Cornell Atkinson awards $1.8 million to fund vital collaborations

Cornell Atkinson has awarded eleven Academic Venture Fund (AVF) seed grants for research by 39 faculty researchers representing eight Cornell colleges and 19 academic departments. The 2021 awards span 11 countries on five continents and many prioritize building resilient rural-urban connections.

The AVF is the center’s flagship research incubator for innovative sustainable solutions. Totaling more than $1.8 million, this year’s awards will support research in critical sustainability areas such as climate-resilient farming in Malawi, expanding sustainable aquaculture in the Amazon, and data-driven urban design to promote pandemic resilience.

“The AVF seeds novel and risky projects that propel knowledge to impact and influence the opinions, practices, products, and policies that move the planet towards generationally sustainable resource use,” says David Lodge, the Francis J. DiSalvo Director of Cornell Atkinson.

“The 2021 awards facilitate interdisciplinary research and co-creation of sustainability solutions with external partners in New York state and across the globe.”

In its fourteenth year, the AVF program continues to inspire new collaborations that strengthen Cornell’s broad collaborative network and engage external partners and communities in ways that lead to co-created long-term high-impact outcomes. The center will work with the Office of Engagement Initiatives to provide supplemental funding for undergraduate community-engaged research opportunities associated with the AVF projects.

Additionally, in support of Cornell Atkinson’s goal of increasing diversity, inclusion, and impact, awardees may apply for supplemental Innovation for Impact funding of up to $25,000. This funding is designed to help take knowledge to action by incorporating diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and expertise.

The 2021 awards are:

Accelerating Agroforestry for a Healthy Planet

Haiti is one of the most vulnerable island countries to climate change, with prevalent extreme poverty, land degradation due to deforestation, and high incidences of extreme weather events. Researchers will partner with NGOs to a community-centered model for agroforestry that quantifies the economic and public health benefits of adopting a climate-resilient approach at a national level.

Researchers: Shorna Allred (CALS: Natural Resources and the Environment), Gen Meredith (CVM: Master of Public Health Program), and Stephen Morreale (CALS: Natural Resources and the Environment)

Improved Flood Prediction With Better Hydraulic Simulation

Extreme precipitation events are straining the natural hydrologic systems that are critical in the filtering of drinking water for downstream communities in the Catskills region, including New York City. Models that track the flow of rainfall and root water uptake by trees are unreliable and, therefore, cannot predict how the recent die-off of Eastern Hemlock may alter flooding risks. Researchers will build a simulation model that can generate data to depict hydroclimatic trends, tree-specific water uptake data, and other measures of ecosystem health.

Researchers: Taryn Bauerle (CALS: SIPS Horticulture), Todd Walter (CALS: Biological and Environmental Engineering), and Joe Guinness (CALS: Statistics and Data Science)

Climate Change Preparations Informed by Local Forest Inventories

Climate change poses risks to Sub-Saharan African countries, including higher temperatures, increased droughts and reduced agricultural yields. Researchers aim to use participatory training to bolster more climate-resilient farming practices in Malawi. These results will provide solutions for conserving biodiversity, ensuring food security, and building community resilience.

Researchers: Rachel Bezner Kerr (CALS: Global Development) and Katja Poveda (CALS: Entomology)

Expanding the Repertoire of Community-led Climate Justice Practices

The research team will gather representatives from communities facing significant sustainability challenges in the U.S. and Canada with non-profit and peer organizers to develop a multimedia user’s guide for community climate accountability and a toolkit of design specifications for software platforms to advance community-led climate justice.

Researchers: Christopher Csikszentmihalyi (CIS: Information Science), Steven Jackson (CIS: Information Science), and Phoebe Sengers (CIS: Information Science)

A New Data-driven Approach to Rethink Sustainable, High-density Urban Environments in the Light of Pandemic Resilience

A multidisciplinary team will combine emerging data on COVID-19, urban geospatial data, mobility simulations, and epidemiological modeling to develop a new data-driven tool that will help designers and planners to transform our cities into healthy and sustainable urban environments.

Researchers: Timur Dogan (AAP: Architecture), Nathanial Hupert (WEILL: Population Health Sciences), Yihong Li (CVM: Master of Public Health Program), and Katharina Kral (AAP: Architecture)

Balancing Environmental and Nutritional Tradeoffs of Expanding Amazonian Aquaculture

Aquaculture has become a critical component of global food systems and is expanding with the promise of enhancing nutrition while minimizing the environmental costs of animal food production. In this project, collaborators will evaluate the ecological and nutritional impacts of emerging aquaculture in the Amazon Basin. Results will produce insights that will support production while minimizing ecosystem impacts in the Amazon.

Researchers: Alexander Flecker (CALS: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), Kathryn Fiorella (CVM: Master of Public Health Program), Carla Gomes (CIS: Computer Science), Xiangtao Xu (CALS: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), and Suresh Sethi (CALS: Natural Resources and the Environment)

Accelerating Carbon Removal Through Enhanced Weathering by Capturing Heavy Metals From Alkaline Sources

Carbon removal through enhanced weathering involves harnessing finely ground natural minerals to release calcium or magnesium ions to capture CO2 from the air. An interdisciplinary team of researchers will develop engineered approaches to dissolve rocks using acids electrochemically produced from brine solutions. The team will demonstrate that integrated approaches can reduce climate risk through carbon removal by harnessing renewable energy. The resulting enhancements in soil productivity increase food security.

Researchers: Greeshma Gadikota (ENG: Civil and Environmental Engineering), E. Todd Cowen (ENG: Civil and Environmental Engineering), F. Garrett Boudinot (CALS: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), Benjamin Houlton (CALS Dean: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), Johannes Lehmann (CALS: SIPS Soil and Crop Sciences)

MycoBuilt: Enabling Circular Construction With Fungi-based Materials

The volume of construction debris and biomass waste continues to grow. Cornell researchers, collaborating with partners in Denmark and India, seek to use mycelium-the vegetative part of fungi-fed by agricultural waste, to create building materials ranging from foam-like insulation to more rugged structural components. These new options will divert waste from landfills, reduce carbon emissions, and create a new economically feasible and architecturally exciting green building material.

Researchers: Felix Heisel (AAP: Architecture), Kathie Hodge (CALS: SIPS Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology), Lori Huberman (CALS: SIPS Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology), Rebecca Nelson (CALS: SIPS Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology), Anil Netravali (HE: Fiber Science and Apparel Design), and Prabhu Pingali (CALS/JCB: Dyson School), Marta H. Wisniewska (AAP: Architecture)

Increasing Milk Production and Reducing Greenhouse Gas by Feeding Cows Hydroponic Sprouts

In partnership with the Cornell Dairy Research Center and Grōv Technologies, Cornell researchers are exploring feeding dairy cattle sprouted grains grown using hydroponics in the U.S. This year-round and weather-independent approach is expected to produce better fodder in a shorter time, using less land, water, pesticides, and fossil fuels.

Researchers: Joseph McFadden (CALS: Animal Science), Neil Mattson (CALS: SIPS Horticulture), and Kristan Reed (CALS: Animal Science)

Promoting Sustainable Seafood by Quantifying Ingredients in Aquaculture Feeds

Aquaculture is the fastest-growing component of the global food system, driving demand for low-grade products from wild fish for use in feeding farmed fish. Initial results, supported by a 2019 Cornell Atkinson-EDF IIF, reveal more than 1,000 fish species in feeds, but current methods cannot quantify the reliance on each species. This team will develop genetic methods to distinguish the abundance and geographic source of each species, and work with partners to design genetically enabled standards for aquaculture sustainability certification.

Researchers: Peter McIntyre (CALS: Natural Resources and the Environment), Nina Therkildsen (CALS: Natural Resources and the Environment), Eugene Won (CALS: Animal Science), and Jose Andres (CALS: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology)

Nelson: Sustainable Design for the Circular Bionutrient Economy

Global food production relies on fertilizers that are not produced sustainably and deplete organic nutrients in the soil. A Cornell Atkinson-inspired network of partners across Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America is advancing a circular bionutrient economy (CBNE) approach which sanitizes organic wastes and improves agricultural soils. This project will develop technologies, explore business models, and address food security, soil health, sanitation practices, and concerns of reusing human waste.

Researchers: Rebecca Nelson (CALS: SIPS Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology), Johannes Lehmann (CALS: SIPS Soil and Crop Sciences), Mitchell Glass (AAP: City and Regional Planning), Felix Heisel (AAP: Architecture), and Prabhu Pingali (CALS/JCB: Dyson School)

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