ENVS Research on Concrete Foundations Makes Local News

It all started about a year ago when Jon and Christoph began analyzing crumbling concrete foundations from northeastern Connecticut. The presence of pyrrhotite, a magnetic (you might see where this is going) iron sulfide, in aggregate used for concrete foundation lead to the premature decay of homes as the pyrrhotite decays into a variety of secondary minerals.

In collaboration with the Connecticut Coalition against Crumbling Basements (CCACB) Jon and I started analyzing concrete samples and found that we could detect and quantify pyrrhotite through a combination of magnetic and chemical analyses. In February we submitted a manuscript to Cement and Concrete Research describing our method, talked to homeowners, realtors and engineers, and for the past few months we have been analyzing people’s homes.Trinity’s Alumni Magazine was the first to spread the word. A very famous wall made it on the title page (still bummed that they chose the wall over a heroic portrait of Jon and myself :-), and we got a few pages in he bowels of the issue. The Manchester Journal Inquirer came next, giving us a nice shout-out (yep, you have to read all the way to the end – we’re not that famous), and the Hartford Courant followed suit a few days later. They actually wrote a story about us and, if you are really observant you might see the same wall again in the multi-media part.

In the mean time we got some video practice with Trinity’s video guy who spent a morning interviewing us and our students and shooting video about the process. As far as I know that video is not out yet, but it was great practice for our two seconds of fame when Jon and I were interviewed by the local NBC station.
NBC’s investigative reporter Len Besthoff spent a few hours with us and we ended up with 10 seconds of fame a few hours later. Instant fame ensued: even our neighbors are suddenly recognizing us in the street!

In October Jon and I attended a concrete symposium in Trois-Rivières and just in time, on the up North, we received an e-mail that our paper on thermomagnetic pyrrhotite testing was finally accepted for publication in Cement and Concrete Research. By now it’s actually published and you can download a copy from here (until December 1st ). The meeting in Quebec was amazing. Since my French is pathetic we all got headphones and enjoyed the amazing skills of two simultaneous translators. Jon and I felt like at the United Nations.

At the United Nations :-)

By now we’re working on a new manuscript to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in Washington DC, and are eagerly awaiting our new rock crusher to help with all the concrete cores that are flooding the lab.

I’d say it has been an interesting summer.


Homecoming McCookout was a Blast

Despite my haphazard organizational skills, the first annual (its good to have ambitions !) homecoming McCookout went really well. The weather cooperated, and by noon-ish Joe had the grill going and loaded up with goodies. I would love to claim that the dinosaur cake was the star of the event, but the great pie bake-off between Amber and Jon took center stage.

The epic battle of the pies!

Amber’s was all whole-wheaty and supposedly healthy (but we all know there is no healthy pie crust worth the try …), while Jon went crazy with his mysterious “cinnamon pen” decorating the top with fancy swirly designs. About two dozen testers declared the pies worthy, but with room for improvement (we hope for more of them in the near future !!). Alumni were a bit slow in showing up. Only Adam remembered that “the early student gets the cake” and was there half an hour early. Good man!

The early crowd at McCookout. Once the party got going I was having too much fun to take pictures, but you can believe me – it was huge! Bigger than the last presidential inauguration. :-)

In the end we had maybe two, three dozen students and alumni attending. Our guest star was Joan Morrison, who came all the way from New Mexico. I’d say Lauren came in second,all the way from Portland, Maine. Stephani and Adam tied for closest commute: both made it all the way through town.

Unbeknownst to us we even had a satellite event! Hi Kelsey and Kate! Thanks for saying Hi. From the background it looks you two went all veggie. Oh, succulents – i get it.

Kelsey and Kate celebrating with us in San Diego! OK, Joan, you just got booted to number two.

We had so much fun that we decided to do it again next year. Always god academics we promptly founded a Homecoming McCookout Organizing Committee (HMcCOC) to make next year’s event even bigger and better: Vania and Lucian happily agreed to help out, so stay tuned.

We’re all looking forward to seeing you next year.

P.S. The dinosaur cake was eaten first – take that you apple pies!

Alumni News – Jeff Abrams (’05)

Christoph’s note: Jeff was one of my first research students and probably one of the reasons why I stayed on at Trinity. He was also a heavy smoker, which led to some problems on an inflatable rubber craft …

Jeff in Mudge Pond, Summer 2004

The instructions were to discuss life after Trinity, but since my final semester as an undergraduate was spent abroad studying in the Australian rain forest, it is worth mentioning.  Trinity encourages students to study abroad, and a field study semester is a valuable addendum to the Environmental Science curriculum.  We spent most of the semester evading (usually) the multitude of venomous, spiny, and/or constricting flora and fauna native to the rain forest just inland of the Great Barrier Reef, including potentially aggressive adult-human-sized birds. We did find time to study, among other things, the mating and dietary behavior of the tooth-billed bower bird (Scenopoeetes dentirostris). After graduating I went to Florida to complete a six month internship at Archbold Biological Station. The internship was organized by Trinity Professor Joan Morrison and was primarily a study of the diet of the Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway), a threatened raptor in the falcon family.  After completing the internship, I took a Marine Fisheries Observer position with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) collecting biological data aboard commercial fishing vessels.  Then I worked briefly doing assessment and remediation of petroleum impacted groundwater surrounding gas stations before returning to a Marine Fisheries Observer position.  Somehow I keep finding my career winding back to the marine environment!

In 2010, after four years as a fisheries observer, I enrolled at Humboldt State University in Northern California (think old-growth redwood forests growing down to rugged coastline), and earned a masters of science in natural resources/fisheries biology.  My thesis work involved the study (via hook-and-line sampling!) of fishes associated with rocky habitats along California’s Northcoast.  These fishes, primarily rockfish (Sebastes spp.), are diverse, colorful, slow-growing, and slow maturing – very cool.

Science! Sampling a lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus)


.. and a canary rockfish (Sebastes pinniger) that is suffering from some barotrauma.

When I completed my masters in 2014, I was also fortunate to be able to assist with various field projects, including more hook-and-line sampling, this time as part of a cutthroat/steelhead trout introgression study, and various other salmonid related field efforts that took me to remote and beautiful California and Oregon stream reaches in search of the iconic fish.

This looks like fishing, but it is still science! Cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii), or possibly a cutthroat/steelhead hybrid?

North Fork Smith River. One of many beautiful study locations.

Despite my best efforts to make a career out of hook-and-line sampling, eventually I realized that to make the kind of impact I wanted on fisheries conservation I would need to spend less time in the field and more time with fisheries managers.  I accepted a position with the NMFS in Sacramento with the San Joaquin River Restoration Program (SJRRP).  The San Joaquin River was recently labeled the second most endangered river in the America, and the SJRRP is a valiant effort to restore a 150 mile long section of the river, including reintroducing critically threatened populations of salmon that were extirpated from the basin. But I still manage to get out of the office once in a while.

A non-experimental population Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) that is being prepped to be released into the river to spawn.

The education I received from the Trinity College Environmental Science Department prepared me well to succeed in all of these endeavors.  While all of the professors I met at Trinity College were skilled and caring educators, I would especially like to thank Professors Christoph Geiss and Joan Morrison for going above and beyond any responsibility they had to provide resources and opportunities to their students. As a side note to any current or prospective students who may be reading this: take advantage of the Environmental Science field trips that the department offers.  I was fortunate to go on two of them, and can attest that they are wonderful learning opportunities as well as a lot of fun!

ENVS Students Aid in Maple Avenue Clean-up

On May 6th approximately fifteen environmental science students joined the Maple Avenue Revitalization Group and assisted in their annual spring cleaning efforts.

Our group and Maple Avenue neighbors at the beginning of the event.

Our group and Maple Avenue neighbors at the beginning of the event.

Joining the effort was a challenge, since the event started on a Saturday morning, practically at the crack of dawn (9 AM). The weather was overcast and drizzly but cooperated and the big rains held off long enough to collect a considerate amount of trash.

Jackie posing with some of the collection.

Jackie posing with some of the collection.

A little bit of rain did nothing to dampen the spirits.

A little bit of rain did nothing to dampen the spirits.

We received a big thanks from our old friend Hyacinth Yennie who is already making plans for next year.

Trinity’s Quiet Revolution

solar panels LSCI’ve wanted to write about this for months, but the College beat me to it: over the past few years Trinity has installed quite a few solar panels on its flat roofs. One could not fail to notice the installation on the roofs of Ferris and Life Science – an enormous crane had blocked street access and parking lots for days last summer, but a quick check in Google Earth showed the true extent of the project. Ferris, LSC, Buldings and Grounds as well as Trinity Commons are covered with solar panels. The south facing roofs of the new town houses also have solar panels installed. That’s quite a step up from the few solar panels that were installed many years ago on the roof of the Treehouse.

2009 - the first solar panels go up at the Treehouse.

2009 – the first solar panels go up at the Treehouse.

For the Trinity News article on the most recent solar panels you can follow this link. And if you’d like to see where they are you can see them in the image below on the roofs of Ferris, LRC, Trinity Commons and the Facilities Management building. If you look closely you can see that the building south of the hockey rink is full of solar panels as well.south-campus-1992---2016Interesting enough you have to look for them in Google Earth. Google maps has slightly older imagery, which shows the roofs prior to installation.

Alumni News – Colby Tucker (’09)

This is the latest post in a series of alumni portraits. If you would like to tell us about life after graduation, send me a quick note and you’ll be featured next.

This is not one of the heroic pictures that Colby submitted with his post. This is a young Colby in Iceland, thoroughly enjoying dried fish - an Icelandic delicacy.

This is not one of the heroic pictures that Colby submitted with his post. It shows a young Colby in Iceland, thoroughly enjoying dried fish – an Icelandic delicacy.

In 2009, I emerged from the womb of Trinity ENVS bright eyed and without a clue how I was I going to put ENVS 275 to work (Methods, duh). Three field trips with Christoph and Co. and a semester in New Zealand convinced me that field science was a neat way to understand and view the world. With that in mind, and with the suggestion from fellow bantam, Isabel Gottlieb (’09), I joined a biological anthropology project in Costa Rica as a field technician. While biological anthropology is awfully similar to primatology, the only thing I knew about primatology was a person named Jane Goodall. I was on-board for the adventure and the exposure to a devoted, longitudinal field study. We studied white-faced capuchin monkeys who were as habituated as New York pigeons—important to be able to make behavioral observations and, as a bonus for me, allow me to snap some of my best photos. I lived in very close quarters with six other field technicians and I eventually began to wonder if the monkeys were an elaborate foil for the UCLA researcher to study human behavior. So I made the jump to a different group of monkeys—high schoolers.

Colby's favorite monkey.

Colby’s favorite monkey.

For the next three academic years, I taught chemistry and environmental science at the Pomfret School in Pomfret, CT. I felt at home back in the classroom and enjoyed modifying many of the lessons I received from Trinity professors just a couple of years prior. Also, I now had the summer months to jump back into field research mode. One summer I worked in Wyoming on an ungulate migration study collecting plant samples. Another summer I worked in northern California conducting baseline monitoring for a riparian restoration project. I loved every minute of being out in the field and returning to base at the end of the day. I enjoyed being a part of the niche community of scientists, project managers, and community members who invested themselves in these projects and care deeply about the outcome.

Acidifying samples in Alaska.

Acidifying samples in Alaska.

But then I got the itch. I wanted to have a project of my own. So I returned to school and enrolled in the Master’s program at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES). Here my thesis focused on biogeochemistry in Alaskan estuaries, but I, perhaps to the dismay of my advisor, focused on much more than just my thesis. I pursued course work in regulating energy development, methods of land conservation, remote sensing techniques, and more. I met fascinating and motivated classmates from a host of backgrounds with interests varying from Alaskan subsistence rights to palm oil development in the Philippines to the US energy market. With these new skills, knowledge, and connections, I felt I had a duty to protect and manage the environment I had studied and explored since my time at Trinity. Working in government was a logical transition and I pursued the Presidential Management Fellowship. The PMF is one of several fellowships offered by the federal government to develop those with advanced degrees into government leaders. Fortunately, I was accepted and found a placement working for the Environmental Protection Agency in Region 9’s Enforcement Division.

Agent Colby at an undisclosed location off the coast of California.

Agent Colby at an undisclosed location off the coast of California.

I now find myself on the 14th floor of a high rise in San Francisco wearing sunglasses, in part because of the low hanging winter sun and in part to remind me of the earlier days (better days?) working outside. The EPA keeps me in the office mostly, but as a case developer and inspector for Section 402 of the Clean Water Act I sometimes get to travel to various parts of EPA’s Region 9 (CA, NV, AZ, HI, and the Pacific Islands). This travel is to inspect those facilities that have (or should have) NPDES permits, which means I visit some of our dirtiest places. I’ve inspected industrial facilities in Hawaii, oil drilling platforms in southern California, shipyards around San Francisco Bay, and municipal wastewater treatment plants and collection systems in various places around the region. It’s my job to ensure these facilities are properly permitted and that they are following their permit—staying within their effluent limits, monitoring and reporting their discharge, employing best management practices, and whatever other stipulations their permits prescribe. As a case developer, I compile the evidence of non-compliance and work with lawyers to develop an enforcement action to compel these entities to follow their permit. It is indeed a slow process, but the end result protects human health and the environment—EPA’s catch phrase.
As a PMF though, my time in this role is limited. Part of the fellowship is that I have to conduct a “rotation” in another EPA division or another federal agency altogether. While the details of this rotation are still not set, there is a good chance you will find me next at NOAA or NASA or perhaps at the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ), if I am lucky.