Education & Research

Research

2013-14 Graduate Grant Recipients

Meet the 2013-14 Graduate Student Sustainability Grant recipients!

This award program supports collaborative efforts of Indiana University graduate students and faculty to develop new, externally funded research programs related to research on sustainability.This represents an outgrowth of a broad-based initiative supported by the Indiana University Office of Sustainability.

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Jacob Bower-Bir and Ursula Kreitmair

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Jacob Bower-Bir

Groups, Dictators, and Natural Resources:  An Experimental Study of Collective Action among Heterogeneous Groups

We aim to study, in a laboratory setting, how groups of individuals interact when managing a shared resource. Natural resources are finite, and individuals often overexploit these when they encounter other individuals that also have access to the resources in question. Collaboration and teamwork may help individuals overcome this overexploitation, allowing more individuals to enjoy resources equitably. But what happens when there are multiple teams; teams that do not necessarily have the same values or capabilities? It is possible that the benefits of teamwork might be undone when groups of cooperating individuals encounter other groups. Our experimental treatments will allow us to better understand the limits of cooperation and the behavior of groups in strategic settings.

Updates: 

We have designed and programmed our core experiment, as well as several interesting treatments (i.e., variations of the core experiment) that will allow us to explore fundamental aspects of group management of a shared resource.  The next step is to test our experiment to (i) identify and troubleshoot errors in the program and (ii) make certain we are measuring the variables that we mean to measure.  Once we are satisfied that everything works as it should, we will recruit subjects to participate in the experiment.  We need to balance a number of factors in this process.  We want enough subjects so that our analysis of the experiment is statistically robust, but we have to pay our subjects, providing a clear limitation on the number we can actually recruit.  We also need to consider how representative our subjects are of the broader population so that we have some idea of how the lessons we learn apply to the real-world.

Describe what you are learning about sustainability. 

Our findings so far are not especially optimistic.  But neither are they totally defeatist.  We know that individuals often over-extract from or under-invest in communal resources for selfish reasons, and initial results suggest that individuals operating in groups may be even more aggressive in their pursuit of self-interest.  Certain institutional and contextual factors, however, may moderate such behavior and lead to more altruistic management of a shared resource.  For example, a person’s willingness to invest in a public good appears to depend not only on the rules her group adopts to govern the resource, but also on the kinds of rules other groups adopt.

Have you experienced any challenges in the research process?

The existing literature on our area of study turned out to be less developed than we initially realized.  This discovery is exciting for us as researchers because it means that there is much novel, fruitful work to be done.  But there are costs, too.  Chief among them: There is little consensus on how to measure many of the concepts central to our study.  Accordingly, we must consider a range of possible measures, each with unique pros and cons.  And because our question is of tangential importance to so many fields, the central concepts themselves are discussed with jargon that varies widely across disciplines.  We must be deliberate in our progress to ensure that the gains we make satisfy scholastic standards from across the academy.

 

Pictured: Jacob Bower-Bir

Scott Breen

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gradgrants_breenHow Legal Authority Impacts the Ability and Motivation to Form Partnerships in the Department of the Interior, particularly the National Park Service

I am leveraging my internship in the Department of the Interior’s Office of Youth, Partnerships, and Service to interview those that work on partnerships at the departmental level and at the bureau level, mainly at the National Park Service. The plan is to interview solicitors, partnership coordinators, park superintendents, and others who can provide insight into my research question. The hope is to better understand what legal authority exists to make partnerships and if there are any holes in that legal authority that impede the National Park Service from making innovative partnerships that would help further its mission. If sufficient legal authority exists, this will be an important finding for lawmakers as then they will know that no further legal authority needs to be given and the National Park Service should focus on changing its culture to better take advantage of their legal authority to form partnerships. Further, I also want to understand if the legal authority to form partnerships is adequately explained to those at the field level. If it’s too complicated, it may be that those at the field level do not make partnerships because it’s too big a barrier to take the time to understand what partnerships the legal authorities allow them to establish and what is required of both sides when forming a partnership.

Updates: 

I have continued to interview partnerships professionals for the research, mainly those outside of the National Park Service that can give me the perspective of those wishing to partner with the NPS on what legal requirements create hindrances. I have also worked to make sure that my literature review is up to date. My plan is to begin writing the paper in the coming weeks. I just submitted an abstract to the International Public Affairs Association Conference that takes place annually on campus and am hopeful I will get an opportunity to present at the Conference. One of the main reasons that I want to present at the Conference is to get feedback on my findings that I can then use to craft a paper to the high quality needed for submission to an academic journal.

Describe what you are learning about sustainability.

I am learning that when it comes to working with the government on sustainability issues, there are a number of obstacles to working collaboratively with the government. One view is that this is good because the government represents the people, and we need to make sure there are adequate safeguards in place to ensure risk is minimized and that the people benefit. However, I think that the government needs to find a way to make the process of collaborating with it as easy as possible especially in these times of smaller and smaller budgets for areas like natural resources management.

Have you experienced any challenges in the research process?

Honestly, one of the main challenges is finding the time to take a break from my law school classes and look through all my interview notes and research so that I can find the main insights and organize the information in a compelling and useful way. Once I do that, I’ll be able to finish off my paper and also find holes in my research that I can plug with more interviews or a wider literature review. Luckily, people have been extremely generous with their time so having opportunities to interview people who deal with partnerships issues on a frequent basis has not been a challenge.

Satoko Hirano

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Contamination, Risk, and Sustainability in Japan after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident

This ethnographic study intends to examine how individuals and social groups conceptualize radioactive contamination and evaluate the environmental effect and impact of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) accident. The 2011 Northeast Japan Earthquake and tsunami severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi NPP, and radioactive effluents reached and fell on farmlands in certain areas. In order to decontaminate the land, the city administration collected radioactive surface soil and forage grass. Concerned farmers and residents have been negotiating final disposal sites and processes for the collected wastes. This research aims to examine farmers’ on-going efforts to remedy the soil, ensure food safety, and sustain their livelihood in the time of uncertainty and ambiguity. It focuses on the complexity and dynamics of radiation risk assessment and communication at and between different levels of the Japanese society.

What are the connections to sustainability?

I conceptualize sustainability as community’s capacity to achieve balance between environmental health, economic viability, and social equity. This study focuses on how a disaster-affected community negotiates courses of action and vision for the “clean” environment. I aim to discover the link between perception of radioactive contamination, social construction of risk, and people’s everyday practice to seek environmental and economic sustainability after the detrimental natural and technological disasters.

Will there be any implications for the IU-Bloomington communities?

This pilot study provides a snapshot of the struggles that people in the radiation-affected communities face at levels varying from policy-making to neighborhood. It offers an interdisciplinary approach to investigating consequential damages of technological disaster to the environment and society. Thus, this study offers a comparable case that is relevant to on-going research projects on environmental contamination such as Indiana’s superfund sites.

Liz Koziol

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Liz Koziol

The impact of different arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal species on the establishment of rare tallgrass prairie plants

My research will investigate whether different mycorrhizal fungal species vary in how they affect the establishment of a planted and seeded prairie community. My experiment will take place at Hilltop Gardens at Indiana University. Plots will be inoculated with one of six species of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi that have been isolated from natural prairie communities. Each plot will be planted with the same 23 native prairie plants that range from being easy to very difficult to establish in prairie restorations. Plots will also receive a diverse prairie seed mixture.

Beginning in 2014 and continuing throughout my dissertation research, I will measure the survival and growth of planted species, the germination and growth of seeded species, and I will measure plot level community diversity. After multiple growing seasons, this research could provide insight as to whether mycorrhizal fungi aid the growth of difficult to establish prairie plant species. Additionally, this experiment could inform whether specific fungal species can be applied during restorations to increase the growth and survival of specific target plants.

What are the connections tosustainability?

Prairie plant species have very colorful flowers and distinctive leaf morphologies, characteristics valued by many people. Moreover, these species are long-lived perennials and tolerant of extreme weather including drought and inundation, conditions which make them important components for sustainable landscaping. Diverse prairie plant communities also provide valuable ecosystem services that contribute to a sustainable Earth, such as carbon sequestration, increasing the stability of soils, and providing essential habitats for migratory birds, insects, and microbial populations. Identifying what factors limit the restoration and establishment success of prairie plants would have positive effects on the restoration of native diversity and potentially open up new opportunities for sustainable landscaping. 

Will there be any implications for the IU-Bloomington communities?

My research will provide opportunities to educate young scientists (K-12), college students, and Indiana University staff about this rare ecosystem. This restoration will receive many visitors due to the large number of gardening clubs, school groups, and community classes that are held at Hilltop Gardens. I plan on recruiting students from the IU Biology Club and from the L-350 Environmental Science course to help with planting and data collection for the experimental restoration. We also plan to install flower beds with interpretive signage at Hilltop Gardens using some of the rare prairie species used experiment so that visitors can practice plant identification, and read information about the tallgrass prairie community.

Paul McCord and Jampel Dell' Angelo

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Agricultural systems in the Mount Kenya region: Sustainable practices, adaptation, and participatory learning

gradgrants_mccordEnvironmental consequences stemming from climate change produce extensive livelihood adjustments, particularly for people in acutely vulnerable social-ecological systems.  Water scarcity resulting from climate change is a major global sustainability challenge.  Livelihood systems in the Mount Kenya region rely on small-scale agriculture and are directly dependent on water availability. However, climate change, population increase, and water scarcity make livelihoods particularly vulnerable.

To cope with difficult environmental conditions, such as water-scarcity, poor soil quality, and high temperatures, farmers apply principles of sustainable agriculture, such as mulching and intercropping.  Effective water governance within the Mount Kenya region is increasingly important as population pressures increase and irrigation becomes more prominent.  Water management at the local and regional levels involves multiple actors and rules which ensure that water is used efficiently in times of both water scarcity and abundance.  This research investigates the water governance structure as well as the sustainable agricultural practices throughout the Mount Kenya region in an effort to understand systems that may be better equipped to cope with changing water availability.  The research takes a participatory approach where both researchers and farmers actively exchange ideas and knowledge through workshops, community meetings, and participatory video making initiatives.

What were the first steps that you took to start your research?

To start the research, we needed to develop surveys to administer to households and water managers within the Mount Kenya region.  After testing questions and revising many times, we finalized the two survey products.  Upon arriving in Kenya during the summer of 2013, immediate obstacles such as securing the appropriate means of transportation and training the enumerator team needed to be overcome.  Fortunately, these challenges were effectively resolved and a successful three month fieldwork campaign resulted.  

What are your working conditions?

Fieldwork in Kenya takes place in rural villages on the northwestern slopes of Mount Kenya.  Our research team visits agricultural homesteads in locations near the more populated upper-slopes of the mountain as well as more remote downstream locations, where infrastructure is poorly developed and roads are, at times, difficult to traverse.  Typical working days included seven to eight hours of interviewing farmers, collection of extensive GPS data sets, and data cleaning and recording of notes upon returning from the field.  

Do you have a mentor that you are working with?

My mentor is Dr. Tom Evans in the Department of Geography, and I am collaborating on this project with Jampel Dell’Angelo, a post-doctoral fellow from Italy.

How has the grant helped you? How are you using the funds?

The grant helped cover the cost of revising and printing surveys while in Kenya, which summed to a total of 750 surveys printed.  The grant has also helped pay for camera equipment, which aided in the filming of a documentary on Kenya’s water governance system during the 2013 fieldwork campaign.  The video is currently being edited, and we hope to provide it to the IU community soon.

 

The RAIN Initiative

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The RAIN Initiative: Examining the Efficacy of Green Infrastructure 

Maggie Messerschmidt, Tim Clark, Jeffrey Meek, Raija Bushnell, Leah Harmon, Valerie Lonneman, Rachael Bergmann, Micky Leonard , Alexandra Aznar, Bridget Borrowdale, Krista Manstch, Allen Reimer, & Amari Malone (Formerly The Cutters) 

The IU Championship Golf Course borders the IU Research and Teaching Preserve (IURTP) and large ravines and eroded areas have developed as a result of golf course runoff during rainstorm events. Our research tests the biodiversity-ecosystem functioning hypothesis that species diversity promotes enhanced functioning of ecological processes. We hypothesize that species-rich plantings will perform better than low richness plantings at trapping sediment, absorbing nutrients, and slowing flow velocity during storm events. Downstream water sampling sites will be established at each experimental ravine to monitor sediment yields, nutrient outfalls, and water flow as a function of diversity treatment.

Updates: 

Our project, now deemed The RAIN Initiative (Restorative Adaptations for Infrastructure), has undergone both advances and setbacks in the recent months.  Our work has resulted in the formation of class at SPEA focused on Best Management Practices for Watersheds, campus outreach on green infrastructure, and the completion of an EPA federal grant application to expand the project.  However, the severe weather has made obtaining consistent measurements difficult this winter.  We installed several weirs in December only to find that the storm events thereafter washed under them.  However, we still have two working weirs and will continue to collect stormwater data once the snow turns to rain.  We will repair damaged when the ground thaws. Our pilot berm is still scheduled for construction this spring in coordination with the Office of Sustainability.

 

Describe what you are learning about sustainability. (3-5 sentences)

We are learning about the field of eco-hydrology, including its tools, paradigm changes, and policies. We are working to create opportunities for students to learn how sustainability can be achieved through water cycle and watershed management. Several members of our team have been inspired to delve deeper into the field and to apply our knowledge in new settings.

 

Have you experienced any challenges in the research process?

To get past the challenges names above, we are looking forward to spring rains to be able to get more measurements, and we look forward to finally constructing the first berm!

 

 

Chris Miller

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Christopher Miller

States as Pilots and Peers: the Path to Sustainable Energy Policy

Issues of sustainability pose complex challenges to policymakers, and over the past two decades a majority of American states have enacted energy policy reforms attempting to address these issues. These reforms embody a wide range of innovative approaches to stewarding scarce resources, developing new ones, and averting unwanted environmental and economic impacts. At the same time, however, other states (including Indiana) have resisted this trend. Through a set of comparative state-level case studies, this research seeks to identify what characteristics identify states as “peers” most likely to facilitate the diffusion of one another’s energy policy innovations, and to identify the channels of communication through which policymakers inform themselves about the activities of those peers.

What are the connections to sustainability?

Hopefully, by identifying the influences and trends that have facilitated (or obstructed) states’ efforts to identify and emulate best practices in the energy sector, this research can open up possibilities for further policy innovations and more effective impacts on sustainability.

Will there be any implications for the IU-Bloomington communities?

It is noteworthy that even as IU works toward an ambitious and laudable set of sustainability goals, the state of Indiana itself has an energy policy that lags far behind its neighboring states and its political and economic peers. If IU is to live up to its ambitions and fulfill its institutional responsibility to guide the state, and the academic community, toward more responsible stewardship of our environment, it will be through multidisciplinary projects like this one, uniting policy analysis, energy sector expertise, political science principles, and practical research strategies.

Ryan Sullivan

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Ryan Sullivan

Understanding Spatiotemporal Variability of Fine Particulate Matter Concentrations and Human Exposure in Indianapolis, IN

Both long-term and short-term exposure to elevated concentrations of atmospheric aerosol particles poses a significant threat to human health.  Marion county (in which Indianapolis is based), was nonattainment for the national air quality standard for fine particulate matter (solid or liquid particles less than or equal to 2.5 micrometers in diameter, referred to as PM2.5) from 2005-2012. Our research objectives are to:

  • Analyze spatiotemporal variability of PM2.5 in an urban environment
  • Investigate sources of PM2.5 in Indianapolis, Indiana, and specifically try to differentiate the impact of local versus distant or regional sources.
  • Investigate causes of observed extreme concentrations
  • Quantify the exposure of residents of Indianapolis to harmful air quality.
  • Identify neighborhoods at particular risk for exposure to air toxins.

Our research comprises two key experimental components:  Fixed site monitoring across the city and mobile sampling collected during bicycle transects of the city.  Fixed monitoring can only be conducted at a few specific locations. Mobile sampling will help to better understand the degree to which particle concentrations (and human exposure) vary across a city.

In the longer term – through our close collaborations with the IUPUI Center for Urban Health, our colleagues, and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, we hope to be able to identify measures that can be put in place to reduce human exposure to air toxins and thus to improve the sustainability of Indiana’s largest urban area.

What were the first steps that you took to start your research?

Monitoring of continuous particulate concentrations has continued at our four fixed sites.  Mobile sampling was conducted with the instruments attached to bicycles during transects through Indianapolis in August 2013.

What are your working conditions?

As the instruments are outdoors, working conditions are dictated by the weather.  Fortunately, when mobile sampling was conducted in August, no severe weather was encountered and significant heat was not a major issue. 

Do you have a mentor that you are working with?

Yes, Dr. Pryor is mentoring this project.

How has the grant helped you? How are you using the funds?

The grant funds have helped defray the costs associated with the mobile sampling campaign and for routine instrument maintenance including transportation between Bloomington and Indianapolis, and supplies for operating the instruments (batteries, filters, etc.).

 

Jess Vogt

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Evaluating The Outcomes of Neighborhood Urban Forestry

Our research evaluates the tree-planting programs of 5 nonprofit organizations in the eastern U.S. We're interested in discovering what types of ecological and social impacts collective tree planting and maintenance has on neighborhoods and individuals. For instance, our nonprofit partner organizations have noticed that some of the neighborhoods in which they plant trees then go on to do other types of group activities, like a neighborhood crime watch. But so far, these are just anecdotes; we're interested in putting real data behind the question to see what impacts tree planting has. Our project will collect data on the trees planted between 2009 and 2011 to measure survival rates and growth rates. We will also survey and interview people who live in neighborhoods where trees were planted as well as in neighborhoods that did not plant trees to measure the differences in neighborhood and individual characteristics such as trust and neighbor-to-neighbor familiarity. The IUOS grant funds will be added to almost $400K in existing project resources, and will specifically help increase the number of people we can survey in each city.

Updates: 

My research group is in the process of finalizing our questionnaire and are about ready to begin mailing out our survey to ~15,000 households in 5 U.S. cities.

Describe what you are learning about sustainability.

Our survey asks individuals about their perceptions of their neighborhood, hoping to learn about neighborhood cohesion, collective action, environmental knowledge, and tree-planting project experiences. We think that these are all things that might be related to neighborhood sustainability.

Have you experienced any challenges in the research process?

Cutting down our list of survey questions is difficult! There are so many things we’re interested in knowing about neighborhoods, but in order to make sure people answer the questionnaire, we have to make it as short as possible. We’ve got the questionnaire down to a list of questions that we think will take respondents 20-ish minutes, and we’re hoping that’s short enough to encourage lots of responses. We’ll see – we’ll be starting to mail out questionnaires in the next few weeks!

 

For more research about Jess' project visit:  http://www.indiana.edu/~cipec/nucfac