The Wonders Of Trees Never Cease


Goats climb an argan tree in Morocco to dine on its fruit. Jeremy Horner/Getty Images

At Chan Chich Lodge we are just embarking on a tree-related culinary journey, so any counterintuitive story about trees is likely to catch my attention these days.


Thanks to Marc Silver at National Public Radio for the story about the picture above, Do Tree-Climbing Goats Help Plant New Trees? It is a short read and worth every second of your attention if you are interested in arboreal foodstuff.

This image to the left, while not as amusing as the one above, shows a deer doing the same thing with less panache. That deer will spread the seeds of that wild fig far and wide in the forest, increasing food supply. Continue reading

Cornell’s Climate Friendly Construction


A view of Manhattan from the roof of the Bridge building on the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. Photo VINCENT TULLO

When Cornell University competed in 2011 to develop an applied science and engineering campus in New York City, part of its pitch was that it would construct an academic building that would at least approach making as much energy as it used in a year, a concept known as net zero. It won. Then came the hard work of making that vision happen at the campus, known as Cornell Tech. Continue reading

The Vertical Farm, Explained In Long Form


Vertical farming can allow former cropland to go back to nature and reverse the plundering of the earth.Illustration by Bruce McCall

For all the reasons we have to enjoy reading this — the Ithaca, New York setting we care deeply about, including Cornell University not least, plus a main character straight out of entrepreneurial conservation central casting — most importantly we have been posting on vertical farming for years and this exposes some of what we have been missing up to now. We have taken information as it arrives on our doorstep, in small bundles. Now, a more in-depth look at the past, present and future of:


Growing crops in the city, without soil or natural light.

By Ian Frazier

No. 212 Rome Street, in Newark, New Jersey, used to be the address of Grammer, Dempsey & Hudson, a steel-supply company. It was like a lumberyard for steel, which it bought in bulk from distant mills and distributed in smaller amounts, mostly to customers within a hundred-mile radius of Newark. It sold off its assets in 2008 and later shut down. In 2015, a new indoor-agriculture company called AeroFarms leased the property. It had the rusting corrugated-steel exterior torn down and a new building erected on the old frame. Then it filled nearly seventy thousand square feet of floor space with what is called a vertical farm. The building’s ceiling allowed for grow tables to be stacked twelve layers tall, to a height of thirty-six feet, in rows eighty feet long. The vertical farm grows kale, bok choi, watercress, arugula, red-leaf lettuce, mizuna, and other baby salad greens. Continue reading

Congrats On Fellowship, Shannon

Plum Creek forester Steve Griswold examines a map of the Checkerboard forest.

Good maps and models show us how things are shifting – and are likely to shift in the future — under climate change © Benjamin Drummond

I am happy to meet Shannan this way:

Meet the NatureNet Science Fellows: Shannan Sweet (Cornell)

Conservancy NatureNet Science Fellow Shannan Sweet spends most of her time these days thinking about climate change, agriculture and, well, maps. But the maps that interest her most are not about road trips, or hiking adventures. They’re not even as much about a place as they are about a destination.

Her destination of choice? A world that can feed 10 billion people without exhausting its resources or exacerbating climate change. Continue reading

2016 Cornell Council for the Arts Biennial: Abject/Object Empathies

With fewer than 90 days to go until the 3rd edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale we admittedly have biennales on our mind. We thank one of our 2012 design interns, Chi-Chi Lin, for bringing this one to our attention.

The Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA) is a campus wide organization that promotes collaboration and artistic experimentation to inspire innovative and challenging projects by students, faculty, departments and programs from all disciplines. The focus of the 2016 CCA Biennial 

is on the cultural production of empathyThe upcoming biennial will address the ways in which feeling is form and explore how the objects, buildings, clothing, machines, languages, and images we construct are shaped by our intentional or implicit emotional, interdependent relationship to others. Whether by framing a connection that already exists or by providing the condition for new connections, what we create can either merely extend our own personal desires, goals, and directives, or can alternatively function as a bridge between who I am and who you are so that aesthetic experiences are interdependent, collaboratively generated and inherently reciprocal. Continue reading

Cornell University Campus Pursues Geothermal Heating

© Cornell Marketing Group

© Cornell Marketing Group

In 2009, Cornell faculty, staff, and students came together to create a Climate Action Plan that made a goal of making the Ithaca campus carbon neutral by 2035. Since then, gross emissions have already been reduced by about 30% through several measures, such as installing solar farms and ceasing the use of an old coal-powered energy plant. Now, a new initiative to keep the campus warm in winter with a geothermal project called Earth Source Heat might help reduce emissions by another 38%. Syl Kacapyr reports for the Cornell Chronicle:

Cornell is pursuing a project that has the potential to eliminate an estimated 82,000 metric tons of carbon from its annual footprint and establish one of the country’s most advanced geothermal systems to heat the 745-acre Ithaca campus – an effort that could demonstrate a new scalable model for using this sustainable energy source throughout the U.S. and almost anywhere in the world.

Continue reading

Community Food Systems Minor at Cornell

Compost demonstration in the Dedza region, Malawi. Photo by Catherine Hickey via

Classes are starting at Cornell University around now, and there’s a new minor in town: Community Food Systems, a multidisciplinary study housed within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Developmental Sociology. With elective courses from three categories (ethical and epistemic perspectives; ecological perspectives; and agricultural perspectives) in wide-ranging departments like philosophy, natural resources, economics, and anthropology, the minor also includes a required practicum with a community-based organization that works on “just, equitable and environmentally sound” food systems. Krisy Gashler writes for the Cornell Chronicle:

Scott Peters, professor of Development Sociology, said the minor has been a years-long process of discussion among faculty, staff and community partners, and was developed through the Food Dignity project, a 5-year, $5 million grant from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiativeand support from a Cornell Engaged Curriculum development grant.

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Cornell Research on Capturing Carbon to Generate Electricity

Architectures of metal/CO2 electrochemical cells as capture systems. (A) Secondary metal/CO2 electrochemical cell where CO2 is concentrated by recharging. (B) Primary metal/CO2 electrochemical cell where captured CO2 is concentrated or converted to Cn (n ≥ 2) valuable products. Image and caption from Science Advances, W.I. Al Sadat and L.A. Archer

Several of our contributors have a Cornell background, and this new technology that can convert carbon dioxide to electricity through a simple series of chemical reactions is the product of a couple researchers at the School of Chemistry and Biomolecular Engineers. Prachi Patel reports for Conservation Magazine:

A new technology offers a one-two punch against carbon pollution. Researchers have made an aluminum-based battery cell that captures carbon dioxide and simultaneously generates a large amount of electricity. That means a way to mitigate carbon emissions while meeting increasing demand for energy.

Continue reading

What Can Be Done with eBird Data?

Brighter colors indicate higher relative abundance. © Cornell University

The Western Tanager is a species I have yet to see, but which will be unmistakeable once I do, with the male’s red-and-orange head and bright yellow body contrasting with black wings striped with white bars. Based on the animated map above, I expect to spot some of them down in Baja California Sur by September or October, and I look forward to it. As I’ve written here before in the case of another moving map, citizen science makes this sort of illustrative prediction of a species’ moving presence possible, and it’s one of the reasons why I contribute to eBird as often as I can.

A paper titled “Using open access observational data for conservation action: A case study for birds” was published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation by a team of researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, several of whom I was just down the hallway from when I worked there. Although I haven’t gotten through their findings yet myself, Victoria Campbell chose nine interesting examples of how eBird data created tangible conservation in several countries.  Continue reading

Discovering Gold in the Greater Antilles (Part 2)

View of Parque Valle Nuevo from the top of the Pajon Blanco Fire Tower; Dominican Republic.

This post follows a previous piece, which you can read here.

And so we set out on an adventure of a lifetime with the underlying goal of studying a bird and using what we learned to help save that bird, while simultaneously nourishing an already burgeoning sense of local stewardship over Hispaniola’s feathered friends and the habitats they so deeply depend upon. We set the bar high from the beginning, and I can be honest in saying that I feel good about what we accomplished and where the project stands today.

Two Golden Swallow chicks have just hatched. One begs for food, one contemplates life, and one refuses to come out; Parque Valle Nuevo, Dominican Republic, 2014.

However, as opposed to trying to tackle an impossible play-by-play of what transpired over those next three years (thankfully all of that information is in my master’s thesis and can be yours for just three easy payments of $29.99), I’m going to take a slightly different approach. I’m going to share with descriptions of images (and feelings) that go through my head when somebody kindly asks me, “So how’d that Golden Swallow Project go?” Little does that person know how much weight a question like that can have, or how it causes me to temporary black-out as my mind boards a high-speed emotional (and perhaps somewhat spiritual) roller-coaster from which there is little hope for return for at least the ensuing two minutes. So let’s go for a ride.

Continue reading

Versatile Bamboo and Cast Aluminum Structures for the DR and Elsewhere

Jack Elliot and students completed a test build in Cornell’s High Voltage Laboratory before erecting the structure in the Dominican Republic. Photo © Robert Barker / University Photography

Bamboo comes up frequently on this blog, since it is such a fast-growing plant that can be used in various ways for construction and design. Recently, we learned of a collaborative project at Cornell University where bamboo-based structures intended to resist the violence of earthquakes and hurricanes in the Caribbean (and tested on the island of the Dominican Republic) use an aluminum joint system invented by a Cornell professor. Roger Segelken reports for the Cornell Chronicle:

The first field test of Design and Environmental Analysis (DEA) associate professor Jack Elliott’s “Triakonta” structural system stands in the Punta Cana coastal region of the Dominican Republic, as an outdoor classroom for the Puntacana Ecological Foundation.

“The structure itself is elegant and has sparked dialogue about sustainable architecture amongst visiting guests, students and even architects,” said Jake Kheel, M.S. ’02, environmental director of Grupo Puntacana, which operates a resort adjoining the eco-preserve where Cornellians and locals built the bamboo structure in mid-2015.

Continue reading

Cornell Orchards Stick to Free Bees

Bryan Danforth inspects apple blossoms and native pollinators at the Cornell Orchards. © Jason Koski/University Photography

Earlier this spring, instead of hiring commercial honeybee keepers to bring in their hives to apple orchards, Cornell decided to try relying solely on wild bee species for pollination of the blossoms at their Ithaca site. Based on research from the university’s entomology department, the Cornell Orchards knew it had a robust population comprised of twenty-six different wild bee species among the Ithaca apple trees. They counted on this local bee life to do all the pollinating work that the imported European honeybees would have done, and by the end of May it was clear that a full crop’s worth of flowers had been pollinated! We’ve featured plenty of stories about the deeply troubling colony collapse disorder in Apis mellifera and are always eager to emphasize the importance of pollination, so it may seem strange to celebrate the non-use of European honeybees in this case, but the main point here is that the value of wild native bee species should not be forgotten! If commercial honeybees continue to struggle, alternative methods of pollination will be necessary, and fostering local biodiversity is a great way to compensate for that potential eventuality.

As a fun coincidence, I heard about this story because the lead researcher in the wild bee population was my entomology professor sophomore year. You can read more about Professor Bryan Danforth’s role and the Cornell Orchards decision in the piece for the Cornell Chronicle below, by John Carberry:

As the state’s land-grant institution, Cornell University was born to explore science for the public good – a mission that can sometimes require a leap of faith.

Just such a leap is paying off now at Cornell Orchards in Ithaca, as researchers and managers from the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science and the Department of Entomology celebrate a solid spring pollination season for the site’s apple trees. While crisp apples and fresh cider Continue reading

Cornell’s Nanoscale Carbon-scrubbing Sponges

© Provided/Genggeng Qi – A scanning electron microscopy image of a pristine silica support, before the amine is added.

We’ve had posts on this blog about carbon output by consumer technology, motor vehicles, and food. We’ve also posted, including quite recently, on carbon storage, often in forests. Less numerous are our posts on carbon output by power plants, probably because good news on technological advances in the field is infrequent (at least relative to the bad news). But scientists at Cornell have recently developed a nanoscale scaffold of silica that comes in the form of powder and could replace the current method of carbon capture called amine scrubbing. Anne Ju reports for the Cornell Chronicle below:

In the fight against global warming, carbon capture – chemically trapping carbon dioxide before it releases into the atmosphere – is gaining momentum, but standard methods are plagued by toxicity, corrosiveness and inefficiency. Using a bag of chemistry tricks, Cornell materials scientists have invented low-toxicity, highly effective carbon-trapping “sponges” that could lead to increased use of the technology.

Continue reading

Ithaca Featured in NatGeo’s Intelligent Travel Section

Cornell’s McGraw Tower. Photo by S. Inman

Over the last several years, dozens of our interns have been Cornellians, and some have even been born-and-bred Ithacans. It is often said that Ithaca is “ten square miles surrounded by reality,” for reasons that we won’t go into here and might be gleaned from the text below. But if Ithaca is sometimes seen as a bubble, then it can be expected that students at Cornell University or, to a lesser degree, Ithaca College live in an even more insulated shell that separates them from the city of Ithaca.

So it’s somewhat refreshing to see a descriptive post by an Ithaca resident–but McGill University graduate–in National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel section. Under the “Beyond the Guidebook” category, Alizé Carrère wrote a quick but information-packed list of things that she loves about her city, which you can read below or here:

Summer is the best time to visit my city because that’s when Ithaca really comes to life. Many of the college students leave for summer break, so the city opens up and all of the best outdoor attractions are in their prime. You can enjoy waterfall hikes, summer concerts in the park, patio happy hours, fresh produce in local restaurants, and twilights that stretch into the nine o’clock hour.

You can see my city best from the top floor of Cornell University’s Johnson Art Museum, which reveals a near 360-degree view of Ithaca, including Cornell’s beautiful campus and the south end of Cayuga Lake. The museum itself, which looks like a giant sewing machine, was designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei, the creative mind behind the striking (and once controversial) glass pyramid in front of the Louvre.

Continue reading

Flash Folio Exhibition at Cornell–Happy Birthday Will!


I spent my university years lugging around the weighty Riverside Shakespeare, the volume that has held the status of “definitive Shakespeare” text in academic circles since its first publication 30 years ago. Having never minded the moniker Shakespeare nerd–I could not help the stab of jealousy at missing the opportunity to experience Cornell’s flash exhibition of 4 rare folios in honour of the Bard’s 450 birthday.

For one day only, the Library is putting all four folio editions of William Shakespeare’s plays — the earliest published collections of his work, all printed in the 17th century and now among the most important books in all of world literature — on display to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth.
All the world may be a stage, but Cornell is fortunate to be one of the few places in the world that can put all four folios on display for its community of readers and researchers.

Continue reading

Humans of Cornell

Humans of Cornell University, Jan. 28th, 2014.

Earlier this month, while scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed, I chanced upon a photo of a friend of mine on the Cornell campus. The caption was a short but interesting conversation between the friend and a Facebook user called “Humans of Cornell University,” who had taken the photo. I was intrigued. Upon clicking the photo I discovered that there were dozens of other photos along the same theme, where apparently these “Humans of Cornell” (HOCU) people would randomly select a person they encountered at Cornell, take a photo of him or her, and ask a thought-provoking question, sometimes following the question up if the response merited more discussion.

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Cornell Tech Redefines “Industrial Complex”

Architectural firm WEISS/MANFREDI project rendering

Architectural firm WEISS/MANFREDI project rendering

When President Eisenhower warned of the rising power of the hyphenated industrial complex his concerns were clearly well-founded. Cornell NYC Tech, the upcoming Roosevelt Island campus of graduate high-tech education, is in the process of rehabilitating the concept of collaboration with industry with the development of its first “corporate co-location” building.

“Cornell Tech is radically rethinking how industry can collaborate with faculty, students and researchers, and corporate co-location is vital to making that a success,” Continue reading