Population Health

October 31, 2023

Initiative awards four pilot grants for climate change-focused projects

UW researcher in the field completing a glacial surveyThe Population Health Initiative announced the award of four, $50,000 climate change-focused pilot grants to support interdisciplinary teams of University of Washington researchers to develop preliminary data or proof-of-concept needed to pursue follow-on funding to scale their respective efforts.

“We are pleased to support these four teams in generating new discoveries in areas ranging from sustainable materials to aiding cities to achieve net-zero emissions,” said Ali H. Mokdad, the UW’s chief strategy officer for population health and professor of health metrics sciences. “These projects, if successful, will deliver findings that can help to make immediate contributions in addressing the climate crisis.”

Each applicant for these pilot grants was previously awarded a climate change planning grant to support project planning during summer quarter 2023. Details regarding the four funded projects, project teams and focus of each teams’ research can be found in the following tabs.

Sustainable metamaterials for insulation applications

Eleftheria Roumeli, Materials Science & Engineering
Tomás Méndez Echenagucia, Architecture

Project abstract
Amidst an urgent global shift towards a circular economy, the demand for sustainable materials has reached a critical juncture. This transformation requires materials sourced from renewable sources, processed via green chemistry methods, and culminating in benign end-of-life cycles. At this juncture, the fusion of metamaterials and sustainable engineering materials emerges as a pivotal endeavor.

Metamaterials, known for enabling exceptional control over wave propagation and mechanical properties, hold the promise of engineering materials with unprecedented utility. The primary objective of this project is to conduct preliminary experiments in fabricating sustainable biomaterial modular blocks and assembling them in a metamaterial composite design that will be targeting sound insulation applications. This proposal seeks to synergize advances in wave propagation control through metamaterial design with the potential of modular biomatter-based material blocks.

Our proposal transcends the capabilities of its individual components, offering a groundbreaking solution poised to revolutionize insulation technologies. This collaborative endeavor not only unites diverse expertise but also melds a spectrum of ideas and perspectives from the principal investigators, heralding a transformative stride towards a sustainable, circular future.

Wild food plant diversity, conservation, and community knowledge in the Eastern Mediterranean

Danya Al-Saleh, Jackson School of International Studies
Jon Bakker, Environmental and Forest Sciences
Omar Tesdell, Birzeit University

Project abstract
Climatic shifts are heavily affecting the Eastern Mediterranean region. Wild food plants have been and remain an important source of food for peoples of the region. Despite being the center of origin of wheat, barley, lentils and other major world crops, the vast majority of staple foods and feed for livestock are imported to Palestine from abroad. Climatic shifts threaten these food supplies. Palestine has a wealth of native food plants and crop wild relatives in addition to the knowledge about them.

The proposed project will carry out ex situ conservation of at least 10 key wild and native food plant species in Palestine with the Ardeea research group, a project supported by the Palestinian American Research Center, a U.S. nonprofit. It will focus on conservation through (a) collections of seeds and interviews and (b) storage of these key species.

Dr. Omar Tesdell, founder of Ardeea, will serve as the local partner and coordinator. Dr. Danya Al-Saleh will provide support for the project at the University of Washington and will conduct oral histories with women farmers who are the keepers of this knowledge. Dr. Jon Bakker, an ecologist and specialist in native plant conservation, will support with knowledge and expertise in collecting seed to increase both genetic and population-level diversity of the collection.

The project will deepen the diversity of the existing collections and will contribute copies of the accessions to the national seedback of the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture. This project will strengthen UW’s international engagement through questions and issues that have implications for work on Indigenous knowledge, food sovereignty and the ethics of data collection in the Pacific Northwest.

DecarbCityTwin: A Platform for Equitable Decarbonization of the Built Environment

Narjes Abbasabadi, Architecture
Christopher Meek, Architecture
Kate Simonen, Architecture
Carrie Sturts Dossick, Construction Management
Daniel Kirschen, Electrical & Computer Engineering
Mehdi Ashayeri, Southern Illinois University
Lylianna Allala, City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment
Ani Krishnan, City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment

Project abstract
The urgent goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 necessitates global efforts to curtail carbon emissions from buildings, with a critical emphasis on equitable decarbonization to mitigate the disproportionate burdens faced by marginalized communities, including energy inefficiency, elevated energy costs, air pollution exposure, and related health impacts. Yet, existing research in this domain lacks a holistic systems approach, detailed spatiotemporal data for understanding air pollution exposure, especially in vulnerable communities, and a unified, accessible platform for assessing energy reduction scenarios that account for health risks and the entire lifecycle.

The main objective of this project is to develop the DecarbCityTwin, a digital twin designed to facilitate decarbonization by addressing interconnected challenges related to energy, health, and equity within the built environment. This platform will employ physics-based and data-driven modeling techniques, leveraging sensing technology, machine learning, and automation to monitor, simulate, and analyze “what-if” scenarios, while also addressing issues related to data availability, computational accuracy, efficiency, as well as ensuring privacy and cybersecurity in data collection and analysis. This research enables informed design and retrofit interventions and policy strategies.

With a pilot launch in Seattle to support local just transition initiatives, such as Seattle’s Green New Deal and Washington’s 2021 Climate Commitment Act, and alignment with the Justice40 federal initiative, the platform’s scalability holds the potential for adoption in other cities and communities, yielding lasting environmental, social, and economic benefits.

Assessing the Benefits of Community Photovoltaic Power Projects in Washington

Dargan Frierson, Atmospheric Sciences
Josh Lawler, Environmental and Forest Sciences
Alyssa Poletti, Atmospheric Sciences
Eileen V. Quigley, Clean Energy Transition Institute
Ruby Moore-Bloom, Clean Energy Transition Institute

Project abstract
The goal of the project is to produce accurate, accessible interactive county-by-county data that show the health, emissions and economic potential for developing community-scale solar in Washington’s rural and Tribal communities. The project would create an interactive composite dataset to be displayed on the Northwest Clean Energy Atlas that combines utility service territory and resource emissions profiles, energy burden data, and solar profile data.

The interactive data displayed on a map of Washington would enable decision-makers to easily find the best places to apply for grants, such as the U.S. EPA Solar for All. The data could also provide background information for pilot studies where solar arrays with and without storage could be installed across the state to study performance and base future implementation of community-scale solar. The data would be particularly focused on pilot projects to pursue in marginalized communities.

More information about the Population Health Initiative pilot grant program can be found by visiting our funding page.