Archive for April, 2014

News That Goes Against the Original Paradigm

Check out what NAU has found out!



Research published inScience found that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause soil microbes to produce more carbon dioxide, accelerating climate change.

Two Northern Arizona University researchers led the study, which challenges previous understanding about how carbon accumulates in soil. Increased levels of CO2accelerate plant growth, which causes more absorption of CO2 through photosynthesis.

Until now, the accepted belief was that carbon is then stored in wood and soil for a long time, slowing climate change. Yet this new research suggests that the extra carbon provides fuel to microorganisms in the soil whose byproducts (such as CO2) are released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

“Our findings mean that nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as we previously thought,” said Kees Jan van Groenigen, research fellow at the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU and lead author of the study. “By overlooking this effect of increased CO2 on soil microbes, models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have overestimated the potential of soil to store carbon and mitigate the greenhouse effect.”

In order to better understand how soil microbes respond to the changing atmosphere, the study’s authors utilized statistical techniques that compare data to models and test for general patterns across studies. They analyzed published results from 53 different experiments in forests, grasslands and agricultural fields around the world. These experiments all measured how extra COin the atmosphere affects plant growth, microbial production of carbon dioxide, and the total amount of soil carbon at the end of the experiment.

“We’ve long thought soils to be a stable, safe place to store carbon, but our results show soil carbon is not as stable as we previously thought,” said Bruce Hungate, director of the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU and study author. “We should not be complacent about continued subsidies from nature in slowing climate change.”

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NAU News Will Make Your Jaw Drop!

Check out this article about what the students are doing on NAU’s campus! So proud to be a Lumberjack!



In a flurry of deadline-driven design, analysis, data collection and testing, two teams of engineering and business students from vastly different perspectives converged on a straightforward idea: If you can build this, we can sell it.

What the five mechanical engineering seniors have built is an ultra-low cost water heating system—a product that five MBA students are convinced “could hit the market and work.” They will present their findings as Northern Arizona University’s entry in the P3 National Sustainable Design Expoand competition this weekend in Washington, D.C. The event is being held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and hosted by the USA Science and Engineering Festival.

The opportunity arose after a $15,000 People, Prosperity and the Planet grant was awarded last year to Brent Nelson, NAU assistant professor of mechanical engineering. His proposal for a solar water heater became a student project, and now NAU is joining teams from across the country to vie for a grant of up to $90,000 to take their completed design to the world.

One of the engineers, Austin Chott, said he and his capstone team members—Christopher Allen Heine,Thomas GriffinMatt Beckham and Saleh Alsadiq—spent the fall “designing, analyzing and predicting” before building and testing in early 2014. They had a working model the first week of March.

“It went pretty well, almost exactly as we had predicted during our theoretical analysis,” Chott said. “We’re impressed with the performance in a residential setting.“

Chott said the engineering team used previously designed concepts for the solar collectors, but they were “built from the ground up” using less-expensive parts.

That focus on cost savings proved to be the initial obstacle for Jesse Ocana and his MBA teammates—Shuo LiKaila CacalDevin Woodruff and Joe Caton—who worked under the guidance of Kathy Savage, professor in the W.A. Franke College of Business, to resolve cost effectiveness with marketability.

“You could see a dichotomy right away between the way the engineers saw it and the way we saw it,” Ocana said. “So we thought, ‘Where do we drive value for the customer while still making an attractive proposition for them?’ ”

While the engineers focused on the physics of heat transfer, the business students turned to target costing, conducted surveys of potential customers and plugged data into various business models.

“The way we went through it is the way you do any startup,” Ocana said. “If you skip any of the steps we went through, you’re going to fail.”

The result is a system targeted for do-it-yourself homeowners who have the time and motivation to save on their water heating costs. The system preheats 50-60 gallons of water so that a home’s gas or electric water heater has far less work to do, potentially resulting in hundreds of dollars in cost savings.

While judges at the competition will draw their own conclusions, the students already know they have come away with valuable experience in their respective fields and some insights about working across disciplines.

As Chott put it, “The biggest challenge was for the two teams to work out a communication system. It was a matter of meeting their needs while meeting ours, so we learned we couldn’t just give them an engineering answer.”

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NAU and Partners Bond With the Wind

A collaboration focused on harnessing wind energy will launch in May, with support from Northern Arizona University, Utah Clean Energy and Interwest Energy Alliance.

The Four Corners Wind Energy Regional Resource Center, one of six recently established by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is designed to increase wind literacy and provide support to regional policymakers engaged in decisions about the future of wind energy in the West.

NAU’s Institute for Sustainable Energy Solutions will play a key role in outreach, education, consultation and delivery of research.

NAU’s role in the project will focus on initiatives with Arizona’s state, county and tribal decision-makers targeting areas that have the most promise for wind energy development.

“This resource center supports our university effort to be a solid, reliable partner in our community and the state,” said Karin Wadsack, project director for the Institute for Sustainable Energy Solutions. “It will allow the wind research and outreach initiatives at NAU to make a greater contribution to wind development in the Southwest.”

Wind energy development in the Western United States has steadily increased over the past 10 years and provides numerous economic benefits to local communities, Wadsack said. The wind resource centers will better connect NAU with partners in the wind industry and national laboratories to identify gaps in knowledge and collaborate on research.

Dominique Bain, doctoral candidate in earth sciences and environmental sustainability, will focus her dissertation on performing production cost modeling of electricity systems across the West to identify the best grid integration practices that can decrease the cost of using renewables like wind.

“Being a part of this center will allow the work we’re doing to have an even greater impact,” Bain said. “Grid integration is an area of research that has huge implications that we just don’t think about.”

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