Emily Groff
In College of Human Ecology, Division of Nutritional Sciences, Human Centered Design, Psychology

Cornell Human Ecology has awarded six faculty members with grants to support research projects related to sustainability over the 2023-2024 academic year.

The projects range from helping New York State nutrition programs support sustainable food systems, to developing self-powered on-skin computers, to expanding a program that trains retirees as environmental volunteers, reflecting Human Ecology’s interdisciplinary approach to understanding the human experience and helping people thrive.

This first round of the CHE Faculty Sustainability Research Program focused on the themes of human resilience in the context of climate change, health equity and sustainability and human behavior and sustainability.

“The College has a deep history of research and engagement around themes of sustainability,” says Nancy Wells, senior associate dean for research + graduate education. “As issues of environmental sustainability are increasingly urgent, we are delighted to support the work of these excellent scholars to forestall climate change, foster human resilience, and promote sustainable behaviors and practices.”

Roger Figueroa, assistant professor in social and behavioral science in nutrition in the Division of Nutritional Sciences (DNS), will evaluate two state programs — Nourish New York, which helps emergency food providers purchase surplus products from New York farmers, and New York Food for New York Families, which encourages partnerships between local and traditionally disadvantaged farmers and local food distribution networks — to better understand how they contribute to a sustainable, equitable and healthy regional food system. His collaborators include Baz Perry, associate director of FIG Lab in DNS; Danielle Eiseman, lecturer in the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy; and graduate and undergraduate research assistants.

Denise Green, associate professor, Tamer Uyar and Fran Kozen, senior lecturer, all in Human Centered Design (HCD), will investigate the colorfastness and antimicrobial properties of fabrics dyed with biowaste and weeds, with the goal of improving the performance of natural dyes. They will also create an affordable collection of naturally dyed garments. Their community and industry partners include Mariam Omar, an expert in sustainable textile and apparel manufacturing; Audrey Norberg, founder of Plenty of Posies Flower Farm and Floral Design Studio; and several Tompkins County government departments.

Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, assistant professor, and Tamer Uyar, associate professor of fiber science, both in HCD, will use nanogenerators to power soft wearable computers with the energy that the wearer produces through small movements like eye blinking. They also plan to develop sustainable prototyping processes and guidelines. Their collaborators include community-engaged research partners at the Tompkins County Public Library Makerspace and local weaver and visual artist Sarah Gotowka.

Karl Pillemer, Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Psychology, and his team in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, will expand the national reach of their evidence-based program, Retirees in Service to the Environment (RISE), which trains retired adults as climate educators and connects them with volunteer opportunities. Collaborators include Mildred Warner, professor, and David Kay, Extension associate, both in the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Dr. Cary Reid, Irving Sherwood Wright Professor in Geriatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine. They’ll work with community-engaged research partners at the Mather Institute and Village to Village Network.

Jay Yoon, assistant professor in HCD, will examine how young adults use everyday technology and develop an evidence-based framework to inform the design of tech products that align sustainable behaviors and behaviors that enhance an individual’s well-being. His collaborators include Anthony Ong, professor in psychology; Malte Jung, associate professor in Cornell Bowers Computing and Information Science; and Michael Kowalski, a Ph.D. student in Human Behavior and Design.