Campus as Lab Research

The Office of Sustainability works collaboratively with academic and operational partners across campus to advance sustainability education and research. 

The Campus as Lab Innovation Fund is a new program that supports bold new ideas that involve the use of the campus as a laboratory for scientific, engineering, humanistic, artistic or social science research. For more information visit the Dean for Research Innovation Funds website.

View current, on-going, and past Campus as Lab projects and research conducted by faculty, staff and students below. 

Current Research:

Rammed Earth in Forbes Garden. Photo by Kasparas Spokas.

Research Name Department Project Summary
Earth Zero-Carbon Structures Sigrid Adriaenssens Civil & Chemical Engineering Adriaenssens leads the Form Finding lab’s research on material and form testing of rammed earth, a sustainable building material consisting of tightly-packed soil. A student team has built a curved wall of Princeton soil in the Forbes Garden. The wall’s curvature and erosion protection systems will be evaluated over time to determine its durability and whether soil is a viable building material in a humid climate like Princeton’s. 
Light Pollution Campus Survey Gáspár Bakos Astrophysics Bakos is conducting a light pollution campus survey project using aerial monitoring to identify areas on campus where lighting can be improved, for example by adding shielding and modern LED technology.
Campus Energy Plant Testing Andrew Bocarsly Chemistry An undergraduate student in the Bocarsly lab serves as an independent auditor for the campus cogeneration plant by regularly conducting pH measurements of the plant’s steam and condensate.
Team Bridge: Solution to Dining Hall Food Waste Tiffany Chen ’17, Gabriella Chu ’18, Vivek Dinodia ’17 Entrepreneurship (EGR 488 Project) To reduce the university’s food waste, the team is launching a food waste awareness campaign in partnership with Campus Dining during the 2017 spring semester. The team will place five posters with different messaging across the six dining halls, and will compare baseline food waste data before the study with food waste data during the study to assess the effectiveness of the posters at reducing food waste.
Princeton Vertical Farming Project Paul Gauthier Geosciences A group of students led by Gauthier is developing the Princeton Vertical Farming Project, an indoor experiment in producing quantities of crops such as wheat and soy towards investigating the viability of feeding a rapidly growing world population using space-saving methods. The project will involve different departments of the University including Geosciences, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Molecular Biology, Engineering, the Woodrow Wilson School, as well as Campus Dining. The initial stage of the project is producing leafy vegetables (lettuce, basil, cilantro and chives) available all year-round for the Princeton University community. The final goal of the project is to define the economical sustainability of producing wheat flour and/or soy milk with only indoor plants and to define opportunities to improvement.
Building Design Optimization Forrest Meggers Architecture Meggers oversees the Cooling and Heating for Architecturally Optimized Systems (CHAOS) lab, which has modeled the airflow in large indoor spaces and monitored the energy efficiency of several campus buildings. Now the team is designing and deploying a sensor network throughout campus to track temperature, humidity, air quality, and pollutants to understand the interplay between indoor and outdoor environments with the goal of improving building design.
Biodigester Laboratory Anne Morel-Kraepiel Chemistry Morel-Kraepiel will be leading a biodigester lab for the new ENV200 Environmental Nexus class in the spring. The students will process food scraps collected from the dining halls, and incubate them with an inoculum from a local waste treatment plan into sealed jars. The production of biogas (mainly methane) will be monitored over time. Our goal is to demonstrate how waste can be used to generate energy, in a process that decreases dramatically the carbon footprint of our food.
Princeton Atlas Project Catherine Riihimaki Council on Science and Technology Riihimaki coordinates Mapping Princeton, a multi-disciplinary project that brings together computer science, geography, and graphic design to spatially capture the essence of Princeton University. To date, the atlas focuses on three aspects of the University, one of which is a sustainability section that highlights Princeton's sustainable sites, Campus Dining's local suppliers, bike rack locations, campus lighting, and more.
Electric Boat Motor for Crew Team

Ben Sorkin ’17, Kirk Robinson ’17, Austin Pruitt '17, Isaac Illivicky '17, Rachel Herrera '17, Mark Scerbo '18, Coleman Merchant '19

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (Independent Project/Senior Thesis) These students are developing an electric boat motor and battery system to improve the sustainability of the varsity crew team’s coach boats. Relative to gas motors, electric motors result in fewer carbon emissions, do not discharge harmful pollutants, and can have more favorable performance characteristics. The crew team will test the motor later this semester on Lake Carnegie. If the motor outperforms a gas motor in terms of speed, reliability, and maintenance, the crew team will consider scaling up the electric motor to its entire fleet of coach boats.
Plant Communication in Agriculture Olivia Trase ‘17 Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (Senior Thesis) Olivia is studying the effect of plant communication via mycorrhizal fungal networks in corn and soybean plants based on research conducted over the summer on University-owned farm land.
Sustainable Living at the Pink House

Ten juniors (Aida Garrido, Alex Aparicio, Emily Pauls, Emma Latham, Erin McCabe, Fiona Bell, Gavin Hall, Lukas Novak, Rob Whitaker and Sophia Alvarez)

Rutwik Kharkar 'GS

Residential

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Starting Fall 2016, the “Pink House” at 99 Alexander Street in Forbes College will serve as a sustainable living and learning community for a group of upperclassmen. The goal of this year’s group has been to promote sustainable behaviors, publicize sustainability-related issues, and engage the campus and local community with Princeton’s natural environment. The community emphasizes social justice by demonstrating sustainable practices that are feasible for everyone such as low-cost vegetarian dinners at regularly-hosted events.  As a house, the community practices sustainable daily habits such as air-drying laundry and minimizing water usage for showers. Events for the upcoming semester include installing a rain barrel as an alternate water source, and inviting local elementary school students for a tour.

Rutwik Kharkar, a graduate student in the EEB department, is analyzing the spread of awareness of sustainability from Pink House activities and its behavioral impact on food choices.

On-Going Research:

Jessica Hsu '10 and Eileen Zerba, a senior lecturer in ecology and evolutionary biology and director of undergraduate laboratories at PEI, check the sensors on a mockup model located on top of a Butler green roof. (Photo: Denise Applewhite)

Research Department Project Summary
Butler Green Roof Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) & Civil & Chemical Engineering

PEI conducted research on energy and stormwater-related performance factors of the Butler College green roofs from installation 2009 through 2014. Relative to conventional roofs, research showed that green roofs help delay and slow stormwater runoff during light and moderate rain events, with success directly related to soil moisture content before the rain event. Results have also shown that green roofs have significantly smaller variability and peak values in surface temperature. Lower maximum and higher minimum roof membrane temperatures will likely extend the life of the waterproofing systems.

Data continues to be collected and monitored for on-going research by the Civil & Chemical Engineering department’s Hydrometeorology research group.

Washington Road Stream Restoration PEI & Civil & Chemical Engineering

In 2012, the University completed a natural restoration of the stream along Washington Road to mitigate flood risks and improve the riparian habitat. Preliminary analysis of nutrient composition, dissolved oxygen, and water clarity from several research projects and undergraduate coursework under PEI’s ENV program indicate a healthier stream environment compared to pre-restoration conditions.

Long-term data monitoring of water quality and stream level at several points along the stream has continued under the Civil & Chemical Engineering department’s Hydrometeorology research group.

Past Research:

Daily energy consumption before, during, and after the Do-It-in-the-Dark energy conservation competition in 2014.

Research Name Department Project Summary
Reducing Energy Consumption with Psychological Interventions Diana Tamir Psychology

Tamir’s research involves using simple, actionable intervention strategies based on psychological research to encourage individuals to reduce their energy consumption. When deployed via email to members of the campus community in past studies, the interventions resulted in significant reductions in energy usage from 2-5%. In December 2016, Tamir received funding from the Princeton E-ffiliates Partnership to scale up the research into a mass social media experiment. The project will send targeted Facebook ads to New Jersey energy consumers, and the energy usage will be tracked and compared across regions of the state.

Assessing Biodiversity Across Green Roofs  Mitchel Charles ’18 & Quinn Parker ’18 Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB 321 Project) Green roofs have become a popular solution to not only mitigate building energy costs, but address biodiversity loss in built environments. The students explored the different types of green roofs on campus to determine which type of green roof is most conducive to promoting biodiversity. They tracked the presence of species on the green roofs of the Wawa, Yoseloff Hall in Butler College, and Sherrerd Hall over the course of two weeks during Fall 2016. Although the green roofs on Yoseloff and Sherrerd Halls have the greatest number of species, the Wawa green roof has a greater diversity between animal and plant species, signaling a well-balanced and productive ecosystem. Thus green roofs that most closely resemble the area’s natural environment, like the Wawa roof with its native plants, are most successful in creating and maintaining multiple trophic levels of species, and thus have greater biodiversity.
Smart Dorm: Occupancy Analysis to Reduce Light Energy Consumption in College Residence Halls Abby Van Soest ‘18 Computer Science (COS IW02 Junior Paper)

During Fall 2016, Abby used occupancy data from the smart-lighting project in Bloomberg Hall to develop a novel method for reducing wasted energy from corridor lighting in dorms, while valuing the user experience. She found that using the local history of an occupancy sensor data can improve the responsiveness of lighting systems to real-time demand. By turning the lights off more frequently, unnecessary energy usage can be avoided for a moderate, but justifiable, impact on the subjective experience. 

Solar Picnic Table Forrest Meggers Architecture (ARC 311 Project)

In Fall 2016, the upper-level architecture class designed and completed a solar picnic table that provides continuous shading and remote charging and internet for laptop work.

Campus Energy Heatmap Josh Bocarsly ’15, Adam Gallagher ’16, Annie Lu ‘17 Computer Science (COS 333 Project)

In Spring 2015, these students developed a visualization app that provides detailed and live energy information on campus buildings.

A Sense of Where You Are Audio Tour Emily Kamen ’17, Will Lathrop ’17, Margot Yale ‘17 Environmental Studies (ATL 497/ENV 497 Project)

In Spring 2015, the students created a podcast that chronicles the past and present history of six outdoor sites on campus, exploring their changing appearance, uses, and meaning. The stories and histories of these sites are narrated through interviews with Princeton students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members who have passed through these spaces.

Sustainability Behavior Evaluations

Sander van der Linden

Former post-doc in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, and the Psychology Department

Van der Linden conducted behavioral evaluations of the “Do it in the Dark” residential college energy competition and the Drink Local reusable water bottle campaign. Results from the “Do it in the Dark” analysis showed that energy savings achieved during the competition reversed once the competition ended. These results suggest that pro-environmental behavior is more likely to be sustained by intrinsic motivation based on personal beliefs, rather than a one-time reward such as winning a competition.

Van der Linden’s Social and Environmental Decision-Making (SED) lab also conducted student surveys to evaluate water bottle consumption on campus. The results provide evidence that Princeton’s Drink Local campaign, which distributes reusable water bottles to incoming students, has been successful at reducing purchases of plastic bottled water by encouraging behavior change. 

cUpcycle Sandy Bole ’16 Architecture (ARC 204 Project)

Bole upcycled used plastic cups from the Street to raise awareness about the amount of waste produced at the eating clubs. The 3,000 collected cups were transformed into several designs including lighting fixtures and durable sitting chairs, both of which were displayed and used by attendees at the Earth Day Picnic in 2014.

Temperature and Humidity Sensors Daniel Steingart Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Steingart led a project where students set up a sensor network using low-cost, off-the-shelf Arduino computing devices to capture temperature and humidity levels in various campus spaces. The readings are sent to a central computer and give facilities managers better information about how well existing climate-control systems are working.

Princeton’s Microclimate: Global lessons from local buildings Elie Bou-Zeid

Civil & Chemical Engineering

In April 2010, Bou-Zeid started the Sensor Network Over Princeton (SNOP) project, which placed a series of solar-powered monitoring stations around campus to record variance in temperatures, humidity, wind, and rainfall. Data from SNOP has been used to create a map of Princeton’s urban microclimate, creating a clearer picture of how building materials and vegetation interact with a local climate. Additionally, Bou-Zeid’s Environmental Fluid Mechanics research group used the data from SNOP to evaluate surface exchange models of energy and water transport over various urban surfaces. 
Dillon Pool UV Treatment System Eileen Zerba

Former Senior Lecturer in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and PEI

Zerba led research that analyzed the indoor air quality and other environmental effects of the Dillon Pool Ultraviolet (UV) treatment system, which was installed in the fall of 2010. UV systems are more environmentally friendly than traditional chemical disinfectants because they use ultraviolet light to kill pathogens in the water, thus reducing the amount of chlorine needed. The UV system also eliminates chloramines that result from chlorine combining with ammonia or organic nitrogen compounds in the water, which can irritate swimmers' eyes and cause respiratory problems.

[Last updated February 2017]