Published: Aug. 5, 2021 By

Info graphic showing interdisciplinary aspects of the themeFaculty within the theme represent six departments in the college of engineering and four departments within the broader CU Boulder community. 

The Resilient Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Interdisciplinary Research Theme is funding two new projects this summer through its seed grant initiative. 

Interdisciplinary Research Themes in the college are made of faculty, staff and students. They help researchers coordinate faculty hires, share facilities and use seed funding to leverage work that could provide transformational societal impact. Seed grants in the RISE IRT are open to all affiliated faculty and come in a variety of formats.

IRT Director Shideh Dashti said she is looking forward to seeing the results coming out of these two projects in the future.

“We started this IRT to leverage, support and build on the world-class expertise in disaster resilience, sustainable design and social justice across engineering and the CU Boulder campus,” she said. “Both these projects match that goal nicely.”

Understanding construction impacts on pollution, health and social structure 

Major construction projects across the U.S. are necessary for large-scale change, however they may also result in negative health impacts to local communities and create disruptions. Things like noise and air pollution and added traffic, for example, can have an outsized impact on community health and social structure. 
This project, run out of the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering by Yu-Hong Wang, partners with three environmental justice communities in Denver to understand and help mitigate disruptions. It focuses on two major projects: a highway reconstruction project and related neighborhood redevelopment. 

The goal is to create a socio-technical system that equips community members with sensors to monitor air and noise pollution and a set of smartphone apps to report their individual wellbeing and social relations. 

The home as a learning-living lab 

The second project is a collaboration between several groups at CU Boulder and Tuskegee University. It aims to create a participatory engineering design model that explicitly addresses historical and institutional racism. 

Using land provided by Harvest Dreams, a community nonprofit organization, the two institutions will create a learning-living lab around a hybrid "Earth ship" container home concept. Proposed elements of the home include using recycled materials in construction, solar power and rainwater catchment with collected water stored in barrels and then buried for insulation. 

Other design aspects include recycled materials for lighting, geothermal heating and cooling, and hydroponic methods to grow fruits and vegetables. Leadership at CU Boulder includes Scholar-in-Residence Jessica Rush Leeker, and participating groups are the College of Engineering and Applied Science, Mortenson Center in Global Engineering and the Program in Environmental Design.