Sustainability Article

Ben Brumfield’s picture

By: Ben Brumfield

For decades, Krishan Ahuja tamed jet noise, for which the National Academy of Engineering elected him as a new member this year. Today, Ahuja is an esteemed researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but he got his start more than 50 years ago as an engineering apprentice in Rolls Royce’s aero-engine division, eventually landing in its jet noise research department.

“In those days, if jets went over your house and you were outside, you’d feel like you needed to put your hands over your ears. Not today,” says Ahuja, who is a Regents Researcher at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and Regents Professor in Georgia Tech’s Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering.


Cyclists watching a jet soar overhead, circa 1960s. Credit: National Archives, Records of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Barnaby Lewis’s picture

By: Barnaby Lewis

Put in the terms of this article’s title, most of us would run a mile, whatever the proposition. But the popularity of online reviews, and the trust we place in persons unknown when making major decisions about where to stay, what to eat, and how to get the most from a trip, tells a different story.

Online communities have always been a place where people connect with peers: people like us, sharing something in common. Accessible anywhere and generally free to participate, it’s little wonder that news groups, forums, and chat rooms flourished from the beginning of the internet and prepared the ground for the late 2000’s social media explosion.

It’s hard to imagine a world without these connections. They’ve become part of the fabric of our daily lives. They’ve changed not only the way we socialize and define our friends, but also our relationship to information and how we form, and express, our opinions. They’ve also influenced the way we make our vacationing decisions; many of us now move from idea through research to booking entirely on screen.

Shannon Brescher Shea’s picture

By: Shannon Brescher Shea

Replacing a beloved tool is never easy. Erik Johnson had worked with the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) for nearly 15 years when he and his colleagues began thinking about its replacement. But this switch wasn’t a matter of walking down to the hardware store.  

The NSLS, a Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory, opened in 1982. Over 30 years, scientists—three of whom won Nobel prizes for their work—used its intense beams of light during the course of more than 55,000 visits to study atomic structures and chemical processes. Johnson came to the NSLS in 1985 as a post-doctoral student. By 2000, he and other leaders in the field realized the NSLS would soon be past its glory days.

They began dreaming up its successor: the NSLS-II. After five years of planning and research, the Office of Science approved the project to move forward.

“There was elation in the hallways,” says Johnson.

Brooke Kuei’s picture

By: Brooke Kuei

A  technique developed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), in collaboration with Dow and Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, is providing atomic-resolution details about magnesium chloride, a material involved in the production of the most common plastic, polyethylene. This could help to create a path toward sustainable plastics. The team’s findings were reported in Advanced Functional Materials.

The researchers used pulsed electron beams in an electron microscope to produce first-of-their-kind images of magnesium chloride. A continuous electron beam rapidly damages this delicate, beam-sensitive material, but the new technique allowed the researchers to study it without harm.

Knowledge at Wharton’s picture

By: Knowledge at Wharton

CEOs are stepping forward to confront public policy issues that often extend beyond their core business, in part at the urging of their employees, write Caroline Kaeb and David Scheffer in this opinion piece. Kaeb is co-chair of the Business and Human Rights Pillar and a senior fellow of the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at Wharton. David Scheffer is the Mayer Brown/Robert A. Helman professor of law at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law.

It was not that long ago—less than two years—when The New York Times put a spotlight on “the moral voice of corporate America.” Little did we know how prominent the interventions of CEOs and companies would become in the public square to confront extremism, polarization, discrimination, and governance gaps. True, CEOs and corporations are still beholden to more conventional metrics of corporate success. But a growing number of corporate leaders are publicly taking a stand on policy issues that were formerly the province of politicians alone.

Jyoti Madhusoodanan’s picture

By: Jyoti Madhusoodanan

A frog the size of a fingernail. A poncho-clad farmer leading his mule. A tree, some intertwining leaves, a silhouetted figure holding a pot. Such logos are stamped on labels of coffee, cocoa, mangoes, jeans, and myriad other products, certifying that the object for sale is in some way “sustainable”—made, in other words, in a way that meets humanity’s needs without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their own.

Lawrence Lanahan’s picture

By: Lawrence Lanahan

Ryan Tillman-French sat at his seventh-floor desk early on a Thursday morning, the skyscrapers of downtown Boston crowding the windows behind him.

On a laptop in the nearly empty office, he worked on code for a web page he was developing for his employer, the learning materials company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. In half an hour, he needed to join a conference call about changes to the company’s website.

He had been at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for four months. Coding he liked. Meetings, not so much.

“That’s one thing I wasn’t warned about when it comes to the corporate world,” he said. “So many meetings.”


Ryan Tillman-French, a developer for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Boston. Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

Amadou Diallo’s picture

By: Amadou Diallo

At James Lick High School the slate-gray Chromebooks are ubiquitous. Rolling cabinets stocked with dozens of the laptops sit in classrooms where teachers assign them to students for everything from researching hereditary DNA to writing essays. In this majority-Latino school of 1,100 students, 84 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a federal measure of poverty, school principal David Porter says making the devices readily available is a significant part of an effort to develop digital literacy for students who might otherwise be left behind.

Nationwide, one out of four teenagers from low-income households lacks access to a home computer and, overall, Latino students have less access than their black and white peers, according to a 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center. “We’re doing a disservice if we’re not teaching the next generation how to use technology. Students being able to access it is critical,” Porter says.

Tara García Mathewson’s picture

By: Tara García Mathewson

Once students learn how to sound out words, reading is easy. They can speak the words they see. But whether they understand them is a different question entirely. Reading comprehension is complicated. Teachers, though, can help students learn concrete skills to become better readers. One way is by teaching them how to think as they read.

Marianne Stewart teaches eighth grade English at Lexington Junior High near Anaheim, California. She recently asked her students to gather in groups to discuss books where characters face difficulties. Students could choose from 11 different books, but in each group one student took on the role of “discussion director,” whose task was to create questions for the group to discuss together. Stewart created prompts to help them come up with questions that require deep reading.

This process of questioning while reading is one of a number of “cognitive strategies” Stewart teaches her students. The strategies focus on what research has shown to be the thought processes of good readers. Others include planning and goal-setting, tapping prior knowledge, making connections, visualizing, and forming interpretations. By mastering these strategies explicitly, students learn that reading is an active process, not one in which they simply sound out words in their heads.

Alla Katsnelson’s picture

By: Alla Katsnelson

In August 2011, a can of Great Value peas joined the nonperishables in my pantry, one of several panic purchases as Hurricane Irene barreled toward my home on the northeast U.S. coast. But the emergency passed, and the can, with its unassuming blue-on-white outline font, remains on my shelf seven years later.

Its continued presence raises a dilemma in the form of a clearly legible stamp: “BEST BY 12/31/14.” Should I toss it? Can canned peas go bad? How would I know if they had?

Such confusion, common in many a cupboard, drives an enormous amount of food waste: About 40 percent of food in the United States gets trashed, often due to belief that a gone-by date on a package means the food is not safe.

That’s partly to do with those date stamps themselves. Foods prone to microbial growth, such as raw meat and cold cuts, get a “use by” date assertively worded to indicate that after it, they may be hazardous, and some of these are mandated by state laws (or federal law, in the case of baby formula). But stamps on shelf-stable products—“best before,” “best if used by,” “enjoy by,” “expires on”—reflect peak quality, not safety. And often, both types of date stamps fail to reflect a product’s actual shelf life.

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