Green Labs: Cutting costs and carbon emissions

July 13, 2011

Bubbling algae and beakers brimming with emerald-colored liquids no longer represent the only green materials found in the more than 1,200 laboratories across all four of ASU’s campuses. The Green Labs program, directed by ASU’s department of Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) and partners from Office of University Sustainability Practices, ensures that day-to-day functions occurring within the nearly 1.5 million square feet of lab space are now enhanced with environmentally mindful practices and procedures.

The average ASU lab size is about 1,250 square feet, and the Tempe campus is home to approximately 1.1 million square feet of lab space. Lab activities include everything from laser and radiation use to chemical and biological procedures as well as geotechnical and material testing operations. Two women wearing protective lab gear hold and examine test tubes. Download Full Image

“Labs are the most-energy intensive spaces on campus, which makes resource conservation and energy efficiency to be of significant importance in supporting ASU’s sustainability goals of carbon neutrality; zero water/solid waste; active engagement; and principled practice,” says Michael Ochs, assistant director, ASU Occupational Safety & Health.

It’s estimated that laboratories use three to eight times the energy of comparable-sized office buildings. Sometimes labs operate on a 24/7 cycle, creating higher electrical energy use from a variety of frequently used lab equipment such as sterilization instruments like autoclaves and ventilation equipment such as fume hoods.

Some ASU labs have been on a greener path since before the spring 2011 Green Labs program launch. For instance, Ochs was part of the ASU-APS Energy Services team that identified which ASU fume hoods needed to be retrofitted with devices that reduce energy use and maintain lab-worker safety. According to Ochs, when labs undergo annual lab-safety registrations, it’s the perfect time to go green through the Green Labs self-assessment certification process, which includes the following goals:

  • Energy and resource conservation
  • Waste reduction
  • Idea sharing and collaboration
  • Training and awareness
  • Chemical sharing and alternatives

To realize one of the program’s goals, lab researchers and the EH&S hazardous waste unit teamed up to establish the ASU laboratory glass recycling program, a pioneering effort, according to Ochs.

Green Labs also encourages sharing and exchanging unused portions of hazardous chemicals as well as using alternative and safer materials in place of hazardous materials. 

“When conducting operations, safer and environmentally friendly chemical alternatives may be found that will perform identically as the original chemical, but may be disposed as non-hazardous waste,” says Dave Jaggers, EH&S asbestos and environmental safety specialist. “When making initial chemical purchases, the hope is that labs evaluate all processes and consider the possible waste that may be created.”

To foster communications among ASU labs, Green Labs orientations are open to anyone interested in joining the program and will be held monthly during fall 2011 on all four ASU campuses. Participants can enroll through ASU’s Learning Management System by searching for: Green Office And Labs Orientation. These one-hour meetings include a brief Green Labs history, how to establish lab goals, and time for questions and suggestions.

“One of our very first objectives we hope to achieve is to generate inter-activity among the lab groups,” Jaggers says. “The sessions hopefully will instill a sense of empowerment for lab employees to become engaged and to take ownership of sustainability efforts in the areas where they work.”

Representatives from EH&S and Office of University Sustainability Practices lead the sessions, ensuring that communication continues between the groups and also that the Green Labs program remains on track with ASU’s larger sustainability objectives.

“Both of our missions are so closely aligned,” says Jehnifer Niklas, program coordinator for the Office of University Sustainability Practices. “Through adapting or adopting proven practices that reduce our ecological footprint and our bottom line, together we can create a healthy, vivacious working environment in which researchers can thrive.”

Like-minded colleagues who shared a vision of cost-effective and sustainability conscious labs is how Green Labs got its start. In 2008, EH&S hosted a national webinar that was delivered by Alan Doyle, who then was the sustainability coordinator at the University of California Santa Barbara. The session, “Green Laboratories: Resource Conservation in Research Settings” kick started a professional relationship between Doyle and Ochs, who together shaped some of the webinar’s commonsensical principles into the Green Labs program.

The program was designed with a lot of flexibility, so that an ASU lab group can create its own sustainability goals and strategies to find cost-saving methods and to reduce carbon emissions. During 2010 and 2011, Ochs presented Green Labs to the university safety compliance officers consisting of more than 100 ASU employees from all departments.

As Green Labs develops, suggestions, trends, feedback and labs’ individual fiscal and sustainability goals will be tracked and considered to determine ways that it can be improved. According to Ochs, the program’s refinement process is aligned with ASU’s model of the university functioning as a living laboratory.

In the continued spirit of camaraderie, EH&S is slated to deliver a Green Labs presentation and host a tri-university Arizona conference in October 2011 that includes partners from the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

“In partnership with other universities leading similar green labs programs, we founded the national Green Labs Planning Group to provide resources to other lab groups so they can practice sustainable principals in their own labs,” Ochs says.

Wendy Craft

Marketing and communications manager, Business and Finance Communications Group


ASU students in winners circle at international technology contest

July 13, 2011

An Arizona State University team has won the second-place prize in the world’s premier student technology competition.

Team Note-Taker, on July 13, took the award in the leading category of the Microsoft Imagine Cup World Finals in New York City. Download Full Image

Three students in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering – David Hayden, Michael Astrauskas and Shashank Srinivas – along with Qian Yan, an industrial design student in the university's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, make up the team.

They developed a portable custom-designed camera connected to a pen-and-multitouch Tablet PC that aids students with visual impairments in classroom note-taking.

Their prototype of the device won out among the technology projects developed by more than 400 students from 70 countries who competed in the Imagine Cup World Finals.

The Imagine Cup challenges students to pursue “life-changing” technological advances that address global societal needs.

Microsoft, one of the world’s leading computer technology corporations, created the competition nine years ago as a way to highlight and recognize student innovation around the globe, as well as inspire more young students to study science and engineering.

Last year, the Note-Taker device won the first- place prize in the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals in Poland, competing in a special category that required teams to use Microsoft Windows-based Tablet PCs in projects designed to improve access to education.

For this year’s competition Team Note-Taker competed in the software design category, considered the most demanding Imagine Cup competition category.

Hayden, a graduate student, began work on Note-Taker when his visual disability began hindering his pursuit of undergraduate degrees at ASU in computer science and mathematics.

Legally blind, he found that none of the commercially available assistive technologies allowed him to keep up with the fast-pace of note-taking in his senior-level math classes The Note-Taker allowed him to solve that problem.

The Note-Taker device was developed over the past two and a half years in the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing – known as CUbiC – in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

CUbiC is involved in the design of technologies and devices to assist people with perceptual or cognitive disabilities. ASU students and faculty collaborate on projects in the center’s lab.

Team Note-Taker’s mentor is John Black, a CubiC lab research scientist.

The Note-Taker camera is able to tilt up and down, sweep side to side, and zoom in on its target. The Tablet PC provides a split-screen display. One half of the screen has a window that shows live video from the camera, while the other half has a window used for handwriting or typing notes.

This split-screen interface allows students with visual impairment to quickly glance back and forth between the live view of a classroom presentation and their notes, just like their sighted peers. The video window allows the user to aim and zoom the camera by simply dragging, tapping or pinching within the video window.

The team plans to make more advances in the technology and develop a product for commercialization.

The students are working on expanding its capabilities by providing audio and video recording that allows synchronized playback of lectures, along with the corresponding handwritten or typed notes, so students can quickly review lessons after classes.

The improvements will allow the student to select any portion of the handwritten or typed notes previously taken in class, and then see the video that was being recorded while those notes were being taken.

Hayden says his ultimate goal is to see Note-Taker have a positive impact on some of the tens of millions people in the United States whose education is hampered by low visual capabilities – including the roughly 60 percent of working-age adults among those with such visual impairments who are not part of the nation’s work force due to their disabilities.

Overall, more than 325,000 students from more than 100 countries took part in various regional and national stages of the competition leading to the Imagine Cup World Finals. In April, Team Note-Taker took the top prize in the Imagine Cup U.S. Finals at Microsoft headquarters and elsewhere near Seattle.

See video of the Note-Taker device

See video of the Imagine Cup World Finals awards ceremony

See more Microsoft Imagine Cup World Finals photos

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering