Collaborative Research in Sustainability (CRIS) Awards 2015

Congratulations to our four Research Award Recipients in 2015. 


Joseph Damman and Dr. Valerie Chepp (Social Justice)

Who Has a Public Voice?: Applying Iris Marion Young’s Conception of Justice to the Practical Work of Social Justice Leaders in the Twin Cities

Democratic government is a benchmark for socially just systems, and one essential feature of a democracy is a public realm where individuals can engage in political discourse. We will conduct interviews with social justice leaders in the Twin Cities and analyze their testimony using Iris Young’s critique of impartiality and her vision of an ideal public. Our research will preserve and analyze the experiences of social justice leaders to contribute insights about inclusivity in the public realm to a conception of justice that sustainable, socially just systems require. 


Chris Conley and Dr. Leif Hembre (Biology)

Evaluation of the effect of Rainbow Trout predation on zooplankton community structure and lake water quality using neo- and paleo-limnological evidence

This project will evaluate how the stocking of rainbow trout has affected the food web and water quality of Square Lake. The Minnesota DNR stocked Square Lake with rainbow trout (a species that preferentially preys on large-bodied zooplankton grazers) from 1980 to 2012 and the lake’s water quality significantly declined during that period (more algae & decreased water clarity). Previous research suggests that trout predation may be responsible for this trend. The DNR imposed a 3-year moratorium on trout stocking in 2013 (2015 is year 3). The research we propose has two related goals: 1) to collect and analyze zooplankton and water samples from Square Lake (twice a month during the summer), and 2) to collect sediment cores from Square Lake and a neighboring 'reference' lake (Big Carnelian Lake) for analysis of zooplankton remains to assess whether patterns in historical composition of the zooplankton communities in Square Lake differs from that of the unmanaged reference lake.  


Biiftuu Ibrahim Adam and Dr. Sarah Greenman (Criminal Justice)

An Examination of the Effect of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act on the Prison Population

This project will examine the effect of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) on the size of the prison population. The FSA was passed in order to reduce the disparity between crack and cocaine sentencing.  It was widely acknowledged that the previous law, the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, was unjustly harsh and resulted in overwhelming racial disparity within the prison population. This project will examine trends in the prison population and conduct an interrupted time series analysis focusing on shifts in the racial, gender, and crime type make-up of the prison population before and after the passage of the FSA.  Of the three pillars of sustainability, this project will explore social sustainability.  The existence of universal human rights and equity has been questioned within the criminal justice system with consistent evidence demonstrating that disadvantaged communities are disproportionately processed through the entire criminal justice system.  Our research will help us determine if this particular law has made the criminal justice system more sustainable, and therefore, if laws in general can have the intended effect of improving social sustainability within the criminal justice system. 


Rachel Mazac and Dr. Mike Farris (Biology)

Assessing the Use of Food Waste Biochar as a Biodynamic Plant Fertilizer

This project aims to identify productive uses for food waste to limit the amount added to landfills and the production of greenhouse gasses. Converting food waste into a useful product, biochar, would reduce environmental damage and provide other benefits. Specifically, this study address if using food waste as feedstock for biochar will yield fertilizer equivalent to commercial fertilizers. I will use food waste that has been dried for two days in air and oven-dried overnight, then placed in a ceramic pot with fitting lid in an oven to char it under low oxygen conditions. Six independent batches of biochar will be prepared to compare their nutrient content and performance as a fertilizer for growing tomato plants. This process works toward effective management of waste and reduces human dependence on synthetic fertilizers. The in-home method of producing biochar could promote the reduction of poverty through increased crop yields.