Highlighted Research in Sustainability

Dickinson faculty and students conduct research on pollinator decline using campus hives and partnerships with beekeepers.

Advancing Sustainability Locally & Globally

Biogas at the College Farm:
Max Lee '19 and Matt Steiman expanded biogas production by finishing construction of a second digester, effectively doubling the total production of gas at the farm during summer 2018. The collected biogas was used to process sheep fat for making soap, generate steam to sterilize potting soil, cook food, preserve pickles, mechanically split logs for the farm’s pizza oven, and even power a generator. By powering all these tasks with biogas produced on-site, the college farm reduced its consumption of non-renewable fuels normally used for these tasks (gasoline, propane and purchased electricity). Additionally, Max explored how biogas effluent could be used to aide composting food waste into nutrient-rich soil and fertilize different types of seedlings. His findings showed that compost piles fed with effluent resulted in more efficient composting, and that fertilizing seedlings with biogas resulted in larger plants that produced more vegetables! 

Pollinator Decline:
Dickinson, Pennsylvania State University, University of Minnesota and University of California at Davis received funding in 2018 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) to translate basic research into online decision-support tools that help beekeepers and land managers maintain and expand populations of managed and wild bees. This work is being carried out by Maggie Douglas, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Sara Soba ’21 and Karan Shakya ’20.

FARMDATA is an open-source web-based database system for entering and reporting crop production records, including seeding, transplanting, harvest, cover crop, compost, fertilization, irrigation, pest scouting, spray activities, packing and distribution records and customer invoicing. This is a direct output of student faculty research between Tim Wahls, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Asir Saeed ’16, Hieu Le ’16 and Maurice Royce ’16 and the Dickinson College Farm. The FARMDATA portal, accessible by both smartphone and desktop computer, uses "smart" forms that minimize incorrect records while saving farmer time by making calculations and "remembering" important data such as field sizes, spray and seeding rates. 

Nitrogen Footprint Tool Network:
Dickinson and six partner institutions in the Nitrogen Footprint Tool Network (NFTN), received the 2017 Campus Sustainability Research Award from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). In addition to Dickinson, the award was presented to the University of Virginia (UVA), Brown University, Colorado State University, Eastern Mennonite University, University of New Hampshire and the Marine Biological Laboratory of the University of Chicago for a groundbreaking study of reactive nitrogen emissions—a known cause of smog, algal blooms and weakness to the ozone layer, among other effects. Their collaborative study was published in the April 2017 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Sustainability. Elizabeth de la Reguera '14, Steven Fitzpatrick ’18 and Olivia Boggiano-Peterson ’17 particpated in the research.

Community Resilience in Carlisle:
A community-based research project for the Building Sustainable Communities course at Dickinson used the City Resilience Index (CRI)—a framework developed by Arup International and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation to measure community resilience in Carisle. Dickinson and Carlisle teamed up to become the first college and community in the world to use the tool, and Olivia Termini '19, Matt Pasquali '18, and