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Sustainability Research Award Winners


2024 Faculty Award Recipients

Brandon Burnett (Chemistry and Biochemistry), “Heavy Metal Reclamation from Electronic Waste through Environmentally-Friendly Extraction Methods”

Brandon Burnett's research relates to the broad issue of electronic waste, one of the fastest-growing solid waste streams worldwide. Within this waste, lie many industrially-important heavy metals, which are becoming increasingly scarce. In order to address both concerns, new recycling efforts for electronic waste have been investigated, and range from brute-force thermal treatments that melt metals and thermally decompose plastic, to more elegant chemical treatments. At WSU, Burnett and undergraduate researchers investigated two environmentally friendly methods for chemically extracting heavy metals from electronic waste: A liquid-assisted grinding method using chemical chelates to extract targeted groups of heavy metals, and a Soxhlet extraction method for handling large amounts of copper - one of the metals in of the highest amount in electronic waste. Both methods show early promise to address two different current problems in heavy-metal recycling of electronic waste. 

Caitlin Tems (Applied Climate Science, Earth and Environmental Sciences), “The Impact of Deicing Materials on Water Quality in Northern Utah”

Caitlin Tems, along with her collaborators, investigated if deicing materials applied to roadways impact the water quality of Ogden Valley and Ogden Canyon in Weber County, Utah. In-situ measurements and water samples were collected between October 2022 and September 2023 from the South Fork and Middle Fork of the Ogden River that flow into Pineview Reservoir, and along a transect of Ogden River to assess the impact of deicing materials on water quality. Water samples were analyzed on ICP-MS. The results indicated that concentrations of sodium, magnesium, calcium, and potassium were two to three times higher in Ogden River in Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 compared to Pineview Reservoir and its inflow streams. 

The concentrations of deicing materials decreased in Fall 2023, which Tems suggests is due to a substantial input of water to the watershed from spring snowmelt of the 2022-23 winter record-breaking snowpack, an idea supported by the water discharge record at the Ogden River USGS Gauge Site. Tems hypothesized that extreme snowfall plays an important role in flushing the watershed of contaminants and improving water quality. As the climate changes and if snowfall in Northern Utah is reduced as projected, this could result in deteriorating water quality in the region.

Collaborators: Cody Ellsworth, Merick Durtschi, Colby Ferrin, Shirley Hartman, Selena Nielsen, Elizabeth Stringham, Casey Wheeler (Weber State students), and Leigh Komperda 

2024 Student Award Recipients

Colle Christensen (History major, advisor Eric Swedin), “Municipal Solid Waste in Davis County: Short-Term Financial Incentives Delay Implementation of Sustainable Solutions”

Colle Christensen looked into the growing worldwide crisis of municipal solid waste. ever since the introduction of single-use plastics in the 1940s, every municipality has been required to solve this problem on their own using their own resources.  In the 1980s Davis County had the unique opportunity to decrease its landfilled waste by building a waste-to-energy facility and selling this energy to Hill Air Force Base.  This partnership decreased landfill waste, but created additional problems and incentivized more waste rather than less. 

Christensen’s research relied mostly on newspaper reporting and journal articles, gradually piecing together why Davis County opted to build a waste-to-energy facility despite the controversy, the financial and political concerns caused by this decision, and how this facility delayed implementation of sustainable solutions in Davis County. Municipal solid waste is still a major concern worldwide; solutions implemented in Davis County cannot continue in perpetuity and are too expensive for most municipalities to duplicate.

Ian Nuttall (Geography, Environment & Sustainability major, advisor Alice Mulder), “Measuring the Urban Park Cooling Island Effect in Ogden, Utah” 

Ian Nuttall researched the uneven warming that occurs throughout all cities, known as the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. Extreme heat can be found in well-developed urban environments with little vegetation. More rural areas see relatively cooler temperatures. Urban parks have the potential of cooling their surroundings, known as the Urban Park Cooling Island effect.

Nuttall’s study aimed to identify if specific parks in Ogden, Utah (High Adventure Park and Lorin Farr Park) are capable of cooling their urban environment as a method of mitigating harming UHI effects. Temperature readings were taken in both parks within the summer months of June, July, and August of 2023. Additional temperature readings were taken outside of park boundaries and compared against those taken within a park during the same timeframe. 
Results showed microclimate behaviors of each park. The Park Cooling Intensity (PCI), or temperature difference between a park and a location beyond its boundary, indicated a cooling effect was present for both parks, with the PCI being the greatest in Lorin Farr. A GIS Analysis found there is more vegetation cover, especially trees, in Lorin Farr, which is a strong variable for cooling the environment.

2023 Faculty Award Recipients

Dr. Carie Frantz (Earth and Environmental Sciences), "Desiccation of ecosystem-critical microbialites in the shrinking Great Salt Lake"

Dr. Carie Frantz and her collaborators researched the resilience of Great Salt Lake photosynthetic microbial communities housed on microbialites, rocks that encircle the lake, that have been exposed by the historic low water level. The microbial communities are a crucial base of the lake’s food chain. When microbialites are “high and dry” the communities cannot contribute to the ecosystem, leading to possible future ecosystem collapse. Their research found that once re-submerged for several months communities partially recovered. While their findings were hopeful, Frantz underscored "the importance of quick action to restore water to Great Salt Lake, as the dramatic salinity rise that accompanied falling lake level appears to hinder recovery, and microbialites exposed for long periods of time may not be able to recover even after years to decades."

Collaborators: Cecilia Gibby, Rebekah Nilson, Maggie Nguyen, Cody Ellsworth, JaredGibby, Cole Stern, Laura Wilcock, Hank Dolan, Jake Aeschlimann (Weber State Students), Bonnie Baxter and her student Alvin Sihapanya (Westminster College).

Michael Wutz (English), "Reading with the Grain: The Ecologies of The Lowland"

Professor Wutz worked with Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Lowland by looking at the “large-scale ecological and evolutionary considerations that enfold the stories of two brothers, their aspirations, politics and families that populate the novel’s surface.” In three sections he dissects issues presented through the novel; The subsequent environmental weaponization after British control of the Bay of Bengal; the conflict of politics and ecological protection in post-independence India; and claims that the ecological focus forms a “notion of time that stretches from human to nonhuman (pre)history and further to the geologic time of the

2023 Student Award Recipients

Jack Fernald (Electrical Engineering major), "Multi-Source Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging"

The project's objective was to boost electric vehicle adoption in developing countries by designing and testing a twin charging module capable of accepting various power sources, thus reducing charging time, a major hurdle for increasing electric vehicle usage. By providing individuals with technology to utilize existing and alternate power infrastructure, the project aimed to promote more sustainable practices in small and growing communities

Curtis Soderborg (Geography, Environment & Sustainability major, advisor Eric Ewert), "Mapping threats to solitude: The spatial and temporal distribution of the signs of human activity in the Mount Timpanogos Wilderness Area in 2022" 

Curtis Soderborg studied the crowding of the federally designated wilderness area surrounding Mount Timpanogos. Unsustainable dense crowds have a negative impact on both the natural environment and visitor experience. His research looked at the impact of crowding in the area by studying five areas of human activity. Soderborg found that trails to Timpanogos summit and Steward Cascades on weekend mornings had the highest number of crowds. He discussed a possible solution of implementing a permit system that would “protect wilderness characteristics while still providing public access."

2022 Faculty Award Recipients

Bryan Dorsey (Geography, Environment and Sustainability), "Refocusing on Sustainability: Promoting Straw Bale Building for Government-Assisted, Self-Help Housing Programs in Utah and Abroad"

Professor Dorsey's research involves sustainable home design using straw bale building methods. It explores relationships between two critical issues: reduction of carbon emissions, and the current affordable housing crisis. Professor Dorsey's research was published in Sustainability in 2021.

Sara Dant (History), "The View from the Top of the World: Climate Change in the West and the World"

Professor Dant's research uses the lens of a 12-day rafting trip in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to wrestle with a fundamental question: In a twenty-first century challenged by climate change, can we find balance between environment and economy? Professor Dant ultimately concludes that, "sustainability brought about by cooperation is essential to our survival." 

2022 Student Award Recipients

Katelyn Tenney (Economics major), "The Impacts of Fuel Price on Air Quality: A Case Study of Salt Lake City

Katelyn Tenney's project aims to test the theory that increased fuel prices decrease air pollution by using time-series data to determine the effect of fuel prices on air quality in Salt Lake City. A key implication of her analysis is the impact of carbon taxes on air pollution. Katie presented her research at the Utah Conference for Undergraduate Research.

Chase Noorda (Electrical Engineering major), "Electric Boat Model" 

Chase Norda developed a software program that allows MasterCraft, a large recreational boat manufacturer, to simulate runtime of an electric boat. MasterCraft plans to use the software to help them find a supplier to help manufacture a fully electric boat. This will help mitigate the amount of toxins introduced into bodies of water and help preserve sea life.


2021 Faculty Award Recipients

Therese Grijalva (Economics), "Valuation of Species Preservation"

Putting a price on not only the costs but also benefits of species preservation is challenging. As her abstract notes, 

“The benefits of at-risk species preservation efforts are primarily nonmarket in nature and difficult to measure in monetary terms; they include both non-consumptive use values (e.g., wildlife watching) and nonuse values (the most problematic to measure). Many at-risk species are also recognized as indicators of broader ecosystem health and sustainability. The objective of this essay is twofold: (1) to review the valuation of species preservation, with the specific focus on empirical efforts to assign monetary values to the preservation of at-risk species.  Monetary valuation techniques can also be applied to the preservation of biodiversity more generally; and (2) to demonstrate how economists and policymakers can use prior meta-analyses of at-risk species in a benefits transfer. The pursuit of transparency in both cost and benefit estimates can inform public deliberations, help responsible public agencies justify their decisions (e.g., about the level of protection efforts, alteration of habitats, etc.), and demonstrate fiscal responsibility.”

Her essay is forthcoming in Oxford Encyclopedia of Environmental Economics, Oxford University Press.

Jeremy Farner (Construction Management), "Solar Decathlon Net-Positive Home in Ogden"

The 2020 Solar Decathlon local build challenge was a collegiate competition sponsored by the Department of Energy to design and construct a net-positive home. Jeremy led the effort and with his students partnered with Ogden City, the Ogden Civic Action Network, and multiple departments and organizations on campus to design and build a 2450 square foot 6 bedroom, 3 bath home. The home was designed to produce all of its own energy usage annually, but also enough to charge an electric car to drive 20 miles per day. The home is all electric and uses off the shelf building materials and methods. The home is repeatable and has an energy cost to the owner of just over $100 annually. It truly proves that Net Zero design and construction are possible, but also that a Net Zero lifestyle is achievable in our back yards.  In spring 2021 this WSU project won first place in "Energy Performance" in the global decathlon competition!

A comprehensive website has been developed for anyone who desires to mimic the strategies implemented. Please see for a comprehensive package of videos, documentation, etc.

Heather Root (Botany), "Grazing Disturbance Promotes Exotic Annual Grasses by Degrading Soil Biocrust Communities"

This work focused on how the widespread invasive grass, cheatgrass, becomes established and dominates sagebrush steppe ecosystems of the western United States.  Cheatgrass is of concern as it negatively impacts wildlife habitat, soil nutrient and water cycles, and provides fuels that increase wildfire frequency. In sagebrush steppe habitat, which already has enough cheatgrass to increase wildfire risk, biocrusts, communities of mosses, lichens, algae, and fungi, cover the soil between plants. This field-based research revealed livestock grazing can disrupt the biocrusts covering the soil surface to allow cheatgrass invasion. The research suggests that protecting biocrusts by reducing livestock grazing pressure and encouraging biocrust restoration can prevent cheatgrass invasion and the associated negative ecological impacts. This research was published in 2020 in Ecological Applications, a leading journal of the Ecological Society of America.

2021 Student Award Recipients

April Callister (Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, advisor David Aguilar-Alvarez), "Effects of Indigenous Diet Iron Content and Location on Hemoglobin Levels of Ghanaians"

This project focused on iron deficiency, the most prevalent micronutrient deficiency worldwide, with an estimated two billion people affected. It is essential to find sustainable ways to reduce prevalence of iron deficiency, especially in areas that are disproportionately affected by this condition. The primary purpose of this research was to investigate ways to increase iron consumption within the established dietary practices of the Ghanaian population.  The conclusions of this research project were to increase consumption of plant-based proteins and fruits high in vitamin C, which is known to increase absorption of plant-based iron. These are more sustainable and accessible methods as they are readily available, cost-effective, and less environmentally intensive when compared to animal-protein sources.

Thomas DeWitt (Physics, project advisor Dan Bedford, Geography), “Analyzing the Influence of Traffic on the Urban Heat Island”

This project considered contributions to the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, where urban areas are significantly hotter than their surrounding rural areas.  It is an effect that has been well documented for more than a century.  The built environment in a city generally reduces evapotranspiration and increases the amount of impervious surface compared to the surrounding rural area. In dryland environments, however, this is not necessarily the case – cities may be replacing bare dirt and rock with asphalt and concrete, and the thermal signatures can be very similar (Gluch et al., 2006). In arid environments, then, the influence of anthropogenic heat sources like vehicle and building emissions may be more influential. This study aims to examine the relationship between traffic volumes and the UHI effect in the area of Salt Lake City, Utah.

The project results show the temperature differences between the roadways and elsewhere are correlated with traffic volumes. Traffic heat emissions account for a sizable portion of the UHI, including in areas on the outskirts of the city that would not normally be included in an UHI study. In the future, further research on this effect in other cities and different climates could make the results more broadly applicable.


2020 Faculty Award Recipients

Hal Crimmel (English) and his Weber State colleagues, Eric Ewert (Geography), Matt Gnagey (Economics), Therese Grijalva (Economics), Will Spiegle (Automotive Technology), and Mark Stevenson (Anthropology), "Utah's Air Quality Issues: Problems and Solutions"

Hal Crimmel (English) for his edited book titled Utah’s Air Quality Issues: Problems and Solutions and his Weber State colleagues, Eric Ewert (Geography), Matt Gnagey (Economics), Therese Grijalva (Economics), Will Spiegle (Automotive Technology), and Mark Stevenson (Anthropology) who contributed chapters. The book attempts to explain issues and solutions that can make Utah more sustainable in terms of air quality's impact on human health and non-human nature. The book was published by University of Utah Press and available as of March 2, 2020.

Francois Giraud-Carrier (Supply Chain Management), “Pollution Regulation of Competitive Markets”

Francois Giraud-Carrier (Supply Chain Management) for his research titled “Pollution Regulation of Competitive Markets.” The research finds that it is possible to control pollution without hurting businesses and the economy. The paper’s analytical results show that well-designed cap-and-trade regulation can actually improve firm profits while reducing the pollution damage; a win-win outcome. The article was published in the journal Management Science in 2019.

2020 Student Award Recipients

Van Jacobson (Economics), “Impact of the Tag-Drawing System on Utah & Oregon Greater Sage Grouse Populations”

Van Jacobson’s project was his senior capstone research project completed in December 2019 which explores the nature of the Greater Sage Grouse’s population decline, the bird’s potential candidacy under the Threatened and Endangered Species Act, and the means with which states have attempted to preserve populations through policy. Jacobson’s research suggests that the tag-draw lottery hunting policy is not having the intended effect of preserving Greater Sage Grouse populations, and has provided insight on the effectiveness of a tag-draw hunting policy, and to what extent changes to the tag-draw hunting policy is required.

Katherine Meyr (Earth and Environmental Science), “Evaluation of Water Quality in the Taku Watershed, B.C.”

Katherine Meyr’s research involved analyzing water samples along the Taku watershed in Alaska and British Columbia to test for trace elements, including heavy metals associated with relevant mining contamination. The project integrates many on extremely important topics, such as hydrologic cycle, global climate changes, and the interaction between glaciers and rivers. Ultimately, Meyr’s research contributes to better understanding the changes in sub-arctic watershed hydrology caused by global climate change. Meyr presented this research in a poster at the Utah Conference for Undergraduate Research and was accepted to present at the GSA 2020 Rocky Mountain Section Meeting.

2019 Faculty Award Recipients

Hal Crimmel (English), “The Rights of Nature: A Global Movement”

Dr. Crimmel’s project is a documentary film exploring how the legal system in the industrialized world views nature as a wealth-generating resource and commodity whose only value is what it provides for humans. This is contrasted with indigenous communities who for millennia have viewed themselves as part of nature. This film has screened at university events, classrooms, NGO events, and national and international film festivals.

David Malone (School of Accounting and Taxation), “Building an Activity-Based Model for Environmental Footprint: A Proof of Concept Case.”

This project was a collaboration with Consortium for Advanced Management International (CAM-I) and included team members from Grant Thorton, Boeing and Pilbara Consulting. The goal was to construct an activity-based model to allocate the greenhouse gas effect to entity cost objects, with the mandate to develop tools in which entities may better measure environmental resource intensity in their operations. This work will be carried back to those organizations and will inform the way they approach strategic decisions on resource deployment.

2019 Student Award Recipients

Analeah Vaughn (Earth and Environmental Science), “Deglaciation within the Cordillera Blanca and its effects on water quality”

This project analyzed tropical glaciers in the Cordillera Blanca, of northern Peru. The project involved mapping multiple drainages to identify the extent of the mineralized zone and assess the control of bedrock geochemistry on water chemistry. This mapping will allow predictions about where water contamination may get worse as the glaciers continue to recede.

Chase Wilson (Geography), “Federal Land Management: A Case Study of Canyonlands National Park”

Chase’s project aims to understand federal land management in the American West with a particular focus on the historic relationships between people and public lands. His research used Canyonlands National Park as a case study, and highlighted the nonlinear path toward preservation and the impact of key individuals, local residents, and media cycles on the process of public lands changing administration.

Rachel Creer (Communication – PR & Advertising) and Cooper Taylor (English), “WRCNU Wildlife Awareness Package for Families”

Rachel Creer and Cooper Taylor worked with a community partner, Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah (WRCNU), to provide means to educate people about protecting Utah’s wildlife. The students created a pamphlet covering the mission of WRCNU, what to do if you find an injured animal and how one can volunteer. They also created a children’s activity booklet highlighting real stories of animals saved by the WRCNU.


2018 Faculty Award Winners

Faculty Sustainability Award - Traditional Scholarship  

Glen West (Design Engineering Technology), "Thermal Wave Propagation in Packed Beds of Encapsulated Phase-Change Materials" 

"The objective of this research is to explore the practicality of storing and retrieving thermal energy in and from packed beds where heat transfer occurs among the working fluid, the bed and the surroundings.  Enhanced thermal energy storage methods are key to improving the coefficient of performance for refrigeration systems used in air conditioning applications.  Advances in thermal energy storage systems may also supplement agricultural production in greenhouse applications.  This project was designed to explore opportunities for harvesting and reusing thermal energy from processes that otherwise eject waste heat to the atmosphere.  Thermal energy storage could support moderate load requirements in air conditioning systems as well as extend growing seasons in agricultural production applications."

Faculty Sustainability Award - Applied Scholarship 

Jeremy Farner (Design Engineering Teachnology), "Design, Construct, and Analyze Net Zero Ready Home for Local Weber/Davis Habitat for Humanity Affiliate"

“My students and I have been working to help the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate build high performance homes with a lower true cost of ownership. This multi-year project is in the second phase of running energy analysis on the last two homes we completed. We designed these homes using advanced framing techniques to maximize insulation, at the same time reducing the amount of lumber used by 10% or more. We implemented passive solar design techniques to take advantage of the sun during the winter months to offset some of the heating load; shading windows in the summer months offsets some of the cooling load. We implemented Building America Best practices, which continuously insulates the exterior to remove the thermal bridging through the studs as well as better air seal the homes. The results are that we are seeing significantly lower energy bills.  But this is not enough for us.  We are in the design stage of our next two homes and are looking to go all electric to better prepare our homes to be truly "Net Zero" if the homeowners choose to install a small solar array. We are running pre-construction energy analysis and are getting favorable results that we hope will translate to even lower energy bills and thus lower the cost of ownership for deserving families who are selected as recipients of these homes.  Partnering with Habitat for Humanity has opened up doors for WSU students to design, estimate, schedule, run energy analysis, and construct homes in the "real world." This partnership is invaluable for the students who get to participate in learning opportunities, and at the same time give back to their community."

2018 Student Award Winners

Alison Smith and Alberta Young (advisor Gary Johnson, Political Science), “Water Basin Water Conservancy District/Weber State University pricing Elasticity Study”

This research was a collaborative effort between Weber State University students in Dr. Johnson's Urban Government Course in Spring 2017 and the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District. The project was initiated by Utah’s unique and difficult policy challenges associated with a very fast growing, arid, western state whose water pricing system is inconsistent with population trends and consumer pricing. We began the process by identifying 15 cities served by the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District. By comparing these 15 cities with other cities in the area we have established a pricing structure that is relative to other structures. Incentives include saving time, money and, most importantly, water.

Hailey Burton, Heather Couturier, Kyia Hill, Emily Kaemmer (advisor Dan Bedford Geography), “Effects of Xeriscaping on Surface Temperatures” 

“As Weber State moves towards serious water conservation efforts, questions remain about how best to implement water-efficient landscaping, or xeriscaping, and what surfaces to use. This project measured temperature differences for road, grass, dark wood chips, and rocks, and found that dark wood chips—currently a top pick for use in campus xeriscaping—gets incredibly hot in the sun. In light of these findings, WSU grounds staff may be reassessing the choices for xeriscaping.”