Ken Nealson led teams at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that developed tools for detecting life on other planets. Now he leads the University of Southern California’s sustainability programs and the Wrigley Institute, an ocean research center on Catalina Island off the coast from Los Angeles. The Institute and USC Business School recently announced its third annual Wrigley Sustainability Prizes, awarded to teams of students who built and pitched solutions to the challenges of recycling and preserving the environment.
Dr. Nealson talks with Earth911 about the prospects for careers in sustainability, the waves of innovation that have advanced our understanding, as well as new the questions we have about the Earth as we peer deeper into how life works. It has never been a better time to explore nature for biological solutions to our problems because of the growing realization that humanity’s negative impact on the planet can be moderated and even reversed.
He discussed how to get involved in the Wrigley Sustainability Prize and the summer programs offered for families on Catalina, where scientists and families can work side-by-side on research.
This year’s Wrigley Sustainability Prize winners include:
1st place: Closed Composites, a startup that developed a chemical process for recycling carbon fiber plastics. These light, durable plastics are increasingly common components of cars, trucks, buildings, and many products, but have defied attempts at economically viable recycling.
2nd place: REEForm, a project that seeds coral reefs with organically neutral ceramic building blocks created using a 3D printer. Shaped to look like animals, the REEForm ceramics promote new growth by creating new location where coral can take hold and spread.
3rd place: Free Food USC reduces campus food waste by helping food-stressed students find spare meals. The program has already impacted overall food waste at USC and helps keep students healthier.