College of Engineering Student Collaborates with iCons Team to Shrink Boston’s Carbon Footprint
A College of Engineering undergraduate – Cleo Hein of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department – was on a team of UMass Amherst students in a competition among nine semester-long projects, conducted in partnership with the Museum of Science (MOS) in Boston, which looked at how to decrease the city’s carbon footprint. Chemical Engineering Professor Wei Fan also served as an advisor for another team in the same competition.
The projects, part of the UMass Amherst Integrated Concentration in Science (or iCons) certificate program, were participating in the Go Carbon Neutral Challenge, a competition organized by the MOS and General Motors that solicited student proposals for innovative ways to reduce the transportation sector's carbon footprint — the biggest source of emissions nationally.
The UMass teams spent the semester coming up with creative solutions to a problem posed by Jonathan Fanning, project lead from MOS: “What options do individual Bostonians have to decrease their reliance on carbon-intensive transportation?”
Hein worked on a team dedicated to charting access to public transportation in the greater Boston area, the results of which they then displayed on an easily accessible map.
“We created a ‘blob map,’” said Hein, “using data from the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. You can hover over any area on the map and receive an accessibility score between 1 and 100. The more access to public transportation there is, the higher the score.”
Based on the blob score, conclusions can be made regarding why some areas have higher scores than others. These blob scores may also reveal key factors such as geography, community demographics, or other influences that alter transportation accessibility. Increasing the understanding of train accessibility throughout Boston will help the city achieve its ambitious carbon neutrality goal.
“The part I loved the most,” said Hein, “is that iCons is such a collaborative process of using science to tackle real-world problems with our professors and members of the public.”
In that context, Professor Fan was an advisor for another similar iCons project titled “Analysis of Transportation Accessibility in Downtown Boston,” which was also guided by a number of other advisors, such as Justin Fermann from the UMass Amherst Chemistry Department. Fan said Fermann did a lion’s share of the work.
Using a mathematical equation created by the team, this project wanted to determine if quantifying accessibility to public transportation helped identify areas that need increased access to transportation. In doing so, the team also sought to identify accessibility differences between neighborhoods within downtown Boston based on economic differences and discern inequalities among individuals to reduce their transportation carbon footprint and the extent of their degree of choice dependent on demographic factors.
Fan’s team considered factors such as the density of bus stops in each area and the quality of crosswalks and discovered a correlation between accessibility to low-carbon transportation and average household income: the higher the income, the more options for public transportation. (December 2022)