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Summer Undergraduate Mentored Research Grants

Apply Fall 2024

How to Apply
Illustration of wave energy generators

Funding to Support Faculty- and
Graduate Student-mentored Undergraduate Research Teams

Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability is supporting faculty-led summer opportunities for undergraduates conducting sustainability research, structured as a pair of undergraduate researchers mentored by a graduate student and faculty principal investigator. By offering this tiered mentorship structure, proposed projects are intended to prepare undergraduates to conduct independent research in a collaborative environment.


Impacts of Rural Out-Migration on Traditional Livestock Herding Practices in Mongolia

Mixed flock of livestock in Mongolia

Mongolia, at the heart of Central Asia, is the home of one of the largest remaining grassland ecosystems in the world. Grassland comprises 73% of Mongolia and supports over 67.1 million head of livestock and almost 181,000 herding families. Nearly one-third of the nation’s population relies on livestock production as its primary livelihood. However, rapid social and demographic shifts in rural communities, in combination with a changing climate, are threatening sustainable management of herding and grassland resources. This project will take advantage of a recent survey of herders in Mongolia to investigate how contemporary changes in migration are impacting livestock management practices.

Faculty Lead: Ginger Allington (Natural Resources and the Environment)

Remote Sensing of Greenland’s Supraglacial Hydrology in a Changing Climate

Water Filled Canyon, Greenland - photo by by Ian Joughin, Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Lab, University of Washington, Seattle, USA

Narrowing the uncertainty in future sea level contributions from the Greenland ice sheet requires a more complete understanding of ice sheet hydrology. In particular, constraining the rate and timing of surface meltwater runoff is critical to projecting future mass loss as melting moves further inland on the ice sheet. This project will use satellite optical remote sensing and airborne ice-penetrating radar data to study how meltwater flows across the ice sheet surface and how some of that water is temporarily impounded in subsurface buried lakes. The researchers’ work will provide greater insight into how and why meltwater transport and storage pathways vary between different regions of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Faculty Lead: Riley Culberg (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)

Refining the Selection of Stocked Strains of ‘Wild’ Food Fishes to Enhance Productivity and Nutritional Value

Brook trout in the Adirondacks

This project will introduce undergraduate researchers to the challenges of maximizing the quantity and quality of food produced under a changing climate, using hatchery-supported lake fisheries as a case study. They will compare growth rates and tissue nutrient content among the six strains of brook trout stocked by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to assess differences among strains from both food system and climate resilience perspectives. These projects will build upon our team’s recent finding that brook trout strains differ in temperature tolerances and that fish from different lakes have highly divergent concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids and heavy metals. Working in a collaborative environment at our Adirondacks field station, students will gain experience with fishery and climate change research methods, and their projects will clarify the potential for adjusting stocking practices to enhance the contribution of trout fisheries to food security in rural, low-income settings.

Faculty Leads: Thomas Detmer and Peter McIntyre (both Natural Resources and the Environment)

Cow-Calf Contact Effects on Cow Udder Health and Calf Pneumonia Risk

Holstein cow and calf (photo by Katie Callero)

Most U.S. dairy farmers follow current management recommendations to immediately separate a cow from her calf after she gives birth. However, recent research suggests that prolonged cow-calf contact may reduce the risk for mastitis in cows and respiratory disease in calves, lessening the need for antibiotics. While addressing food insecurity is of paramount importance globally, it is critical to ensure that solutions do not come at the detriment of livestock health and welfare, that they fulfill sustainable production needs, and that they meet consumer expectations. This project will evaluate differences in health and behavior between cows and calves that have prolonged contact or are separated immediately after birth. In addition to participating in collaborative research, an undergraduate will lead an independent part of the study focusing on cow udder health and milk production, or calf lung health.

Faculty Lead: Sabine Mann (Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences)

Group-based Influences on Pro-environmental Beliefs, Attitudes, & Behaviors


In practice, most climate change communication efforts focus on providing the public with information, but informational approaches have been shown to have limited effect. Interpersonal communication, however, may boost effectiveness of information. Recent research shows that conversation with family & friends increases knowledge about the scientific consensus on climate change and belief in its human cause. Further, under some circumstances, group discussion can increase motivation for the adoption of mitigation policies and practices. However, the parameters of these conversations are poorly understood. Team McLeod will conduct focus group discussions with affiliates of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester to examine how two parameters – familiarity among interactors and rapport-building – affect: (1) changes in knowledge, beliefs and attitudes, (2) intentions to adopt carbon footprint reduction behaviors, and (3) actual adoption of these reduction behaviors. These data will help develop best practices for having constructive conversations about climate change.

Faculty Lead: Poppy McLeod, Communication
Graduate Lead: Luke Dye
Undergraduates: Beck Kerdman, Garrett Spillerman

Quantifying the Formation of Lithium Resources for the Sustainable Energy Transition

Pegmatite in cliffs of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Accelerating the adoption of new forms of clean energy requires new geological resources to meet demand for the critical element lithium (Li). The World Bank estimates that by 2050, the demand for Li will quintuple 2018 production levels. The highest concentration of Li per ton of material is found in pegmatitic granite deposits, but little is known about the thermodynamic mechanisms that lead to high-grade, economically viable Li in these ore deposits. This lack of information hampers the ability to locate and identify new high-grade ore deposits. Team Holycross will conduct controlled experiments, with heat and pressure as variables, to measure these effects on the distribution of Li in granites. This information will enhance the accurate prediction of the distribution of Li resources.

Faculty Lead: Megan Holycross, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
Graduate Lead: Odalys Callejas
Undergraduates: Alfredo Con, Gabe Larouche

Design & Testing of Wave Energy Converter Farms to Meet Grid-scale Electricity Demands

Students demonstrate model for wave energy converter

Energy derived from water waves is a potential new form of clean energy, but it requires the development of wave energy converters (WECs) in order to apply it for grid-scale energy. This project begins with building 2 WEC prototypes – (1) RM3 extracts energy from the vertical motion of waves (aka “heave”), and (2) RM5 extracts energy from the horizontal motion of waves (aka “surge”). Testing occurs in a simulated environment, the Long Stroke Wave Tank. After testing individually, the team will build a mechanism to allow testing of the 2 prototypes to be conducted simultaneously in order to study how their interactions affect overall power output. Experimental conditions will be adjusted by order, spacing, and control systems, and the data will be analyzed to understand how best to optimize overall power output.

Faculty Lead: Maha Haji, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Graduate Lead: Olivia Vitale
Undergraduates: Aisha Brundan, Kavya Mittha

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