Grand Challenges News – Winter 2014

Holly Welles ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Development Challenge News

Jonathan Choi
Last summer, Jonathan Choi ’15 researched the impact of fire and grazing on soil restoration in the Laikipia District of Kenya at Princeton University’s Mpala Research Center. (Image: courtesy of Jonathan Choi)

A New Investigator Grant was awarded on behalf of the Development Challenge. The award encourages research, teaching, and mentorship focused on multidisciplinary aspects of sustainable development, most particularly relating to the African continent. Robert Pringle and Corina Tarnita, assistant professors of ecology and evolutionary biology, will lead a team to research ecosystem spatial pattern and development opportunities in African rangelandsThis research will investigate the strategic placement of cattle corrals to advance sustainable development in African rangelands by increasing the capacity of mixed-use landscapes to support high densities of both livestock and wildlife. The initiative will involve undergraduates by providing internship and senior thesis research opportunities in the field and in the lab. In addition, a new seminar course will be offered in the fall of 2014, “Patterns in Nature,” that will explore a broad range of both natural and anthropogenic patterns, how they arise and persist, and their significance to ecosystem functioning and human society.

Manali Gokhale
Manali Gokhale’s ’16 2013 summer research project involved measuring the population trends of important wildlife species of the Mpala area in Kenya. (Image: courtesy of Manali Gokahle)

In the summer of 2014,15 undergraduates joined with 5 Kenyan students to participate in a Princeton Institute for International Affairs (PIIRS) Global Seminar in Kenya where they were trained in digital video production, screenwriting, and editing. This collaborative effort was co-sponsored by the Princeton Atelier, the Princeton Environmental Institute, and the Lewis Center’s Program in Visual Arts and culminated in the production of five films that capture environmental themes featuring the work of Princeton faculty and students. The films included: The Matriarch; Curse of the Gazelle King; Nature’s Nurturers; Realignments; and The Lost Boys of Laikipia.

During the summer a number of students spent time in Kenya embedded in faculty research or working on their senior theses. Topics ranging from impact of fire and grazing on soil quality, wildlife density at Mpala Research Center, water use and governance, to land stewardship and education generated many new insights and were presented at the annual “Summer of Learning” symposium in October.

Health Challenge News

Contributed by Kristina Graff, Center for Health and Wellbeing
This sensing platform can be used to detect bacteria, and can be modified to provide selectivity toward specific pathogens. It can also be directly interfaced onto a range of different surfaces and in various environments, enabling the potential for real-time, wireless, point-of-care sensing of infectious pathogens. (Image: courtesy of Andrea Graham)

In November 2013, the Center for Health and Wellbeing and the Health Grand Challenge (HGC), a joint initiative of PEI and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, co-hosted an internal mini-conference featuring summaries of recent and ongoing work by HGC-sponsored researchers. The presenters spanned the fields of engineering, biology, political science, economics and policy.

Michael McAlpine, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, described how his HGC grant is furthering his research on use of nanotechnologies to address health and infection problems. Andrea Graham, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, gave an overview of her research investigating the relationship between infection susceptibility and autoimmune susceptibility. Amaney Jamal, professor of politics, recounted preliminary findings from her study on how political Islam connects to the health care services offered in the Arab world.

Stained thin smear of blood (photographed via a microscope at 1000x magnification) depicts red blood cells (grey circles), some of which are infected by malaria parasites (small purple and magenta-stained shapes). The large purple shape is a white blood cell of the immune system. The immune system can kill malaria parasites but can also damage the host's own tissues, including uninfected red blood cells. Graham is investigating whether a host whose immune system is especially good at killing parasites (thus conferring resistance to infection) is also especially prone to killing uninfected cells (thus conferring susceptibility to autoimmunity). (Image: courtesy of Andrea Graham)

Nicole Basta, associate research scholar in ecology and evolutionary biology, outlined her work linking seasonality of Meningitis in the African Meningitis Belt with climate change models, and Jonathan Zelner, postdoctoral research associate in ecology and evolutionary biology, described how he is collaborating with HGC partners at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam on the use of spatiotemporal models of epidemic and endemic gastroenteritis. The final presentation was a summary of the recently concluded HGC project “Informational Structure of Infectious Diseases”, delivered by Ramanan Laxminarayan, research scholar at the Princeton Environmental Institute.

The mini-conference lasted half a day, and it was attended by a range of faculty, postdoctoral fellows and students conducting health-related work. The agenda was structured to provide ample opportunities for informal interaction throughout the conference. As a result, this event has already fostered new research and teaching linkages that expand multi-disciplinary engagement within the Health Grand Challenge.

Climate and Energy Challenge News

  style= Students working with Adam Wolf on “Drought and the Global Carbon Cycle” participating in a 2-day tree climbing class in preparation for sampling carbon in the tree canopy.  (Image: courtesy of Adam Wolf)

Four New Investigator Grants were awarded through the Climate and Energy Challenge. The awards support innovative mentorship of undergraduates working on multidisciplinary aspects of global climate change. Two of the projects facilitate undergraduates to address issues at the interface of climate and oceans. Jorge Sarmiento, professor of geosciences, is mentoring students working on Southern Ocean observations and modeling, arranging for them to work directly with his group in Southern Ocean research. Daniel Sigman, professor of geosciences, supervised students working during the summer on oceanographic cruises around Bermuda to better understand how ocean productivity responds to climate change. A third project is enabling undergraduates to work on the impact of drought on the carbon cycle, in a collaborative project under the direction of Adam Wolf, postdoctoral research associate in ecology and evolutionary biology; Stephen Pacala, professor of ­ecology and evolutionary biology; and Kelly Caylor, professor of civil and environmental engineering. All three projects provide experiential immersion experiences for several undergraduate students, including the potential for multi-year sequences of assignments.

In an effort to bridge the environmental sciences, architecture, and the humanities, a fourth interdisciplinary project led by Mario Gandelsonas, professor of architecture, and Bruno Carvalho, assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures, will explore how scientists, writers, planners and designers have attempted to rethink traditional city/nature dichotomies.

Sao Paulo water-ring
The Hidroanel, the Sao Paulo water-ring, is the object of study in Carvalho and Gandelsonas’ new course, “Environmental Challenges, Urban Solutions.” (Image: courtesy of Mario Gandelsonas)

During summer of 2013, 3 students travelled to Bermuda to test a new concept, “Power in a Box.”  This  Climate and Energy Challenge supported initiative was  conceived after the 2008 Haiti Earthquake when relief workers and medical personnel struggled to save lives without power due to severely damaged electricity grid.  Power in a Box is a wind/solar hybrid system, built to fold neatly into a standard 20 foot-long container that can be shipped anywhere in the world and transported on the ground by a flatbed truck.  Overall, 13 students have been involved in the design and construction.  They purchased materials and built it from start to finish with professors collaborating in an advisory capacity. The project also received support from the National Science Foundation and the department of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton .

PEI recently launched a joint call for proposals with Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment. The goal is to encourage research, teaching, and mentorship that will: advance the world’s understanding of important problems in energy and the environment; enhance faculty development; increase Princeton’s institutional capabilities; and enhance the undergraduate experience.  The deadline for applications is March 1.

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