Cogeneration: A New Approach to Cost Reduction

By Daniel Galperin (ChE ’18)

Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are those of the author alone. The numbers, however, are factual.

With so many things happening at The Cooper Union ranging from administrative to operational changes, there is quite a bit of talk about the need to spend less. Acting Dean Stock spoke about “living within our means” when interviewed by The Pioneer previously this semester, and Acting President Mea said “the goal is to become operationally adequate so we can at least break even and spend no more than we earn.”

Previously, discussion of reducing Cooper’s expenses orbited around the earnings of certain administrators. Of course I agree that the numbers seem excessive, and I remember how bewildered I was the first time I heard them, but maybe it’s time for a new approach. Why keep beating the dead horse, when there are other ways for the school to save money. I think our operational adequacy can come from resources that are already in place and perhaps could be optimized.

Cogenerator on the roof of the NAB

Cogenerator on the roof of the NAB. Photo from Prof Baglione’s faculty page.

In a building full of complex chemical instruments, machining equipment and a flux of 1,000 people in and out, extremely large amounts of energy are consumed daily. The New Academic Building consumes an average of 600 kilowatts (the equivalent of about 200 households).

I spoke to Professor Melody Baglione, who incorporates many of the sustainable systems in our building into projects for mechanical engineering students. Prof Baglione was kind enough to explain the complicated process of how the cogenerator produces electricity and heat, but more importantly she explained the cost saving aspects of the cogenerator. 

“…it is estimated to save the Cooper Union $200,000 annually”

The building has two utility service lines for metering electricity purchased from the Con Edison utility grid.  Each meter would read roughly the same electricity consumption, but with cogeneration, the amount of electricity Cooper Union needs to purchase for the second service line is reduced by as much as 250 kW.  The cogenerator uses natural gas purchased from the grid to produce electricity and heat for the building and is located on the roof of the NAB. Onsite cogeneration is more efficient than purchasing electricity from the grid since otherwise wasted heat is captured for use. It was installed in the NAB at the cost of $1.2 million dollars, but with a grant of $400,000 from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority as a combined heat and power (CHP) incentive.

Despite the high cost of installation of the cogenerator, it is estimated to save the Cooper Union $200,000 annually. The actual savings depend on the actual run hours and fluctuating natural gas and electricity rates. It is important to note that as the cost of natural gas goes down and the cost of electricity goes up, cogeneration saves the school even more money.

The cogenerator isn’t some superhero though; it’s not flawless. Prof Baglione mentions that an element called the absorption chiller is not working at the moment. I was assured that it isn’t an integral part of the cogenerator, as it is only used in the summer to help cool the building by using the excess heat it generates through some nifty refrigeration process or other. However the discussion of repairing the absorption chiller hinges on whether or not it is a good enough investment. This is to say, “will repairing this item cost more money than the item will save us?”

An energy diagram showing how cogeneration uses less energy.

An energy diagram showing how cogeneration uses less energy. 

It also came up in discussion that there happens to be another cogenerator on the roof of the Foundation Building. Although the NAB consumes around two-thirds of the energy of the campus (where “campus” is defined as the NAB, Foundation Building and dorms), the Foundation Building constitutes a significant amount of energy cost for the Cooper Union as well.

As of now, the Foundation Building cogenerator is not working at all, which may be due to the way the cogeneration plant was initially tied into the building’s existing systems. Professor Baglione, along with Joe Viola (ME ‘16), are working with the Facilities staff to understand the best options for getting the cogenerator at the Foundation Building up and running again.  She drew a parallel between the “investment” arguments made previously. More research and analysis needs to be done before any real claims are made, but according to Prof Baglione the savings that the Foundation Building cogenerator could produce would probably outweigh the cost of repair.

Perhaps the cogenerators are helpful but not helpful enough for the investment involved in repairing them. On the other hand, perhaps the cogenerators can be repaired or optimized and save our school a lot of money. Either way, we need to look into other methods of balancing the operational budget instead of banging the “fire everyone” drum. I think this might be a good place to start.

New Gender-Neutral Facilities Announced

By Pranav Joneja (ME ’18)

“In an effort to create a more welcoming and safe campus environment for all members of the Cooper Union community, we are pleased to announce the designation of additional campus restroom facilities as ‘Gender-Neutral,’” writes Chris Chamberlin, Dean of Students, in a campus notice email.

The email announces the addition of new gender-neutral bathrooms on the 3rd floor of the Foundation Building and on the 3rd and 5th floors of the New Academic Building (NAB). These changes took effect on October 12, 2015. Prior to the announcement, the existing gender-neutral facilities were located on the 6th floor of the Foundation Building,  LL2 of the NAB and in the residence hall at 29 3rd Avenue. All of these facilities  will continue to be designated gender-neutral.

The announcement comes on the heels of a number of emails sent and statements made by students expressing support for an immediate change in the gender-neutral facilities on campus.

“I just want to pee,” L writes at the end of xer (her) email.

Among those who sent emails to administrators and has been vocally and visibly advocating for the creation of such facilities is L Curran (EE ‘18). In emails to Chamberlin and Acting President Bill Mea, Curran wrote, “The current situation for bathrooms, especially in the NAB, is very stressful. I should be spending time in sixth floor labs doing work, but I get anxious about going to the bathroom.”

Xe (She) further explains, “Many trans students, especially in the engineering school, do not feel comfortable being out or presenting as they want to, and labeling all bathrooms as gender neutral will make trans students much more comfortable.”

The argument in support of gender-neutral bathrooms extends further than just comfort though. There is a need for facilities that are safely accessible to everyone.

When bathrooms are not made adequately accessible to everyone, it is the gender nonconforming group in particular that is marginalized. In these situations, they are faced with two options:

The first is to “hold it,” by which it is meant they must suppress the need to pee for the entire time they are on campus. At best, this is a matter of extreme discomfort, and at worst, this can directly cause kidney problems and other long-term health issues.

The second option is to use one of the existing single gender bathrooms. This exposes people to ridicule, harassment and even assault — an unacceptable risk for someone who is really just trying to use the toilet.

Indeed, the entire matter is too complicated for something as simple as going to the restroom. “I just want to pee,” L writes at the end of xer (her) email.

Chamberlin took immediate action in response to the emails, writing that, “no one should have to leave a building to find a place where they feel safe to use a restroom.”

First, Chamberlin met with students on several occasions to understand the situation as it existed and get a better picture of how to meet the needs of transgender people.

Andy Overton (Art ‘16), Joint Student Council (JSC) member, confirmed that Chamberlin brought the topic to a JSC meeting and sought to discuss solutions that will actually work. Andy highlighted that solutions had to be considered based on a balance between how easily they could be enacted and how effective they would actually be in providing relief to the problem. For example, it was initially suggested that students who request access could be given keys to the faculty bathrooms on every floor of the NAB. However, the problem in this scenario is one must ‘out’ themselves every time they want to go to the toilet. Moreover, this solution essentially creates a third category of bathrooms, which further ostracizes and marginalizes the gender nonconforming group.

Andy also provided an account of how long the issue of gender-neutral bathrooms has been brewing at The Cooper Union. Starting in late 2013, a group of students came together and began to express support for the creation of gender-neutral facilities. According to Andy, the responses from the administration back then ranged from, “do we really need it?” to refusal citing budgetary constraints.

“Cooper is maybe finally catching up with the discussion,” Andy said.

In a refreshing change of pace, Chamberlin swiftly followed through with action after meetings with students. He made assessments and proposals for specific changes to campus facilities in meetings with Bill Mea and Carmelo Pizzuto, Acting Director of Facilities Management. Ultimately, the solution they reached is the one announced and being enacted now.

“It’s amazing the way that Chris [Chamberlin] identified the problem, worked with Buildings and Grounds, got approval from the President, and followed through to make the changes,” Andy said.

Andy also pointed out, “Broadly speaking, the discourse around gender identity has only now been taking place here [at The Cooper Union].” In reference to the more inclusive communities at other college campuses, he said, “Cooper is maybe finally catching up with the discussion.”

Of particular note is the fact that an exhibition in LL1 this month entitled, “Bring Your Own Body: Transgender Between Archives and Aesthetics,” will be flanked by two gender-neutral bathrooms on the same floor. Even though it is a simple change of signage, it will be highly effective in solving the problem for the duration of the exhibition. Both L and Andy welcome the efforts, but separately voiced dismay that this never happened in the past, during the Dark Matter poetry show last year for example. 

“We will continue to evaluate our campus facilities and seek to continue to make modifications to ensure a safe, welcoming and comfortable environment for every member of the Cooper Union community,” wrote Chamberlin in the campus-wide email.

Cooper Fund Scholar Reception

By Pranav Joneja (ME ’18)

Acting President Bill Mea raises a glass to donors at the Cooper Fund Leadership Circle Reception on Wednesday, October 7. Photo by Yifei Simon Shao (ME '19)

Acting President Bill Mea raises a glass to donors at the Cooper Fund Leadership Circle Reception on Wednesday, October 7. Photo by Yifei Simon Shao (ME ’19)

On October 7, the Office of Development hosted a reception in recognition of donors who gave more than $10,000 last fiscal year. Donors, administrators and students attended the event, titled the Cooper Fund Leadership Circle Reception.

Students were requested to write a letter to donors expressing gratitude for their support and generosity. They were also invited to the reception to meet and mingle with donors, most of whom were alumni.

Acting President Bill Mea kicked off the event by unveiling the new donor wall, hanging in the lobby of the Foundation Building. The attendees were then directed to the Cooper Suite on the 8th floor to enjoy the snacks and open bar together on the rooftop, under a clear Manhattan night sky.

Richard Lincer, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, also gave a speech. He highlighted that several trustees were in attendance and engaging with the community, including Eric Hirschhorn (ME ‘89) and alumni trustees Robert Tan (Arch ‘81) and Edgar Mokuvos (EE ‘78), which he said was something “that’s a positive thing that we haven’t had in about a year or so.”

“As we said, we’re not going to restore the trust instantaneously, but the key is that people are now willing to talk to each other and maybe even smile at each other. There may be a divergence of viewpoints, but we can have a civilized dialogue and try and figure out a path forward. In that regard, your [all attendees] support is critical,” said Lincer, before handing over the podium to Student Trustee Jessica Marshall (EE ‘17). Marshall was joined by incoming Student Trustee, Monica Abdallah (ChE ‘17), and outgoing Student Representative to the Board, Devora Najjar (ChE ‘16). In her speech, Marshall thanked donors and all attendees.

Prof. Luchtenburg. Photo by Yifei Simon Shao ME '19

Faces of Cooper: Professor Dirk Luchtenburg

By Kavya Udupa (BSE ’19)

The Cooper Pioneer: Where are you from?

Dirk Luchtenburg: I’m from the Netherlands.

Can you tell me a little bit about your academic background, both educational and professional?

I did my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Aerospace Engineering at the Delft University of Technology in Netherlands. Afterwards, I went to Berlin, Germany and did my PhD work in flow control there. I did my post-doc and taught a bit at Princeton before coming to Cooper.

How did you hear about Cooper?

It was actually sort of random. My roommate at Princeton went to Cooper and came to Princeton for his PhD. He told me about Cooper – it was sort of interesting, he said it was a “good school in New York” except I’ve never heard of it. So, I did a little research and went to Academic Keys, a site for jobs in academia, and applied for a few professorial jobs. I got an interview here and didn’t get that specific job at the time, but Professor Wootton offered me a job to work for him in the Mechanical Engineering department. I did that for a while and then the new position of Assistant Professor in the department opened up – I applied and I got it.

How long have you been teaching at Cooper?

I started teaching here last year. I did research with Professor Wootton my first semester. My second semester here, they asked me if I would like to teach so I was an adjunct for a while. In January 2015, I became a visiting professor as I was teaching two courses and starting this semester, I became an assistant professor.

What is your role in the Mechanical Engineering department and as an assistant professor?

My role? Teaching, I guess. Basically, they were looking for somebody with a different background than the professors here. I’m interested in fluid dynamics especially in how it relates to feedback control and this combination of ideas is sort of what I bring to the department.  Another component of my work was to simplify complex computer models into a form that you can actually work with in real time.

Is this your first year doing the EID101 project?

To be honest, this project is a little out of my comfort zone. I’m more of a computational or simulations oriented guy so I’m venturing a little with this whole applied and hands-on approach. As of right now, we’re doing a little bit of theory like why do airplanes fly or why can they fly or how do they create lift? And then, I let them work on designs and present them to the class. Basically, I am trying to give them a little of my knowledge of airplanes or quadcopters but at the same time give them enough freedom to develop stuff on their own.

In terms of guidelines for the project, as of now I’ve just told them these are your choices, you need to bring this package from A to B. One of the groups talked of using a grasp mechanism to pick up the object and to move it from A to B.

What other courses do you teach here?

I have taught Feedback Controls and Engineering Mechanics – I am actually teaching that right now. This course basically discusses statics and dynamics. I have also been teaching Vibrations. As of now, I am teaching two courses per semester as that is typical for a first year professor. Afterwards the course load gets ramped up.

How do you like your job and experience here at Cooper?

I think it’s been amazing. At first, I was a little surprised – I think the students here can be really shy. But, this is a great atmosphere; the students work really hard. I remember my first class, I had assigned a homework assignment and at the time, I did not really know how long it would take a student to complete the assignment as I, myself, was new to the class as well. I told the students to complete the homework and include just how much time it took each of them to do the assignment. Some people worked on it for eight or ten hours and they didn’t complain at all. They just took it and did it. I was really surprised that the students worked so hard – it actually made me feel a little bad. So, I think most students here have a really good mindset but they seem a little shy. Apparently it’s a Cooper thing.

“Apparently it’s a Cooper thing.”

Who’s your favorite professor to work with?

Gosh I don’t know. I haven’t met all the people yet. Right now, I can only say my favorites in terms of interest. I think Professors Wootton, Delagrammatikas and Mintchev are doing cool stuff because I have talked to them a lot. But, I have got to say Professor Rinaldi is doing something amazing – that’s actually why I applied for the job. All of their work helped convince me to stay.

What advice would you give to Cooper students?

Be less shy, for sure. I have been seeing a lot of students taking charge in independent studies and senior projects and I really like that – continue to take initiative. As a student, find something you really like and a professor you really click with and do interesting work with, you have to exploit the fact that Cooper is a small school. It’s a really small setting and students should take advantage of the resources. The whole working together thing makes it so much friendlier as well – I don’t feel the stiff competition amongst students that is evident in other schools. Also, talk to your professors. I have some students who I taught in previous semesters stop by at my office asking for advice or letters of recommendation.

What are some of your hobbies?  What do you do in your free time?

I’ve been really busy lately. But, if I am not busy, I like to travel a lot. I’ve been to Costa Rica, New Zealand, Israel, and pretty much every country in Europe since that’s where I am from. I want to go to South America next since I’ve never been. When I was a bit younger, my buddies and I would work for a month to get money to do what we wanted and then go somewhere, rent a Jeep and go from town to town. That’s actually how I explored Costa Rica and New Zealand.

Actually, when I was in the US I was doing an internship with the Air Force Academy and I got into gliding. I guess that’s the disadvantage of New York City – not being able to do daring activities on a whim.

I used to play pretty much any sport – I used to play soccer and in college, I played volleyball and was into martial arts. I also enjoy reading – especially autobiographies and popular science magazines. ◊

Prof. Tien. Photo by Yifei Simon Shao ME '19

Faces of Cooper: Professor Kevin Tien (EE ’12)

By Krishna Thiyagarajan (EE ’18)

The Cooper Pioneer: Where are you from?

Kevin Tien: I am originally from Central Jersey. Monmouth County to be a bit more specific.

Can you tell me about your educational and professional background?

Well, I applied to many schools and got into them. I got my undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from Cooper Union, masters at Columbia University and I am currently doing my PhD in Circuit Design in Electrical Engineering at Columbia University. I have also worked at IBM Research and Ferric Inc., a hardware startup in NYC.

When did you learn about Cooper Union as a student and what brought you here?

I did not know about Cooper Union before I started applying to schools. It was really the scholarship money that brought me here. Compared to other schools, I thought that it was worth it to go to Cooper Union since it was free back then. I did get into another school which was completely free, but since it came down to be about the same cost, I decided to come here because I felt that Cooper was more prestigious.

Why did you choose Electrical Engineering?

I was good enough at it and that’s it. I didn’t really have any particular passion for what I did and I never felt that it was my calling. It was just the path that I chose to walk in life. I don’t exactly love engineering. I was introduced to it when I went to a public high school where there was a program that allowed me to see more of science and engineering during my time there I thought being an engineer pays off.

How do you think you have changed since you arrived here as a student?

I mellowed out a lot at Cooper. I used to be more hotheaded and more arrogant. Some people who know me might say that I was worse before coming to Cooper. In a way, my time as a student at Cooper tempered me and it gave me humility. It made me realize that it doesn’t matter if we’re good engineers at the end of the day. I realized that there is so much more to life than being good at a certain job. Being a good parent, for example, is so difficult. No one really teaches that.

“I realized that there is so much more to life than being good at a certain job. Being a good parent, for example, is so difficult. No one really teaches that.”

Cooper also made me realize that we over emphasize competence and we are arrogant about ourselves as STEM majors. That arrogance makes it very easy for us to bash on the humanities and the other majors and, in the beginning, I think a lot of my peers slipped into that. Everyone has their own road that they walk and just because you’re taking the STEM path doesn’t make you better than the other disciplines. By the end of my senior year, I stopped thinking of myself as particularly important in comparison to the rest of the world. But, man, there were a lot of stereotypical aspects of engineers that I grew to dislike while I was here. Cooper played a really big role in making me that cooled down man.

What advice would you give to the students?

You need a thirst for learning and understanding anything and everything that you do. There is always something to learn. You should look at something and ask yourself “why is this true?” and convince yourself that what you learned is true, or in some instances, not true. If a computer program shows you a solution to a problem, you need to know the underlying reason why it showed you that solution. The program might not be telling you the truth. It’s the same thing with people, politics and larger groups.

Students need to realize that you all are young. Go home and have fun. We’re in New York City. You guys are in a great position in life. Experience is a continuum and we’re all but voyagers on a great ocean of pleasure. You need to get the most out of it as you can. You also need to realize that hope is the first step to disappointment. Don’t hope that something will happen, make it happen! We’re all going to die one day, so question everything and enjoy life as much as possible.

What are some of your favorite hobbies/pastime activities?

I am a musician and am active in NYC’s Chinese traditional music scene. I play a traditional Chinese string instrument on stage. I also play video games occasionally and I’m interested in board games such as Diplomacy.

You joke a lot during class. Tell us a joke.

My dog has doesn’t have a nose. Well, how does it smell? Horrible! ◊

Angus and DeVonn

After Farm-to-Table Adventure, Cooper Artists Return to NYC

By Matthew Grattan (ChE ’19)

This past summer two Cooper art students—one former and one current—put a spin on locally sourced food. DeVonn Francis (Art ‘15) and Angus Buchanan-Smith (Art ‘15) went on a culinary adventure to different farms in the UK, hosting farm-to-table dinners at each stop.

Their project, entitled Enroot, aims to “bridge the gaps” between producers and consumers of food. The two founders are now back in town to show their thanks to their supporters.

DeVonn Francis (A '15)

DeVonn Francis (A ’15). Photo from Enroot Collective.

Originally from Virginia, DeVonn has a rich background in cooking and working in restaurants. He ultimately chose Cooper because he has family in the New York area.

Angus hails from Edinburgh, Scotland and decided to take a gap year working for his cousin in New York City. Angus’ cousin later introduced him to Cooper.

“I was kind of in awe of the whole situation and Cooper,” said Angus, “applying was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Angus Buchanan Smith (A '15)

Angus Buchanan Smith (A ’15)

Angus grew up on a dairy farm in Scotland, where the dairy industry has changed considerably over the past decade as well as in the rest of the UK. Due to global economic pressures on the industry, smaller dairies, including Angus’ family farm, were forced to shut down.

While back at home one Christmas, Angus brainstormed with his brother about traveling and connecting with farmers. Angus proposed the idea to DeVonn and that plan eventually evolved into Enroot.

Before leaving the US, DeVonn and Angus contacted the farms to see if the farmers were willing to host Enroot and to determine what sort of ingredients were available.

Then, Enroot traveled to different farms between Scotland, England, and Wales. The Enroot team consisted of about 6 people per event but included 42 people over the course of the three-month venture.

During each 10-14 day visit, Enroot would first interview the farmers about their farming situation. At the end of each stay, Enroot would host a dinner for the immediate community. The farmers, who produced the food were also present at the dinner to encourage dialogue.

In some respects, Enroot echoed the historical relationship between food production and consumption. DeVonn and Angus had to work within the seasonal constraints to create their menu for each location.

“We’re very lucky to be able to have our bananas imported and eat strawberries year-round,” Angus explained, “but being able to support the infrastructure right around you at that time of year is important. It’s about knowledge.” “And by knowledge, we mean the ability and the right for people to know what options they have outside supermarkets,” DeVonn added.

Enroot also strove to return to traditional cooking methods, like roasting half of a lamb over an open fire. “It’s a very simple way of cooking, but it goes back to traditions of what it meant to use everything,” according to DeVonn.

Through Kickstarter, DeVonn and Angus raised $20,000 in twenty days for Enroot. “Kickstarter was a fantastic platform, and a lot of it was down to the Cooper Union community,” said Angus.

Having completed the farm-to-table tour of the UK, Enroot has been hosting events in New York City for the Kickstarter backers. Angus and DeVonn even have an event planned on Oct. 16 specifically for Cooper students. A portion of the proceeds from this event will go to help Harvest Roots Farm and Ferment, an Alabama farm run by friends of DeVonn and Angus.

DeVonn and Angus are currently working on a book and, in time, would like to reconnect with the farmers they visited. For the future, the two want to expand the ways in which they bring consumers together with food producers.

“We want to give power back to people to make decisions about food for themselves and to know that there’s more out there than Two Bros.” DeVonn mused. “In its simplest from, [Enroot] is like one large research project,” Angus said, “these dinners give us access to local agricultural advisors and local farms and farmers.”

Enroot has proven to be quite the learning experience as well as an artistic one.“We both consider [Enroot] an extension of our artistic practice,” Angus commented.Angus and DeVonn are also looking forward to working more closely with the Cooper community.

A few words of advice from DeVonn and Angus: find people to work with.“To get a second opinion on something is always better than to do it on your own devices,” DeVonn said. “There’s no way we could have done this project without the amazing support we had from so many different people,” Angus said.

And about that party on Oct. 16—homemade hotdogs might be on the menu. Stay posted for the location. For more info, visit:

Knovel Academic Challenge

By Andy Jeong (EE ’18)

From the week of September 28th, this semester’s Knovel Academic Challenge marks the beginning and will be held for 5 weeks,  until the last week of October. Knovel Academic Challenge (KAC) is a 5-week long program in which STEM students from worldwide institutions compete with one another in solving engineering problem sets provided by Knovel’s trusted content and available interactive tools. By answering each question correctly within the given 3 trials, points are accumulated and the chance for the prizes increases, as knowledge gets accumulates as well. One can participate in the week’s challenge from every Monday of the week until Sunday midnight, and there is no time limit for submission. The prizes by KAC include Amazon gift cards, Apple iPad and SONOS speaker.

Last semester, Cooper Union ranked #8 overall worldwide, based on the total number of points scored from submitted problem sets. “It’s impressive that we ranked so highly, considering how small our Engineering student body is compared to the other schools in the contest. You can see a screenshot of the leaderboard on the Library’s website,” says Julie Castelluzzo, the librarian. Julie will be hosting a school-wide Knovel Academic Challenge Marathon event at the Cooper Library on October 15, from 5pm to 7pm. At the event, there will be a special problem set for this event and a prize given out (separate from those offered by KAC), with food provided for the participants. She encourages all current students to attend and take a 10-minutes long problem set to help raise our ranking. For this event, please contact Julie A. Castelluzzo at to help out.

The Knovel Challenge Marathon at Cooper Union Library was originally planned to be held for spring, but due to the unexpected gas explosion near the school buildings it was cancelled at the last minute. Apart from submitting the answers for prizes, this will be a great opportunity to expand knowledge as an engineer by learning as you solve.

Julie is excited to hear last year that Cooper Union scored higher on the final leaderboard than Drexel University, where she learned about an event similar to KAC. She comments, “I admit to having a competitive nature, and I love to show off the talents of our engineering students, so this is a lot of fun for me, in addition to being a great way for students to learn about the tools available in Knovel to help them with their engineering assignments and projects.”

To enter the contest, go to