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 Participant(s) Department Project Summary
Biodigester Pilot Project


Campus Dining

Beginning in early 2018, the University will pilot a food waste composting system behind the Fitzrandolph Observatory. The in-vessel aerobic digester (i.e. Biodigester) will convert a portion of campus food waste into a soil amendment for University grounds, while serving as a living laboratory for multi-disciplinary investigations into all aspects of food waste repurposing.

Check out the biodigester blog for more information, research questions, and other opportunities and to subscribe for project updates:

School Bus Tiny House Nicolas Viglucci ’19, Parker Wild '19, Coleman Merchant '19, Tristan LaCombe '19, Jasper Gebhardt '19 (Advised by Dr. Forrest Meggers and Eric Teitlebaum '14) Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering 

The students are retrofitting an old school bus into a sustainable living space to address cost and energy efficiency concerns within the residential housing sector. Through the implementation of a dynamic interior arrangement and an experimental heating and cooling system, the project's goal is to demonstrate that living spaces can achieve low carbon and spatial footprints without sacrificing comfortability. The project will be as open-source as possible with online documentation of resource use data, and the team will hold public viewing and educational sessions on main campus during the 2017-2018 school year. 

Check out the team's website for more information or to get involved:

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. 
Zero Waste Centers Allie Klimkiewicz ‘19  After a successful pilot run, the Zero Waste Centers found at campus events such as Reunions were inspired by a project recommendation from Allie Klimkiewicz ‘19 for the seminar, ENV 327: Investigating an Ethos of Sustainability at Princeton in Fall 2016. The Zero Waste Centers encourage proper waste disposal with instructional signage and volunteers educating attendees about what goes in each bin. In doing so, these stations make waste more apparent to people and force them to actively consider what materials can be recycled and composted versus what has to be put into the landfill.
Campus Energy Plant Testing Andrew Bocarsly Chemistry An undergraduate student in the Bocarsly lab provides an independent check on pH measurements of the campus cogeneration plant's steam and condensate.
Plant Biology Research

Paul Gauthier

Rozalie Czesana '18

Kyra Gregory '19

Natalie Grayson '20

Jesenia Haynes '18

Seth Lovelace '20

Matthew Ramirez '20

Aamir Zainulabadeen '18



Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Molecular Biology


Woodrow Wilson School

A group of students led by Gauthier is developing the Princeton Vertical Farming Project (PVFP) and conducting research on campus tree health.

The PVFP is using a hydroponic and artificial lighting growing system to investigate the viability of feeding a rapidly growing world population with space-saving methods. The project is investigating the engineering of the hydroponic system through a lens of sustainability and energy efficiency.  It will also focus on a marketing approach of vertical farming, looking specifically at maximizing the financial benefit of the program and making the harvests marketable to a larger community. 

The campus tree research group is studying carbon storage in trees and monitoring the effects of climate change on tree health to determine why many trees on campus are dying.

For more information and to learn how to get involved, visit:

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.
Embodied Computation Lab Research Forrest Meggers Architecture As of February 2017, the CHAOS team will use the Embodied Computation Lab, a sustainably-designed laboratory for the School of Architecture, to support several research projects. A calibrated energy model will study and optimize the lab’s innovative HVAC design which uses waste condensate from the adjacent Frick Chemistry Lab as an energy source. The model will also support ideal conditions for a project investigating a geothermal well system for heat and CO2 sequestration, and another testing innovative façade glass materials. The lab will also be used to test a novel drying agent and membrane system to cool and dehumidify buildings.
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

Aarav Chavda '17, Kirk Robinson ’17, Benjamin Sorkin ’17

Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering (Independent Project/Senior Thesis) These alumni have continued their undergraduate project of developing an electric boat motor and battery system in the Keller Center's eLab Incubator program. The team seeks to not only use their system to improve the sustainability of the Princeton varsity crew team’s coach boats, but also to promote an electrification movement in the marine industry. A switch from a gas to an electric marine propulsion system would reduce carbon emissions and promote water quality and healthy ecosystems in marine environments such as Princeton’s Lake Carnegie.
Plant Communication in Agriculture Olivia Trase ‘17


Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (Senior Thesis)

Olivia is studying the effect of plant communication via mycorrhizal fungal networks in corn and soybean plants. Using the new growing chambers in the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, Olivia's results found evidence that the fungal network can transmit signals of distress from a pest attack among soybean plants. These signals enabled the unaffected plants to prepare for attacks and thus benefit through higher rates of photosynthesis, but at the expense of the health of the pest-infected plants.

Olivia is also analyzing results from a similar experiment conducted on corn 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)








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.




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
Light Pollution Campus Survey

Gáspár Bakos


Bakos conducted a light pollution campus survey project using night-time aerial monitoring to identify areas on campus where lighting can be improved, for example by adding shielding and modern LED technology. Data from the project has been integrated into campus planning tools to assess land use and ecological health on campus.

Reducing Energy Consumption with Psychological Interventions

Diana Tamir

Douglas Guyett '16


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 Princeton students for a thesis project, several interventions resulted in significant reductions in energy usage from 3-5%. 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 & 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. 

Princeton Biodigester Project

Kevin Griffin ‘17

Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) Summer Internship Project

During the summer of 2014, Kevin constructed a composter in the Forbes Garden, complete with an electric monitoring system, to research and collect data about the dynamic process of food waste biodigestion. 

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.

Cool Roofs

Elie Bou-Zeid

Civil & Chemical Engineering

In 2012 and 2013, Bou-Zeid led a research study testing the effect of roof reflectivity and insulation thickness on building energy consumption. Using information and data collected from the rooftops of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, Bou-Zeid developed a model to predict the most energy-efficient roof for various climates. For Princeton and the Northeast U.S., the researchers found that white/reflective membranes with higher insulation would result in the least amount of energy usage in buildings.

Temperature and Humidity Sensors Daniel Steingart Mechanical & 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 June 2017]