UNT researchers have been studying the environment — and working to preserve and protect it — for more than 80 years. What began as a single scientist’s analysis of different tasting tap water has blossomed into comprehensive studies of water, air, plants, wildlife, energy and much more. UNT’s environmental research involves faculty members and students alike and spans a spectrum of sciences, engineering, business, art, philosophy and more.
UNT offers more than 300 sustainability-related courses and 250 faculty-led environmentally-related research. Today, with recognized leadership in sustainability, biobased products and green technology development, UNT shows the many ways We Mean Green.
See how UNT’s researchers are working collaboratively across multiple disciplines to:
- Water analysis through labs like the Lewsiville Lake Environmental Learning Area
- Pollinator Garden to sustain the bee population
- How oak trees remove pollutants from the air
- Links between air quality and strokes and cardiovascular disease
- Better tools to monitor air quality
- Bioproducts used in medicine
- Materials to build stronger, safer storm shelters
- Increased food production around the world through irrigation
- 1,200 square-foot Zero Energy Lab, a functional living quarters that generates its own energy
- Logistics systems that improve efficiency for companies transporting goods
- Engineered plants that produce more natural oils for alternative fuel
- Energy savings plant-based building materials provide
Post oak and blackjack oak trees in full foliage may provide more benefits for humans than blocking winds and casting shade to cool the ground on hot days. The trees may also improve air quality when air pollutants fall onto their branches and leaves and are eventually washed to the ground by rain or fall to the ground with the leaves, according to Alexandra Ponette-González, UNT assistant professor of geography. Ponette-González is studying the effectiveness of blackjack oaks and post oaks in capturing black carbon — commonly emitted by diesel engines — in urban areas.
More than 90 percent of the world’s population live in areas with high levels of air pollution, and every year, close to 3 million deaths are linked to outdoor air pollution. Annie Lund, a UNT assistant professor of biological sciences is studying the connection between the common causes — cardiovascular disease and stroke — and air pollution.
Led by Samuel F. Atkinson, Regents Professor of biology, the institute fosters, facilitates and conducts interdisciplinary basic and theoretical environmental research to understand how human actions impact the environment. Researchers use that knowledge to suggest scientific, engineering, policy and/or educational solutions to real-world environmental problems. UNT's green research started with water quality studies in the 1930s and now includes 200 sustainability related courses including bioproducts and green technology development.
Through a nationally recognized program in environmental philosophy, UNT leads the Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Conservation Program to partner with the Chilean government and academic institutions to protect and support the ecologically fragile Cape Horn reserve. The Chilean government awarded this UNT program $15 million dollars to build a new Sub-Antarctic Cape Horn Center. UNT has the world’s first graduate program in environmental philosophy and the world’s first field station in environmental philosophy, science and policy at Cape Horn, Chile.
In support of UNT’s Bee Campus USA designation, a group of UNT staff members and students have received We Mean Green funding and access to 4.5 acres for the Pollinative Prairie, restoration project. The prairie will feature native grasses, wildflowers, and habitat spaces to protect, preserve, and promote native pollinator populations. The team is seeking the best method of removing invasive Bermuda grass, and a full planting begins in fall 2017.
This program gives students the know-how to ease tourism’s strain on the environment. Students spend a year at UNT building an academic foundation in statistical analysis, assessing environmental impact, marketing and policy. The second year they take additional courses in the science of sustainability while researching independently at the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanzain Costa Rica.
UNT’s Science Education Research Lab is seeing measurable results from environmental education efforts the lab has conducted in Dallas schools for a decade. Operating on a grant from the city of Dallas, educators from the Science Education Research Laboratory have developed and taught water conservation lessons in some Dallas classrooms since 2006. The lab won a 2016 Texas Environmental Excellence Award.
The Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA), which sits just south of Lewisville Lake, is a living lab perfect for scientific research and environmental education purposes and provides unique opportunities for hands-on training with its vast prairieland, array of animals and diversity of waterways, including the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. And the Lewisville Aquatic Ecosystems Research Facility, one of the many labs located within LLELA and administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, offers additional opportunities to research and help restore the ecosystems in Texas lakes and rivers.
The Elm Fork Education Center provides investigative encounters that engage students of all ages in field activities and discovery experiences. These opportunities are designed to encourage sound environmental decision making and responsible environmental stewardship.
Hunter-gatherer DNA Geographers and biologists are studying ancient DNA in guanaco in western Argentina to learn what factors allowed hunter-gatherers there to sustainably hunt the species for the last 4,000 years and especially to see the role migration played. The goal is to learn to better manage migratory species today. The team also is using approaches in DNA analysis, not used before in archaeology, that will be relevant to any species including human in any part of the world where archaeologists want to know how populations grew or declined over time.
Michael D. Wise, assistant professor of history, studies environmental history and the history of food. His 2016 book Producing Predators: Wolves, Work and Conquest in the Northern Rockies examines the conflicts between native and non-native people over hunting and the livestock industry in 19th century and the environmental effects.
Environmental scientists and crime investigators now can more readily collect data on the spot. Guido Verbeck, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has multiple patents for his air quality sensors and mass spectrometry tools that support chemical analysis in the field. Whether mounted in an electric hybrid car or carried as a backpack, the equipment can be used to more readily — and accurately — check air quality and detect the chemicals in the air.
Soil moisture helps scientist predict weather patterns, model climate, forecast flood and monitor water resources and the evaporation of water from the land to the atmosphere. Feifie Pan in geography/environment and Michael Nieswiadomy in economics tested a simple approach to estimating root-zone soil moisture in snow-dominated regions across Utah.
One-sixth of the human population does not have reliable access to decent food. Researchers have found opportunities to produce more food by increasing water productivity and water use efficiency. UNT’s GREENDESAL team created a desalination system for brackish groundwater for irrigation and was third place in the Desal Prize competition. Rejected salts are re-purposed as fertilizers and aquaculture. The system is completely off-grid powered by solar and wind energy. Pilot plants are under testing in Brazil and in New Mexico.
Three UNT biologists are studying the effects of oil on different animal species and water in the Gulf of Mexico. The team is looking at 1) the performance of juvenile fish after an oil exposure and their capacity to recover from those exposures, 2) the cardiovascular impact of exposures to components of oil in the very early life stages of Mahi-Mahi and Red Drum and 3) the chemical breakdown, toxicology and interactions of sunlight and oil in the upper column of the Gulf of Mexico, where many embryos for various species live.
Led by Richard Dixon, Distinguished Research Professor of biology, the institute delivers research solutions to underpin the utilization of plants for production of biopolymers, new construction materials, bioactive small molecules with applications in both agriculture and healthcare, and biofuels. The institute operates through a pipeline linking sustainable plant production platforms, metabolic engineering and the development of new materials.
Sheldon Shi processes and evaluates composite materials, especially renewable composite bioproducts like engineered wood-based products and natural fiber composites. His research interests also include renewable bioproducts manufacturing, nanocomposites, adhesive and adhesion, biofuel, and biomass to carbon conversion. He serves as PI or Co-PI for federal research projects funded by National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and industry sponsors.
Tomatoes, chili peppers and blueberries are a few of the many crops that rely on bumblebees for pollination. Bumblebees also are the main pollinators for several wildflower species such as sunflowers that grow to become food sources for birds and small mammals. UNT doctoral candidate Jessica Beckham has spent years researching Texas bumblebee populations, observing how urban green spaces and community gardens are preserving these important pollinators.
Led by Rajiv Mishra, Distinguished Research Professor of materials science and engineering, the institute brings together a diverse group of faculty members who are focused on structural materials, functional materials, computational tools and advanced manufacturing processes. The strength of the institute's members lies in designing high-performance materials for the aerospace, automotive and energy sectors.
UNT artists stepped away from harsh chemical dyes in favor of natural dyes made from flower petals, plant leaves, roots and other organic materials. The organic materials are grown in UNT’s Natural Dye Garden, a project that was suggested by students, funded by UNT’s We Mean Green Fund and housed in the College of Visual Arts and Design.
UNT biologists are studying how commonly used pesticides affect wildlife and humans Neonicotinoids are a neuro-active component of the most widely used pesticides in the world and have been deemed a threat to honeybees and other pollinators. This research could shed light on how wildlife, like quail, respond to pesticides in their environment, and how humans, adults and children, respond to ingestion of neonicotinoids in their food.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes — deadly natural disasters routinely reported in the news. Now UNT researchers are creating walls that will stand up to those disasters, with hopes of saving homes and lives. Xing Lan, an engineering graduate student, has been testing new shear walls the research team made out of cold-form steel to determine if they will better stand up to the extreme winds of hurricanes and tornadoes and the extreme movement caused by earthquakes.
The Zero Energy Research laboratory is a 1,200 square foot laboratory located at UNT’s Discovery Park has a flexible work space and a living quarters with a bathroom and small kitchen with multiple sustainable features. The facility is a unique way to study, test and demonstrate various alternative energy generation technologies. It also creates enough energy to power the building and often can generate excess energy to return to the power grid.
In partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, Kent Chapman, Regents Professor of biological sciences and a member of UNT’s BioDiscovery Institute, is studying how to produce oil in plant tissues other than seeds and fruits, such as leaves. The end goal is to produce this type of oil for sustainable real-life application for fuels, chemicals and other products.
UNT researches have partnered with the non-profit group A Future Without Poverty to create sustainable communities locally and across the world. This includes zero-energy housing in Denton, the upcycling of leather airline seats and water and energy projects in Uganda, Costa Rica, Ghana, Cameroon and other countries.
Cold-formed steel and its applications as a construction material could make buildings more structurally sound and less susceptible to damage brought by natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. Cheng Yu, an associate professor of engineering technology, has published “Recent Trends in Cold-Formed Steel Construction,” a reference book for designing and building sustainable and energy-efficient cold-formed steel buildings.
Created in 2004 and brought to UNT in 2011 with Rajiv Mishra, professor of materials science and engineering, the site works with the Army Research Laboratory, Boeing, General Motors, Magnesium Elektron North America, NASA Johnson Space Center and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Led by Brian Sauser, associate professor of logistics who also serves as Director of UNT’s Complex Logistics Systems Laboratory, the institute's multidisciplinary team develops effective solutions to complex problems confronting industry and government. The research team studies the modeling and simulation of logistics systems, transportation planning and management, the application of geographic information systems, economic impact studies, site selection, vehicle routing, technology development and application, and the engineering of responsive and sustainable systems.