Silk Tougher than Steel

Spider silk is an amazing material known to have a strength to weight ratio comparable to some steel alloys. However, a group of professors and students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology found an even more amazing (and useful) discovery. Spider silk was found to have a super contraction quality in the presences of moisture. They found this property accidentally when a strand of the silk started to rotate and coil during a study looking at the effects of humidity on spider silk. Upon further investigation, the phenomenon the researchers discovered had immediate applicability to robotics and prosthetics. 

Currently actuators simulate muscle movements in several forms: electric, pneumatic, and thermal actuation. A large number of the artificial muscles on the market today use Nylon, a non-biodegradable material that is largely responsible for the pollution of the ocean in the form of micro-plastics. The production of Nylon also releases greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, a major contributor in global warming. As the demand for more intricate prosthetics and robots increases, contributions to pollution and global warming will only get worse if an alternative cannot be found. Although spider silk could be this perfect substitution, as of today the supply of spider silk unfortunately is not enough to warrant this switch. However, research on generating synthetic spider silk through genetic engineering is making headway. Researchers at the University of Washington in St. Louis discovered a way to make genetically-synthesized spider silk that can rival the real thing just this past year! With this new and exciting discovery of super contraction there may be enough interest from private sectors to invest in creating genetically-synthesized spider silk to replace the Nylon currently being used in so many products today. If done, this manufacturing process could have a great impact not only in the engineering and robotics world, but also in the health and sustainability of our global environment.

Life as an EcoFellow: Morgan and Natasha

The Center for EcoTechnology (CET) is way ahead of its time. 

In the last three short years — from 2016 to 2019 — of its 40 year establishment, the Center for EcoTechnology has made a massive impact on consumer practices. CET is projected to help approximately 95,000 people and businesses in three ways. Firstly, CET is on track to reduce carbon emissions by 391,000 metric tons. This is the equivalent of taking 85,000 cars off the road for one year! Secondly, CET has helped to keep 80,000 tons of waste out of landfills. Thirdly, CET has saved the equivalent energy of powering 35,000 homes for a year. But, best yet, they have saved $70 million (that’s right million!) in lifetime savings for both individuals and businesses by “going green”.

Change-Agents Combating Climate Change.

This non-profit organization helps both individuals and businesses to “go green” by reducing energy and waste consumption. Their website has a fantastic step-by-step guidance system that discusses renewable energy incentives that are available at the local, state, and federal levels. Often these local, state, and federal initiatives work with Solar Access and are funded by both the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Department of Energy Resources.

These three organizations offer credibility to the Center for EcoTechnology’s mission. Between qualification, certification, and other forms of quality controls, CET clients are assured that “going green” can be profitable for both firms and individuals. Included in profitability metrics is also the inherent good generated by thoughtful, conscientious consumerism. In terms of the financial breakdown, the Federal government provides a 30% solar tax credit and Massachusetts also provides a 10% solar tax credit. These type of sensible policies are just one of many reasons why the solar industry is growing so rapidly!

Green Practices Galore!

Not only does CET focus heavily on waste reduction, but they also provide assistance on reduction guidance and how to optimize food donations, trash collections, which construction and demolition materials to use, and other topics on waste. Just like a for-profit organization that provides business to business (B2B) services, the non-profit matches people and businesses with recycling and redemption facilities. The Center for EcoTechnology truly maximizes ways to make recycling, reusing, and waste reducing easy. In Massachusetts, they rely on a partnership with RecyclingWorks to get the job done.

We at Counter Current love to write about the environment. Even more fun than writing about the environment is the ability to feature good people who are passionate about an environmentally-focused cause. Therefore, it was an absolute no-brainer getting the chance to interview a couple of recent college graduates, Morgan Laner and Natasha Nurjadin, who have delved deep in CET’s mission through their 11 month EcoFellowship Program

Morgan Laner

Morgan loves trash! While studying at Rollins College in Environmental Studies, she made the leap to study abroad her sophomore year in Australia. This decision is what sparked her passion about waste. While she was in Australia, Morgan attended a lecture. When she walked in and sat down, she initially thought it was just going to be like anything else — just a lecture. However, this one was different. The lecturer was enthusiastic about the material and discussed why the concepts of “zero waste” and “voluntary simplicity” matter in our society. Morgan recalled that it was at this moment when it all clicked. When Morgan returned to Rollins College, she increased her focus and became heavily involved in sustainability programs on campus. In particular, she focused her energies on reducing waste, increasing recycling practices, and she created the “plastic bag ban” at school.

Not only is Morgan an EcoFellow who focuses on Program Operations, but she also enjoys the challenge. Working at a nonprofit, the challenge she encountered was how to sell a free service. When she would cold call individuals, firms, and partake in other forms of outreach, she noticed most people aren’t used to hearing about free products. Her second love is crafting. In the EcoBuilding Bargains store, Morgan has demonstrated how waste can be diverted from landfills in creative and eco-friendly ways.

Another experience Morgan particularly enjoyed during her EcoFellowship was the opportunity to grow professionally. Such opportunities included shadowing other members of the CET team, talking with experts in fields she was interested in learning more about, and participating in a Career Day organized specifically for her and the other EcoFellows. For Morgan, she knows she wants to stay in the environmental sector and share her passion for waste reduction with others, so this opportunity was key toward reaching her future goals.

Natasha Nurjadin

Over the last 6 months, Natasha’s concern for the environment has really flourished! She credits the Center for EcoTechnology’s EcoFellowship Program as a key influence in developing her concern. Before her EcoFellowship, Natasha studied Earth & Environmental Science and History at Wesleyan University and was involved in the University Sustainability Office, accidentally. Her intent was to work in the Administration Office, but Natasha quickly shifted gears towards sustainability when a spot opened up.

Upon becoming an EcoFellow, Natasha found herself on the “Lifestyle Talk Shows” on Mass Appeal TV every Thursday morning. On the local station, Natasha had a platform to share her ideas with 1,000s of viewers. This platform exposed Natasha to become more comfortable with advocacy and public speaking. However, Natasha is still committed to finding a quantitative way through data management to provide an eco-friendly perspective to individual consumers and firms!

Natasha’s involvement on Building Science and Solar Access has led her to combining several atypical skills. In particular, she has learned how to incorporate urban planning with energy efficiency — not a practice most recent college graduates are familiar with! In the future, Natasha plans to continue her education in graduate school through an environmental program ranging from sustainability to urban planning. Her interests are expansive, but mesh together nicely!

In just half a year, these amazing women have done so much for the environment!

If you liked reading about Morgan and Natasha and want to meet more people like them, check out CET’s website! Further, if you want to be like Morgan or Natasha, then mark your calendars! The EcoFellowship Program Application is open and available until February 17. Follow them also on Twitter, @CETOnline!

Green Bridges

After I-75 was built in northern Michigan, deer roadkill increased by 500%!

An important part to an ecosystem’s bio-diversity is its size and how it connects to the land around it. Highways can be one of the largest inhibitors an ecosystem’s bio-diversity. Often, a highway may run through an ecosystem, essentially splitting it into two pieces. This can cause severe injury to both people and animals, when the species stranded on one side needs to migrate to the other. Civil engineers realize how damaging this can be to an ecosystem, as well as, the safety of humans traveling along these highways. NASA even recognizes the importance of protecting wildlife even in the trajectory of their launches, demonstrated by their John F. Kennedy Roadkill Prevention Program.

Recently, civil engineers have made distinct efforts to lessen the strain these highways cause on the environment. For example, bridges can be covered in grasses, bushes, trees and other natural foliage to match the surrounding highways, which offers protection to many smaller animals.

These efforts have led us to some amazing innovations like the “Green Bridge”! Not only are these types of bridges, also, made from eco-friendly materials, but they enhance the migration of all living organisms. For example, birds, insects, and larger animals are able to cross highways safely. Projects like the “Green Bridge”, with adequate warning signs, do not enhance the risk of causing accidents. There are currently over 50 of these bridges today, and each one of them has successfully protected wildlife and reduced accidents. Currently, the majority of these bridges are in Europe and North America because of their woodsy landscapes.