Open Graduate & Undergraduate Research Positions

C-CHANGE "Grass2Gas" Graduate Research Position

The Graduate Research Assistant will participate in the Consortium for Cultivating Human and Naturally reGenerative Enterprises (C-CHANGE) project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Sustainable Agricultural Systems program. C-CHANGE is a large, interdisciplinary, collaborative project between Iowa State University, Penn State University, Roeslein Alternative Energy, FDC Enterprises, Inc., and the USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment. The C-CHANGE “Grass2Gas” team will assess if perennials and winter crops can be used more widely as feedstock for anaerobic digestion. With time, this will advance a new biobased value chain: production of renewable natural gas and associated bioproducts through the anaerobic digestion of diverse feedstocks.

The student researcher will assist with linking models and model output to represent processes across the value chain from other project teams including social & biological scientists and engineers as well as industry partners. Physical and social processes associated with options for the cultivation of agricultural feedstocks and production of biogas and other products through engineered systems will be examined, mathematically represented, and output analyzed. The primary analysis tools used will be life cycle assessment (LCA) and materials flow analysis (MFA), two popular approaches to quantitatively assess the achievement of sustainability goals, for example, reducing net greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon. In this project we will also seek new methods for integrating ecosystem services into an LCA framework. Our work is aimed at supporting the many stakeholders in pursuit of regenerative agricultural projects that can contribute to energy and materials needs along the path of sustainability.

ECO-CBET: Transforming the Nitrogen Economy Graduate Research Position

The Graduate Research Assistant will participate in the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project ECO-CBET: Transforming the Nitrogen Economy. This project includes animal & plant scientists, nutrient management specialists, ecological, environmental & civil engineers, working together to systematically evaluate the mechanisms and environmental benefits of using duckweed to capture nutrients from agricultural waste sources within the context of the nutrient-impaired Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Rather than nutrient treatment being a burden, this work will demonstrate how leveraging duckweed can generate critical economic value when returned into the agricultural system as a protein-rich feed supplement for dairy cattle or as a soil amendment for crop production. The result of the transdisciplinary effort is the creation of a unique and sustainable N bioeconomy with global relevance.

The student researcher will work across the team to represent the combined dairy cattle, waste management, duckweed cultivation and processing system using life cycle assessment (LCA) to track carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and energy flows in relation to products generated within this system. The student researcher will also consider the nutrient flows from a more macro-perspective using materials flow analysis (MFA) and building on prior nutrient flow analysis work conducted in the lab, see the Research page for more information. The student will also assist with techno-economic analysis in coordination with other student and faculty researchers and have an opportunity to learn about all of the other aspects of the project.

 

Preferred Qualifications, Department Information & How to Apply to Graduate positions: The Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department at Penn State offers two graduate degrees, one in Biological Engineering (BE) and one in Biorenewable Systems (BRS), either option can be pursued. The selected graduate assistant, M.S. or PhD will be considered, must have strong quantitative skills, an ability and interest in thinking systemically, and a willingness to interact with team members across multiple disciplines. Knowledge about ecology, biogeochemistry, life cycle assessment and/or energy systems is desired, but not required (though a strong interest is requisite). An undergraduate degree in an engineering or biological science discipline is preferred; but if you think this is the position for you and don’t have such a degree, please email me with your thoughts! 

If you are interested in any of these positions, please email me at: chriscostello@psu.edu and attach your resume/CV and an informal (or formal) statement of interest as soon as possible, let's get talking! You may also review and consider initiating the official application process.

C-CHANGE "Grass2Gas" Undergraduate Research Position

The Summer 2021 undergraduate researcher will conduct a literature review to summarize how ecosystem services and impacts are accounted for in life cycle assessment. The student will also learn about biogeochemical and ecosystem process models and how they work. Opportunities to network with the C-CHANGE community will also provide the student with an overall understanding of this multi-faceted project.

Life Cycle Assessment Undergraduate Research Position(s)

I am working on LCA projects related to a few products and systems, including wine, organic and plastics waste management, and novel biopolymers created by other ABE and Penn State faculty. If you'd like to assist with these projects and learn more, please be in touch. I plan to hire 1-3 students in Summer 2021, there is potential to continue into the Fall semester. Generally, if you'd like to discuss working with me on an LCA project, be in touch!

Preferred Qualifications & How to apply for Undergraduate positions: You must be a Penn State student. All majors will be considered, training in science and engineering is helpful or needed in some cases. If you are interested, please email me at: chriscostello@psu.edu and attach your resume/CV and an informal (or formal) statement of interest as soon as possible, let's get talking! You will also need to apply through Penn State

Hans, Teddy, and Dru Berry. 2017. “MU’s push for zero waste.” Missourian. December 6, 2017.

News Articles & Interviews

"Urban agriculture can help, but not solve, city food security problems." Jeff Mulholm. Penn State News. 3/30/2021

"U.S. school cafeterias waste more food than those in other developed countries:Novel cafeteria audit indicates true cost far exceeds simple calculation of uneaten lunches."Jeff Mulholm. Penn State News. 1/18/2021

Interview on the podcast Crazy/Genius: Will We Ever Stop Eating Animal Meat?

Food Decisions Can Reduce Greenhouse Emissions, Study Says.” Jones, Daniel P. Today. June 7, 2018.

MU’s push for zero waste.” Teddy Hans and Dru Berry. 2017. Missourian. December 6, 2017.

“Waste Fighter: Christine Costello examines the high cost of uneaten food.” Anita N. Harrison. Fall/Winter 2015.