Discover CALS

See how our current work and research is bringing new thinking and new solutions to some of today's biggest challenges.

By Blaine Friedlander
  • Cornell Atkinson
  • Lab of Ornithology
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Soil and Crop Sciences Section
  • Natural Resources and the Environment
  • Biological and Environmental Engineering
  • Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
  • Agriculture
  • Global Development
  • Crops
  • Biodiversity
  • Entomology
  • Environment
  • Water
  • Natural Resources

The Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability has awarded seven Academic Venture Fund (AVF) interdisciplinary seed grants, totaling $1.1 million, for projects that engage faculty from eight Cornell colleges and 16 academic departments.

In its 13th year of providing grants, AVF serves as an incubator of innovation, according to David Lodge, the Francis J. DiSalvo Director of Cornell Atkinson.

“AVF awards catalyze the creation of new interdisciplinary research groups and fuel exploratory research on essential topics that are high risk,” he said. “Collaboration across disciplines is often critical to understanding and solving the complex problems that connect climate, energy, food and health.”

The AVF seed funding, Lodge said, will help faculty establish the viability of a research team’s ideas, and help the team be successful in competing for external funding from government or private sources.

The Office of Engagement Initiatives will work with AVF projects that incorporate undergraduate community-engaged research opportunities.

The 2020 AVF projects are:

Training Dogs to Sniff Out New Pests: With infestations of the invasive spotted lanternfly – which damage grape vines and apple trees – reported in New York, state agencies are seeking new ways to intercept the pest. The scientists will conduct studies to learn if dogs can be used to detect spotted lanternfly.

Researchers: Carrie Brown-Lima and Angela Fuller, natural resources; and Ann Hajek and Greg Loeb, entomology.

Antibacterial Resistance in Drinking Water: Recent research reveals that disinfectants can increase antimicrobial resistance in drinking water systems. This project will investigate antimicrobial resistance in municipal drinking water supplies.

Researchers: April Gu, civil and environmental engineering; Mingming Wu, biological and environmental engineering; and Renata Ivanek and Craig Altier, population medicine and diagnostic sciences.

Reducing Agricultural Burning in India for Public Health and Sustainability: Each fall, burning fields of rice crop residues in the breadbasket region of Northwest India contributes to catestrophic levels of air pollution. In the impoverished parts of Eastern India, the practice is not yet common, but it has has doubled in the last decade. Researchers will combine satellite data with ground surveys to assess accelerating impacts on agricultural sustainability and public health. They will work with regional partners to find ways to reduce those practices.

Researchers: Andrew McDonald ’94, M.S. ’98, Ph.D. ’03, soil and crop sciencesPrabhu Pingali, Dyson School of Applied Economics and ManagementNatalie Mahowald, earth and atmospheric sciences; and Peter Hess, biological and environmental engineering.

Improving the Cementation of Geothermal Wells: For further development of geothermal energy technology, the proper construction of well walls is critical. This project will identify and test well wall materials.

Researchers: Sriramya Nair, civil and environmental engineering; Geoffrey Coates, chemistry and chemical biology; and Rick Geddes, policy analysis and management.

Protecting Biodiversity and Air Quality on the Prairie: Decades of agricultural intensification in the Midwest has resulted in the loss of both species and habitat. To repair this, the federal Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers to take land out of rotation and establish perennial vegetation. Researchers will evaluate the impacts of air quality and conservation of grassland birds that benefit biodiversity and human health.

Researchers: Ivan Rudik and Catherine Kling, Dyson; and Alison Johnston and Amanda Rodewald, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Reducing Health Care Workers’ Risk From Disease Spread: Researchers will develop, monitor and model mitigation strategies for medical facilities to protect the safety of health care workers from COVID-19 in New York City.

Researchers: Max Zhang, mechanical and aerospace engineering; Nathaniel Hupert, Weill Cornell Medicine; Luis Schang, Baker Institute for Animal Health; and Todd Cowen, civil and environmental engineering.

Upcycling Ash Trees for Sustainable Wood Construction: In collaboration with timber manufacturer Unalam, Cornell researchers will develop methods to reuse emerald ash borer-infested timber. By introducing robotic fabrication technology, researchers will transform irregularly shaped ash lumber into engineered wood products.

Researchers: Sasa Zivkovic, architecture; Kifle Gebremedhin, biological and environmental engineering; Mark Milstein, Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise; and Peter Smallidge, natural resources.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Header image: In one of the Cornell Atkinson Academic Venture Fund seed grants awarded this year, Cornell researchers will assess the effectiveness of dogs to track the invasive spotted lanternfly in New York. Photo by Carrie Brown-Lima/Provided

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