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Finding Sustainable Solutions to Global Challenges

The challenges facing our planet would be dire if not for the unparalleled opportunity accompanying them. Knowledge and innovation abound, and no place is better suited to make monumental breakthroughs in areas such as renewable energy, sustainable design, and natural resource conservation than the University of Minnesota. With the generosity of donors providing the spark, the drive to discover solutions has never been greater.

All Aboard for Large Lakes Conservation

Crew with docked Blue Heron research vesselNearly 30 times every year, the Blue Heron, the research vessel of the Large Lakes Observatory at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, takes University faculty and students onto the Great Lakes for purposes of research and education. Annual gifts of $10,000 from the H.H. Weinert Foundation to UMD's Large Lakes Observatory help cover costs associated with the largest university-owned research vessel on the Great Lakes.

Donors also contribute to a general fund for Large Lakes Observatory research activities that supports projects on lakes ranging from those in the East African Rift Valley to the Great Lakes of North America. The goal is to study large lake processes and ecosystems to better understand the important roles large lakes play in the world.

"We take an oceanographic approach to understanding how these large lakes work," explains Large Lakes Observatory Director Steve Colman. "This affects everything from tourism to fisheries to pollution studies to water resources. All of those depend on understanding what happens when one of these large bodies of water gets stressed or changed."

Climb aboard the Blue Heron in a short video.

Collaborating with Mother Nature

Regents Professor David TilmanDo global warming and climate change really exist? Does biodiversity matter? These and other pressing questions are being addressed at the U's renowned Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, an outdoor laboratory located on nine square miles of donated pristine land just north of the Twin Cities. It's one of the few sites around the world where long-term ecological research is conducted and where two of the most influential and recognized ecologists in the world are leading efforts to find sustainable solutions to some of today's most pressing environmental problems. Regents Professor David Tilman, director of Cedar Creek and McKnight Presidential Chair in Ecology, spent two years designing his latest experiment to simulate global warming "to predict how changing climate and changing diversity will impact the functioning of prairie ecosystems in Minnesota." Fellow Regents Professor Peter Reich, a Distinguished McKnight University Professor and F. B. Hubachek Sr. Chair, is in year 12 of an experiment that examines the interactions of plant species diversity, elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide, and nitrogen pollution. He hopes to continue raising money so the experiment can run for 20 years believing "the world has to rely on this experiment and one or two others to come to some pretty important conclusions and what that means for climate change."

Head into the field through a series of short videos on the Cedar Creek experiments.

A Shining Example

Students working on solar houseHere's a bright spot in new home construction: ICON House, the U's first-ever entry into the Solar Decathlon—an international contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy to teach college students about the benefits of renewable energy and green building technologies. More than 100 Twin Cities campus students volunteered to help build the U's inaugural solar house, representing disciplines such as architecture, engineering, construction management, interior design, and communications. "It's a huge commitment to undertake," said Shengyin Xu, an architecture graduate student and one of the managers of the student-led project. "We had two years to plan, design, and build a house for the Minnesota climate." Help came via material and monetary donations from companies such as Valspar, Honeywell, Marvin, and 3M. Individuals also made gifts, including Paul and Mary Reyelts, who said, "Witnessing the passion from the instructors and the students on a project that illustrates the possibilities for practical, sustainable energy renews our faith that the world is in good hands." The U's ICON House finished an impressive fifth in the 20-team competition.

Watch a series of short videos about the Solar Decathlon competition.

Clearing the (Water)Way

Researcher being interviewed about St. Anthony Falls Laboratory

When storm water makes its way back to the lakes and rivers of Minnesota, it should be just that—water. But often the runoff picks up sediments like sand and gravel, which can contain nutrients that can interrupt the biological balance of our bodies of water. "Cities are required to treat urban runoff and are trying to figure out how to deal with this," says John Gulliver, professor of civil engineering in the U's College of Science and Engineering and onetime holder of the Joseph T. and Rose S. Professorship in Civil Engineering who is among a team of researchers that can offer a solution. The "SAFL Baffle" is a device that when installed in sewer systems can slow down storm water runoff and trap harmful sediments. Created by Gulliver, adjunct professor Omid Mohseni, and graduate student Adam Howard, the device is named for the facility where it was invented: St. Anthony Falls Laboratory (SAFL) on the Mississippi River across from downtown Minneapolis, a city where the SAFL Baffle is already in use.

Tour the St. Anthony Falls Lab in a short video.

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