Published: May 12, 2015
Graduate student demonstrates water treatment techniques

The AirWaterGas Sustainability Research Network (SRN) is extending research efforts to communities throughout Colorado by building partnerships with community organizations and K-12 schools.

The goal of the AirWaterGas SRN, funded by a National Science Foundation grant, is to investigate and integrate research on the environmental, economic and social tradeoffs of oil and gas development into policy and regulations. The SRN is led by CU-Boulder professors Joe Ryan of civil, environmental and architectural engineering; Mike Hannigan of mechanical engineering; and Mark Williams of geography and the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research.

A teacher professional development program, run in partnership with the science education staff at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), is underway with eight secondary science teachers from regions of oil and gas development across Colorado. The teachers will spend a month in residency in Boulder this summer to develop curriculum on oil- and gas-related topics with the help of AirWaterGas researchers.

A second program, AirWaterGas Community Small Grants, aims to improve understanding of the risks and benefits of oil and gas development as identified by community organizations. Six community-led projects from across Colorado were selected in January 2015 to receive grants of up to $5,000 from AirWaterGas SRN and the CU-Boulder Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.

Several of the community projects incorporate cost-effective, portable air quality monitors that were developed by the Hannigan Lab in mechanical engineering. The monitors, called UPODs, allow individuals and groups to carry out preliminary investigations of community air quality with support from AirWaterGas researchers.

“We are thrilled to support these community groups and their interests in exploring air and water quality,” Hannigan said. “In turn, we look forward to learning about how different communities react to oil and gas development in their regions.”

The UPODs are also being used in high school classrooms in Delta and Weld counties for student-led research projects through a program led by mechanical engineering graduate student Ashley Collier. Ashley recently presented her work on air quality education and outreach at the American Society for Engineering Education Rocky Mountain Section Conference, and was awarded best paper.

The AirWaterGas SRN education and outreach efforts are enriching undergraduate and graduate education in environmental engineering, and building partnerships to share research with communities across Colorado.