Letter to the Community

Malcolm Dell (ME ‘14)

As many of you already know, it was discovered on Monday, October 7th that the heated gardens on the roof of the foundation building were vandalized. The details concerning the extent of the vandalism have not yet been released to the public; however, we do know that more than half of the plants were torn from their beds and the remaining root systems were severely damaged. Soil was shoveled out and used to write “Garden of the Union”. The student built, thermally insulated beds were also damaged. This project represents a concerted seven-year effort by nearly 50 students both graduate and undergraduate, all of whom were working with Professor Dell. Students have worked on the heated gardens in Iceland for credit under the summer study-abroad program, which will be offered again in the summer of 2014. The student who was affected the most was William Foley, a Master’s Thesis candidate. He had been caring for these plants for a year under the advisement of Professor Dell and Professor Wei. William was trying to prove that there were other plant varieties than those previously tested which would be able to survive and produce crops in the winter. This would help to prove that the growing season can be year long. He was also investigating automated heating and irrigation systems. William Foley’s thesis and graduation have now been delayed for a year.

There are currently two other heated garden locations, one at the Agricultural University of Iceland and the other is the Keilir Institute of Technology, both of which are located in Iceland. These experimental gardens utilize waste steam to heat the soil and promote plant growth. There is an average increase of 20% in plant growth and flowers can bloom in the snow. These gardens allow for crops to yield in cold-weather conditions which were previously considered inhospitable to many plants. In Iceland there are banana trees and an oak tree being grown outside, uncovered, and this summer there were tomatoes, zucchini, pea plants, and celery. This new agricultural technology offers a more economically profitable method of growing plants in prohibitively cold weather conditions, eliminating the need for green houses for at least a majority of the plant varieties which were tested. Sustainability is also addressed by utilizing waste-steam heat. In New York City alone, if this technology were to be implemented on the roofs of 30% of Consolidated Edison’s steam customers it would save more than 3 million cubic meters of drinking water per year. The drinking water would otherwise be used to cool the steam before it is released to the environment. This work has been recognized by ASME, the Geothermal Resources Council and various other organizations and periodicals. The project was at a critical point where press coverage was increasing and commercial applications were being negotiated, all of which would have benefited our school.
Professor Dell has discussed rebuilding the gardens with members of the student body from any of the three schools and is thankful for the support he has received. Cooper alum Gene Tabach, who had also worked on the heated-garden project, setup an Indiegogo donation page to help the project get up and running again (http://igg.me/at/CUgardens). The administration has been aiding in resolving the issue and discovering the culprit(s). No other details are available at this time.

- Malcolm Dell (ME ‘14)

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