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In 2019, the Chronicle published approximately 1,500 stories, touting Cornell’s multipronged mission: to discover, preserve and disseminate knowledge, and, as New York’s land-grant university, to educate with a public purpose.

In addition to the world-class education it offers, Cornell is a renowned research university, so it should come as no surprise that the most read Cornell Chronicle stories of 2019 dealt with the university’s quest to answer some of science’s most pressing questions.

Research stories about air pollution, engineering and genetics were the Cornell Chronicle’s four most-read stories of the past 12 months, according to Google Analytics.

The most-read story, “Industrial methane emissions are underreported, study finds,” has racked up more than 65,000 page views since it was published June 6. Using a Google Street View car equipped with a high-precision methane sensor, the researchers discovered that methane emissions from ammonia fertilizer plants were 100 times higher than the fertilizer industry’s self-reported estimate, and substantially higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimate for all industrial processes in the U.S.

The second most-read Chronicle story, “Engineers create ‘lifelike’ material with artificial metabolism,” garnered more than 50,000 page views. Published April 10, the article reported on how Cornell engineers constructed a DNA-like material with capabilities of metabolism, in addition to self-assembly and organization – three key traits of life.

Other well-read cutting-edge research stories: Crispr-cas3 innovation holds promise for disease cures (nearly 41,000 views); and Cornell scientists discover new antibiotic resistance gene (more than 27,000).

The No. 5 Chronicle story in terms of hits, and the top non-research story of the year, came in mid-September with good news for many future doctors: Weill Cornell Medicine announces debt-free medical education, collecting more than 21,000 clicks.

Beyond the numbers, Chronicle stories in 2019 focused on how the university accomplishes its mission and priorities, as exemplified in President Martha E. Pollack’s State of the University address.

As New York’s land-grant university, Cornell takes seriously its mission to positively impact its home state and does so in many ways. In January, a Cornell Engineering team led by Dean Lance Collins proposed a plan to help New York City avoid “L-pocalypse” – a dreaded shutdown of a key stretch of the subway system. Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised the plan’s Cornell ingenuity at a Jan. 3 press conference: “This is really a unique design, a unique system. … It’s faster, it’s cheaper, it’s better than the way we’ve been doing it now.”

The work of Cornell Cooperative Extension impacts every county in the state. One such effort: a project to help restore Long Island’s shellfish populations to keep a major downstate industry afloat. Extension-Suffolk County used its extensive aquaculture expertise to rejuvenate waters there by spawning millions of oysters and hard clams and planting them in five coastal sanctuaries in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The effort was a key part of New York state’s $10.4 million Long Island Shellfish Restoration Project.

Cornell’s Local Roads Program partners with New York state communities to improve the quality and safety of New York’s roads by offering free and low-cost services to the 1,500 village, town and county officials who maintain them.

Among programs connecting Cornell and communities across the state, the university’s farmworker initiatives were recognized with a national award from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and ILR’s Criminal Justice and Employment Initiative hosted a prison job fair to connect employers with potential hires.

Other highlights from the past 12 months:

  • A study from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology led to a startling revelation: If you were alive in 1970, more than 1 in 4 birds in the United States and Canada – a total of nearly 3 billion – have disappeared within your lifetime. “We were astounded by this result … the loss of billions of birds,” said Ken Rosenberg, an applied conservation scientist at the Lab and the study’s lead author. The report appeared Sept. 19 in the journal Science, and included analysis of 529 bird species.
  • The Mars rover Opportunity finally called it a day – many days beyond its original 90-day expected lifetime. On Feb. 13, NASA officially ended the 15-year mission to detect evidence of water on the red planet. Steve Squyres, professor emeritus in the Department of Astronomy, in A&S, led the scientific mission, assisted by numerous Cornell students over the years, including two who have since become faculty members: Alex Hayes ’03, M.Eng. ’03, associate professor of astronomy; and Dmitry Savransky ’04, M.Eng. ’05, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.
  • Closer to home, but still out of this world: Doctoral student Hunter Adams deployed thumbnail-size satellites to monitor environmental conditions in vineyards. Not only was Adams testing the satellites for future space flight, he was able to harvest data that will help farmers make better decisions about growing crops and caring for animals. Dubbed Monarchs, the satellites are a customized version of the ChipSat technology developed in the lab of Mason Peck, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle. 

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