‘CEaS’-ing opportunities to build a ‘greener’ future

Center harnesses resources from across campus to create innovative solutions in energy, sustainability

Collage of CEaS images.

Faculty and student researchers put the four elements—earth, air, fire and water—to the test as they work to understand and refine energy sources, efficiency and sustainability in an exemplary research center that draws upon disciplines from across campus.

The Center for Energy and Sustainability (CEaS), established in 2009 with a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), engages more than three dozen students and faculty in close collaboration.

Working in multidisciplinary projects, participants tackle everything—from how to enhance fuel and energy sources to reducing particle emissions and implement “green” policies and programs equally across communities. Their collective work, professors say, will help establish a greater understanding of issues that are critical to the advancement of technologies affecting the well-being of the nation and the world.

The center is also a critical contributor to the development of the diverse, multifunctional workforce that is needed to propel the field and industry forward.

“What CEaS is trying to do is two-fold,” Civil Engineering Professor and CEaS Director Crist Khachikian said. “We are trying to solve these pressing issues that society has and we are trying to excite students to be interested and take part in this field—to be change agents—while we do it.”

“On a daily basis, we drive our cars, we flip on the lights, we turn on our computers, and we are not really thinking about what we are doing or where that energy is coming from,” he continued. “It’s this background problem that no one is focusing on, but we need to start addressing it now, because if we don’t, in the next 20 to 30 years it will be an acute problem.”

With a specific focus on topics pertaining to energy and sustainability, research within CEaS delves into seven distinct areas of study:

  • Direct methanol fuel cell development and testing for portable electronics
  • Advanced materials use in solar cells
  • Efficient combustion of fossil fuels and biofuels
  • Effects of carbon sequestration on soils and water
  • Educational outreach and program development in science, technology, engineering and math
  • Computer modeling and testing for research applications
  • Environmental justice and policy

Each project brings together faculty from a variety of engineering and science disciplines, providing multiple perspectives and many layers of insight.

“Typically what happens with most researchers is as we start to move up in our degree and study, we know more and more about less and less,” said Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences Andre Ellis, who is part of a research team investigating the effects of carbon sequestration in Mammoth Mountain. “This center, however, really gives you the opportunity to pull back and see how your interests and research fit into the larger picture.”

In all, the CEaS center involves leading faculty investigators from the fields of biology, microbiology, chemistry, biochemistry, computer science, geography and urban analysis, geological sciences, civil engineering, mechanical engineering and technology in hands-on, collaborative projects. Also, more than a dozen undergraduate and graduate students have been supported through the program since 2009.

CEaS is Cal State L.A.’s second NSF-funded Centers for Research Experience in Science and Technology, following in the path of the successful Center for Environmental Analysis, which was supported for two five-year cycles.

“I think that this is the way that science should work in a University,” said Chemistry Professor Frank Gomez, who is part of the center’s management team and conduct research in the area of direct methanol fuel cells. “We cannot live in separate disciplines.”