Campus as Lab Research

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

State of Campus as Lab: 2018


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

Current Research:


                                                        School House Tiny Bus under construction

Research Participant(s) Department Project Summary
S.C.R.A.P. Lab Pilot Project


Campus Dining

After years of planning, the Office of Sustainability has initiated an on-site food scraps composting demonstration project, the S.C.R.A.P. Lab, to support the sustainability goals and research and education missions of Princeton waste composting system behind the Fitzrandolph Observatory. The demonstration project involves the Model 1000 composting system, an in-vessel aerobic digester (i.e. biodigester) developed by the company FOR Solutions. Located behind the FitzRandolph Observatory building, the biodigester has been operational since September 2018. In addition to converting a portion of the campus’s food scraps into a nutrient-rich soil amendment for campus grounds, the project will also support academic research around food scraps conversion – a topic of growing interest that can benefit from applied testing and performance assessment while federal and state targets increasingly call for drastic cuts in wasted food.

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 comfort.

Princeton Vertical Farming Project

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

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.

Unsustainably Grown Palm Oil David Wilcove

Campus Dining

Woodrow Wilson School

The widely used ingredient palm oil has potentially negative environmental and health impacts. The demand for the oil has led tropical forests to be replaced with palm plantations, and the oil is high in saturated fat. A collaboration between Professor David Wilcove, and Smitha Haneef, AVP of University Services, will include undergraduate researchers who will work with Princeton’s residential dining halls as laboratories to explore options for reducing use of unsustainably grown palm oil.
Technological innovations to mitigate exposure to air pollution Elie Bou-Zeid, Mark Zondlo

Civil & Environmental Engineering

To better inform the public and campus community about regional air quality, this project will deliver local, up-to-the-minute air quality information via a cellphone app. The research, led by Elie Bou-Zeid and Mark Zondlo, associate professors of civil and environmental engineering, takes advantage of the University’s location in the heavily populated and industrialized greater New York region.

SMART Sensing for more efficient and comfortable campus buildings Forrest Meggers


Campus buildings require tremendous amounts of energy for heating and cooling, yet most buildings lack efficient ways to measure the comfort level of occupants. The temperature of a room typically accounts for only 50 percent of the occupant’s comfort. A major unaddressed source of comfort comes from the temperature of nearby surfaces, such as walls and windows. This project uses a new technology developed by Forrest Meggers and his team called the SMART sensor to detect these so-called radiant sources of heating and cooling.

On-Going Research:


                                                                 Washington Road Stream Restoration

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.

Earth Zero-Carbon Structures Civil & Chemical Engineering

Sigrid 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.

Building Design Optimization Architecture

Forrest 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.

Light Pollution Campus Survey Astrophysics

Gáspár 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.

Sustainable Concrete Lab Civil & Environmental Engineering

Claire White piloted a lab on alkali-activated concrete, a more sustainable alternative to traditional concrete that uses waste fly ash and slag that would otherwise be landfilled. The lab is now being offered regularly, and the concrete cylinders produced in the lab are on display at Forbes Garden as a demonstration for how alkali-activated concrete weathers over time in New Jersey’s climate.

Princeton Atlas Project Council on Science and Technology

Catherine 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.

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.


Past Research:


                                                                   Sorkin (left) with electric boat motor.

Research Name Department Project Summary
Electric Boat Motor

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 sought to improve make crew coach boats more sustainable, and 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.

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 NJ-wide social media experiment.

Assessing Biodiversity Across Green Roofs  Mitchel Charles ’18 & Quinn Parker ’18 Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB 321 Project) The students explored the different types of green roofs on campus to determine which type of green roof is most conducive to promoting biodiversity. 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. 

Plant Communication in Agriculture Olivia Trase ‘17 Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (Senior Thesis)

Olivia studied 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.

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 campaign. Results 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.

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 Drink Local has been successful at reducing purchases of plastic bottled water by encouraging behavior change. 

[Last updated September 2018]