Skip to main content

Seth Laney: Enhancing Sustainability with Effective Material Management

In the wise words of Alex Trebek, “If you can’t be in awe of Nature, there’s something wrong with you”. When you consider how vital our natural environment is to our well-being, it’s only natural to feel a strong sense of respect. Furthermore, when you realize how these natural systems have been impacted by human developments, and the consequences of these conflicts, many would understand the need for remediation. In environmental science, I have gained a deeper understanding of these two systems, which has led me to the goal of creating a more sustainable society. Thankfully, I have learned that I am not alone in this pursuit, many organizations have taken notice of the ramifications of unsustainable practices and are working to both identify their problem, and solve it. This problem doesn’t even exist solely on the organizational level. Many individuals have no idea how the decisions they make impact the world around them. Decisions as simple as what to eat, what products to buy, or how to dispose of these products can have major consequences when not taken seriously. Most of us have heard of global warming and climate change, and some even realize the severity of these changes, but not enough are taking action to reduce their impact. The exact reason for this apprehension is unclear, maybe it’s simply a lack of knowledge, maybe they don’t see it impacting their quality of life so they push it off to the next generation, maybe they have financial incentives. Whatever the case, I want to take this moment to tell everyone that the change can simply start with yourself. You don’t need to make major sacrifices or life changing decisions, things as simple as recycling or composting can have a major positive impact. In this post, I am going to talk about the research group that I have spent my summer with, and the purpose of the project that we have been working on. Then I will discuss my role and my feelings about this. Finally I will discuss future plans.

Sorting newest sample. The four people closest to the camera are graduate and phd students while the four in the back are undergraduate research assistants. I leaned so much about how to accurately and effectively sort large amounts of materials.

This summer, I have been working as an undergraduate research assistant for the PAL Research Group at NC State University. The overall purpose of this research group is to find ways to reduce our carbon footprint on a large scale. To accomplish this task, the research started by researching major outputs of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Then different groups focused on different points of emission. Many members of this group specialize in material science, therefore most of the solutions involved finding sustainable alternatives in material usage. My group found that landfills are one of the largest emitters of carbon, along with many other hazards, so that is where we focused our efforts. Not only do landfills impact the atmosphere and contribute to global warming, improper management practices can impact the air and water quality of all surrounding people. Historically, we have seen how these issues have negatively impacted the quality of life of many innocent civilians, so that along with the many other factors is the reason for the solution that we’ve decided to develop. One way to stop landfill and reduce these emissions is to ultimately reduce the amount of waste going into these landfills. In order to do this, we need to be able to identify a large variety of materials, and accurately determine if they can be recycled or composted. Many materials are capable of being recycled and reused in the form of new products or energy.

Summer camp group in the lab. We talked to the students about the project and showed them the important pieces of equipment. This was one of my favorite experiences at this camp. The students were very engaged and asked good questions.

My group is working to create a program that can accurately differentiate products and determine their ability to be reused or converted into energy. In order to accomplish this, we essentially need a massive data repository. I worked alongside other undergraduate students to create this data repository using hyperspectral imaging, visual imaging, and other relevant categorical data. This process wasn’t always ideal, as we would occasionally work with waste samples, however, the understanding we had of the purpose, motivated us to work hard despite the conditions. Also, the Principal Investigator, Dr. Pal, along with our mentors, and others in this group made this experience very worthwhile. While I learned about the importance of discipline and hard work, I was also thankful for the working environment that they established. They were very welcoming and supportive and created an environment that I enjoyed working in. Furthermore, as many of the mentors were graduate and PhD students, I was able to see the projects that they worked on and even assist them in different phases. Overall this was a very beneficial experience and I want to thank my advisors, Ms. Garey and Ms. Champion, for connecting me with this experience and supporting me through this process.

This experience has helped me better understand the field that I wish to pursue which involves sustainable research and development. During this experience, I learned about the application of the scientific method which I will likely use frequently in my future career. I also learned how to effectively work with a team from many different backgrounds to achieve a common goal.