Posts tagged with "Cornell University"

The robots are coming … to mow your lawn

April 12, 2021

According to California’s Air Resources Board, operating a gas-fueled commercial lawn mower for just one hour emits as much pollution as driving a Toyota Camry about 300 miles. And if you substitute a commercial leaf blower for the mower, one hour of operation emits pollution comparable to driving a Camry about 1,100 miles.

What’s more, not only are both gas-powered mowers and leaf blowers bad for the environment, but they are noisy, The New York Times reports.

Indeed, Jamie Banks, the president of Quiet Communities, a nonprofit based in Lincoln, Massachusetts, said it’s not a one-machine issue. “It’s really the very widespread use of all polluting, noisy fossil-fuel-powered equipment that is at issue,” she noted.”

 

The noise from gas-powered lawn equipment is what stands out for people. But just how loud are those machines? While sound levels typically are measured in decibels, experts also rely on what are known as weighted decibels (dBAs), which take into account not just the intensity of the sound, but also how the ear responds.

Any “sound above 45 dBA is likely to start having negative effects,” John Medina, an affiliate associate professor at the University of Washington Department of Boengineering, told the Times. Leaf blowers, he said in an email, “are potentially quite dangerous,” because, when close to the ear, they “have been measured at 95 dBA.” A person standing 50 feet away is exposed to levels of anywhere from 65 dBAs to 80 dBAs, he added.

So what’s a homeowner to do?

For noise reduction alone, “robotic mowers are the biggest bang for the buck,” said Dan Mabe, the founder and president of the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA), a California-based consulting firm that is creating its own standards and certification for areas that move to emission-free lawn care. Like LEED certification for buildings, the AGZA designation will mean that the community or commercial area has achieved emission-free status in its green spaces.

Robotic mowers are more prevalent in Europe, where yards tend to be smaller. In the United States, a few companies have begun to offer robotic services, Frank Rossi, an associate professor at the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, told the Times.

“Labor challenges” in the landscaping market are helping to bring about changes, said Kris Kiser, president and chief executive of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.

For example, a labor shortage first propelled the Langton Group, a landscaping company in Woodstock, Illinois, to make the transition to emissions-free and quieter equipment about five years ago.

“I just couldn’t find enough people to hire, and I saw robotics as a way to solve my labor problems,” said Joe Langton, president of the company. “I began to realize that we not only saved labor, but helped the environment.”

Last year, working with Dan Mabe of AGZA, Langton  designated a 29-acre green zone in Woodstock, which Mabe said was the first in the state. The zone comprises a large corporate campus as well as an 11-acre group of townhouses.

Langton now has a fleet of 200 robotic mowers, each about 2 by about 2.5 feet and just over a foot tall, operating in this zone. They charge on site, some conventionally through electrical outlets and others by solar power. Like robotic vacuum cleaners, they can return to charge when they have finished their work (and can be shut down if the weather is bad).

Each robot covers 1.25 acres, constrained by an underground, signal-emitting wire similar to one used in an invisible dog fence. The family-run company largely relies on equipment manufactured by Husqvarna. a Swedish company in the forefront of green lawn technology.

And Langton told the Times that using robots had not eliminated jobs but instead had changed the kinds of workers he hired. Now he needs people who can oversee the technology and also trim hedges and work on weeds — all with battery-power equipment.

Robotic mowers are expensive, which can deter homeowners. Costs can range from about $1,000 to $2,500, depending on the model. But over the life of the equipment, battery-power models ultimately save money, a 2017 analysis at the University of Arkansas found. Some communities are offering rebates when older mowers or blowers are traded in, Mabe said.

Among manufacturers that offer equipment, Husqvarna is well known, and there are newer companies, like EGO and Ambrogio, as well as Mean Green Products, which in September was acquired by a division of Generac Holdings. Market stalwarts like Toro and DeWalt now also offer battery operated lawn care equipment.

Those who care for their own yards are moving toward battery-operated blowers, trimmers, and edgers when purchasing new equipment, Farnsworth said, adding that roughly half of newly purchased blowers and trimmers are battery powered.

The biggest hurdle may be the professional market, because the electric equipment needs recharging to handle, say, ten hours of continuous use, the Times notes. Until there is a solution, he said, landscapers may “be laggards when compared to homeowners.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Aunt Jemima brand to change name and image over ‘racial stereotype’

June 18, 2020

In the spirit of Black Lives Matter, Quaker Oats—the manufacturer of the syrup and pancake brand, Aunt Jemima, has acknowledged that the brand’s origins were “based on a racial stereotype.” The company now intends to change the name and image on its packaging, The New York Times reports.

The brand, founded in 1889, is built on images of a black female character that often been have been seen as a symbol of slavery. Aunt Jemima has gone through several redesigns; pearl earrings and a lace collar were added in 1989.

On Wednesday, Quaker Oats, which is owned by PepsiCo, said that it was taking “a hard look at our portfolio of brands” as it works “to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives.”

The packaging changes, which were first reported by NBC, will begin to appear toward the end of this year, with the name change coming soon after.

“Whle work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough,” said Kristin Kroepfl, Quaker’s chief marketing officer, in a statement.

The Aunt Jemima brand was inspired by a minstrel song called “Old Aunt Jemima” and was once described by Riché Richardson, an associate professor of African-American literature at Cornell University, as “an outgrowth of Old South plantation nostalgia and romance grounded in an idea about the ‘mammy,’ a devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master and mistress while neglecting her own.”

Last week, the glorified depiction of slavery in “Gone With the Wind,” which included a portrayal of an affable black character named Mammy, led HBO Max to temporarily remove the film from its catalog–before bringing it back with an explanatory forward, the Times notes.

Quaker Oats said in its statement that Aunt Jemima’s marketing had “evolved over time with the goal of representing loving moms from diverse backgrounds who want the best for their families,” but that it would gather more perspectives internally and from the black community to further shape the brand.

Research contact: @nytimes

Cannabis courses and degree programs are multiplying like weeds

August 6, 2019

A big challenge for employers in the nearly $14 billion global market for legal marijuana is not a shortage of applicants—but a lack of qualified applicants, according to a recent report by Quartz.

“We have one of the biggest industries developing without any trained professionals,” says Jamie Warm, co-founder and CEO of Henry’s Original, a Mendocino County, California-based cannabis cultivator and distributor.

Instead, he’s pulling staff from packaged goods industries such as liquor and fashion, where the “particular business feels like their experience translates,” he says, but there’s still a “learning curve.”

However, that’s about to change, as universities and colleges nationwide start offering courses and degrees in cannabis cultivation, distribution, and retailing.

This autumn, Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, will offer the undergraduate course, Cannabis: Biology, Society and Industry.  The course will explore the history, culture, pharmacology, breeding, horticulture, and legal challenges associated with cannabis in an effort to inform and stimulate new ideas towards solving these problems—motivating future plant breeders, horticulturists, farmers, pharmacologists, and entrepreneurs to be successful in the cannabis industry.

Even more in-depth is the program being offered at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.  has launched a new Master of Science (MS) in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to support patients and the medical cannabis industry, add to existing research in the field, and develop well-informed medical cannabis policy.

Based at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) in Rockville, Maryland, the two-year program blends online learning with face-to-face experiences, and is designed for any individual who has completed his or her undergraduate degree and is interested in pursuing a career in the medical cannabis industry.

The MS in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics is the first graduate program in the country dedicated to the study of medical cannabis. It aims to meet the needs of all individuals interested in advancing their knowledge about medical cannabis, including health care professionals such as physicians, nurses, and pharmacists; scientists and regulators; growers and dispensary owners; and policy and industry professionals.

“Medical cannabis has been legalized in 33 states, including Maryland, as well as in Washington, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico,” says Natalie D. Eddington, PhD, FCP, FAAPS, dean and professor of the School of Pharmacy. “This number is only expected to increase in the future, fueling a demand for an educated workforce that is well-trained in both the science and therapeutic effects associated with this medicinal plant.

She continues, “Our MS in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics has been critically designed to prepare students to meet this demand. Innovations in instructional design throughout the curriculum will provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to make a positive impact on communities across the United States.”

two-year program starts in late August, which also is when the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia will offer the first of four courses in a new MBA option for students interested in studying the cannabis industry.

And in Canada, which last year became the second country in the world to legalize weed nationwide, McGill University plans to offer a graduate degree in cannabis production starting in 2020.

The growing number of colleges adding degrees and courses in cannabis (there are also online cannabis certificate programs out there) reflects a hot industry with needs for both high-level and broad-based skills, whether in horticulture, chemistry, entrepreneurship, pharmacology, policy and regulation, communication, or the law.

Jamie Warm, who has interviewed ex-employees of Nike and Tesla for jobs at Henry’s, said in an interview with Quartz that his company has just over 100 employees now and expects to double its headcount by next year. He says that in addition to management skills and agricultural know-how, there’s a need for people with startup experience who are comfortable with “tackling things at more of a grassroots level.”

There’s also the obvious challenge of attracting professionals to an industry that is not completely legal in most countries, including the United States.

Research contact: @qz

You are more likeable than you think

September 28, 2018

When Sally Field accepted the Oscar for Best Actress in 1984 for her role in Places in the Heart, she blurted out, “You like me, right now, you like me!”—radiating her thrill at being validated by the members of her industry.

Most of us don’t get that type of affirmation on a world stage—however, a study published in September by the Association for Psychological Science suggests that the people you meet probably like you more than you think.

“Our research suggests that accurately estimating how much a new conversation[al] partner likes us — even though this a fundamental part of social life and something we have ample practice with — is a much more difficult task than we imagine,”  co-authors Erica Boothby, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University; and Gus Cooney, a social psychologist at Harvard University, told CNBC in a recent interview.

In the first of a series of experiments, the researchers provided pairs of students with ice-breakers for five-minute conversations. The students then independently answered questions about how much they liked their conversational partner and how much they thought their conversational partner liked them.

It turns out the students consistently underestimated how well-liked they were, a phenomenon the researchers call the “liking gap.” The shyer someone was, the more they sold themselves short, the network news outlet reports.

They found further evidence in real-world settings and over long periods of time. Freshman at Yale University underestimated how much other residents of their dorms liked them for months throughout the school year. The gaps only disappeared by the end of the second semester.

How can this gap be explained? It may stem in part from the fact that people tend to hold themselves to high standards. The researchers posit that when you’re critical of yourself, you can project that criticism onto others.

“We’re self-protectively pessimistic and do not want to assume the other likes us before we find out if that’s really true,” says a third co-author, Yale University Psychology Professor Margaret S. Clark, told CNBC.

This instinct actually could be protective—and even beneficial, the researchers believe. They note, “People’s harsh inner critic can be functional when it comes to self-improvement.” For instance, if you tell a joke and sense that your audience has lost interest by the time you get to the punch line, the next time you tell it you might hasten the delivery and get a few more laughs.

But if self-doubt inhibits you from socializing, you may want to remind yourself that other people are not likely to be as hard on yourself as you are. That could give you the confidence you need to do some networking. After all, “conversations have the power,” the authors write, “to turn strangers into friends, coffee dates into marriages, and interviews into jobs.”

Research contact: ericajboothby@gmail.com

Let’s not beat around the bush: Plants talk

August 24, 2018

There’s a “growing” school of thought that validates the communication systems of grasses, flowers, shrubs, and trees. It may have started back in 1986, when Britain’s Prince Charles, who is devoted to organic gardening and environmental issues, was widely ridiculed for saying, ”I just come and talk to the plants, really—very important to talk to them. They respond, I find.”

However, today, many scientists acknowledge that (to piggyback on another social movement) #GreenLivesMatter: Plants do lead anything but solitary and sedentary lives. In fact, James Cahill, a professor at the University of Alberta believes they “are smarter and much more interactive than we [had previously] thought.” His documentary, “What Plants Talk About,” ran on PBS in April 2013.

An article posted on Mental Floss in 2015 covers his research—outlining “five behaviors that show how active plants can be,” as follows:

  1. Plants can call for help: It’s sad to say, but when you inhale the fragrant smell of freshly mowed grass or cut flowers, what you actually are smelling is the plants’ distress call. Your lawn is trying to save itself from the injury it has just sustained. In fact, according to Cahill, who talked to Mental Floss, “Leafy plants release a number of volatile organic compounds called green leaf volatiles (GLVs). When the plants are injured—whether through animals grazing on them, you cutting or mowing them, or even just unintentionally rough handling—these emissions increase like crazy.” Some of the compounds stimulate the formation of new cells at the wound site, so it closes faster. Others act as antibiotics that prevent bacterial infection and inhibit fungal growth. A few spur the production of defensive compounds at un-wounded sites as a preemptive fortification.
  2. Plants can eavesdrop: In turn, nearby plants can “eavesdrop”—picking up those SOS calls and ramping up their own defenses in response. 2013 review led by Richard Karban, of the Department of Entomology at the University of California-Davis, found 48 studies that support the idea that plants increase their defenses after their neighbors are damaged. For instance, when wounded by a hornworm, sagebrush releases defensive proteins (called trypsin proteinase inhibitors [TPIs]), which prevent the insect from digesting protein and stunt its growth. When neighboring plants—even other species—are exposed to TPIs, they begin readying their defenses. Wild tobacco, scientists at New York’s Cornell University found, begins making TPIs when it senses a distress call from sagebrush, giving it a head start on defending itself if the caterpillar.
  3. Plants defend their own territory: Plants compete with each other for sunlight—truly “jostling for position” among their neighbors. They also can push out competition in other ways. The invasive knapweed plant—native to Eastern Europe but wreaking havoc on U.S. grasslands—has roots that release certain chemicals to help the plant absorb nutrients from the soil, Mental Floss reports. Those same chemicals also kill off native grasses. Thus, the knapweed ends up taking over large territories and killing off its competitors, much like some animals do. Interestingly enough, in self-defense, lupin roots secrete oxalic acid, which forms a protective barrier against the toxic chemicals given off by knapweed. Lupin even can protect other plants in its vicinity from falling prey to the invasive species.
  4. Plants recognize their siblings: Plants have “family pride,” tending to recognize and support their kin. Although the compete for sunlight with other species and grow more roots to compete for food, sibling plants are more “considerate” of each other’s needs. Experiments show that sibling plants recognize each other via chemical signals.
  5. Plants can communicate with mammals: Finally, while Prince Charles claimed that plants communicated with him, the most common example is the relationship between bats and the carnivorous pitcher plant that is native to Borneo. The plant has evolved to “hijack bat communication systems,” according to Cahill—helping the bats to locate its opening. Not only do the bats roost in the plant; they form a mutually beneficial relationship. The plants provide a comfy roost with few parasites and an ideal microclimate, and the bats poop in the plants. Bat guano is rich in nitrogen, a crucial plant nutrient.

Research contact: jc.cahill@ualberta.ca

Early retirement could kill you

December 21, 2017

People who retire early die sooner than those who keep working past 65, a new study by Cornell University released on December 19 reveals. Indeed, men have a 20% higher mortality risk, if they start claiming Social Security benefits at 62, or three years before retirement age, the researchers found.

U.S. Census figures reveal a clear correlation between premature death and premature retirement, according to an analysis by two university researchers. While this could be down to the fact that many are forced to take early retirement due to underlying health conditions, the researchers warn we cannot be certain of that theory.

The research conducted by economists Maria Fitzpatrick and Timothy Moore, and covered by The Daily Mail UK, involved the review of comprehensive birth and death records for the entire U.S. population.

They found that fully 33% of Americans start taking Social Security benefits at 62, which is deemed early retirement for most employees.

Interestingly enough, for those whose retirement technically started at 62 or earlier, retiring at 62 had no impact on their health. However, they found that those who retired early at 62 had a significantly higher mortality rate than workers who retired on time.

They concluded that early retirement ‘may have an immediate, negative impact’ on health.

What’s more, this is far from the first study to find this correlation. Last year, researchers at Oregon State University found that those who work past age 65 could add more years to their life.

Research contact: maria.d.fitzpatrick@cornelll.edu