Rochester Technology

Can our computer junk be transformed into an electronic ecosystem? RIT boffins want to know.

If you’re like me, hearing the term “ecosystem” probably paints a mental picture of lush trees, sunshine, and wildlife – but computers?  Thanks to the kickoff of a 3-year study at RIT’s Golisano Institute of Sustainability, this new idea of “industrial ecology” may not be too far off.

Serving as the project’s principal investigator, assistant professor Callie Babbit and team of co-investigators have received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to adapt ecological models for the study of complex industrial and consumer product systems. The goal of the project, which found inspiration from the way living organisms cooperate and compete for natural resources, is to improve the environmental and economic performance of consumer electronics an average U.S.  household might own. According to Babbit,

“This project will be the first to draw parallels between the communities of organisms in nature and the communities of products that we manufacture and consume.”

Researchers spanning multiple disciplines at RIT will focus on all areas making up the life span of consumer electronics including the materials used during manufacturing, the energy consumed during use, and the waste generated as they become obsolete. The end mission is to determine improved design solutions that function better together; additionally, understanding the changes that take place over time will lead to more efficient recycling systems and components to “feed” the next generation.

At the study’s conclusion, members of Babbit’s team will present workshops to New York state industries on how industrial ecology methods can be integrated into green business operations.

The new era of ecosystems will soon be upon us. Lions, and tigers, and computers – oh my!


All pollution is local: study finds pollution from Asia commonly causes spikes in pollution in the US.

We’ve all heard of acid rain since the 80’s, but new studies are revealing just how far polluted air will travel. Nature reports that a team of US researchers measured air quality – specifically ozone levels – via satellite and other means to determine the source of pollutants at ground level. Their study reveals that, when ground-level ozone levels pushed beyond what the EPA considers acceptable levels, it was pollution carried over from Asia that was the culprit nearly half the time.

These study results point the way towards more global pressure on international standards of air quality. But they also raise a few questions. For example, if this is how much pollution in Asia has affected the United States, then how much as pollution from the United States harmed the rest of the world, particularly in those undeveloped-until-recently places we’re now criticizing? And second: if these studies prove the need for greater international cooperation among polluting nations, is it an irony that the country they came from is the one not signed to the Kyoto Treaty?

More links:

China is becoming more and more competitive in the realm of nanotechnology. The article notes that, while they have overtaken the US in the number of published journals on the subject, those journals have not elicited as many citations, which is basically academic for saying, “nobody gives a crap.”

Audubon Society members are being sought out to help aid in the continued monitoring of Emerald Ash Borer populations. Emerald Ash Borers are yet another invasive species of life that’s been making its way into the area, and bird-watchers, being out in the woods and looking at trees more than your run-of-the-mill citizen, are much more likely to see the signs of Ash Borer presence.

Politics Rochester Science

Is Rochester setting the right expectations in its crow removal experiment?

“Everybody gets cranky in February,” says Kevin McGowan of Cornell University. By this time of year, those pestered by crows all winter long are getting pretty sick of them. But is Rochester’s City government setting itself up for an unnecessary back lash by next fall, by not making the aim of the harassment project clear?

Rochester has a well-documented population of crows, with populations estimated well into the 20 and 30,000 range as far back as at least 1938. Reports stretching back 100 years and more mention the proliferation of our coal-black companions. Neither is that number at all unusual and meanwhile, crows are getting more and more used to being around humans. It seems clear that the birds are likely to stay for another 100.

But as Mike Wasilco of the Finger Lakes branch of the New York DEC points out, getting rid of Rochester’s crows is not the goal. Rather, the aim is to eliminate a public health concern that stems from the fact that crows are currently roosting in extremely large numbers along the river. Crow waste and debris littering those sites are a potential breeding ground for disease.

“The problem with the crows was the location of the roost and the size of that roost.” he says. “The harassment will likely cause the birds to move their roost to a more acceptable spot and may break the huge roost into several smaller roosts.”

Predicting what the end result will look like is not easy, however. One of the real challenges is that crows have very complex social lives and are adept problem-solvers. Whereas another animal can be expected to behave along some very predictable, instinctive lines, consistency in crows is about as unexpected as it is among humans.

Roosting behavior is analogous to human neighborhoods or even – dare I say it – social networks. Some birds will get together with the roost to sleep at night, others won’t. Some like to forage together, some prefer to do their own thing. And based whatever crow-specific preference, crows in Rochester seem to really dig roosting by the river. Its trendy, you might say.

This sets up a rather familiar theme for Downtown Rochester, as Mr. McGowan says, “Crows are a bit like teenagers. You can discourage them for a bit, but you can’t really stop them.” They’re going to do what they want to do, so we should all be glad they’re not roosting by the Liberty Pole.

Regardless, if the crows want to roost by the river, they’re going to roost by the river. This isn’t a problem that can be solved in a single season; handling crow population is management issue that will be with us a while. Says McGowan, its “like shoveling snow.”

Mr. Wasilco agrees, “Very often, there is a need to repeat the harassment program in following years if the crows begin roosting in unacceptable areas again.” But, he adds, “its much easier to discourage birds from a new site than from a well-established site.”

And therein lies the political problem: because Rochester started its program fairly late in the season, the crows have already established themselves in their preferred location. But, since they started late and crows typically do not roost together as much in spring and summer months, the short-term effect might make it look like the program has been effective.

With or without the harassment program, Rochester’s crows would likely be dispersed by March. With or without the harassment program, the roosts will return in the fall. And along with them, another $21,000 bill for harassment and the attendant howls of “wasteful spending.”