TREX Off the Clock: Coffee, Beaches, and Early Morning Runs

January 16th, 2019TREX 2019

By Rayna Higuchi '20 TREX is an incredible opportunity to learn about the environment, climate, and how human interactions affect each, but we would be remiss if we came to Hawaii for two weeks and never ventured from the gentle shell of academia. Beyond our daily expeditions and tasks, we have time to spend as we choose, and the instructors have done an excellent job of getting us out to hit up the tourist spots. Although these fun trips are not expressly about learning, a brief internet foray can provide more than enough information to satisfy our curiosities, thereby supplementing our macroscale learning with snapshots of brief, personal, and unique ecosystems. Coffee Plantation The first “tourist trap” we fell into was a coffee plantation, and it was completely worth it. There was a small store open for purchase of products that had several samples of freshly brewed coffees. I’ve tried many times to accurately write how incredible it smelled but I can’t; it was simply intoxicating. Coffee is an interesting crop, both historically and environmentally. When it was first cultivated by humans, it was done using shading techniques that closely follow agroforestry. Shaded growth uses native trees to help protect and shade the coffee plants, maintain the topsoil layer, and help fertilize the ground with their leaves. As this practice was replaced with full-sun growing, which does not use other trees, the environmental benefits of coffee began to fall. Now it is mainly grown similarly to other large-scale crops, with [...]

By Rayna Higuchi ’20

TREX is an incredible opportunity to learn about the environment, climate, and how human interactions affect each, but we would be remiss if we came to Hawaii for two weeks and never ventured from the gentle shell of academia. Beyond our daily expeditions and tasks, we have time to spend as we choose, and the instructors have done an excellent job of getting us out to hit up the tourist spots. Although these fun trips are not expressly about learning, a brief internet foray can provide more than enough information to satisfy our curiosities, thereby supplementing our macroscale learning with snapshots of brief, personal, and unique ecosystems.

Coffee Plantation

The first “tourist trap” we fell into was a coffee plantation, and it was completely worth it. There was a small store open for purchase of products that had several samples of freshly brewed coffees. I’ve tried many times to accurately write how incredible it smelled but I can’t; it was simply intoxicating.

Coffee is an interesting crop, both historically and environmentally. When it was first cultivated by humans, it was done using shading techniques that closely follow agroforestry. Shaded growth uses native trees to help protect and shade the coffee plants, maintain the topsoil layer, and help fertilize the ground with their leaves. As this practice was replaced with full-sun growing, which does not use other trees, the environmental benefits of coffee began to fall. Now it is mainly grown similarly to other large-scale crops, with heavy doses of fertilizer and pesticides that damage the surrounding wildlife.

Source: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/29/sustainable-coffee_n_5175192.html

Panorama view of the coffee plantation we visited. I am unsure if these are the actual coffee plants, or another crop that is also grown on the farm. [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig ’20] 

Black Sand Beaches and Sea Turtles

Monday afternoon, we took a short trip to the Punalu’u Beach. Punalu’u is known both for its special coloring and inhabitants. It is a black sand beach, formed from lava flow hitting the ocean. When the molten rock meets water, it rapidly cools. This sudden drop in temperature and consequent solidification causes the rock to shatter into tiny pieces of volcanic glass. The ocean currents slam at the beach’s shore and continue to break the fragments into smaller and smaller pieces, until you are left with a beach consisting almost entirely of volcanic glass. Walking barefoot was harshly exfoliating, and painful after a few minutes.

Even more exciting, along the shoreline we spotted no fewer than 6 green sea turtles asleep in a group. Despite their name, their shells appeared a more grayish color, almost mimicking their surroundings. If we hadn’t been paying attention, they might have just been six very large rocks.

These are an endangered species, and as such require special considerations when encountering humans. We could not approach any closer than 30 feet. Using our camera lenses as telescopes, we could observe a little closer, taking the image below.

 Green Sea Turtles asleep on Punalu’u Beach. [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig ’20] 

Morning Runs

Each morning, Sierra Rosenzweig (’20, Environmental), Geneva Casalegno (’21, Environmental) and I have gone for a short sunrise run. We begin at 7:00 AM, the listed time for dawn on the weather forecast, and run for a half hour. Lining the path are tall, thin trees that stretch up to block the sky, so we have yet to witness the sun breaching the horizon. After a few minutes, however, it will break over the trees (provided it’s not too cloudy) to give us a brilliant pseudo-sunrise that we like to stop and look at.

Sunrise from the top of a nearby hill. [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig ’20] 

+ More

TREX 2019 Day 2: Solar Panels and Sensors

January 15th, 2019TREX 2019

By Rayna Higuchi '20 The morning dawned bright and not so early, beginning at ten with us splitting into two groups. Half went to our first outing at a small climate and air quality research station, while the other half studied local plants and captured aerial photos with the drone. In the first week of the class, the TREX group put together twenty sensors to install throughout the island. Today at the station, we temporarily implemented six of them. These sensors will sit atop the building’s roof and take measurements over the next few days, to be compared against the more accurate readings of the station. This will allow us to calibrate the sensors, thereby giving us more accurate data as we deploy them throughout the island. The sensors are attached to solar panels for completely sustainable power and will continue running long after we have left. Natalie Woods (’20, Environmental) and Sammie Burnell (’20, Environmental) mount solar panels to be installed on the roof of the research station. The sensors take a combination of measurements, including temperature, pressure, light intensity, wind speed, wind direction, and rainfall. They will help us paint an accurate picture of the climate in Hawaii, as part of an ongoing study by successive TREX classes. Sammie Burnell and Stephen Duncan (’20, 10-Eng Environmental) attach a sensor measurement box to a tripod mount on the roof of the research station. [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig]

By Rayna Higuchi ’20

The morning dawned bright and not so early, beginning at ten with us splitting into two groups. Half went to our first outing at a small climate and air quality research station, while the other half studied local plants and captured aerial photos with the drone.

In the first week of the class, the TREX group put together twenty sensors to install throughout the island. Today at the station, we temporarily implemented six of them. These sensors will sit atop the building’s roof and take measurements over the next few days, to be compared against the more accurate readings of the station. This will allow us to calibrate the sensors, thereby giving us more accurate data as we deploy them throughout the island. The sensors are attached to solar panels for completely sustainable power and will continue running long after we have left.

Natalie Woods (’20, Environmental) and Sammie Burnell (’20, Environmental) mount solar panels to be installed on the roof of the research station.

The sensors take a combination of measurements, including temperature, pressure, light intensity, wind speed, wind direction, and rainfall. They will help us paint an accurate picture of the climate in Hawaii, as part of an ongoing study by successive TREX classes.

Sammie Burnell and Stephen Duncan (’20, 10-Eng Environmental) attach a sensor measurement box to a tripod mount on the roof of the research station. [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig]

+ More

TREX Day 3 – Plant Life

January 15th, 2019TREX 2019

By Rayna Higuchi '20 Today was a pants kind of day. Our group started off adventuring into the woods behind the house to take something called a transect. Professor Dave Des Marais walked 50 feet straight through the plants with a tape measure to create a line for us to follow. Every ten feet we threw down a set of four flags in a circle with radius 1 meter and studied the plants within that space. We counted the percentage ground cover of a variety of plant types, as well as the number of Ohi’a trees within the circle. We then cut small branches off Ohi’a trees within our circles and ran them back to the house to study the tree’s water pressure, chlorophyll levels, and leaf thickness. This can give us a good idea of the plant’s health, thus providing insight into the overall health of the forest area. Professor Des Marais and I take note of the percentage ground cover of each plant type. [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig] Caio Guilherme Pereira (TA) watches as I take measurements of a tree's water pressure. [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig] Ohi’a is an important plant in Hawai’i, as it makes up a large portion of the forests. It is a highly diverse plant and is currently threatened by an invasive spore, causing Rapid Ohi’a Death. We will not be studying this phenomenon in detail, but we need to be careful in our study of the plant and traversal through the forest, as [...]

By Rayna Higuchi ’20

Today was a pants kind of day. Our group started off adventuring into the woods behind the house to take something called a transect. Professor Dave Des Marais walked 50 feet straight through the plants with a tape measure to create a line for us to follow. Every ten feet we threw down a set of four flags in a circle with radius 1 meter and studied the plants within that space. We counted the percentage ground cover of a variety of plant types, as well as the number of Ohi’a trees within the circle. We then cut small branches off Ohi’a trees within our circles and ran them back to the house to study the tree’s water pressure, chlorophyll levels, and leaf thickness. This can give us a good idea of the plant’s health, thus providing insight into the overall health of the forest area.

Professor Des Marais and I take note of the percentage ground cover of each plant type. [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig]

Caio Guilherme Pereira (TA) watches as I take measurements of a tree’s water pressure. [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig]

Ohi’a is an important plant in Hawai’i, as it makes up a large portion of the forests. It is a highly diverse plant and is currently threatened by an invasive spore, causing Rapid Ohi’a Death. We will not be studying this phenomenon in detail, but we need to be careful in our study of the plant and traversal through the forest, as patterns would indicate the spores are spread mainly by human contact.

A healthy Ohi’a tree in the foreground, with the brown woody stem. [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig]

Once our first transect was complete, we reeled the tape measure back in and took another transect in a different direction. As the team took these measurements, individuals would take a break to practice flying the drone. We flew it up to 400 feet, the maximum allowable height by regulation, and then brought it straight back down. It was exciting for me personally as I’ve never actually flown a drone before! So that was a first.

My first drone flight! Abby, one of the TAs, demonstrates to me how to work the drone controls.

We broke for lunch, and then regrouped to sort the data. Once we had input it into a data spreadsheet, some people graphed it. I and others went to visit the university of Hawai’i at Hilo to talk with a professor about Rapid Ohi’a Death, and to learn about his use of drones in surveying infected trees. To round off the visit, he showed us several videos of the lava flow from the eruption this past summer.

Then, we returned to our home, with a brief grocery stop to replenish our supplies. Fourteen students eat an astonishing amount. Following dinner, we met to discuss our findings and our plans for tomorrow. Hopefully, we’ll have the chance to see recently formed rock. It’s a once in a lifetime experience to stand on earth that didn’t exist a few months ago. Crazy thought: this land is younger than my baby cousin!

+ More

TREX 2019 Day 1: Setup and Exploration

January 14th, 2019TREX 2019

By Rayna Higuchi '20 Today was the first full day that the TREX group spent in Hawaii. The morning was used for setup, with different groups going to stores, setting up drones and sensors, and buying food for the week. In the days following, we will use the sensors to take meteorological measurements around the island. Stephen Duncan calibrates the drones with their new sensor payloads while Danielle Espinosa looks on in astonishment and awe. In the afternoon, we went for a brief hike, and wandered around a large crater formed by volcanic activity. Steam from rainwater encountering hot rocks drifted up from under the screen of plants to create plumes across the landscape. Down closer to the crater, which has changed drastically in shape from last year due to lava pools forming and draining, we noticed a large cloud of unidentified blue gas. Overlooking the volcanic crater, you can see several plumes of steam around the edge of the first drop off, as well as a faint haze in the middle-upper right from the blue gas. We also had the opportunity to take several photos of plant species around the island and are working to identify them with a guide to native and nonnative flora of Hawaii. We suspect the flower below to be some species of ginger. A plant we encountered while calibrating the drones.

By Rayna Higuchi ’20

Today was the first full day that the TREX group spent in Hawaii. The morning was used for setup, with different groups going to stores, setting up drones and sensors, and buying food for the week. In the days following, we will use the sensors to take meteorological measurements around the island.

Stephen Duncan calibrates the drones with their new sensor payloads while Danielle Espinosa looks on in astonishment and awe.

In the afternoon, we went for a brief hike, and wandered around a large crater formed by volcanic activity. Steam from rainwater encountering hot rocks drifted up from under the screen of plants to create plumes across the landscape. Down closer to the crater, which has changed drastically in shape from last year due to lava pools forming and draining, we noticed a large cloud of unidentified blue gas.

Overlooking the volcanic crater, you can see several plumes of steam around the edge of the first drop off, as well as a faint haze in the middle-upper right from the blue gas.

We also had the opportunity to take several photos of plant species around the island and are working to identify them with a guide to native and nonnative flora of Hawaii. We suspect the flower below to be some species of ginger.

A plant we encountered while calibrating the drones.

+ More

TREX 2019 – Preparing for Hawaii

January 11th, 2019TREX 2019

By Viban Gonzales '20 I’m Viban Gonzales, a junior in course 1 taking 1.091: Traveling Research Environmental Experience, or TREX. Next week, we are going to the big island of Hawaii to do fieldwork and research on meteorology, atmospheric composition, and the effect of the 2018 eruption on plant life. The first week of IAP, we prepared for the trip in a classroom on campus. On Monday, Professor Jesse Kroll started class with an introduction to the course: the background, purpose, assignments, itinerary, responsibilities, and research topics. Then, Professor Dave Des Marais gave us an introduction to how plants work and how volcanic smog (aka "vog") affects plant physiology. After, we had a break to eat lunch from Bertucci’s. The students took this time as an opportunity to chat and get to know each other. In the afternoon, Ben Crawford, one of our TAs, Skyped in from Hawaii to give us a lecture on vog. Kevin Nihill, another TA, gave us an introduction to aerosols. Tuesday was a shorter day. Allison and Taylor from the CEE Communications team presented to us about opportunities to share our experiences online and on social media. TA Abigail Koss gave us a lecture over Skype from New Mexico on atmospheric sampling methods and the boundary layer. Then the class discussed two research papers: Mechanisms Linking Drought, Hydraulics, Carbon Metabolism, and Vegetation Mortality by Nathan G. McDowell, and Characterization of a Quadrotor Unmanned Aircraft System for Aerosol-Particle-Concentration Measurements by James M. Brady et. al. On [...]

By Viban Gonzales ’20

I’m Viban Gonzales, a junior in course 1 taking 1.091: Traveling Research Environmental Experience, or TREX. Next week, we are going to the big island of Hawaii to do fieldwork and research on meteorology, atmospheric composition, and the effect of the 2018 eruption on plant life.

The first week of IAP, we prepared for the trip in a classroom on campus. On Monday, Professor Jesse Kroll started class with an introduction to the course: the background, purpose, assignments, itinerary, responsibilities, and research topics. Then, Professor Dave Des Marais gave us an introduction to how plants work and how volcanic smog (aka “vog”) affects plant physiology. After, we had a break to eat lunch from Bertucci’s. The students took this time as an opportunity to chat and get to know each other. In the afternoon, Ben Crawford, one of our TAs, Skyped in from Hawaii to give us a lecture on vog. Kevin Nihill, another TA, gave us an introduction to aerosols.

Tuesday was a shorter day. Allison and Taylor from the CEE Communications team presented to us about opportunities to share our experiences online and on social media. TA Abigail Koss gave us a lecture over Skype from New Mexico on atmospheric sampling methods and the boundary layer. Then the class discussed two research papers: Mechanisms Linking Drought, Hydraulics, Carbon Metabolism, and Vegetation Mortality by Nathan G. McDowell, and Characterization of a Quadrotor Unmanned Aircraft System for Aerosol-Particle-Concentration Measurements by James M. Brady et. al.

On Wednesday, we presented our research on Hawaii to the class. In teams of two, we talked about the geography, volcanoes, climate and meteorology of Hawaii, as well as its wildlife, human history, demographics, culture, economy, the rapid Ohia death, and the lower Puna Eruption of 2018.

TA Caio Guilherme Pereira giving a lecture on SO2 and plant reactions and different instruments used for research.

We spent Thursday morning assembling the meteorological sensor boxes that we will be placing around the island. We had Thai food for lunch and then went outside to test the box and meteorological equipment. Afterwards, we looked at the data logs and interpreted it to make sure that everything was working smoothly.

Assembling the meteorological sensor boxes that we will be placing around the island

On Friday, we had our last presentation about Hawaii. We learned about the two peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes. Professor Jesse Kroll ended the class with a recap of the travel logistics.

Tomorrow, we fly to Hawaii!

 

 

+ More

MEMSI – The Setup

January 9th, 2019MEMSI

By Eric Wong '19 MEMSI [MIT Entrepreneurship and Maker Skills Integrator] is a two-week hardware startup bootcamp based in Hong Kong! This year’s cohort includes thirty-four students across a wide breadth of both undergraduate and graduate programs. There are seventeen MIT students and seventeen Hong Kong students who will be exposed to the entrepreneurial scene here in Asia. They will get a glimpse into the manufacturing process in several facilities in China, and participate in various workshops capturing different aspects of the product design process. At the end of the two weeks, six products with prototypes and business models will be presented to a panel of judges and an audience of entrepreneurs and investors from the Hong Kong area. Over the course of these two weeks, there will be a series of workshops designed to teach us the Disciplined Entrepreneurship Framework developed by the Martin Trust Center Director, Bill Aulet. These workshops are complemented with short lessons on various technical skills that are key prototyping mediums including foamcore, breadboarding, arduino programming, and soldering. Design Thinking Workshop Design thinking is a formulated process that focuses upon user centered research and informed design. In small groups, we practiced one of the key aspects of product design: IDEATION! We were given a prompt called ‘the future of communication’ for which we had five minutes to write down all of our hopes and fears about this topic. Presenting "touch," a universal and reliable communication platform From here, we learned how to properly understand users [...]

By Eric Wong ’19

MEMSI [MIT Entrepreneurship and Maker Skills Integrator] is a two-week hardware startup bootcamp based in Hong Kong! This year’s cohort includes thirty-four students across a wide breadth of both undergraduate and graduate programs. There are seventeen MIT students and seventeen Hong Kong students who will be exposed to the entrepreneurial scene here in Asia.

They will get a glimpse into the manufacturing process in several facilities in China, and participate in various workshops capturing different aspects of the product design process. At the end of the two weeks, six products with prototypes and business models will be presented to a panel of judges and an audience of entrepreneurs and investors from the Hong Kong area.

Over the course of these two weeks, there will be a series of workshops designed to teach us the Disciplined Entrepreneurship Framework developed by the Martin Trust Center Director, Bill Aulet. These workshops are complemented with short lessons on various technical skills that are key prototyping mediums including foamcore, breadboarding, arduino programming, and soldering.

Design Thinking Workshop

Design thinking is a formulated process that focuses upon user centered research and informed design. In small groups, we practiced one of the key aspects of product design: IDEATION! We were given a prompt called ‘the future of communication’ for which we had five minutes to write down all of our hopes and fears about this topic.

Presenting “touch,” a universal and reliable communication platform

From here, we learned how to properly understand users and how to hold productive interviews in order to learn more about the people and the problems that they face. Then, you are able to form a problem statement and once again, IDEATE how to solve this problem. For my group, after interviewing one of the members, we presented “Touch,” a universal and reliable communication platform.

Break Something Challenge

Ironically, this challenged involved building instead of breaking. With a new group, the goal was to create a contraption that would launch a magnet at a target to score the highest amount of points after three shots. After 45 minutes of building and designing, our team created “Winner,” a guided ramp that allows you to precisely (but not necessarily accurately) launch magnets.

“Winner”put up a great fight but fell short, coming in second place.

Ideation Workshop

To focus our imaginations, we were provided with eight different sectors to brainstorm problems that exist. For example, elder care, healthcare in hospitals, future of communications, future of mobility, food and agriculture technology, inclusive communities, smart cities and sustainability, consumer health and wellness. In two sessions, one for ideation and one for categorization, we explored the possibilities in one of these sectors in small groups.

Brainstorming existing problems 

After these two rounds of ideation in teams, we each individually took time to digest all the potential problem spaces to work in and pitched a problem that we wanted to solve. This lead to the formation of teams based upon common interests, complementary skills and personalities.

The TEAM

I present to you the TEAM (name tbd), that consists of 6 students, Ilona Phipps-Morgan [MIT MBA 2019], Janice Wong [HKUST BS 2019], Maggie Wang [CUHK BS 2020], Mikhail Oustamananolakis [HKPU PhD 2020], Timothy Glynn [MIT MBA 2019] and your truly, Eric Wong [MIT BS 2019].

The six of us want to tackle the issue of food packaging waste particularly in supermarkets. Inspired by the excessive amounts of packaging we noticed at supermarkets and the rise of zero packaging stores, we feel that we can create tangible change in this area. We are so excited to learn more about this problem and get to work!

+ More