Science on Display: The Bellevue University Sustainability Learning Lab

What is going on in the area of campus just to the north of the Learning Center? You might have noticed that space was cleared, large landscaping pavers installed, and little plants appeared everywhere on the hill. This is actually a garden of native Nebraska plants and just the beginning of a three year innovative project, the Bellevue University Sustainability Learning Lab. Partially funded by a $200,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, the lab will be a bonus to both students, especially biology and sustainability management students, and the community. Commenting on the award, Dr. Dennis Joslin, Executive Director of the Council of Independent Nebraska Colleges Foundation, sums it up by saying, “The Sustainability Learning Lab has tremendous potential to benefit the State of Nebraska by raising awareness and educating future generations of students and citizens about how to conserve, enhance and restore natural environments.”

Sustainability is a word that is tossed about a lot these days, but what exactly does that mean? A commonly quoted definition from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development says, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” It revolves around three fundamental pillars, people, planet, and profit. In a nutshell, that means that it is beneficial to the community, good for the environment, and makes economic sense. Dr. John Kyndt, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Director of Sustainability, notes that our energy resources are finite and some day will be used up if we don’t start finding ways to conserve them. He sees the lab as being a good way to have “science on display” and to involve the community by inviting them to enjoy the space and even plant their own native plants.

When finished, the Lab will be a 7000 square foot indoor outdoor area consisting of a greenhouse, algae pond, wind and solar energy generating stations, and the native plants garden. The lab will give students a unique hands-on opportunity to study renewable energy. Specifically, the new lab will allow students to create biofuels out of pond algae. They will be studying types of algae and best methods to efficiently create biofuel. In the greenhouse, students will study and work with hydroponic methods of plant production, a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water rather than soil. This method provides higher yields, better quality crops, uses less water, and nearly eliminates disease, pests, and weeds.

Though it is a three year project, much progress will already be seen in the Spring of 2020 when the 1,600 square foot greenhouse is built. In the second phase, the 1200 square foot algae pond and the solar and wind generation stations will be installed. The third phase will see the construction of a 25-seat outdoor amphitheater classroom.  Though the NET grant provided the initial impetus, this will be matched by the university and its donors. Ground was broken in October and the lab will be officially completed in 2022 though much of it will be in use well before then.

For more information, see these recent news stories:

BU receives NET grant for sustainability lab . Bellevue Leader Jul 12, 2019. By Cheyenne Alexis

Bellevue University to create outdoor sustainability lab. Fox42 News, August 11, 2019, includes video of news story

BU breaks ground on sustainability lab. Bellevue Leader Oct 9, 2019. By Cheyenne Alexis

Nebraska Environmental Trust Awards $200,000 Grant to Independent Colleges Foundation to Support Development of Sustainability Learning Lab at Bellevue University  Bellevue University Media page.

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