Steinbrenner Institute Overview
The Environment @ Carnegie Mellon
The Steinbrenner Institute

From Neil's Desk

Well it has been one heck of a year. From the local to the global scale, environmental issues have never been more central to daily conversation and societal needs. This means that the mission of the Steinbrenner Institute to promote and support both environmental education and environmental research across the university has never been more important.
Simply put, environmental scholarship — really any scholarship — starts with being able to recognize and then analyze an assertion. Conversations and commentary are packed with assertions, often without any supporting evidence, and not infrequently in the face of overwhelming evidence. That, of course, was an assertion. “There are two sides to the climate `question’” is also an assertion. It doesn’t bear scrutiny. There is a diversity of scientific opinion about some elements of the climate system but a robust consensus around the straightforward physics that tells us Earth is warming by an amount equivalent to a large chunk of the temperature difference between the present day and the peak of the last ice age, but in a tiny fraction of the time. A central mission of the Steinbrenner Institute is to ensure that the entire CMU community understands the basic science behind this, and to reset the conversation to the proper discourse regarding what we should actually do about it. There, in the policy arena, sits a true diversity of opinion where vigorous and urgent debate would serve us all.
To that end, we have undertaken several initiatives around campus. I was on a flight from Paris to Pittsburgh when the President tweeted that he was elected to serve Pittsburgh and not Paris and the Mayor tweeted back his disagreement about just who represented Pittsburgh. With inspiration from Deb Lange we sat down with colleagues from the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University and cooked up the Pittsburgh to (not) Paris Multimedia Challenge, which was a roaring success. Look for more contests along those lines. With new Director of Educational Initiatives, Abigail Owen, we started work to consolidate CMU environmental minors and to ensure that a coherent environmental focus is available and highly visible to all students. Abigail is offering a new “Introduction to Environmental Ideas” course this Spring (99-236, Tu/Th 1:30pm-2:50pm) as the gateway to this. We are also heavily engaged to ensure that Earth Systems and Sustainability Science is a central part of ongoing strategic conversations around Science@CMU. Once again, watch this space.  Neil Donahue, Faculty Advisor, Steinbrenner Institute
Paris to Pittsburgh: A Climate Multimedia Challenge
Point Park University (PPU) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) collaborated to raise awareness about climate change by launching a multimedia competition between local university students. And, the winning contestant won a pair of round-trip tickets from Pittsburgh to Paris, courtesy of WOW Airlines!

The idea came about when President Trump announced the United States’ exit from the Paris Climate Accord, by saying, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto’s response was that “we stand with the world and will follow the agreement.”
CMU’s Steinbrenner Institute and PPU’s Center for Media Innovation issued the “Pittsburgh (not) to Paris Climate Multimedia Challenge” and asked students to submit a 60 second video -- an exercise intended to encourage and test science communication skills.  Specifically, how can one communicate to their peers and the broader community their response to the following question:

What does the proposal to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord mean
to you in a world where climate change is not an alternative fact?
Submittals where received and subsequently reviewed by a panel of judges, experienced in communications and filmmaking.  (From let to right in the photo: Kirsi Jansa, Fritz Kiersch, Mark Dixon, Christopher Rolinson and Jolanta Lion.)  Review criteria included: relevance to climate change, unique point of view, appropriateness to theme and creativity and production values. The winning video, ONE WORLD, was submitted by David Randolph (seen on the screen in the photo), a senior majoring in Cinema Production at PPU.  David plans to visit Paris this spring.
VIDEO: One World

2017-18 Steinbrenner Fellows

Jacob Ward - Presidential Fellow - Engineering and Public Policy

Jacob joined Carnegie Mellon with nearly a decade of experience with the Department of Energy. He is uniquely positioned to advance interdisciplinary research at the emerging nexus of advanced technology, the sharing economy, and low-carbon transportation in a way that augments Carnegie Mellon’s existing environmental research capabilities and expertise. Jacob's research is titled: How Do Shared Mobility and Autonomous Taxis Affect Energy Consumption, Vehicle Use, and Emissions of Greenhouse Gases and Criteria Air Pollutants? He is advised by Jeremy Michalek, Inês Azevedo and Constantine Samaras.
Transportation is now the largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., and passenger vehicles comprise the largest share of transportation emissions. Autonomous taxis offer the potential to transform American transportation, and new shared mobility services (e.g., Uber and Lyft) have already changed how urban travelers move. However, there is extremely limited knowledge on how autonomy and shared mobility will influence energy use, vehicle adoption, and environmental outcomes. Existing studies focus on only one program or region and are limited to survey or simulation techniques.

This project will use real-world data analytics with simulation and data science techniques to characterize how shared mobility has affected energy, vehicle use, and emissions and how emerging autonomous vehicle technology could change these trends.

The research team is addressing three questions: (1) How have vehicle ownership and travel patterns changed in response to shared mobility services? (2) How has shared mobility affected energy use and mobile-source emissions, and under what conditions can they be minimized? (3) Under what conditions does a shared mobility and/or autonomous taxi paradigm lead to improved air quality and reduced greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) consistent with long-term ~80% carbon reduction policy goals?

Rebecca Tanzer Dunlop - Mechanical Engineering
Rebecca joined the Center for Atmospheric Studies in 2016 after graduating from Binghamton University (SUNY) with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Sustainable Engineering (where she was Vice President of Tau Beta Pi.)  Her research is titled: Application of a low-cost sensor network for air pollutant monitoring: Traffic and industrial sources.  She is advised by Albert Presto.

Networks of distributed, low-cost air pollutant sensors hold the promise of providing spatially dense, real-time air pollutant data across an entire city, with multiple potential benefits.
Sensor networks can be used to generate exposure estimates with high spatial (<1 km) and temporal (minutes - hourly) resolution for use in epidemiology. The sensors can be networked as part of a “Smart City” infrastructure – consider traffic signals that operate to limit street-level CO and NOx concentrations. Sensor data can be rapidly disseminated to the public via the web or a smart phone app to help enable healthy decisions (e.g., route choice for running or biking). Sensor networks can detect pollutant hot spots missed by traditional sparse monitoring networks, and be used to evaluate environmental injustice resulting from such hot spots. In addition to long-term citywide networks, smaller networks of low-cost sensors (< ~10 nodes) can be rapidly deployed for supplemental regulatory monitoring or for monitoring of episodic emission sources (e.g., forest fires.)

While the potential benefits of low-cost sensor networks are widely recognized, they have not been realized. Studies published to date focus exclusively on calibration and/or testing of a small number (1-10) of low-cost sensor nodes. The researchers are not aware of any published studies demonstrating application of a network of low-cost sensors for the uses outlined above.

This project will enable an incremental but crucial step to realize the benefits of low-cost sensor networks. The team will use an existing network of low-cost air pollutant sensors in Pittsburgh to characterize neighborhood-scale variations in air quality and resultant human exposures. Measurements and analysis will focus on pollutant spatial and temporal patterns arising from two emissions sources: on-road traffic and industrial emissions.
Mingyi Wang - Chemistry
Mingyi entered CMU with a Master’s degree in Environmental Science from Fudan University, where he worked with a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer known as the Filter Extraction for Gases and Aerosols (FIGAERO) that can measure the composition (C:H:O:N) of highly oxidized organic compounds associated with particle growth. For his Master’s research, Mingyi studied the oxidation of oleic acid droplets by heterogeneous uptake of ozone, writing a masterful paper that settled a long-standing dispute over this important oxidation mechanism.
Mingyi's research is titled: Heterogeneous Chemistry in New-Particle Formation and Growth and he is advised by Neil Donahue. At Carnegie Mellon, the research team recently purchased a version of FIGAERO with enhanced mass resolution via NSF Major Research Instrumentation funding. The FIGAERO instrument allows the comparison of identity and amount of oxidized compounds formed in the gas phase (and measured with the gas-phase inlet) when volatile precursor gases are formed to the compounds that evaporate from filter samples when they are heated. Mingyi can thus determine the “condensational efficiency” of organic compounds associated with the growth of newly formed particles. His research and these measurements sit at the center of two critical questions in atmospheric aerosol research:
  • Do the rate-limiting reactions for organic particle growth occur in the gas phase (before condensation) or the particle phase (after condensation)?
  • What are the important competing reactions with the rate-limiting reactions for particle growth, how have these changed since the industrial revolution, and how are they likely to change as economies move toward decarbonization?
Yulie Xu - Architecture
Yulie received a MS in Architecture from Carnegie Mellon in 2015 and earned her BS from Tsinghua University in 2011. In 2017, she won first prize in the CMU Student Energy Week Poster and Multimedia Competition.

Yulie's research is titled: Data-driven Spatial-temporal Model to Analyze the Energy, Climate and Environmental Impact of Building Stock Energy Conservation Measures.  She is advised by Vivian Loftness, Azizan Aziz, and .Edson Severnini.
Buildings account for 40% of the U.S. energy consumption and 39% of U.S. carbon emissions, with emissions growing by 1.8% per year for commercial buildings. The U.S. is no longer a leader; worldwide buildings consume 20% of the total delivered energy (site energy), anticipated to increase by an average of 1.5% per year. Reducing the energy consumption and carbon emissions of the U.S. building sector is critical to mitigate GHG emissions and global climate change, as well as to improve air quality and environmental resiliency. Yet federal and industrial funding for university based research focused on the building sector is at an all time low.

This project aims to develop a bottom-up data-driven spatial-temporal model to analyze the energy, climate and environmental impact of building energy conservation measures (ECM) under alternative climate and environment scenarios. The project combines methods and results in building science, data science, public policy, machine learning, and geo-spatial data analysis to address the following questions:
• How would a proposed set of energy efficiency retrofit strategies for buildings impact the short-term and long-term energy use with associated benefits for climate change and air pollution mitigation?
• Does the optimal short-term ECM strategy differ from the optimal long-term strategy?
• How would different projected climate and environment conditions impact the relative effectiveness of proposed ECMs and change the optimal long-term ECM strategy?
Welcome to Abigail Owen
This past summer, Abigail Owen joined the Steinbrenner Institute as the Director of Educational Initiatives.  Abigail is Special Faculty in the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon University, where she teaches Environmental History courses on water, agriculture, energy, and spatial history. Most recently, she was a Mellon World History of Science postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh. Her PhD in History is from Columbia University. 
She is co-editor of the volume Found in Translation: World History of Science, 1000–1800 CE, to be published by University of Pittsburgh Press in Fall 2018. Abigail is faculty advisor to the new undergraduate Minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies. She also co-teaches the gateway course for the undergraduate Minor: 99-236 "Introduction to Environmental Ideas."

She can be reached at:
We are pleased to have the opportunity to share the efforts of the Steinbrenner Institute with you and we look forward to any feedback that you might provide .. especially with regard to our new educational goal to make every CMU graduate climate fluent!
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Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research
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PLEASE CONTACT: Neil Donahue, (412) 268-4415,

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Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research · Carnegie Mellon University · 5120 Scott Hall · Pittsburgh, Pa 15213 · USA

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