Category Archives: Environmental Sustainability

Faculty Receive NSF Major Research Instrumentation Grants


Advanced semiconductor made in the Vandervelde REAP lab.

John A. and Dorothy M. Adams Faculty Development Professor Tom Vandervelde received a $1M grant for equipment crucial in the development of solar cells, infrared cameras, high-speed (100+GHz) circuits, lasers, and LED lighting. He received a Major Research Instrumentation award from the National Science Foundation to build a multi-chamber molecular beam epitaxy system, which enables the creation of novel semiconductor materials and devices.

Associate Professor and Chair Kyongbum Lee and colleagues in the Department of Biomedical Engineering received a $338K grant for the acquisitions of a state-of-the-art mass spectrometry (MS) system for a range of metabolomics and proteomics applications. Mass spectrometry has emerged as the technology of choice for workflows seeking to identify, detect, and/or quantify metabolites and other small molecules as well as proteins and peptides in complex biological samples.

Engineers Develop Early Warning System for Cholera Epidemics

In two recently published papers, School of Engineering researchers have established new techniques for predicting the severity of seasonal cholera epidemics months before they occur and with a greater degree of accuracy than other methods based on remote satellite imaging. Taken together, findings from these two papers may provide the essential lead time to strengthen intervention efforts before the outbreak of cholera in endemic regions.

Cholera, caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, is rare in the United States and other industrialized nations. However, globally, cholera cases have increased steadily since 2005 and the disease still occurs in many places including Africa, Southeast Asia, and Haiti. According to the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 3–5 million cholera cases every year, more than 100,000 cases are fatal. Image credit:

The team, led by Shafiqul Islam, professor of civil and environmental engineering, used satellite data to measure chlorophyll and algae, organic substances, and flora that also support growth of the cholera bacteria. Using satellite images, the researchers created a “satellite water marker” (SWM) index to estimate the presence of organic matter including chlorophyll and plankton based on wavelength measurements.

In a separate paper published online in the journal Environmental Modeling and Software, ahead of the September 1 print edition, Antarpreet Jutla, EG13, Islam, and Ali Akanda, EG13, showed that air temperature in the Himalayan foothills can also be a factor in predicting spring cholera.

“A Water Marker Monitored by Satellites to Predict Seasonal Endemic Cholera,” Antarpreet Jutla, Ali Shafqat Akanda, Anwar Huq, Abu Syed Golam Faruque, Rita Colwell, and Shafiqul Islam, Remote Sensing Letters, published on line before print June 3, 2013, Vol. 4, No. 8, 822–831.

The research reported in this paper was supported, in part, from National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants 1RCTW008587-01 and 2R01A1039129-11A2.

“A Framework for Predicting Endemic Cholera Using Satellite Derived Environmental Determinants,” Antarpreet S. Jutla, Ali S. Akanda, Shafiqul Islam, Environmental Monitoring and Software, published online before print

The research reported in this paper was supported through NIH funding under award number 1RCTW008587-01. Dr. Jutla acknowledges the support from Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV.

Entrepreneurial Engineers Design Water-Saving, Color-Changing Shower head

Engineers Brett Andler, E13, Joo Kang, A13, Sam Woolf, E13, and Tyler Wilson, E13, designed a water-saving, color-changing showerhead.

The recent graduates worked on their project, Uji, as part of their senior capstone thesis with Senior Lecturer Gary Leisk. The Uji team members were winners in the 2013 $100K business plan competition hosted by Tufts Gordon Institute.

The shower turns from green to red after seven minutes of use. In initial reports submitted to the School of Engineering, the team determined that, on average the Uji showerhead, will shorten shower times by over 10 percent. This estimate is now being reported as a 12 percent decrease.

The team and the technology was featured on National Public Radio’s weekly innovation blog  “All Tech Considered”  and was subsequently featured by FastCompany, and USA Today.

The team is now piloting the technology on university campuses. The Uji website claims that Uji showerheads count as low flow showerheads enabling universities to earn LEED green credits toward certification.

Follow Uji on Twitter (@UjiShower) to keep up with the team.

Levine Studies Cat Contributions to Wildlife Loss

Cat attacks are one of the most frequent causes of injury to wildlife that are brought to the veterinary school. (Photo: iStock)

Cat attacks are one of the most frequent causes of injury to wildlife that are brought to the veterinary school. (Photo: iStock)

Felines are responsible for large loss of indigenous wildlife, says a group of Tufts researchers, and they suggest remedies.

Cats are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as one of the 100 worst non-native invasive species. They kill more wild animals in the United States than any other human-linked cause, according to the IUCN, and they have caused or contributed to 14 percent of all modern bird, mammal and reptile extinctions. The estimated annual environmental and economic cost of feral and free-roaming cats in the United States is $17 billion, according to a 2005 article in Ecological Economics.

Feral and free-roaming cat populations cause tremendous and often irreversible damage to indigenous wildlife populations in both urban and rural environments around the globe. Currently there are no methods that will easily and effectively eliminate a population of feral cats. On the other hand, damage caused by owned free-roaming cats can be solved effortlessly, simply by keeping your pets indoors.

According to Associate Professor Steven Levine, in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, computer models indicate that vasectomy and hysterectomy should be much more effective at eliminating feral cat populations, but this still requires validation in actual populations of feral cats.

This story (“A Cat-Eat-Bird World“) originally appeared in TuftsNow, July 8, 2013.

Aussie Water Dispute Could Resolve with Islam’s Water Diplomacy Tactics

Robin Stonecash, a strategy consultant and director of executive projects at University of Technology Business School in Sydney, presented “Water – our need for a new brand of diplomacy” on at a Holistic Management Conference  in Orange, Australia on August 6, 2013.

Stonecash was a participant in last year’s Water Diplomacy workshop hosted by Professor Shafiqul Islam in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, director of the Water Diplomacy | IGERT doctoral program. She was featured in, discussing her work in Australian water conflicts and her experience at the Water Diplomacy workshop.

Stonecash may contribute to resolving Australia’s ongoing water disputes in areas such as Murray-Darling Basin. In July, the South Australian Government formally signed the Murray-Darling Basin Plan agreement, which is the first step in returning 3,200 gigalitres of water to the area.

Thirty-two participants from 17 countries participated for the inaugural water diplomacy workshop held in 2011.

The next workshop will be held June 23-27, 2014. Visit the Water Diplomacy site to learn about registration details.

Poor Infrastructure Could Lead to Unsafe Drinking Water, Islam Says

River Mountains Water Treatment Facility (Credit:

River Mountains Water Treatment Facility (Credit:

Professor Shafiqul Islam of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering told the poor state of the nation’s infrastructure could lead to unsafe drinking water if not addressed.

“This is serious, and if it’s not fixed, we could see a breakout of diseases from unsafe water,” Islam told CNBC.

The Environmental Protection Agency released a report in April (“Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment“) saying the U.S. water infrastructure would need $384 billion in upgrades from 2011 through 2030.

“Besides the dangerous threat of disease from contaminated water, the economic impact from not upgrading the system is serious,” said Islam, also the director of Tufts Water Diplomacy | IGERT doctoral program.

Exterior of the River Mountains Water Treatment Facility (Credit:

Exterior of the River Mountains Water Treatment Facility (Credit:

Islam says that some cities, such as Las Vegas, are exemplars of addressing infrastructure issues to provide safe drinking water.

According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) nearly 90 percent of the region’s drinking water comes from Lake Mead and is treated in two water treatment facilities. SNWA’s River Mountains Water Treatment facility can treat up to 300 million gallons of water per day, but it was designed to expand to meet Southern Nevada’s needs. In the future, the River Mountains facility will be able to treat up to 600 million gallons of water a day.

This story was first reported at, June 14, 2013.

Prof Panzer Explains Solar Energy Storage Options

Assistant Professor Matthew Panzer of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering wrote an “Ask the Expert” piece for TuftsNow on how options for storing solar energy.

Solar cells, also known as photovoltaics, convert sunlight directly into electricity. Photo: © Elena Elisseeva/DepositPhoto

“When the sun shines, we can store the electricity generated by solar cells or steam-driven turbines by using batteries (technically energy stored as electrochemical potential) or supercapacitors (energy stored in an electric field, due to the spatial separation of positive and negative charges). Then we can release electrical energy when it is cloudy or at night.

There are at least two other ways to store solar energy for use later. First, the thermal energy of concentrated sunlight can be stored in the heat capacity of a molten salt (the liquid form of an ionic compound like sodium chloride) at a high temperature. When electricity is needed later, heat is transferred from the molten salt to water, using a heat exchanger to generate steam to drive a turbine.”

This story first appeared in TuftsNow, May 13, 2013.

Alumna McCarthy Nominated to Head the EPA

Gina McCarthy, EG81

President Obama nominated Gina McCarthy, EG81, to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and she was recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate. McCarthy, who earned a joint M.S. degree in environmental health engineering and planning and policy, is the former EPA administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. McCarthy was also named a recipient of Graduate Studies’ Outstanding Service Award

In a 2009 interview with Tufts E-News, McCarthy said, “I don’t separate health issues from environmental issues or environmental issues from energy issues. I try to see it from the standpoint of human beings and what they need to have a sustainable world. I ended up in the environmental world because I saw the most direct overlap between what is happening in peoples’ health and the pollution they were being exposed to.”

Cortese Wins EPA Lifetime Achievement Award

Anthony D. Cortese, E68, EG72, received a Lifetime Achievement award from the Environmental Protection Agency at the 2013 Environmental Merit Award ceremonies held June 26 in Boston. Cortese is a senior fellow of Second Nature, an organization based in Boston and committed to promoting sustainability through higher education. Cortese received another Environmental Merit Award on behalf of Second Nature, which was nominated in the EPA’s Environmental, Community, Academia & Nonprofit category.


Curt Spalding (left), Regional Administrator, EPA New England, honors Anthony D. Cortese, E68, EG72, (third from left) with an EPA Lifetime Achievement award along with award recipients Ken Kimmell and Ira Leighton.

Cortese co-founded Second Nature with then-US Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts; Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry; and environmentalist and educator Bruce Droste. As president of Second Nature from 1993 to 2012, Cortese organized the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and co-founded both the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and the Higher Education Association Sustainability Consortium. Cortese was formerly the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and was the first dean of environmental programs at Tufts University. At Tufts, he founded the Tufts Environmental Literacy Institute in 1989 that helped integrate environmental and sustainability perspectives into more than 175 courses.

Cortese also organized the effort that resulted in the internationally acclaimed Talloires Declaration of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future in 1990, now signed by more than 350 presidents and chancellors in more than 50 countries. Cortese is a frequent consultant on sustainability to higher education, industry and non-profit organizations.

Dean Abriola and Collaborators Win Project of the Year

The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) announced that Tufts engineers and collaborators are recipients of a 2012 SERDP Project-of-the-Year Award in the environmental restoration area for their project modeling groundwater contaminants on military installations. SERDP also announced five award winners in other categories.

Groundwater contamination from chlorinated solvents on military installations is a significant environmental liability for the Department of Defense. Many of the dense nonaqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) source zones developed decades ago as a result of historical practices and continue to contaminate groundwater today. In order to successfully treat this contamination, it is essential to understand the physical characteristics of the source zones.

Dean Linda M. Abriola, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and colleagues at Tufts School of Engineering–including Eric Miller, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Kurt Pennell, professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; and Associate Professor Andrew Ramsburg–collaborated with John A. Christ of the U.S. Air Force Academy to develop innovative tools that, for the first time, can provide key information about a source zone’s structure and characteristics, also referred to as architecture. This work, which combines high-end computational techniques and physical models, can help explain why contamination persists, how long it will persist, and what the best options are for treating it.

High-end computational techniques and physical models can help explain why contamination persists, how long it will persist, and what the best options are for treating it.

Whether a source will persist for decades or centuries is believed to be related to the ratio of ganglia to pools of contamination. DNAPL source zones often occur in tow different forms in the subsurface: as pools of contamination or as ganglia, thin web-like shapes that seep into the pores of the subsurface. Knowing the ration of ganglia to pools will help site managers decide on the most effective treatment to use for a particular contaminated area. The field tools developed by Dean Abriola and her team provide the means to determine the best treatment approach, thereby reducing the time and resources Department of Defense must spend to remediate this contamination. These tools also have immediate and wide applicability to the remediation of a large number of non-military sites that require mediation of subsurface DNAPL contamination.