American Association for the Advancement of Science

Science Wednesday: EPA’s P3: Looking to the Future

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Aaron Ferster

“Green Jobs. Green Economy. Innovation.”

That’s how EPA’s Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe summed up his overall feeling of optimism and appreciation for the students behind the sustainable designs displayed this past weekend at the National Sustainable Design Expo featuring the 8th Annual P3 Competition.

The P3—People, Prosperity and the Planet—competition is an annual event for college and graduate school teams. The competition taps the creative energy of students from across the country to spark innovation and engage them to design, build, and test prototype technologies that offer sustainable, real-world solutions to human health and environmental challenges.

Teams display their work to compete for the P3 Award and funding—up to $75,000—to advance their winning ideas from the design phase to the marketplace or community. Previous winning P3 teams have turned their ideas into successful small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

“Whether your team heads back to school with a P3 Award or not” Perciasepe noted, “everyone here has a great future to look forward to.”

He shared how his sense of optimism stemmed from a look both backward and forward. Looking at recent history, he recalled his own student days: a time when there was still lead in our gasoline, cities were all too often shrouded in smog, and river’s smelled of sewage.

But these challenges have now largely been met. And while today’s environmental and related human health challenges seem even more daunting, the P3 teams show us that there is a new generation of scientists, engineers, architects, and others ready to tackle them.

After an initial peer review process, this year winners were selected from 55 competing teams following two days of judging by a panel of national experts convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Want to develop your own sense of optimism? Check out this year’s P3 Award Winners:

  • University of Massachusetts-Lowell for novel greener routes to halogen-free flame retardant material
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for solar powered water collection, containment and self regulating distribution system
  • Purdue University for development of community power from sustainable small hydro power systems
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Oglala Lakota College for use of bone char for the removal of arsenic and uranium from groundwater at the Pine Ridge Reservation
  • Drexel University for lightweight green roof systems
  • Stanford University for innovative university-school partnerships for renewable energy projects and education

About the author: EPA science writer Aaron Ferster is a frequent Greenversations contributor.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Science Wednesday: A Hedgehog was my ‘Sputnik Moment’

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Aaron Ferster

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the annual science fair at my daughter’s elementary school. I joined several hundred other proud parents in the loud, over-crowded gymnasium to bask in the collective genius of our children.

As I’ve come to expect, the projects were impressive. There were investigations exploring which substance—sand , salt, or flour—melted ice the fastest (it was salt); what kind of pet rodent could learn to negotiate a maze the fastest (a rat), and which paper towel absorbed the most water.

I finished checking the other presentations just in time to watch the judge interview my daughter about her own project: the self-anointing behavior of her pet hedgehog. For largely unknown reasons, hedgehogs sometimes contort backwards so they can reach the quills on their back and cover them with a coating of frothy saliva. Once you get past the yuck factor, it’s really quite fascinating.

My daughter put her hedgie in front of newspaper, a toy hedgehog, and a magazine to compare anointing responses. It anointed the most when confronted with newspaper, which it would bite and energetically chew up. There was no response at all at  the toy.

At the exact same time the elementary school students were showing off their experiments, some of my colleagues were preparing to share EPA research activities at a gathering of slightly older, more experienced scientists: the annual meeting of The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS meeting is just one of several gatherings where EPA scientists and science communicators go to share their work every year. For scientists, such events serve as important venues to share their latest findings, meet colleagues, and cultivate new research partnerships in support of EPA programs protecting human health and the environment.

Next month EPA scientists and their work will be prominently featured at the 5oth Anniversary celebration of the Society of  Toxicology. In April, EPA’s own Earth Day activities will include bringing college and university student teams together at the 8th Annual P3 Awards : A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet.

Whether it’s the scientific presentations presented by elementary school students or the world class scientists gathering at AAAS, there seems to be lots of enthusiasm for sharing science. I always look forward to the next event. And who knows, someday soon maybe I’ll learn more about why hedgehogs self anoint.

About the Author: Science-writer Aaron Ferster is the editor for Science Wednesdays and a frequent contributor.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.