Apps for the Environment

Green Apps Forum

By Jeff Tumarkin

Almost six months ago I was asked to help manage the Apps for the Environment Challenge. I really had no idea what to expect as this was uncharted territory for EPA. We researched other government challenges and decided the only way we could possibly succeed without being able to offer prize money was to work closely with the developer and mobile user communities; to ask them what they need from us in order to develop Green Apps.

Now, after participating with hundreds of developers, students, open data specialists and government innovators at our “Building Innovation Through Partnerships” forum Tuesday, Nov. 8th, I can fully appreciate the contributions and collaborations from around the country that has created what will hopefully be a lasting foundation for an environmental data and developer community!

The forum included an afternoon of discussions, breakout sessions and recognition for the winners of the Apps for the Environment Challenge. It was amazing to see a room full of such diverse groups, from the young teenagers whose team was awarded Best Student App, to CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, and our own Chief Information Officer Malcolm Jackson, all together to celebrate one vision of putting environmental data into the hands of the public.

The Apps for the Environment Challenge resulted in over 100 ideas from users as to what environmental mobile applications they would like to see, and 38 finished apps. More than 2000 votes were cast for the Popular Choice Award, and the challenge itself became one of the most popular ever hosted on Challenge.gov.

During the Business, Tech and User Perspectives panel discussion, a key point mentioned was that if the federal government acts as a data wholesaler and not retailer, releasing bulk data in any computer readable format, this will lead to success with the developer community
At the end of the day, both Lisa Schlosser, Federal Deputy CIO, and EPA CIO Malcolm Jackson both reiterated that EPA will be looking for other means and opportunities for community building with the green apps community, and by working closely together we can accomplish great things through this continued engagement.

Personally, this has been the most exciting initiative that I have worked on in my 30+ years of working at EPA. Our Team did an amazing job, and it was truly and honor and privilege to work with such a creative and dedicated group of staff and managers. I am very excited about the future as we continue to work closely with developers and users. I am confident that if we continue to work together individuals and communities will benefit by having access to the information they need to make better decisions about their health and the environment.

About the author: Jeff Tumarkin, the communications lead for EPA’s Office of Information Analysis and Access, lives outside Washington, DC in suburban Maryland. When not working at EPA Jeff spends his free time cycling, kayaking, fishing and promoting environmental protection in his own community.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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: Emerging Science

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

By Dimetrius Simon

Recently I attended “Emerging Science for Environment Health Decisions” conference as a student contractor to the EPA.  I had just started and this was a new opportunity for me to hear first-hand from scientific experts about the advances that are emerging for new tools and improved approaches in environmental health decisions. For me, it was an introduction to the world of science.

Coming from a job at the Washington Post, this science conference once again opened my eyes to the intricate and fascinating study of environmental science that I can recollect from my college days. Not only did I find it intense and exciting at the same time, I also felt a keen sense of comfort as I sat amongst a room full of scientists taking notes on presentations some of which I may have had little experience on, but great interest in learning more about.

As I listened to Lesa Aylward – principal at Summit Toxicology – talk about Biomonitoring and how this exposure tool is useful when particular chemicals are widespread and frequent in a selected population; then I heard EPA’s Dr. Thomas Knudsen’s talk about predictive models with liver tumors and rat fertility. It occurred to me that a mobile App would be a great tool to demonstrate some of these concepts.

As EPA evolves in the mobile world and attracts a bigger audience, I think that there’s no better way to allow EPA scientists to display cool graphs that depict their latest scientific findings than on an App. We live in a fast and mobile society and easy access to relevant and quick new information is a must. Having a mobile App to enable scientists, professionals and students to share their cool findings, photo galleries, data and graphs, would be very intriguing.

In fact, I think , after listening to this conference, and seeing the passion of these scientists, that it’s a wonderful feeling to see how working on the smallest things and using them to create something much bigger could potentially save a life, a community or even bring us a step closer to a cure or prevention. I feel like my awareness of this “science” in my everyday life will improve the decisions I make as I try to attend as many more EPA conferences to learn as much as possible about the world of environmental science.

About the Author: Dimetrius Simon is a student contractor working with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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 – Apps for the Environment: The New Way of Communicating Science and Information

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

Want to know the weather tomorrow, the next movie showing, or the latest Hollywood gossip? There’s an app for that! In the age of smart phones, answers are literally at your fingertips on your iPhone or Android device. There’s no need to scour the internet for solutions when you can simply download an app that will gather the relevant information for you in a user-friendly application on your phone.

Working in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, I constantly hear of the developments and data that Agency researchers and scientists have produced. These scientists work diligently year around on protecting the environment and human health as outlined in Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s Seven Priorities. What better way is there for communicating the resources and discoveries of EPA researchers than in an easy-to-use app on your mobile device?

challengebanner_MThe EPA Apps for the Environment Challenge invites software developers to use EPA data to develop apps so the public can understand or protect the environment in their daily lives. Want to know the air quality where you live or which cars have the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions? There could be an app for that!

EPA has a lot of data that is publicly available. This data includes information from the Toxic Release Inventory which tells you facilities that dispose of or release toxic chemicals, real time air quality monitoring, green vehicle guide that gives environmental performance guides for vehicles, a Superfund website, and chemical toxicity information from the ToxCast database. Because these datasets are overwhelming for those with less technical and scientific knowledge like me, EPA held a series of webinars where data owners explained the information.

If you’re like me and don’t know the first thing about developing an app, you can still participate by submitting ideas for apps. These ideas are useful in providing developers and researchers a window of insight into the needs and wants of the public.

For more information and rules, visit the Apps for the Environment website. The deadline for submissions is September 16. In the meantime, you can find out the latest information on Twitter, just search #greenapps.

About the Author: Jing Zhang is a student services contractor working with the science communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.