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Sustainability a prominent theme in SUNY Canton research fair

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CANTON — Some sustainability-minded college students want to make the world more efficient using sunlight, algae and an elliptical trainer.

The students, participating in SUNY Canton’s Scholarly Activities Celebration Friday, were showcasing research they conducted as part of their undergraduate work.

Dan R. Grant was outside presenting an elliptical trainer he turned into an electrical generator.

“Using the resistance from the trainer, exercisers can generate a small electrical charge,” he said. “The energy generated is so small and the investment to install this technology makes it impractical on a small scale, but people are doing it — some people are putting this in their homes, while in other places there are whole gyms wired up like this.”

Mr. Grant is a graphic and multimedia design student at the university.

“I have very little knowledge of electrical engineering, but I consider myself mechanically inclined so I was able to put this together,” he said. “This kind of orients around design, but I don’t think I’ll change my major to become an engineering student.”

Elsewhere, Curtis J. Schiesl was presenting his research on scenedesmus algae biofuel.

“Algae is the fastest growing photosynthesizing organism, so it makes sense to use it to produce a biofuel,” he said. “Most of the research out there concentrates on other types of algae, I wanted to try something different here.”

Mr. Schiesl demonstrated how he set up a contained growing area for the algae, separated it from the water to harvest it, and extracted oils from it.

“An acre of corn can produce 18 gallons of fuel a year, while an acre growing algae can create up to 10,000 gallons,” he said. “You can grow it continually throughout the year, and it multiplies so quickly, you can harvest every 10 days.”

Algae biofuel is already being implemented, according to Mr. Schiesl, pointing out that the Navy recently ordered algae oil from a start-up company to test in their machinery.

Like the energy-generating elliptical trainer, algae fuel is expensive to produce, but Mr. Schiesl believes that the cost will drop as the technology is adopted.

Algae biofuel could power a car, a jet, or an entire aircraft carrier, but another student duo were using a much larger energy source on a smaller scale.

Paul Todd and Brandon Ewig presented their research into solar heated steam cooking, a method that uses a reflective surface to concentrate sunlight into a contained area.

“In the third world, especially in sunny areas around the equator, many people still use biomass to cook,” Mr. Todd said. “When you are using forest wood, you are clear-cutting large tracts of land. This is also an effort to try to move away from biofuels.”

Mr. Todd described their idea to use a satellite dish covered in mylar tape to heat steam, which could then be conducted with pipes to a cooking area.

“Around the equator there are typically more days of direct sunlight,” he said. “This is a way of cooking food that produces no smoke and no carbon dioxide. I don’t see any drawbacks to this technology except a rainy day.”

The event highlighted more than sustainability studies, posters, paintings and presentations were scattered throughout the Southworth Library shedding light on disciplines from sociology to criminal justice.

Jacob E. Halsey showcased his research on the fallibility of eyewitness identification in criminal investigations.

“Juries like to see defendants pointed out in court,” he said. “Physical evidence like hair, fibers and DNA are secondary. The problem is that the human memory has lots of issues, people can’t remember specifics.

Mr. Halsey referenced research showing that 75 percent of wrongful convictions are overturned due to misidentification.

“Eyewitness ID is extremely flawed, because our memories are usually vague,” he said. “If we are asked to remember specifics, we might make things up because we can’t remember what is happening.”

The participants agreed that the research made them more rounded as students.

“It was my first individual research experience,” Mr. Schiesl said. “I learned to find information, conduct experiments and present my results in front of an audience. I am really interested in biofuels. I plan to continue my research with the algae, and I hope to work in the biofuel industry.”

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