Sustainability Article

Dylan Walsh’s picture

By: Dylan Walsh

In principle, the mountaineer’s work is simple: “To win the game he has first to reach the mountain’s summit,” said George Mallory, who took part in Britain’s first three attempts on Everest during the 1920s. “But, further, he has to descend in safety.”

The tension between these two goals—summiting while also surviving—makes the Himalayas context especially interesting and relevant for companies also balancing multiple goals, says Lindred Leura Greer, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“Mountaineering provides an interesting setting, and an extreme one, in which you’re trying to win while also trying to mitigate loss,” Greer says. “This looks a lot like, say, a startup, where you’re trying to maximize to become a unicorn while at the same time trying to make sure the small details don’t pull you under.”

Given this analogue, Greer and other researchers used mountain climbing as a lens to explore longstanding assumptions about group performance. For decades, academics have suggested a straightforward link between a group’s solidarity and its success: The more a group operates with a single mind, the better its execution.

Multiple Authors
By: Rachel Ehrenberg, Knowable Magazine

If you’re lucky, you’ve tasted a perfectly ripe fruit—a sublime peach, perhaps, or a buttery avocado. But odds are most of the fruit you’ve eaten tastes more like wet cardboard. Although plant breeders have mastered growing large, perfect-looking fruits that resist decay, ship easily, and are available year-round, flavor has fallen by the wayside.

That’s starting to change. Amid growing consumer interest in sustainable farming and good food, researchers are delving into the complex biochemistry and genetics of fruit flavor with renewed zest. Here are some basic facts about fruit, how it ripens, why much of it tastes so bland—and how scientists are trying to reclaim lost flavors.

What is fruit and how is it made?

Botanically speaking, fruits are mature, ripened ovaries containing seeds. These seed suitcases can be dry, like a pea pod, or fleshy, like an apple or tomato. A fleshy fruit, from the plant’s point of view, is a fee-for-service: a nutritious meal offered to an animal in exchange for dispersing the seeds inside.

Krystle Morrison’s picture

By: Krystle Morrison

From carrying food in from the field, to shipping processed products, to assembling a supermarket display, packaging matters. As a follow-up to our exploration of emerging trends in food packaging, we’re taking a look at several innovative technologies that could change the future of packaging.

The search for sustainability

More than half of consumers say that environmental sustainability is at least somewhat important to their purchasing decisions, and 41 percent of those shoppers look for recyclable packaging. To benefit the environment and ultimately please consumers with sustainability practices, food brands, startups, and researchers are discovering new ways to package products with recyclable, reusable, or biodegradable materials. 

Multiple Authors
By: Jill Barshay, Sasha Aslanian

When Keenan Robinson started college in 2017, he knew the career he wanted. He’d gone to high school in a small town outside Atlanta. His parents had never finished college, and they always encouraged Robinson and his two older siblings to earn degrees. Robinson’s older brother was the first in the family to graduate. “My parents always stressed how powerful an education is and how it is the key to success,” Robinson says.

When Robinson arrived at Georgia State University in Atlanta, he wanted to major in nursing. “I always knew I had a passion for helping people,” he says. Biology had been his best subject in high school. “My dad, my mom would always kind of call me like the king of trivia because I’d always have just like random science facts.”

During his freshman year, Robinson earned a B average. But the university was closely tracking his academic performance and knew from 10 years of student records that Robinson wasn’t likely to make the cut for the nursing program.

Georgia State is one of a growing number of schools that have turned to big data to help them identify students who might be struggling—or soon be struggling—academically so the school can provide support before students drop out.

Zach Winn’s picture

By: Zach Winn

Manufacturers are constantly tweaking their processes to get rid of waste and improve productivity. As such, the software they use should be as nimble and responsive as the operations on their factory floors.

Instead, much of the software in today’s factories is static. In many cases, it’s developed by an outside company to work in a broad range of factories, and implemented from the top down by executives who know software can help but don’t know how best to adopt it.

That’s where MIT spinout Tulip comes in. The company has developed a customizable manufacturing app platform that connects people, machines, and sensors to help optimize processes on a shop floor. Tulip’s apps provide workers with interactive instructions, quality checks, and a way to easily communicate with managers if something is wrong.

Managers, in turn, can make changes or additions to the apps in real-time and use Tulip’s analytics dashboard to pinpoint problems with machines and assembly processes.

Multiple Authors
By: Natasha Gilbert, Knowable Magazine

Alfalfa, oats, and red clover are soaking up the sunlight in long narrow plots, breaking up the sea of maize and soybeans that dominates this landscape in the heart of the U.S. farm belt. The 18 by 85 meter sections are part of an experimental farm in Boone County, Iowa, where agronomists are testing an alternative approach to agriculture that just may be part of a greener, more bountiful farming revolution.

Organic agriculture is often thought of as green and good for nature. Conventional agriculture, in contrast, is cast as big and bad. And, yes, conventional agriculture may appear more environmentally harmful at first glance, with its appetite for synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, its systems devoted to one or two massive crops and not a tree or hedge in sight to nurture wildlife.

As typically defined, organic agriculture is free of synthetic inputs, using only organic material such as manure to feed the soil. The organic creed calls for caring for that soil and protecting the organisms within it through methods like planting cover crops such as red clover that add nitrogen and fight erosion.

Laurel Thomas’s picture

By: Laurel Thomas

Soldiers develop attachments to the robots that help them diffuse bombs in the field. Despite numerous warnings about privacy, millions of us trust smart speakers like Alexa to listen into our daily lives. Some of us name our cars and even shed tears when we trade them in for shiny new vehicles.

Research has shown that individually we develop emotional, trusting relationships with robotic technology, but until now little has been known about whether groups that work with robots develop attachments, and if so, if such emotions affect team performance.

The short answer, say University of Michigan (U-M) researchers is, yes and yes.

Previous studies have focused on linking emotional attachment to robots with individual fun and enjoyment in more playful settings, says Sangseok You, who began what he and colleagues believe is the first study of its kind on attachment between groups and robots as a doctoral candidate at the U-M School of Information.

Ben Brumfield’s picture

By: Ben Brumfield

For decades, Krishan Ahuja tamed jet noise, for which the National Academy of Engineering elected him as a new member this year. Today, Ahuja is an esteemed researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but he got his start more than 50 years ago as an engineering apprentice in Rolls Royce’s aero-engine division, eventually landing in its jet noise research department.

“In those days, if jets went over your house and you were outside, you’d feel like you needed to put your hands over your ears. Not today,” says Ahuja, who is a Regents Researcher at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and Regents Professor in Georgia Tech’s Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering.


Cyclists watching a jet soar overhead, circa 1960s. Credit: National Archives, Records of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Barnaby Lewis’s picture

By: Barnaby Lewis

Put in the terms of this article’s title, most of us would run a mile, whatever the proposition. But the popularity of online reviews, and the trust we place in persons unknown when making major decisions about where to stay, what to eat, and how to get the most from a trip, tells a different story.

Online communities have always been a place where people connect with peers: people like us, sharing something in common. Accessible anywhere and generally free to participate, it’s little wonder that news groups, forums, and chat rooms flourished from the beginning of the internet and prepared the ground for the late 2000’s social media explosion.

It’s hard to imagine a world without these connections. They’ve become part of the fabric of our daily lives. They’ve changed not only the way we socialize and define our friends, but also our relationship to information and how we form, and express, our opinions. They’ve also influenced the way we make our vacationing decisions; many of us now move from idea through research to booking entirely on screen.

Shannon Brescher Shea’s picture

By: Shannon Brescher Shea

Replacing a beloved tool is never easy. Erik Johnson had worked with the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) for nearly 15 years when he and his colleagues began thinking about its replacement. But this switch wasn’t a matter of walking down to the hardware store.  

The NSLS, a Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory, opened in 1982. Over 30 years, scientists—three of whom won Nobel prizes for their work—used its intense beams of light during the course of more than 55,000 visits to study atomic structures and chemical processes. Johnson came to the NSLS in 1985 as a post-doctoral student. By 2000, he and other leaders in the field realized the NSLS would soon be past its glory days.

They began dreaming up its successor: the NSLS-II. After five years of planning and research, the Office of Science approved the project to move forward.

“There was elation in the hallways,” says Johnson.

Syndicate content