2011 AVF Grant Awards
The Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future selected 10 research projects for its 2011 Academic Venture Fund Awards. Initiated in 2008, this fund is designed to stimulate original, crossdisciplinary research at Cornell in sustainability science, emphasizing work having the potential to involve external partners such as industry, government, foundations, and NGOs. ACSF awarded 10 AVF grants totalling $662,509 for this cycle (a summary of these awards is also available in PDF format).
The 33 proposals submitted in response to the latest AVF solicitation represent a vibrant, innovative, and interdisciplinary movement at Cornell. Nearly 80 percent of the proposals included investigators from more than one college or school and 70 percent of them encompassed two or more of the Center's sustainability themes of energy, environment, and economic development.
New Sales Approach for Improved Cookstoves
Half the world cooks on inefficient wood and charcoal stoves. Improved cookstoves can reduce carbon dioxide emissions and deforestation and save households the substantial cost of buying or gathering fuel, yet the global poor have not widely adopted cleaner-burning stoves. In a pilot program in Uganda, Garrick Blalock (AEM), Johannes Lehmann (CSS), and Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue (DSOC) will test a novel stove sales approach—essentially rent-to-own—that offers a free trial period and financing through fuel savings to increase dramatically local adoption of more efficient stoves.
Threats to Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in the Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes region's native plant and animal life are threatened by climate change, energy development, and the spread of invasive species. Large populations of white-tailed deer continue to ravage even protected areas. Bernd Blossey (NTRES), John Fitzpatrick (LABO), Paul Curtis (NTRES), Eric Nelson (PLPA), and Kelly Zamudio (EEB) will create a network of two-hectare deer exclosures on private and public lands to assess deer impacts on plants, birds, amphibians, invertebrates, and microbial communities. The study will support a new era of enlightened ecosystem management.
Developing a Sustainable Specialty Crop Greenhouse Industry in the Northeast
Most experts consider year-round, soil-based greenhouse production of specialty crops in the northeastern United States impractical, due to high energy and labor costs. Miguel Gómez (AEM), Huaizhu Gao (CEE), and David de Villiers (BEE) will develop optimization models for a year-round greenhouse operation growing more than 50 high-value specialty vegetables, identifying production and commercialization systems that maximize profits and minimize greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. The research will challenge accepted wisdom on agriculture in our region, potentially leading to a new sustainable greenhouse industry for the Northeast.
Harnessing Genomics to Advance Biodiversity and Conservation Research
Comparative genomics has revolutionized genetic analysis in model taxa with full reference genome sequences—species now including human, mouse, and fruit fly. Harnessing these advances for application to natural populations of organisms will transform conservation biology by providing methods for analyzing adaptive variation across environments and enabling management strategies that increase functional diversity. Led by Matthew Hare (NTRES), Kelly Zamudio (EEB), Ian Hewson (BIOMI), and Alexander Travis (VTBIO), this project will improve the efficiency of genomic algorithms for applications beyond the fully sequenced species.
Sustainable Disease Management for Emerging Bioenergy Crops
A successful biofuel industry in the eastern United States will require sustainable, integrative disease management for plant pathogens that could threaten expected yields. George Hudler (PLPA), Gary Bergstrom (PLPA), Kathie Hodge (PLPA), and Lawrence Smart (HORT) will use DNA data to identify geographically separate populations of fungi affecting bioenergy crops and determine the genetic diversity within populations of each fungus. This research will set a foundation for effective management of leaf pathogens, ensuring predictable futures for feedstock crops and improving economic returns for these crucial bioenergy resources.
Property Formalization and the Role of Technology in Tanzania
Tanzania is implementing a Property and Business Formalization Program intended to transform informal property and businesses into legally held entities in the economy's formal sector. Taking Tanzania as a case study, Stephan Schmidt (CRP) and Eduardo Penalver (LAW) will examine the potential of using geographic information systems (GIS) in incorporating customary tenure. The research will address a major criticism of property formalization—that it fails to acknowledge the different principles and relationships that underpin informal property systems—and, more broadly, explore the role of technology in international development.
Methane Production in Natural Gas Extraction from Shale
Natural gas is commonly extracted from shale, yet the total greenhouse gas footprint of shale-derived gas is unknown—and may be greater than conventional gas—due to uncertainty about the fugitive emission of methane. Led by Jed Sparks (EEB), Anthony Ingraffea (CEE), Natalie Mahowald (EAS), Robert Howarth (EEB), and Antonio Bento (AEM), this project will quantify the methane released by shale gas development and reassess the global methane budget. The findings will have important economic ramifications for a carbon tax or any system of carbon exchange.
Sustainable Pest Management and Yield Increase Strategies
The best option for increasing food production is to maximize yields from existing farmland. Potatoes are a key crop for Andean farmers, but production is threatened by enormous losses to the Guatemalan tuber moth. Jennifer Thaler (ENT), Miguel Gómez (AEM), Georg Jander (BIOPL), and Katja Poveda (ENT) aim to develop a sustainable pest management strategy for Andean farmers, using local resources to make the target crop unattractive to tuber moths, provide an alternate trap crop, and harness natural plant responses to the pests to increase yield.
Gardens for New York: Ecological Literacy, Diet, and Physical Activity
School gardens have the potential to promote science education and healthy, sustainable habits among youth—yet few large-scale studies have measured school gardens' success in promoting learning and health outcomes. An interdisciplinary team led by Nancy Wells (DEA), Brian Wansink (AEM), Jennifer Wilkins (NS), Marcia Eames-Sheavly (HORT), and Gretchen Ferenz Fox (CCE) will organize a workshop to build a school garden network in New York State, pilot test instruments, and develop a school garden infrastructure as steps toward a larger study of school gardens.
A New Framework for Evaluating Agrarian Development
Led by Wendy Wolford (DSOC), Philip McMichael (DSOC), Ronald Herring (GOVT), Gregory Alexander (LAW), and David Kay (DSOC), this ambitious project will build the Cornell Indicator of Agrarian Development, a shared framework for assessing rural development. Crucial for state agencies, development organizations, social movements, and private investors, the tool will incorporate data from existing databases and new research to weigh central indicators of development, well-being, and environmental health in agrarian societies: sustainability, security, sustenance, and sovereignty.