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April 20, 2007

Innovative Purdue class studies university's carbon emissions

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Students on Monday (April 23) will present the results of research from a new course at Purdue that focuses on measuring carbon emissions and proposes potential reduction strategies.

The 28 students in the "Carbon Neutrality at Purdue" class will share the results of their group project at 7 p.m. in the Pfendler Hall Dean's Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

"This class used a multidisciplinary approach to tackle a real-world challenge and exposed students to an entirely new learning experience," said Paul Shepson, professor of analytical and atmospheric chemistry and director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center. "For each session, the course was instructed by a team of six professors from different disciplines. The class was open to undergraduate and graduate students in any field of study, and the entire class worked together on a single project."

How to deal with decreasing carbon emissions is a very complicated problem, said Shepson, who also is an instructor of the course. In order to study the problem, the group needed to limit the scope of the measurement to carbon dioxide emissions and focus on a relatively small, well-defined area, he said.

"The Purdue campus fit these needs and was an excellent case study," he said. "The students measured the carbon footprint, or sum of carbon dioxide emissions, and possible ways individuals and groups can help reduce these emissions. Because Purdue's modes of energy consumption are similar to those at other institutions, the methods and results of this project can be applied to studies at other universities. This presentation to the community can expand awareness beyond campus and throughout the nation."

Administrators, faculty and students at Purdue are conscious of humans' environmental impact, said Daniel Schuster, who was one of the course instructors, and project engineering group manager in Purdue's engineering, utilities and construction department.

"In addition to educating students, the results of the class project will allow the university to further examine the energy-saving initiatives and programs already in place and options available for future efforts," Schuster said. "Purdue is aggressively working to increase energy efficiency and reduce its impact on the environment. The research results from this class will provide information for future conservation programs and a baseline we can use to monitor how we do."

The goal of this presentation is to further our relationship and dialogue with university administrators and community officials, Shepson said.

"The impact of greenhouse gases on the environment is one of the greatest problems facing the world today," Shepson said. "In addition to learning skills for their careers, students should learn how their behavior and actions impact the world in which they live."

Kai Van Horn, a senior studying interdisciplinary engineering and a student in the class, said coursework that incorporates multiple disciplines is important to prepare students for the future.

"It allowed students to view an issue from several perspectives," he said. "Complex social and environmental issues require cooperation and support from a variety of sources in order to be successfully addressed. It gave us a context for what we had learned in lectures and other classes."

Group work throughout the class prepared students to work in teams and to work with individuals of different backgrounds, Van Horn said.

"In our future careers, we will have to work with people who may have different perspectives from ours," he said. "It is important to learn how to relate, find common ground and best use individual strengths to successfully complete a task."

Megan Walker, a graduate student studying earth and atmospheric sciences who is a student in the class, said she believes the class illustrates Purdue's commitment to building knowledge and finding solutions to challenges facing the world.

"The establishment of this course indicates that the university is open to exploring and implementing new ideas," Walker said. "This class is cutting-edge and it is wonderful that Purdue is willing to investigate the implementation of energy conservation and carbon reduction strategies on its campus."

In addition to Shepson and Schuster, course instructors include Leigh Raymond, a professor in the Department of Political Science; Larry Nies, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering; Kevin Gurney, a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; and John Graveel, a professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Writer: Elizabeth Gardner, (765) 494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu

Sources: Paul Shepson, (765) 494-7441, pshepson@purdue.edu

Daniel Schuster, (765) 494-3407, dcschuster@purdue.edu

Megan Walker, meganwalker@purdue.edu

Kai Van Horn, kvanhorn@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

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