BUFFALO, N.Y. – Investigating how latent pesticides affect
public health. Creating window coatings that reduce
buildings’ heating and cooling costs. Developing policies to
promote land conservation. Examining what incentives prompt people
to buy hybrid cars.
These seemingly disparate activities are not disparate at all
– in fact, they reflect a commitment to comprehensive
environmental research at RENEW, the University at Buffalo’s
new interdisciplinary research initiative.
(Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water)
promises to tackle the most difficult and pressing issues that
society faces in trying to create a more sustainable world.
The institute will engage more than 100 faculty members from
across six university schools and colleges. They specialize in
fields like environmental engineering, chemistry, geology, law,
architecture, community health and sustainable business
UB has dedicated up to $15 million over the next five years,
with a goal to hire 20 new faculty members who have expertise in
aquatic ecology, pollution law, renewable energy, behavioral
economics, environmental planning, community health and other
areas. UB will also create new academic programs and hire a
world-class scholar and researcher to direct the institute. A
search for the director is underway.
RENEW is the model for UB’s “Communities
of Excellence” initiative – under the UB 2020
strategic plan – which brings together researchers from
across the university to address society’s toughest
challenges and carry out transformative educational, research,
creative and community engagement activities.
Here’s a closer look at some of the research happening
Mention the word “architecture” and most people
think about how a building looks. Not Martha Bohm.
Bohm, assistant professor of architecture, is equally interested
in how a building “acts” – for example, how much
energy and water it consumes, and how it uses materials and creates
waste. Bohm’s research and teaching centers on developing
buildings and communities that have minimal environmental
She and other faculty members, including some RENEW researchers,
are advising a group of students who
are building a solar-powered house to compete in the U.S.
Department of Energy’s elite Solar Decathlon competition.
Nearly 40 percent of the energy consumed in the United States
occurs in commercial and residential buildings, the U.S. Energy
Information Administration says.
Sarbajit Banerjee, associate professor of chemistry, is working
to lower that number by developing a vanadium oxide window
coating that reflects the sun’s heat during hot days, and
lets in the heat during colder weather.
The coating could also be useful in computer chips, night-vision
instruments and missile-guidance systems.
Pesticides prevent diseases from spreading, protect crops and
help control invasive species. But their widespread use causes
damage to the environment and human health.
James R. Olson, UB Distinguished Professor in the School of
Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, as well as the School of Public
Health and Health Professions, investigates
how environmental and occupational exposure to pesticides,
especially organophosphate pesticides, affects human
Supporters of his research include the National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences and the U.S. Environmental Protection
Massive algae blooms in Lake Erie and elsewhere threaten
fisheries, tourism and drinking water.
Haznedaroglu, assistant professor of environmental engineering,
and his students are working to fix the problem in Lake Erie by
developing biological control mechanisms against harmful algae
blooms that limit the occurrence of toxic compounds.
Additionally, Haznedaroglu studies the nutritional capacity of
certain algae species, as well as their suitability to be used as a
biofuel feedstock. He also conducts research into food
sustainability and safety; for example, he studies how pathogens
like salmonella behave in water and soil matrices.
Land conservation agreements are generally written with
today’s landscape in mind. But what happens when climate
change alters the land?
Owley, associate professor of law, examines these issues and
develops plans that help conservationists adapt to change in ways
that will continue to yield environmental benefits.
Additionally, Owley spearheads a project called Environmental
Law Collaborative that has gathered legal academics nationwide to
discuss environmental issues, including land conservation.
Some consumers buy hybrid cars because of the environmental
benefits. Others view it more as an economic decision –
improved gas mileage, tax rebates, etc.
“Debu” Talukdar, professor of marketing, studies
these scenarios on micro- and macroeconomic levels. He’s
particularly interested in how economic policies help or hinder
sustainable economic development through their impacts on consumer
and industry behavior.
His research has been cited by scholars who work in economics,
environmental policy, public health, law, management science and
Note: This is the first in a series of articles that will
explore how RENEW researchers are tackling complex environmental