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
  • Natural Resources and the Environment
  • Biological and Environmental Engineering
  • Department of Communication

Since requesting proposals in April, the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability has awarded approximately $250,000 in rapid-response grants for COVID-19-related Cornell research.

With the final 10 awards announced, the center has now funded 25 faculty research projects aimed at helping find solutions for issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The desire from so many Cornell researchers to help solve COVID-19-related problems is not surprising to me,” said David Lodge, the Francis J. DiSalvo Director of Cornell Atkinson. “The creativity level with which different intellectual skills have been quickly redirected to attack COVID has been astounding and encouraging.”

Lodge said faculty must be prepared for larger federal and international funding opportunities to examine coronavirus ramifications. By testing ideas and solutions with these rapid-response grants, he said, Cornell researchers can contribute to solutions in the short term and get a leg up on future funding applications to enable larger, longer term solutions.

Funded projects range from developing better COVID testing strategies to improving COVID spread predictions and creating comfortable face masks.

Of the 25 grantees, 18 had not received awards previously from Cornell Atkinson. They will be invited to become fellows, according to Graham Kerslick, executive director at Cornell Atkinson.

Several grants were awarded throughout the spring and early summer. The final 10 awards went to the following researchers:

Brian Rahm, senior extension associate in biological and environmental engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), will lead a team focused on providing outreach and coordination with respect to water and wastewater surveillance for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The team will concentrate on coronavirus exposure risk. 

Tina Phillips, assistant director for engagement with science and nature at the Lab of Ornithology; along with the program’s co-director David Bonter, a senior extension associate; and Nancy Wells, senior associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Human Ecology, and professor of design and environmental analysis, will examine whether increasing engagement with nature enhances self-reported mental health benefits and dampens the pandemic impact on health.

Donald Rakow, associate professor of plant science (CALS) and Tomasz Falkowski, a Cornell Atkinson postdoctoral researcher, will assess how community garden practices have changed as a result of the pandemic.

Kathryn Fiorella, assistant professor in population medicine and diagnostic sciences and public health in the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM); Bruce Lauber, senior researcher associate in natural resources (CALS); and Karla Hanson, senior lecturer in population medicine and diagnostic sciences and public health (CVM); will examine how COVID-19 (which led to widespread food insecurity) is shifting self-procurement strategies such as gardening, fishing, foraging and hunting, as well as reliance on foods produced in New York state.

Gregory Dietl, adjunct associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences in the College of Engineering, and Jaleigh Pier, doctoral student in earth and atmospheric sciences, will work with Jonathon Schuldt, associate professor of communication (CALS), to conduct a national public survey to determine if a prolonged and severe pandemic or crisis can change public support for conservation.

Fran Kozen, senior lecturer in fiber science and apparel design in the College of Human Ecology (CHE), will evaluate comfort factors in wearing a face mask all day, and conduct preference trials for several designs.

Denise Green, associate professor of fiber science and apparel design (CHE), will conduct a survey to examine young adult behavior, preferences and motivations for wearing face masks. This data will help designers, educators, policymakers and other stakeholders improve the adoption of mask-wearing.

Aaron Wagner, professor of electrical and computer engineering, found in an early study of social distancing for coronavirus is that it stabilized disease spread. Wagner will now create a day-ahead disease count predictor for real-time tracking of the pandemic.

Rohit Verma, professor of operations, technology and information management in the School of Hotel Administration, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, along with three co-PIs from Vin University, Hanoi, Vietnam, where he is currently serving as founding provost (on leave from Cornell,) will examine the tradeoff between air quality and economic productivity as many socioeconomic activities, such as tourism, came to a complete stop in March.

Aditya Vashistha, assistant professor of computing and information science, will examine the risks of COVID-19 misinformation on social media in regions of the developing world that have millions of new users who are unable to verify information, and blindly put trust in social networks.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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