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Engineering for Sustainability

In 1990, Tufts became the first university in the nation to create an environmental policy known as the Talloires Declaration. The policy reflected a mission to conduct university research, education, and operations in a manner that safeguards the environment.

Since then, interdisciplinary research and programming rooted in the School of Engineering have steadily gained momentum, strengthening and broadening this university-wide commitment to setting the highest possible standard for sustainability research and practice.

At the intersection of society, systems, and innovation, Tufts School of Engineering is leading efforts to understand, rehabilitate, and sustain natural and built systems and to develop new technologies, methods, and tools for solving pressing environmental problems.

Engineering for sustainability research at Tufts School of Engineering focuses on three main areas:

Sustainable Energy

Tufts School of Engineering is actively building new knowledge about how to harness renewable sources of energy to power a future with limited access to fossil fuels. In the last year, the school has strengthened its sustainable energy program in hiring three new professors and in providing faculty with seed grants, via the Wittich Sustainable Energy Research Initiation Fund, to jumpstart new alternative energy research.

The United States has set a goal of deriving 10 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025. While there is no "silver bullet" to attain these goals, Tufts engineers are working on a wide range of solutions. The Department of Mechanical Engineering is expanding both basic and applied research aimed at finding innovative ways to produce and transport electricity. Research in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering aimed at improving photovoltaic technology is advancing on two tracks, one focused on lowering the costs of large-scale installations, and the other at increasing yield in approaches that concentrate the sun's rays. Biomedical engineers are also interested in capturing sunlight with biodegradable solar cells made from biocompatible materials. In the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, engineers are working on processing fuels and biofuels more efficiently and making fuel-cell technology more viable for the mass market. And the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering has ongoing research programs on wind energy.

Water and the Environment

Water affects each of us, every day-our health, our livelihoods, our environment, our world.

This vital resource faces major challenges in every corner of the planet. Throughout the developing world, concerns about water scarcity and quality, compounded by uncertain population growth, contribute to greater geopolitical and economic instability. Closer to home, groundwater contaminants and water-borne pollutants threaten the delicate balance between human and natural systems maintained by watersheds, putting the health of our lakes and rivers at risk. Globally, shifting weather patterns spark fears of drought, flooding, and irreversible environmental change. Responding to these challenges requires collaboration, ingenuity, and a profound scope of knowledge.

Tufts is in the vanguard of interdisciplinary education and scholarship; changing thinking about issues; and creating sustainable, workable, and often revolutionary solutions. We create new knowledge with our groundbreaking research.

Sustainable Infrastructure

Structural engineering research involves multidisciplinary approaches to the planning, analysis, design, construction, and health monitoring of buildings, bridges, industrial facilities, and other components of infrastructure.

Aging of the highway system infrastructure and the possibility of structurally deficient bridges presents a serious problem in the United States today. The proposed solution to this problem involves a shift in the bridge design protocol to include baseline finite element modeling, continuous sensor-based monitoring and testing, and the intellectual post-processing of collected data to determine the structural health of bridges.

The 1956 Interstate Highway Program expanded the U.S. highway system to over 500,000 bridges, but there was no monitoring or condition assessment included in the initial design and building effort.

Tufts research, in addition to work with external collaborators, will be applicable to a significant fraction of the national infrastructure in the United States and beyond. The benefits from a successful project would be realized through improvements in safety, as well as improvements in the economics of bridge design, fabrication, and maintenance.