Research Projects

Campus Climate Lab projects seek to harness Boston University’s campuses as testbeds for innovative climate solutions. Efforts can range from science and engineering to health and communications.

Project Spotlight

Influence of Landscape Management Practices on Urban Greenhouse Gas Budgets

Research: Professors Lucy Hutyra (Earth & Environment, CAS) and Pamela Templer (Biology, CAS) brought a team of students together to investigate how much biological fluxes contribute to the campus CO2 budget. The team measured biological carbon uptake and loss processes from the ecosystems across BU’s campus. The team then digitized the university land cover to scale the results and merged estimates of BU’s fossil fuel emissions.

Findings: The team was surprised to learn that the lands that comprise BU’s campus were a net source of CO2 emissions.

Implementation: The research team met with BU Facilities Management & Operations to share these findings. As a result, in collaboration with the Hutyra Research Lab, BU will pilot changes to its landscape management practices to reduce emissions.

Next steps: The next phase of the project will evaluate how much difference these landscaping changes make to our emissions and community responses. In addition to putting their research to practical application, the team also submitted a scientific paper reporting their findings for peer review.

Citation: Hundertmark*, W.J., Lee*, M., Smith, I.A., Bang*, A.H.Y., Chen*, V., Gately, C.K., Templer, P.H., Hutyra, L.R. Influence of Landscape Management Practices on Urban Greenhouse Gas Budgets. Carbon Balance and Management, 16: 1 (2021).

* denotes undergraduate students


Current Campus Climate Lab Projects

Fostering diversity in sustainability at BU: An assessment of undergraduates’ perceived barriers to and experiences with sustainability educational opportunities

Research team:
Alice Scollins (CAS)
Dr. Anne Short Gianotti (Earth & Environment, CAS),
Dr. Abigail Sulivan (Earth & Environment, CAS),
Lisa Tornatore (Sustainability Director, BU Sustainability),
Gabriela Boscio Santos (Engagement Manager, BU Sustainability)

Timing: Awarded Fall 2021.

This project investigates how undergraduate students at BU perceive, decide to engage with (or not), and experience sustainability-oriented educational opportunities at BU. Through surveys, analysis of course enrollment data, and a review of sustainability activities at similar universities, this project will compare participation, engagement, and experiences of sustainability-oriented courses across multiple axes of diversity and take initial steps to create more inclusive sustainability education opportunities at BU. The research activities will be conducted by Alice Scollins, an Environmental Analysis and Policy undergraduate student. Mentorship and collaboration will be provided by Earth and Environment professors Anne Short Gianotti and Abigail Sullivan, BU Sustainability Director Lisa Tornatore, and BU Sustainability Engagement Manager Gabriela Boscio Santos. Ultimately, the goal of the project is to contribute to BU’s efforts to ensure “every undergraduate [is] touched in some way” by sustainability and climate education (as outlined in section VII of the BU’s Climate Action Plan).

Student Presentations:
Coming soon.

Zero Waste on the Charles River Campus: Development of a Recyclopedia App to Increase Student Accuracy and Confidence in Waste Sorting (Phase One)

Research team:
Allison Chodes (Psychology, CAS ’23),
Muhammad Essa Tabish Chawla (Economics, CAS ’22),
Keeley Bombard (Environmental Analysis and Policy, CAS ’22).
Dr. Rebecca Kinraide (CAS)

Timing: Awarded Summer 2021.

This project came out of the BU HUB Cross-College Challenge Zero Waste course (XC 433), which tasked students with creating a campus initiative to help Boston University reach its goal of zero waste by 2030. Team members Allison Chodes, Muhammad Essa Tabish Chawla, and Keeley Bombard, advised by Professor Rebecca Kinraide, will work closely together to continue the necessary research to develop an app to help students sort waste effectively and confidently. This project plans to shape the Recylopedia resource, available on the Sustainability@BU website, into an application to help improve waste management on Boston University’s Charles River Campus. This research team will use its Campus Climate Lab funding to continue the work previously started through the Zero Waste course to create a successful Recyclopedia application that helps Boston University meet its zero waste goals.

Student Presentations:
Coming soon.

Warren Rooftop Mini-Garden

Research team:
Sidney Hare (CAS ’22),
Stella Dzialas (CAS ’24),
Dr. Curtis Woodcock (Earth & Environment, CAS),
Lisa Tornatore (Sustainability Director, BU Sustainability),
Dennis Carlberg (Associate Vice President for University Sustainability)

Timing: Awarded Summer 2021. Renewed Fall 2021.

This project will pilot a small rooftop garden at the patio on Warren Towers. Undergraduate students in the Earth & Environment Department, Sidney Hare and Stella Dzialas have a passion for gardening, urban farming, and sustainability; and an urban rooftop garden combines all of these aspects. Stella and Sidney will be working under the mentorship of Curtis Woodcock, a professor of Remote Sensing. The goal of the project will be to provide Boston University Dining Services and students with fresh produce grown right on campus. This work will engage the Boston University community, give students an opportunity to conduct research on urban gardening, help increase the amount of green space on campus, and provide fresh food to BU.

Student Presentations:
September 9, 2021. Video (@ 54:26).
October 28, 2021. Feature in BU Today.

Developing Heating Electrification Strategies to Decarbonize Boston University’s Charles River Campus

Current research team:
Sabrina Dilig (Mechanical Engineering, ENG ’23),
Cathy Cheng (Mechanical Engineering, ENG ’23)
Dr. Michael Gevelber (Mechanical Engineering, ENG)

Previous team members: Dr. Nathan Phillips (Earth & Environment. Summer 2021),
Keeley Bombard (Earth & Environment, CAS ’22. Summer 2020 – Fall 2020),
Gayatri Sundar Rajan (Mechanical Engineering, ENG ’22. Summer 2020 – Spring 2021)

Timing: Awarded Summer 2020. Renewed Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Summer 2021, Fall 2021.

In 2017, the Boston University Climate Action Plan established the goal for the university to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040. To reach this goal, it is critical to develop a solution to heating from fossil fuels ⁠— which represented 40% of BU’s emissions prior to December 2020. In the first phase of research (Summer 2020), the team of Gayatri Sundar Rajan, Professor Michael Gevelber, Keeley Bombard, and Professor Nathan Phillips developed a preliminary strategy to electrify the majority of Boston University’s fossil-based heating energy use, identified system design requirements, and evaluated alternative technologies including GeoMicroDistrict (GMD).

In the second phase, Gayatri Sundar Rajan, Sabrina Dilig, Cathy Cheng, and Professor Gevelber reviewed phase 1 findings with industry experts and BU facilities staff, developed an in-depth HVAC and electrical demand analysis for several key building candidates, developed solutions to limit electrical load increase, and determined the cost and corresponding carbon reduction of alternative strategies.

In the third phase of the project, we investigated key technical issues to implementing the retrofit electrification strategy on 17 key buildings through assessing the compatibility of the electrification strategy with buildings on our campus steam loops, validating the performance of low-temperature air source heat pumps, and evaluating buildings’ electrical capacities.

In Phase 4, we will continue the detailed building-by-building analysis, with an emphasis on the steam loops, how summer reheat loads can be met, estimating potential energy saving measures to reduce peak electrical loads and GHG emissions, and updating financial plans. Our current research team consists of student researchers Cathy Cheng (ENG ’23), Sabrina Dilig (ENG ’23), and faculty advisor Professor Michael Gevelber (ENG), and builds on the work of student researcher Gayatri Sundar Rajan (ENG ’22).

Student Presentations:
January 29, 2021. Video (@ 27:17). Slide deck.
September 9, 2020. Video (@ 13:35). Slide deck.
April 20, 2021. Video (@ 42:06). Slide deck.
September 9, 2021. Video (@ 36:00). Slide deck.

Mapping Noise Pollution at Boston University and Other Boston Locations Before, During, and After the Pandemic with a Goal to Reduce Noise Pollution

Research team:
Alyssa Helmling (CAS ’22),
Dr. Richard Primack (Biology, CAS)

Timing: Awarded Summer 2021.

This research project will investigate how noise pollution—which is a concern for both human health and wildlife health—has changed as the global COVID-19 pandemic drastically altered sources of noise, such as road traffic, airplanes, and grounds maintenance. This study focuses on four locations: the Boston University campus, the Longwood medical area, Harvard Square, and the area of East Boston near the airport.

With the SPLnFFT mobile sound meter app, the Primack Lab has been collecting sound measurements before and during the pandemic, and these areas will be re-measured after pandemic restrictions end. These data will be used to make detailed sound maps, identify key sources of noise pollution, and make recommendations on how to reduce noise pollution and greenhouse gas emissions on the BU campus. Dr. Richard Primack is a conservation biologist and a Professor in the Biology Department; Alyssa Helmling is a senior Biology major and research assistant in the Primack Lab.

Student Presentations:
September 9, 2021. Video (@ 30:12).

Urban Heat Island Effect: A Study of Various City Surfaces and Their Impacts

Research team:
Abhi Lingareddy (BUA, ‘22),
Dr. Dan Li (Earth & Environment, CAS),
Victoria Perrone (Chemistry, BUA)

Timing: Awarded Spring 2021.

The goal of our project is to measure the impact of various surfaces found in an urban setting on local temperatures using sensors placed in several locations of interest on the BU campus. The main focus will be on the existing solutions to the urban heat island effect: white roofs, green roofs, and landscaping. Our research will quantify how effective solutions are at reducing temperatures in comparison to more typical surfaces found throughout the campus, and this will aid in the decision to invest time and money into converting existing surfaces into more sustainable ones. This research will be done by BUA student Abhi Lingareddy, BUA’s Chemistry Instructor and Director of Student Life Victoria Perrone, and Assistant Professor in the Earth & Environment Department Dan Li.

Student Presentations:
April 20, 2021. Video (@ 10:08). Slide deck.

Quantifying Scope 3 Emissions Associated with Employee Travel at Boston University

Research team: 
Olivia Henning (Environmental Analysis and Policy, CAS ‘22),
Lucia Vilallonga (Statistics and Computer Science, CAS ‘22),
Dr. Jacqueline Ashmore (Executive Director of Institute for Sustainable Energy; Earth & Environment; Mechanical Engineering)

Timing: Awarded Fall 2020. Renewed Spring 2021.

As a team of Questrom MSMS students tackles the business-related aspects of offset purchasing programs in partnership with A Better City and BU Sustainability, our research team will assist in providing a scientific background and data science skills to the project to help align with the goals of BU’s Climate Action Plan. Our fall 2020 Campus Climate Lab research found that employee air travel emissions are very significant, and survey results suggest that employees expect to continue traveling as much as before the pandemic once recovery is achieved. These findings suggest that both offsets and reduction programs will play important roles in BU reaching its net-zero emissions goal. Once the MSMS project concludes, we will reevaluate this prior work and propose further behavior change programs to reduce flights in the future to work in tandem with the MSMS offsets program. Both students on this team are interns at BU Sustainability.

Student Presentations:
January 29, 2021. Video (@ 9:39). Slide deck. Final Report.
April 20, 2021. Video (@ 12:20). Slide deck.

Impacts of closure periods on BU CO2 Emissions and local CO2 concentrations

Research team:
Lexia Cicone (Chemistry/Earth & Environment, CAS ‘22),
Dr. Lucy Hutyra (Earth & Environment, CAS)

Timing: Awarded Summer 2020. Renewed Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Summer 2021.

This research team is assessing the influence of changes in campus occupancy on local CO2 concentrations, emissions, and Boston University (BU) energy use. In previous phases of research, a substantial increase in per capita electricity and gas use at BU was found during the COVID-19 shutdown period. Continued research will investigate how changes in building usage resulting from the lockdown will affect energy use, as well as make a comparison between BU-specific changes, and Massachusetts-wide changes in energy use. Ultimately, the goal of this research is to identify opportunities for BU energy use reductions associated with changing occupancy and behaviors.

Student Presentations:
January 29, 2021. Video (@ 18:20). Slide deck.
September 9, 2020. Video (@ 31:30). Slide deck.
April 20, 2021. Video (@ 32:36). Slide deck.
September 9, 2021. Video (@ 45:44). Slide deck.

Analysis of willingness to adopt personal care and cleaning products refill habits by undergraduate students living in BU dorms

Research team: 
Guillermo Gallego (Questrom, MBA ‘22),
Dr. Remi Trudel (Marketing, Questrom)

Timing: Awarded Spring 2021.

This project aims to assess undergraduate student willingness to adopt refill habits by using vending machines as a way to stop single-use plastic waste generation stemming from personal care and cleaning products. This research will be sponsored by Professor Remi Trudel, whose research agenda is driven by a desire to understand consumer decision making in three substantive areas – sustainability, health and diet, and personal finance – so as to provide consumers, marketers, and policy makers with the means to make better, more sustainable decisions for themselves, society, and the environment.

Research will be conducted by Social Impact MBA student Guillermo Gallego, who has significant experience introducing environmentally friendly electronic technologies in new markets with the 500-Fortune company ABB. Dr. Trudel has published in the top academic journals including the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, and the Journal of Consumer Psychology, and his research has been covered by NPR, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Scientific American, The Atlantic, The Globe and Mail, Science 2.0, Harvard Business Review, and many other regional news outlets.

Student Presentations:
April 20, 2021. Video (@ 7:46).

For more research projects, visit BU Sustainability.