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!