Sustainability grant accessible to student-led research groups

The Institute for Sustainable Solutions is offering a stimulus grant up to $2,500 to Portland State student and faculty groups interested in applying for the national research grants offered by the Environmental Protection Agency in the P3 (People, Planet, Prosperity) Award Program, ranging from $15,000 to $75,000.

Student-led sustainability research teams have until Friday to apply.

Stimulus grants issued by ISS are usually only offered to faculty, according to ISS Sustainability Curriculum Coordinator Jacob Sherman.

“This is the first time we’ve ever offered a student stimulus fund,” he said. “I think this is an immense opportunity for students in chemistry, urban studies and planning, architecture—maybe even community health and public administration as well.”

EPA’s P3 Award Program funds student-led scientific research focused on minimizing environmental damage and maximizing quality of life on a global scale. The concentrated areas of interest are energy, built environment, materials and chemicals, water, urban greenwater infrastructure, and clean cook-stoves.

The awards are split into two phases. The EPA is offering approximately 35 awards for Phase I and approximately six awards for Phase II, according to the EPA’s website.

The first phase is “to test, research, and develop innovative scientific projects or engineering designs that will promote sustainable development,” according to the ISS request for proposals. The Phase I grant, up to $15,000, lasts a year. Phase I grant recipients present their research at the National Sustainable Design Expo during spring 2016.

Those grantees will then compete for Phase II, an award up to $75,000. The purpose of Phase II is to actualize the research and demonstrate its sustainable solutions.

The ISS request for proposals states that faculty acts as a “Principle Investigator,” other faculty members can serve as “Co-Principle Investigators,” and a student is appointed to lead each team.

Sherman said the program is a good way for students to augment their academics, improve research skills and to contribute to the global community with its more complex problems.

So far, no students have applied.

“I haven’t heard back about it yet, but I’m not surprised by that. Typically, you don’t hear from anyone until the deadline,” Sherman said.

Physics doctoral student Simon Fowler is currently working on a water purification project using ultraviolet light. Fowler will apply for the stimulus fund to further develop his research.

Fowler stated in an email that his interest began with materials science at PSU. He sought an area of research that would benefit people as a whole, and that’s how he started studying water purification technology.

“Ultraviolet light can be used to disinfect water by destroying pathogens like bacteria and viruses,” Fowler stated in an email. “By adding a photocatalyst into the process, other organic pollutants such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and hormones can also be destroyed.”

Anyone who drinks water should be able to benefit from this research, according to Fowler. He stated that the purification “process works by oxidizing organic molecules in a similar way that hydrogen peroxide does.”

Director of the Center for Electron Microscopy and Nanofabrication Jun Jiao is investigating water decontamination with Fowler on the faculty side of the project. Fowler builds and tests components in her lab. Fowler stated that he’s also responsible for planning, analyzing and reporting.

“I am currently trying to get some ‘preliminary results,’ to display that we have a justifiable material for funding,” Fowler stated.

Emilio Molina, an undergraduate civil engineering student, is also on Fowler’s team. Molina said because of his engineering background, he mainly designs custom parts for the project.

“Once we have those prototypes, I also help in testing and the data analysis,” Molina said.

Originally, the focus of the ultraviolet water sanitation plan was to have it be solar powered. Now the focus is on optimizing the cleansing facilitator before progressing to improving materials.

“We have tried to develop prototypes that are only solar powered,” Molina said. “I think the process [now] is to have the catalyst optimized.”

Molina said the ISS stimulus grant will benefit him because it offers him a chance to do more research. He also said it will provide more opportunities for graduate school and will help him stay up to date with technology.

“It seems like not a lot of people know about [the ISS stimulus grant],” Molina said. “If they have a project that is worth it, I think that it is worth it to make it to the deadline. And I know that is a lot of work, but I think it’s beneficial, not just the grant, but networking at the conferences.”

The deadline for the Student-Faculty Sustainability Research Stimulus Program is Oct. 24 at 8 a.m.

For more information, contact Jacob Sherman via email at [email protected] or call 503-725-9120.