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College of Engineering Contributes Mightily to Sierra Magazine Ranking of UMass Amherst as No.7 among “Cool Schools”

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Sierra Magazine, the national magazine of the Sierra Club, has placed the University of Massachusetts Amherst at No. 7 in its 12th annual “Cool Schools” ranking of North America’s greenest colleges and universities (See UMass News Office Story). The College of Engineering certainly must be considered in the forefront of this UMass surge toward the top of greenest schools in North America. A list of just a few recent projects will confirm this fact.

In May UMass Amherst’s brand new 36-foot-long, water-testing trailer, courtesy of faculty from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, was rolled out at the State House in Boston for lawmakers and officials to see, marvel at, and extol. The name of the revolutionary trailer lab is the “University of Massachusetts Amherst Mobile Water Innovation Laboratory.” The trailer allows scientists to move around the state and conduct reliable water tests that can transform the way local communities treat their water.

Over the winter break in early 2018, a team of students from Sustainability Projects Abroad spent 12 days in Puerto Rico working on water purification and disaster relief. In answer to the chilling aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 17, 2017, a group of dedicated, highly-principled, and brilliant students from the College of Engineering raised enough money to visit Puerto Rico from January 2 to 14 and carry out an intensive campaign of water purification, water contamination education, the distribution of food and medical supplies, and other forms of physical and emotional support for the ravaged island.

The overarching objective of Professor Casey Brown’s research is simple, far-reaching, and game-changing: managing freshwater systems sustainably around the world. To that end the Rockefeller Foundation recently awarded $500,006 for one year to Brown of the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department to further support his groundbreaking research and analysis of freshwater resilience.

Professors Matthew Lackner and Erin Baker of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department published a very illuminating essay in The Conversation on May 15 about why the offshore wind energy industry will soon vastly expand and why Massachusetts is one of the states that is leading the way.

MIE graduate student Mo Kaikai is working with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center Earn and Learn project to teach students at Springfield High School of Science and Technology renewable energy engineering and install solar cells at the high school.

The project of Associate Professor Chul Park of the CEE department was one of four UMass Amherst projects to receive $25,000 Technology Development Grants from UMass President Marty Meehan’s office. His project aims to implement a system to minimize the production of sludge—a byproduct generated from wastewater treatment—using anaerobic side-stream reactor treatment and anaerobic digestion.

Martin Ross, a 1986 graduate from our MIE department and an avid supporter of the Amherst nonprofit organization Opportunities for Communities Inc. (OFC), has led the charge to install solar panels in an extraordinary Haitian school and thereby provide reliable electricity there for the first time. The solar project will empower such educational breakthroughs as far-reaching computer training and other technical learning.

Principal Investigator Jae-Hwang Lee of the MIE department is leading a $500,000 research project to greatly improve an important additive manufacturing process for creating various polymeric coatings and plastic parts while saving energy and refraining from using hazardous compounds.

Aclarity, a startup company based on a transformative water-treatment discovery by former doctoral student Julie Bliss Mullen of the CEE department, was profiled in June by Forbes Magazine and BostInno. Mullen and Barrett Mully, a UMass Amherst MBA student, founded Aclarity in 2017 and won $26,000 last year from the Innovation Challenge, an entrepreneurship contest run by Berthiaume Center at the Isenberg School of Management.

These projects all reflect the spirit of the Sierra Club news release about the Cool Schools: “Each of the schools ranked in the top 20 has displayed a deep and thorough commitment to protecting the environment, addressing climate issues, and encouraging environmental responsibility.”

Steve Goodwin, UMass Amherst deputy chancellor, said, “The ranking is especially welcome because it recognizes the broad scope of the flagship campus’s commitment to responsible stewardship of the environment today while training the scientists, engineers, and managers who will embrace the challenges of sustainability and climate change into the future.”

Recent actions by UMass Amherst to address environmental issues include creation of the School of Earth and Sustainability; installation of the largest solar power project of any college in New England; and the decision to be the first major public university to divest its endowment from direct holdings in fossil fuels. (September 2018)