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New Institute Partnership Would Make Sustainability "Out of This World"

Thursday, May 24, 2012  
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Industry Volunteers Wanted to Work on STEM Program
Linking Building Science and Space Missions

Recycling wastewater on Mars may be just one challenge children will have to solve when a new program, to be developed jointly by the National Institute of Building Sciences (Institute), the Total Learning Research Institute (TLRI) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), gets volunteers and funding.

The purpose of the Sustainable Facilities and Infrastructure in Constrained Environments (SuFICE) program is to engage and inspire students from kindergarten through twelfth grades (K-12) to become more involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities related to the building sciences.

Many federal facilities, including NASA’s, are currently in need of maintenance, major renovation or total replacement. At the same time, energy conservation and sustainability are increasingly driving the adoption of many new technologies. To achieve both of these goals, the United States of tomorrow will need a trained workforce that can understand the rapidly changing materials, methods and standards used to achieve sustainable facilities.

Improving the STEM literacy of students and the general public—particularly in the areas of building sciences, engineering, human physiology and automation—will provide benefits for the building industry as a whole and for the aeronautic and space science industry.

"Astronauts can’t just plug into the grid to get electricity, connect to a central water utility or go to the local hardware store to get more construction supplies," said Ryan Colker, Presidential Advisor at the Institute. "We can take the lessons learned from Mars City and other NASA programs and carry them over to inspire students to become interested in ways to more effectively use limited resources right here on Earth. This program will help inspire the next generation to think about ways of reusing building materials, recycling grey water and finding ways to use old supplies in creative new ways—all while using STEM concepts."

For the Mars City project, building professionals will assist students in designing the Mars facility with equipment used here on Earth, but modified to meet the special conditions and needs on Mars. Students will work in teams to "manage the facility"—what controls/sensors are needed, what to do when there is an alarm, when should filters be changed, etc.

The Institute, TLRI and NASA are looking for volunteers and sponsors for this new program. Opportunities exist to get involved in developing a design and facilities management module for the Mars City project; to expand the education section offerings on the WBDG Whole Building Design Guide®; and to work on existing NASA STEM programs to incorporate building science-related activities.

For more information, visit To get involved, contact Ryan Colker.

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