Research Project Ideas
The following ideas, collected by the Office of Sustainability, are intended to give students ideas of ways they can make a contribution and/or formulate class projects, independent studies or research/capstone projects. The Office of Sustainability envisions UIC serving as a living laboratory for studying issues relating to sustainability. If you are interested in conducting research or carrying out a project that encompasses anything pertaining to a sustainable university, city, or world, please contact us.
Biodiesel Production and Utilization
Biodiesel can be made from waste vegetable oil produced by university dining facilities. The use of biodiesel can reduce costs while also utilizing a non-toxic, biodegradable fuel that generates fewer emissions and achieves gas mileage equivalent to that of regular diesel fuel. Feasibility for on-campus use would be explored, and coordination with facilities managers required. The UIUC Biodiesel Initiative began as a local project under Engineers Without Borders. Also, take a look at the UIUC Biodiesel Intiative's Biodiesel Info Sheet (PDF) for more information.
Composting is the process of organic material, such as plant matter and food scraps, getting decomposed by soil-dwelling insects, earthworms, bacteria and fungi. As the material heats up, the waste breaks down into rich, dark humus. This nutrient-dense soil is ideal for gardeners and landscapers. A wide-scale adoption of composting by UIC’s dining services could potentially divert tons of waste per year from landfills. This action would be both environmentally and economically sound: it could reduce waste hauling costs and emissions. A feasibility study would include mechanisms for sorting and storing, identifying a composting facility, and education of campus community on implementation. Cross disciplinary opportunities include biology, engineering, environmental science and business.
Inspections for Savings in Energy and Water Use
Significant savings in energy and water usage sometimes can come from overlooked sources such as drippy faucets, running toilets, leaky hoses and unnecessary lighting. Collecting these opportunities so they can be reported to appropriate campus administration could be a cost effective way to accumulate significant reductions. Nearly anyone can do walk-throughs and make observations that mean savings for the campus.
Building Performance Analysis and Benchmarking
Engineering students can use energy data to analyze campus building efficiency and identify opportunities for reductions using alternative technologies and retrofits. Currently many new electric meters are being installed in campus buildings allowing more detailed analysis than previously possible.
Wind Turbine Demonstration Project
In order to demonstrate how wind power works, small wind turbines may be deployed on campus. Output from the generator can be metered separately and used for study. Data can be modeled and made available to others. This project offers cross-disciplinary opportunities for engineering, planning, and environmental science students.
Eco-Machines (also known as Living Machines) are typically biological wastewater treatment systems, invented by Dr. John Todd and the New Alchemy Institute, designed to harness the cleansing power of ecosystems to serve modern human functions. Eco-Machines can be developed on a large scale (as a municipal wastewater treatment facility) but can also be focused on a smaller demonstration scale, such as a countertop water purification system or a self-sustaining aquaculture unit. Costs to produce small-scale Eco-Machines typically include equipment (such as water tanks, pumps, and tubes) but after initial construction cost the system functions on sustainable energy sources (the sun, which powers the plants that maintain the system). This type of system could function by itself or be a unique complement to a campus garden. A small unit can be located outdoors or in a public space (such as a lobby or library) if ample sunlight is available. Eco-Machines make excellent opportunities for education on creativity, environmentalism, and systems thinking.
There are a number of innovative opportunities available to support bicycling at UIC that remain unutilized in the United States. These include Bike Sharing programs like those being implemented at St. Xavier's or Emory:
Bike Trees: http://www.biketree.com/
Both are examples of bicycle racks optimized for an urban environment with limited floor area. They are visually interesting and would draw attention to UIC as being one of the first campuses to use these in the United States. These facilities could also pave the way for an innovative bicycle sharing program.
Campaign linking personal choices with larger objectives
Students can use a number of existing calculators or devise new ones to educate others on how small choices, such as unplugging chargers, walking to the store, and reducing water usage can add up to big changes.
Campus activity groups can plan and implement events or projects that produce measurable outcomes and engage the larger campus or surrounding community. Here are some ideas for friendly competitions:
- Recycling Rate
- Residence halls will compete to determine which can collect the most recyclable materials – plastic, aluminum cans and paper. Points will be awarded based on quantity.
- Energy Reduction
- The greater the residence halls reduce electricity usage or demand below their per capita,the more points they receive.
- Online Literacy Assessment
- Residence halls are scored according to the percentage of residents that finish a survey, thereby helping the university assess the level of environmental literacy of the freshmen class.
- Eco-Film and Lecture Series
- Students earn participation points for their dorms by attending showings of environmentally-themed presentations, such as 11th Hour, Who Killed the Electric Car, and Paul Hawken.
- Zero Energy Pledge
- Residence halls gain points if residents promise to unplug appliances before leaving campus for one of the breaks.
- Eco-Trivia Night
- Points are awarded by taking an environmental trivia quiz.
- Recycle for a Cause
- Students earn points if they pick up bottles, cans and glasses around the Pavilion stadium following every home basketball game. High scorers could make a donation to cause of their choice.
- Earth Jam
- Attendees engage in an interactive environmental festival about environmental stewardship and receive credit for coming.
- Eco-Footprint Calculator
- Students collect points for their group by calculating the environmental impact of their lifestyle choices.
Campus groups receive funding through Campus Programs, which could be used for prizes and food.