Climate Control

Photo of damged crops during drought

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The American Climate Prospectus: Economic Risks in the United States, released in June and co-led by Robert Kopp, a Rutgers climate scientist, is the first to provide a national set of estimates of costs to key sectors of state economies.

With every day, the drum beat only gets louder: the American economy faces major risks because of climate change. That was the conclusion of a report entitled Risky Business, which was released by leaders in business, education, and government. Published in June, it relied on the research of another report, the American Climate Prospectus: Economic Risks in the United States (ACP), which assesses the risks and opportunities that climate change will present the United States. The ACP was prepared by a Rutgers climate scientist, colleagues from the University of California, Berkeley, and the private consultancy Rhodium Group. It is the first to provide a national set of estimates of costs to key sectors of state economies.

“We looked at risks across the United States in more geographic detail than most previous risk-modeling efforts,” said Robert Kopp, who co-led the report and who is an authority in assembling physical and economic models of climate change, particularly rising sea levels. He is an associate professor of earth and planetary sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences, an associate director of the Rutgers Energy Institute, and has an affiliation with the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

The costs of climate change will differ from state to state, according to the report, which also assesses property damage caused by coastal storms, likely changes in crop yields, and the impact on labor productivity. Kopp and his collaborators examined the effects of average changes in temperature, precipitation, and sea level and their impact on the frequency of extreme heat waves, droughts, and floods.
— Ken Branson

Smart Security for Your Smartphone

When you use your smartphone or tablet, you can protect your financial and personal data by relying on PIN-based security and passcodes. But with mobile devices being favorite targets for theft, these technologies, which can be compromised, are hardly reassuring. Fortunately, Rutgers researchers are studying the feasibility of using touchscreen drawings—“gestures”—by which users would set their password by drawing a line, curve, or pattern on their touchscreens. The device would register the gesture, and users would have to come reasonably close to replicating that same gesture to later unlock the device. Janne Lindqvist, an assistant research professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineer­ing at the School of Engineering, is heading up the Rutgers team, which is collaborating with Max Planck Institute for Informatics and Saarland University in Germany and the University of Helsinki in Finland. Lindqvist had his students “shoulder surf”—that is, surreptitiously observe—a phone user making the touchscreen drawing and then had the students try to accurately mimic the gesture—all to no avail.

Crop-Fueled Cars

Now that Rutgers is a member of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which is the Big Ten’s academic consortium, plant biotechnologists at Rutgers and The Ohio State University are looking into fresh ways to work together to harness energy from agricultural crops, a renewable resource that could help the United States achieve energy independence and environmental sustainability.

The roots of the collaboration began more than two decades ago, when each university established a research-and-teaching partnership with the University of São Paulo, in Brazil. The strengths of Ohio State and Rutgers in plant genome research complemented São Paulo’s strengths in citrus and sugar cane agriculture, resulting in producing citrus plants better resistant to disease.

“Now is a good time … to leverage each other’s research in the broad biotechnology field,” says Eric Lam, professor of plant biology and pathology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. Rutgers and Ohio State have complementary genetic expertise: Rutgers in turf-grass, cranberries, and blueberries and Ohio State in crops such as corn and soybeans.

Each partnership is already examining ways to genetically enhance sugar cane, a crop that supplies much of Brazil’s motor vehicle fuel, so that it can grow in more areas of the United States besides just the coastal regions of Florida and Louisiana. Brazil’s expertise in producing ethanol from sugar cane, essentially an “energy” grass, could help the American universities enhance native North American plants, such as switch grass, into economical energy sources.
— Carl Blesch

Renewed Support for STEM

Rutgers University–Newark recently received a $3.5 million grant to continue leading a statewide program to increase minority representation in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The grant, awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), funds the Garden State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Phase II (GS-LSAMP II) from July 2014 through June 2019.

GS-LSAMP II will build on the success of its precursor, GS-LSAMP, which more than doubled the number of minority students who earned their bachelor’s degrees in STEM. Approximately 2,000 students have completed the program since its inception in 2009. Alexander Gates, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences who is the project’s director, expects GS-LSAMP II to place more emphasis on guiding students into graduate school upon completing their undergraduate education.