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Discovery Blog

Discovery Blog

SEEDS Scholars are a group of Hiram College students focused on sustainability initiatives, preparing to be the next generation of environmental leaders. Follow the Discovery Blog to learn about their research, findings and questions.

Heat From Under Our Feet

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One of our goals with the TREE House is to implement a variety of green technologies, materials, and strategies in order to be able to share information with visitors about how (and how well) they work.  With the guidance of our Construction Manager Jim Zella, we recently installed a radiant floor heat system in our basement and future classroom. Through a network of wires or tubing set beneath the floor level, radiant floor systems circulate hot air, electricity, or hot water to warm the thermal mass of the floor (they can be installed in walls too).  This transforms floors into surfaces that provide even, steady heat, supplementing the warmth we try to generate in our homes when it’s cold outside.  Radiant floor systems have a number of clear advantages, they are: efficient, putting the heat where you live, and not up above your head  (our system is water-fed, i.e., hydronic, the most efficient...
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Sowing Seeds

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The fruits of months of labor were finally enjoyed on Saturday, April 26 at Hiram’s celebration of Earth Day “Roots of Resilience, Routes of Change.” Although the crowd was more intimate than we had planned, those in attendance report “learning a ton of useful stuff,” “having an awesome time,” and “lovin’ the tunes.” In case you missed it, here’s a re-cap. Renewable energy expert Dan Chiras does not characterize himself as an optimist (glass half-full) nor as a pessimist (glass half-empty), but rather as a chemist—“the glass is full: half in the liquid state and half in the air state.”  In other words, understanding the facts helps us see things more clearly.  Chiras had A LOT to say, but the takeaway message was this: when it comes to energy and climate, the number of opportunities for us to act is mind-boggling.  And given that roughly half of all of the energy consumed in the...
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Hey Hiram! What’s up with climate change?  Students from this spring’s Climate Change seminar took this question to the Hiram College community in the form of short survey. We asked students, staff, and faculty eight questions designed to get a sense of respondents’ awareness of climate change, knowledge of climate science, willingness to take action, and awareness of Hiram’s commitment to reducing our climate impact--and we heard from 149 of them.  It turns out that the Hiram College community is on par with the average U.S. population in acknowledging climate change and understanding that it has something to do with human activity (see Figure 1). The recently published International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report based on extensive review of available scientific evidence indicates that scientists are 95% certain that current global climate change is being driven primarily by human activity.  Recognizing the role of human activity in causing climate change is the first step towards...
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The TREE house has been under construction for a while now, but the pace is picking up!  On April 11th and 12th a handful of SEED Scholars, faculty, and other volunteers came out to help "demo" the attic to prepare it for insulation.  Early on in the design process it was determined that the benefits of sealing and insulating the attic outweigh the costs of keeping the space useable and trying to seal the house from the roof.   This demo involved (in the words of Nate Adams, Founder of Energy Smart Home Performance): Demolition of knee walls (short walls used to support the rafters in timber roof construction) Removal of floor boards within 18” to outside walls Removal of existing insulation within 18” from outside walls and above top plate It was hard work, but we had a lot of fun working together and it went way faster than we planned.  Stay tuned...
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Devlin's Flash Fiction: Winter's Advice

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Celine had learned to keep her hair cropped short in the winter so that it was easier to dry.  Going to bed with a wet head promised a cold by morning.  She pulled her grandpa’s sweatshirt over her long-sleeve blouse, liking—always having liked—how the heavy sleeves hung down over her long, fully extended fingers.  She must look like a child in a cartoon, the way the thing swallowed her up.  Next, she tied her wool scarf around her neck, the same way she might idly tie a strand of grass round a dandelion.  This part of her wardrobe must look silly too, she thought, because she’d never learned how to tie a scarf properly.  That’s if there even was such a thing as a proper way to tie a scarf.  She zipped her heavy winter coat on next, but the waistline of her sweatshirt still hung out past the coat, absurdly. ...
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Let us pretend for a moment that we had but one hand to play toward realizing a more sustainable society. What then would we choose to do? There is no shortage of things that nag at our humanity to rectify: the loss of biodiversity, social & financial inequity, climate change, world hunger, an infrastructure dependent on finite resources--just to name a few. Yet if we had to channel our energies toward one solution in particular, it becomes difficult. Naturally we would want to pick an action which would have a large impact on everything around it. We would want to strike a nerve in the body of the world. This is the type of heavy-handed thought experiment used to amuse oneself when alone at the Bistro during the wee hours of the morning on Valentine’s Day (hypothetically). By the final cup of coffee, the exact quantity of which will remain...
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  "Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all living creatures." Senator Gaylord Nelson    Earth Day began amid the best of times and worst of times.  April 22, 1970 was a turning point in environmental activism along with the unification at the end of an era that saw poverty and war on a regular basis.  An oil spill near Santa Barbara, California and protests of the Vietnam War began the start of a holiday that has now reached its 44th anniversary.  The goal was to make not valuing the earth a thing of the past.  Twenty million people participated in the first Earth Day and since then, 180 countries have joined in the celebration.   Join us at Hiram to celebrate Earth Day and to carry...
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Hibernating the Eco-Friendly Way

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In Ohio, the icy temperatures and relentless winds are upon us and, for some, it’s time to crank up the thermostat .  For those lacking an Ohioan’s grit (like me!), it might be tempting to dial it up to 90, put on a swimsuit and shades, and bask in the glorious warmth of central heating. Before you start to slather on sunblock, consider that, according to the U.S Department of Energy, over 50% of the average household’s energy usage is allotted to heating and cooling. Take a look at the graphic below – most energy used for heating comes from non-renewable sources like natural gas and oil as well as electricity (only a small portion of which comes from renewable sources).  This is not good news in terms of carbon footprints.  At my house, each of us prefers different temperatures, as is typical in many households. Our initial solution: CRANK the...
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Mere opinions…were as likely to govern people’s actions as hard evidence, and were subject to sudden reversals as hard evidence could never be. So the Galápagos Islands could be hell in one moment and heaven in the next,…Ecuadorian paper money could be traded for food, shelter, and clothing in one moment and line the bottom of a birdcage in the next,…and on and on. -- Kurt Vonnegut, Galápagos It can be difficult sometimes to understand why sustainable practices are important. I think one of the best ways to get a real understanding of any issue is to start with a simple question, so I’m going to do that here by thinking about the question, “Why should I turn off the lights?” I’m going to speak from my own personal experience, but I think that my perspectives and understandings might—and hopefully will—resonate with your own. There are three primary difficulties for me...
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OUR WORLD, OUR RESPONSIBILITY

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When I was a child, my mom used to sing an Indonesian song for me. The title of the song is “Ibu Pertiwi,” which roughly translates as “Mother Earth.” I remember the song’s lyrics: Look at the sorrowful, disheartening Mother Earth. Her tears are flowing as she is reminiscing over her lost diamonds. Forests, mountain, paddy fields, oceans are her wealth. Now she is crying in pain, sighing and pleading for her children to take care of her treasures.   As a little girl, I knew nothing about the hidden messages behind those words. I only knew that the song has a plethora of interpretation. However, as I learn more about the environment, I realize that the song is a reminder of how humans exploit natural resources. One of the many cases I’ve studied is on the topic of oil spillage and its danger. Oil spills are defined as man-made disasters since...
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Hiram College Sees the Light

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Did you know that Hiram College was voted the most well-lit campus in the United States 4 years in a row? Well, it wasn’t, but if there were such an award, I’m sure we’d be nominated. [Coleman Center, photo credit: Hastings+Chivetta] The fact is, we have TONS of lights, indoor and out, that do some huge damage to our energy bills and inflate our carbon footprint. To find out just how much energy the lights are sapping, I followed two electricity engineers, Rich and Steve, around campus as they took measurements as part of a light audit. The exciting news is that Hiram College is currently undergoing a "re-lamp"— we’re replacing older light technologies with newer, brighter, longer-lasting and more efficient technologies. This may seem like a small change, but Rich assured me that the savings will add up QUICK and we can kick those savings into larger, energy saving projects....
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There is an old saying in construction:  a house needs a good hat and dry feet.  As Environmental Studies professor Debbie Kasper recently shared, the TREE House’s feet were anything but dry (somehow I do not think those cracks in the foundation were meant to be a source of ventilation).  This foundation clearly needed some serious work, so the TREE House team decided to rebuild the whole thing and do it in a way that got them way more than just “dry feet.” Last February, the TREE House had an energy audit, complete with blower door and thermal imaging tests.  These measured the air flow in the TREE House.  The results showed an air flow rate of more than 6,000 CFM (cubic feet per minute) and 22ACH50 (the number of times in one hour that the inside air volume is replaced with outside air at a house pressure difference of 50...
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Fall is here again; some people see this as a time to sit inside a warm house with a cup of eggnog and a favorite movie on the TV. While this is fun and all, fall is my favorite time of the year for other reasons. I see it as a time of hayrides and hiking, and camping with friends, a time to get outside and have a blast. From Derthick’s Corn Maze to Monroe’s Orchard and Farm, we are lucky to live in Hiram since it is surrounded by local businesses that make fall a great time for everyone. These fall activities are not only fun for all ages, but by turning off your TV and Xbox to go with friends to pick apples and raspberries or get lost in corn maze you are doing yourself and the environment a lot of good. Being outside is natural for humans,...
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Planting the Seed

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A final flush of late summer heat welcomes the return of life to Hiram College. The long languid days of July and August are gone, replaced by the sudden arrival of hundreds of students. They congregate here from across the globe to discuss everything from current affairs to classical philosophy. Yet all too often this conversation contains a dark story. We in the Environmental Studies Program are aware of this darkness – we hear about it in our classrooms and watch it debated in public forums; we witness it every time we drive past a processing plant or an incinerator. As one grows in awareness, sometimes the world's dysfunctions come to seem ubiquitous and overwhelming.  But in developing the ability to manage that stress, we cultivate the capacity for effective action--the antidote to the hopelessness sometimes wrought by the many challenges of our times. Two weeks ago, participants in the Sustainability,...
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A Bigger Deal Than We Know

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Since we finally broke ground on the TREE House a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been reflecting more than usual on the value of this project and what this endeavor says about Hiram. Debbie was right when she wrote last week that we – EVST faculty – had no clue what we were in for when we proposed the TREE House two years ago. But what we did know was that this is important. I don’t mean that it is important to save the college a little money on utilities, give students a creative learning space, and show the world Hiram College is in the sustainability game. I mean important: as in our future depends on projects like this. We – political leaders, business people, the insurance industry, school children, most all of us -- know that we live on a finite planet with finite resources. We know that our biosphere...
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Hiram College knows that its students will be called on to solve big problems, deal with unexpected futures, and help make a better world.  At the core of Hiram’s vision of a liberal arts education is the commitment to helping students develop capacities for critical thought, practical problem-solving, reflective decision-making, and lifelong learning.  Although this may sound like a cliché—or a shameless plug for Hiram—it accurately describes our experiences in making the Teaching, Research, and Environmental Education (or TREE) House a reality here on Hiram’s campus.  Faculty in Environmental Studies continue to be reminded that, at Hiram, it’s not only students who get to do all those wonderful things.  The truth is that teachers (if they’re any good) remain perpetual students—continuing to develop and refine their abilities to think, solve, decide, learn, and do.  The story of the TREE House is just one example of all that in action at Hiram. ...
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There's a hole in the wall...

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...and it's making a hole in your wallet! An energy analyst joined us at the TREE House recently to conduct some of the initial steps in our energy audit. First, we conducted a “blower door test.” This entailed blocking off the front door and creating a semi-vacuum in the house. All doors opening to the outside had to be shut and all inside doors and cupboards had to be open to allow air to flow through the house properly.  While a fan, inserted into the plastic blocking off the front door, began to pull air out of the house, we SEEDS watched intently, praying that our eyeballs wouldn’t be sucked from our heads by the vacuum.  As it turned out, we had nothing to worry about.  The pull was much less dramatic than we imagined.  When the fan was switched on, it began to pull air in from the outside through small...
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The What House?

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Camouflaged amidst a row of houses along the quiet Dean Street just behind Gerstacker Hall at Hiram College, rests what appears to be an ordinary house.  A stone beaten path accented with towering maples lines the front of the house.  From the street, nothing distinguishes this house from the rest.  At least, not yet.            Starting this year, the TREE House (that stands for Teaching, Research, and Environmental Engagement) at 11745 Dean St. will begin to be transformed from an ordinary house into a buzzing hub of activity for the Environmental Studies department. A generous gift to Environmental Studies will make possible a renovation project which will include professor’s offices, classrooms, student workspace, and a place for public demonstration and workshops. But this is no ordinary residence-to-academic building transition. The aim is to incorporate sustainability principles into the house’s structure, energy and water systems, landscaping, social and...
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