy working-age adults in industrial settings such as tire or plastic manufacturing plants: None of the compounds is regulated in homes or libraries where 3-D printers might be used by sensitive populations such as children. Furthermore, researchers don’t know the identity of most of the compounds emitted by printers. “Scientists know that particles and VOCs are bad for health, but they don’t have enough information to create a regulatory standard for 3-D printers,” says Marina E. Vance, an environmental engineer at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

What’s more, data from early studies of 3-D printer emissions are difficult to use in developing standards because of variability in the test conditions, says Rodney J. Weber, an aerosol chemist at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Two years ago, UL, an independent safety certification company, established an advisory board and began funding research projects to answer basic questions about the amounts and types of compounds in 3-D printer emissions, what levels are safe, and how to minimize exposures, says Marilyn S. Black, a vice president at UL. The company is working to create a consistent testing and evaluation method so that researchers will be able to compare data across different labs. “By this fall we will put out an ANSI [American National Standards Institute] standard for measuring particles and VOCs for everyone to use,” she says.

Printing plastic

A 3-D printer creates an object by feeding coils of plastic filament through a nozzle that melts the plastic at temperatures up to 320 °C and then extrudes it onto a moving baseplate. A computer directs the motion of the baseplate so that layers of material build up until the foreordained 3-D shape emerges.

“We know that when you melt plastic at high temperatures, the long chains of organic matter in the plastic partially degrade and release potentially harmful volatile organic compounds and ultrafine particles (UFPs) into the air,” says Brent Stephens, an environmental engineer at Illinois Institute of Technology. He and other researchers have found that the most common filament materials can cause potentially unhealthy emissions when used in 3-D printers. Petroleum-based acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), a plastic used in Lego blocks, gives off styrene and formaldehyde—the first a suspected human carcinogen and the second a known one. Nylon releases caprolactam, a respiratory irritant. Polylactic acid (PLA)—a corn-based plastic found in medical implants, drinking cups, and disposable diapers—emits methyl methacrylate, a mild skin irritant. And all the filament types spew UFPs, particles with a diameter less than 100 nm that can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. These particles are known to cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

As laser printers heat and lay down ink, they give off numbers of ultrafine particles comparable to those from 3-D printers, but that does not mean they have the same health risk, says Aleksandr B. Stefaniak, an industrial hygienist at the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health. Although both types of printers use plastic “ink,” laser toner is heated only briefly to melt it onto a sheet of paper. In contrast, a 3-D print job can last hours or days as filament is continuously melted through the extruder nozzle. Because of the prolonged melting, 3-D printer emissions include hundreds of VOCs and vast numbers of particles of unknown composition.

Some early tests hint that operating 3-D printers can lead to unhealthy aerosol levels. Weber measured VOCs given off by a 3-D printer in a 1-m3 environmental chamber, while colleagues modeled levels that would be found in an office using the same machine. The model predicted that caprolactam room concentrations would reach 100 μg/m3—more than 14 times as great as California’s acceptable level of 7 μg/m3 (1.4 ppb) for an eight-hour exposure. Formaldehyde would reach concentrations above those recommended by the World Health Organization for indoor air.

Also, Stefaniak and his team looked at the health effects of 3-D printer emissions on rats. Particles in outdoor air can cause cardiovascular disease in humans, so Stefaniak looked for similar effects from 3-D-printer releases. He and his team exposed rats for three hours to emissions from a printer using black ABS and performed various tests on the rats’ cardiovascular systems before and after exposure. Twenty-four hours after exposure, the rats’ blood pressure had jumped by about 30%, and their arteries had stiffened relative to before the exposure (Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol. 2017, DOI: 10.1016/j.taap.2017.09.016). “Now we want to identify the causative agent and find out how it works,” he says.

It’s all about the filament

The formulation of the filament and the temperature to which it is heated are critical to generating particles and VOCs, Weber says. “The higher the temperature, the more gases are produced, and the more particles that ultimately form,” he says. Heat degrades the plastic and volatilizes the compounds. As they cool, the gases form particles and also condense onto small particles already present in the room. Weber speculates that temperature is the reason ABS filaments release more VOCs and particles compared with PLA: ABS softens at a higher temperature than PLA, so printers typically heat ABS to 240 °C, whereas PLA is processed at 220 °C.

Filament additives—included to add shine, electrical conductivity, color, or other properties—can change emissions dramatically. For example, PLA that includes trace substances to make it impact resistant generates more particles than standard ABS, Weber says. Stefaniak has detected particles containing chromium, nickel, and aluminum during printing, possibly produced by metal-containing dyes within colored ABS filaments. “These metals can generate reactive oxygen species that promote inflammation, a condition associated with some lung diseases,” he says.

Proceed with caution

When the ANSI/UL printer testing standards debut this fall, they will also include a voluntary threshold for allowable levels of emissions from 3-D printers. “For VOCs there are lots of existing standards for specific compounds such as formaldehyde, styrene, and caprolactam,” UL’s Black says. Because there is much less information about UFPs, UL will set a limit based on what is possible now by redesigning printers and reformulating filaments.

For example, manufacturers can substitute better, safer filaments and enclose printers in cabinets that remove UFPs and VOCs through high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. When Stefaniak and his colleagues enclosed the 3-D printers at a Texas business in HEPA-filter-ventilated chambers, particle concentrations in the print room fell by 98%. In a recent study that combined low-emitting filaments, lower nozzle temperatures, and a printer cover with a HEPA filter, UFPs measured in a testing chamber fell by 99.95%, says Chungsik Yoon, an occupational hygienist at Seoul National University (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2017, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b01454). These findings suggest achievable limits, Yoon says. (And with or without these advances in technology, workers in industrial settings and hobbyists can reduce their emissions exposure simply by putting their 3-D printers in well-ventilated rooms, apart from where other activities take place.)

UL is taking essentially the same approach that Germany’s Blue Angel ecolabel program took when it set a standard for laser printers. Black predicts that companies will compete to meet the standard, as producers of laser printers did after Blue Angel issued a standard in 2012. ANSI will continuously revise the standard as scientists learn more about the health impacts of 3-D printers.

“The maker space from which 3-D printers come is pretty innovative, so I feel optimistic that we will reduce exposures to harmful aerosols,” Stephens says.

New Brook Byers Fellow

December 31, 1969 |

Earth experienced a profound change 2.4 billion years ago. That's when oxygen, a by-product of photosynthesis, became an important component of its atmosphere.

The earliest photosynthetic organisms were blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria. Their descendants still exist today.

Cyanobacteria emerged billions of years ago, when Earth supported only anaerobic life and before life evolved mechanisms to cope with the toxic effects of reactive forms of oxygen. Abundant iron in ancient oceans exacerbated oxygen’s reactivity, making it an even stronger poison.

So how did ancient cyanobacteria cope with the effects of the toxic by-product of their own metabolism?

Starting in May, Georgia Tech’s Nadia Szeinbaum will pursue that question with a fellowship from the NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Program. She will assemble microbial communities to test the hypothesis that cyanobacteria survived rising oxygen with help from other bacteria.

“Many modern cyanobacteria have limited ability to counter the toxic effects of the oxygen they themselves produce,” Szeinbaum says. Instead, they rely on other bacteria that produce catalase, an enzyme that detoxifies oxygen.

“Could it be that this cooperative relationship was what allowed cyanobacteria to succeed and adapt to oxygen billions of years ago?” she asks.

To address the question, Szeinbaum will create a community of model cyanobacteria and catalase-producing bacteria under conditions of ancient Earth – with just a bit of oxygen and lots of iron. In this environment, Szeinbaum says, oxygen is highly toxic to cyanobacteria, but not to catalase-producing bacteria. 

In modern ecosystems, the model organisms typically live apart, but evidence suggests that their ancestors may have helped each other adapt as oxygen rose. Szeinbaum hopes her experiments will yield insights about what happened billions of years ago.

Szeinbaum is a postdoctoral researcher in the labs of Jennifer Glass, Christopher Reinhard, and Yuanzhi Tang, assistant professors in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Born, raised, and educated in Argentina, Szeinbaum came to Georgia Tech to study wastewater treatment.

After receiving a master’s degree in environmental engineering in 2009, she switched her focus to anaerobic physiology and microbial genetics. She joined the lab of School of Biological Sciences Professor Thomas DiChristina and earned a Ph.D. 2014.

Szeinbaum is among many early-career scientists addressing the fundamental questions driving the burgeoning field of astrobiology at Georgia Tech: How did life start? Where could life exist outside Earth?  Where is life going on Earth and beyond? How would we recognize life outside of Earth?

The conditions of early Earth could be similar to current conditions in potentially habitable bodies in the universe, Szeinbaum says. “Understanding what forms of life may have existed in the past can help us understand whether life exists somewhere else.” 

December 31, 1969 |

Marc Weissburg has been appointed Georgia Tech’s newest Brook Byers Professor. The Brook Byers Professorship is the highest title bestowed at Georgia Tech for distinguished faculty who are specifically engaged in sustainability-related research and education.

Weissburg is a professor in the School of Biological Sciences and codirector of the Center for Biologically Inspired Design. He joined Georgia Tech in 1997, having earlier earned his B.S. degree in Biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

Weissburg's research interests concern chemical signaling by marine animals, marine community ecology, and predator-prey dynamics. His recent efforts have been concentrated in two areas: developing methods to suppress predation on juvenile oysters in farmed and natural communities and examining the biological and fisheries consequences of climate change and ocean acidification.

More broadly, Weissburg has a long-standing interest in comparative and interdisciplinary research and education. To this end, he has collaborated with industry groups, professional designers, architects, scientists, and engineers on the use of biologically inspired strategies to enhance human-built systems. Using principles derived from the examination of energy and material flows in ecological systems, he has helped to develop methods for determining material and energy use efficiency and resilience, and he has applied them to systems at scales ranging from neighborhoods and industrial complexes to large cities.

Concurrent to Weissburg’s appointment, five Georgia Tech faculty members were named Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems (BBISS) Faculty Fellows. Among them is Yuanzhi Tang, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

Tang is interested in the complex interworking between human activities and the natural environment by exploring the chemical reactions occurring at the microbe-mineral-water interface from molecule to macroscopic scale. By combining laboratory-based analytical techniques with synchrotron-based X-ray techniques, she aims to understand the fate, transport, and bioavailability of metal and radionuclide contaminants and nanoparticles, as well as the biogeochemical cycling of important nutrients in complex environmental settings.

Tang has partnered with scientists in Georgia Tech and beyond to attack the problem of integrated contaminant elimination and resource recovery from biological wastes. The National Science Foundation has awarded Tang and her collaborators over $2.4 million over three years to figure out how to integrate and optimize multiple technologies to recover energy, water, and nutrients from biological wastes, while simultaneously reducing waste volume and removing the heavy metals, pathogens, and organic contaminants.

The other BBISS Faculty Fellows are

In addition to their own work, the Brook Byers Professor and BBISS Fellows serve as a board of advisors to BBISS, helping to advance institute's vision, mission, values, and objectives across the community of sustainability-minded researchers, educators, and students at Georgia Tech.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This item was adapted from an article by Brent Verrill published on March 19, 2018, on the BBISS website. Information about Yuanzhi Tang was added.

December 31, 1969 |

The Georgia Institute of Technology announces the formal launch of the Global Change Program, a new initiative designed to coordinate and grow educational and research activities focused on providing solutions and creating economic opportunities at the intersection of global change, climate change, and energy.

The launch follows a year of deliberations by an executive committee of campus stakeholders brought together under a joint charge from the Office of the Provost and Office of the Executive Vice President for Research. The 22-member committee was led by President Emeritus G. Wayne Clough and represented all six colleges.

“The work of the committee highlighted the many ongoing and exciting efforts in the global change space happening in schools, units, and centers across the Institute,” said Rafael L. Bras, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “Bringing these groups together in a coordinated, collaborative, and multidisciplinary way will amplify Georgia Tech’s thought leadership and expertise, expand academic programs, and strengthen key partnerships with industry and peer institutions.”

The program will be directed by Kim Cobb, ADVANCE professor and Georgia Power Chair in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Early program activities include curriculum design for undergraduates, including creation of an “Energy and Climate” minor and a climate solutions lab. The program will also host speakers and roundtable events to showcase Georgia Tech’s contributions to global change-related subjects including energy, food and water supply, air quality, ocean health, public policy, and economics. Objectives include possible expansion of academic programs to graduate students, and growth of new partnerships both within Georgia Tech and with public and private partners.

“The initial thrust of the Global Change Program will focus on undergraduate education and the creation of critical connections among our research and academic faculty,” said Cobb. “Our students want exposure and real-world, hands-on experience with these topics as they enter the workforce. Growth of current programs like the Carbon Reduction Challenge and development of new programs will allow future generations of learners to understand issues of global change from the vantage point of their own discipline.”

The Global Change Program is initially supported by seed funds from the Office of the Provost and the Executive Vice President for Research, and through a $500,000 gift from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. The gift builds upon the successful expansion of Cobb’s Carbon Reduction Challenge to co-op and internship students who partner with their employer to design and implement a carbon reduction project that delivers cost savings.

The co-curricular initiative is a partnership between Cobb and Beril Toktay, professor in the Scheller College of Business and faculty director of the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business.

“We believe this is a critical time to support an initiative as exciting as the Global Change Program,” said John A. Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. “With its focus on solutions to our pressing global challenges, in particular the challenge of climate change, the program will make Georgia Tech a leader in creating positive change. We are grateful to President Peterson, Dr. Cobb, President Emeritus Clough, and the entire administration for their commitment to this important work.”

Two councils will be established in support of the program. A faculty advisory council has been established to help shape program activities and ongoing strategic objectives. Chaired by Clough, the council is an extension of the initial executive committee. An external advisory board will also be established.

“The implications of global change are economic, environmental, and cultural,” said Clough. “The work is happening all over campus, and Georgia Tech has a tremendous opportunity to influence the scholarship and policy solutions that address issues of global change and ready students for the careers of the future.”

EDITOR"S NOTE: This item was adapted from a story by Susie Ivy published on March 19, 2018, in the Georgia Tech News Center

Effects of metal impurity on the structure and reactivity of manganese oxides

Mn oxides are among the most ubiquitous and reactive mineral phases in natural environments and significantly influence the cycles of essential elements such as C and N, as well as the transport and fate of a wide range of metals. The structure and reactivity of Mn oxides were extensively studied but most of these studies used pure Mn oxide minerals, which are barely found in real geological or engineering settings.

Global Change Program

December 31, 1969 |

Felix Herrmann has been named as a 2019 Distinguished Lecturer for the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) for the period covering January through June 2019. 

In addition to recognizing an individual's contributions to the science or application of geophysics, this position is an active effort to promote geophysics, stimulate general scientific and professional interest, expand technical horizons, and provide a connection to SEG activities and practices.

During his term as an SEG Distinguished Lecturer, Herrmann will travel around the world to speak about the use of compressive sensing in exploration seismology. More specifically, he will speak about how techniques from compressive sensing can be used to look for new and innovative ways to collect time-lapse seismic data at reduced costs and reduced environmental impact. Herrmann will demonstrate that compressive seismic data acquisition removes the need to acquire expensive densely sampled and replicated field surveys, which can lead to an order of magnitude improvement in acquisition efficiency.

Herrmann joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 2017 as a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and as a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Energy. He holds joint appointments in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the School of Computational Science and Engineering.

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