Interdisciplinary projects awarded with IEE seed grants

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – The Energy and environment institutes (IEE) awarded seed grants to 22 interdisciplinary Penn State research groups for the 2020-21 scholarship cycle.

The IEE has established a Seed Grant Program in 2013 to promote fundamental and applied research addressing the research themes of the IEE. Since then, the IEE has awarded grants to more than 148 interdisciplinary projects at 15 Penn State colleges and campuses.

This year, seed grants were awarded to proposals addressing at least one of the five objectives of the IEE strategic research themes – Climate and ecosystem change, health and environment, integrated energy systems, urban systems and water and biogeochemical cycles.

“The path to every great discovery or innovation begins with a simple idea, but embarking on that path requires help and time to develop that idea more fully, usually by obtaining preliminary data,” said Bruce logan, associate director of the IEE. “These seed grants will help provide funds to enable the transformation of these new ideas into larger, more comprehensive projects that can meet the world’s important scientific and technical needs.”

This year, a project, “Simultaneous Harvesting of Cold Universe and Sunlight as Renewable Energy”, was co-funded with the help of the Energy 2100 initiative. The two projects entitled “Expanding the Policy Foundation for Electricity Prosumers: Lessons from New York and California” and “Overcoming Barriers to Local Governance of Utility-Scale Solar Energy Systems in Pennsylvania and Regionally” were co-funded with the Center for Energy Law and Policy (CELP).

“Achieving our energy goals requires technological advances, but also legal and policy environments that encourage the adoption of emerging energy technologies. These innovative and interdisciplinary projects demonstrate the importance of changing policies alongside technology, ”said Seth Blumsack, director of CELP. “They also demonstrate Penn State’s ability to harness the unparalleled depth and breadth of the University’s interdisciplinary expertise to foster energy-focused research collaborations across the university system.”

The 2021 projects – along with their principal investigators, co-investigators, and affiliated colleges – that have received seed grants are:

Climate change and ecosystem

  • “Mitigation of methane emissions and carbon capture with biofiltration” – Juliana Vasco-Correa, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences; Mary Ann Bruns, College of Agricultural Sciences; Lauren Greenlee, Faculty of Engineering
  • “Visualization of cultural landscapes threatened by sea level to improve equity in climate engagement” – Peter Stempel, College of Arts and Architecture; Klaus Keller, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; Alexander Klippel, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
  • “Decline of Farafatse (Givotia madagascariensis) and sustainability of livelihoods in southwestern Madagascar” – Kristina Douglass, College of Liberal Arts; Eric Burkhart, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences
  • “Coastal Carbon Dynamics in a Riparian Buffer Ecosystem, Lake Erie Basin” – Lisa Ann Emili, Division of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Penn State Altoona; Sarah Allen, Penn State Altoona; Anthony Foyle, Penn State Behrend; Lorena Tribe, Penn State Berks

Health and environment

  • “AESEDA-HBCU Network on Air Quality for Environmental Justice (AQ4EJ)” – Gregory Jenkins, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; Mare Sarr, School of International Affairs
  • “Water Quality Assessment of an Urban Watershed in Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Implications for Environmental Justice” – Shirley Clark, School of Science, Engineering and Technology, Penn State Harrisburg; Christopher Blaszczak-Boxe, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; William Driscoll, Penn State Harrisburg; Jill Felker, Penn State Berks; Lauren McPhillips, College of Engineering; Faegheh Moazeni, Penn State Harrisburg; Tami Mysliwiec, Penn State Berks; Joseph Spear, Penn State Harrisburg; Hong Wu, College of Arts and Architecture
  • “Effects of biofilms on the transport of microplastics” – Margaret Byron, College of Engineering; John Regan, College of Engineering
  • “Engaging Under-Served Communities in Environmental Assessment for Healthy Living” – Melissa Bopp, College of Health and Human Development; Mallika Bose, College of Arts and Architecture; Louisa Holmes, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
  • “Finding a common space: reconciling the socio-environmental factors of a single health in Pennsylvania” – Stephen Mainzer, College of Arts and Architecture; Leann Andrews, College of Arts and Architecture; Justin Brown, College of Agricultural Sciences; Sona Jasani, Penn State Health
  • “Floods, Hurricane Harvey and Environmental Justice” – Lilliard Richardson, College of Liberal Arts; Heather Randell, College of Agricultural Sciences; Pin Sun, College of Liberal Arts
  • “Urban microclimate, outdoor thermal comfort and socio-economic mapping: a case study of two high-density cities” – Ute Poerschke, Faculty of Arts and Architecture; Guangqing Chi, College of Agricultural Sciences; Farzad Hashemi, College of Arts and Architecture; Lisa Iulo, Faculty of Arts and Architecture
  • “Community engagement and interdisciplinary collaboration to lead air quality research at industrial sites near Pittsburgh” – Natasha Miles, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; Jennifer Baka, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; Tom Bartnik, Penn State Center Pittsburgh; Kenneth Davis, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; Lisa Iulo, College of Arts and Architecture; Klaus Keller, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; Esther Obonyo, Faculty of Engineering; Wei Peng, Faculty of Engineering
  • “Assessment of the distributive effects of coal-fired power plant operations on pollution and health” – Emily Pakhtigian, College of Liberal Arts; Wei Peng, College of Engineering; Hannah Wiseman, Penn State Law

Integrated energy systems

  • “Graphite derived from lignin for the storage of renewable energy and the electrification of transport” – Randy Vander Wal, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; Ramakrishnan Rajagopalan, Penn State DuBois
  • “Expanding the Policy Foundation for Electricity Consumers: Lessons from New York and California” – Hannah Wiseman, Penn State Law; Andrew Kleit, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
  • “Overcoming Barriers to Local Governance of Utility-Scale Solar Power Systems in Pennsylvania and Region” – David Yoxtheimer, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; Mohamed Badissy, Dickinson Law; Thomas Murphy, Pennsylvania State Extension
  • “Harvesting the cold universe and sunlight simultaneously as renewable energy” – Linxiao Zhu, Faculty of Engineering; Daning Huang, Faculty of Engineering

Urban systems

  • “Energy Retrofit Policy and Programs in Low-Income Housing Markets: Implications for Energy Equity in Cleveland, Ohio” – Emily Rosenman, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; Esther Obonyo; College of Engineering
  • “Development of innovative materials and technologies for cellular agriculture” – Joséphine Wee, College of Agricultural Sciences; Melik Demirel, College of Engineering; Gregory Ziegler, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences

Water cycles and biogeochemicals

  • “Towards sustainable and equitable household water security: lessons from Bangladesh” – Alfonso Mejia, Faculty of Engineering
  • “Analysis of the adoption of solar irrigation pumps in India under the food-energy-water nexus: implications for carbon, groundwater depletion and agricultural productivity” – Daniel Brent, College of Agricultural Sciences; Michael Jacobson, College of Agricultural Sciences; Emily Pakhtigian, College of Liberal Arts
  • “Wetland Hydrology and Plant Community Composition – A Reassessment of Site Conditions a Decade Later” – Charles Andrew Cole, College of Arts and Architecture

“Over the years, we have seen the new research initiatives fueled by this Seed Grant program turn into substantial successes,” said Tom richard, director of the IEE. “Past projects have generated innovative solutions to major societal challenges and have resulted in high impact scholarships, substantial external grants, start-ups and industrial innovations that drive economic development. This current round of seed grants is full of exciting ideas, and I’m sure it will have a similar positive impact on Pennsylvania and the world. “

The Institutes of Energy and the Environment is one of seven interdisciplinary research institutes at Penn State. The Institutes of Energy and the Environment connect and support interdisciplinary teams of researchers to solve some of the world’s most difficult energy and environmental challenges.

For more information on the Seed Grant program or the Institutes of Energy and Environment, visit or email [email protected].

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