April 15, 2022

Media advisory: SIU researchers focused on environment as Earth Day approaches

With Earth Day on April 22 approaching fast, the university has several faculty members and students whose research is focused on protecting the environment and conserving resources. Here is a sampling of recent projects.

One of only 23 XPRIZE winners: Scott D. Hamilton-Brehm, associate professor of microbiology, is working with graduate students Tia Zimmerman and Jennifer Pierce on a carbon sequestration technology that would allow microbes to consume carbon underground. Their team, Carbon Down Under, is one of just 23 worldwide to win the Elon Musk Foundation’s XPRIZE contest. They will receive an initial award of $125,000, contingent on filing a satisfactory June 1 progress report. More funding could follow.

Transforming spent tea leaves and coffee grounds into biodegradable plastic: Lahiru Jayakody, assistant professor of microbiology, is working with SIU researchers Ken Anderson and Matt McCarroll on perfecting a process incorporating spent tea leaves and coffee grounds that would make single-use plastics biodegradable and more readily recyclable. 

Blitz to ID plants and animals: Brent Pease, assistant professor in the School of Forestry and Horticulture, organized SIU’s first BioBlitz, a 24-hour effort to collect and identify every possible species of plant and animal on campus to learn about biodiversity in our own backyards. Pease will again coordinate this event during the first week of fall semester.

Reducing pollution in Mississippi wetlands: Liliana Lefticariu, associate professor of geology, and Jonathan Remo, associate professor in the School of Earth Systems and Sustainability, are among an SIU team that is trying to understand and identify the processes that reduce nitrogen pollution in several floodplain wetlands along the Middle Mississippi River. Hamilton-Brehm, and Marjorie Brooks, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences, also are co-investigators on the project.

Combating algae blooms: A team of students led by Jia Liu, associate professor in the School of Civil, Environmental and Infrastructure Engineering, is looking at using the power of the sun, combined with iron-based nanomaterials, to destroy the harmful effects of algae blooms afflicting SIU’s Campus Lake, a common problem throughout the country. The $25,000 grant from the People, Prosperity and the Planet Program – or P3 – offers students hands-on experience that brings their classroom learning to life, while also allowing them to create tangible changes in their communities.

Solar Cup finalists: A team of SIU students is among the finalists in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar District Cup. Competitors will design systems that integrate solar, storage and other technologies for a real-world district or campus, developing skills essential for clean energy. Kanchan Mondal, director of the School of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Materials Engineering, coordinates the team along with Nelson Fernandes, a senior in mechanical engineering and project manager.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Tim Crosby, public information coordinator, 618-534-3045 or crosby@siu.edu.

In addition, SIU Carbondale has hosted weeks of activities celebrating Earth Month in April. The celebration will culminate on Earth Day with an announcement of grants funded by the student-initiated Green Fee.