Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Case for Meatless Mondays

By: Philine Qian

ENST 490 was the highlight of my Spring 2017 semester at USC. I was most excited that the 490 course was offering students significant freedom in choosing and molding the topics they would research, related to one of three sustainability topics at the Wrigley Marine Lab on Catalina: water, waste or energy.

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Spring 490 students enjoying the island

When the spring semester started, I chose to work with a team of students specializing in waste and organic waste diversion. As our team began discussions about measuring organic waste and effective composting methods on Catalina, I started thinking about the impact that the meat industry has on waste, carbon output and water consumption. Since we were working on mechanisms to divert waste, I felt that a reduction in meat consumption – meat being a leading consumer of water, a significant producer of carbon, and a product that does not compost well – would be a great mechanism to significantly reduce the waste Wrigley was producing.

From there I set out to collect data that would give me the tools to calculate water and cost footprints of the meals served at Catalina, as well as distribute a survey that would gauge the support of visitors and diners in favor of “Meatless Mondays,” a new initiative started in the Wrigley Marine Science Center’s dining halls earlier that semester. Both chefs on the island, Phil and Jose (thank you both!!!) were instrumental in collecting this data as they recorded the specific ingredients and ingredient quantities they used to prepare meals in the dining hall over the course of 4 weeks.


Meatless Monday signs in the Wrigley marine lab cafeteria

Ultimately, the cost breakdown showed the average cost to produce one meal for one person at Wrigley is $2.99 for a meatless meal, and $3.65 for a meat-inclusive meal, indicating that meatless meals are the more cost-effective meal option.

Also, the data we collected, combined with online calculations for agricultural water use, showed it takes an average of 240 gallons of water per person to produce one meatless meal – meanwhile it takes more than double that amount, 524 gallons of water per person to make a regular meat-inclusive meal.

From a group of 60 Wrigley visitors surveyed, 92% supported Meatless Monday in the dining hall. From these data we concluded that Meatless Mondays at Wrigley are beneficial to water conservation, cost reduction and consumer satisfaction.

I’m happy that Meatless Mondays continue to be one of the many sustainability initiatives at the Wrigley Institute. While these data reflected the outcome that I expected, I was glad to have the ability to produce these numbers on a small scale through a process in which I had control of all data figures. Through this experience, I learned how to be flexible in research projects, work within an administrative bureaucracy to collect data and push for sustainability, as well as work with the incredible staff at the Wrigley Institute who were supportive, kind, and excited to work with undergraduate students. As a student, it is so unique to find mentors and professionals who take interest in our work and value us as people – I believe the Wrigley staff is exceptional in their support and training of undergraduates. I absolutely recommend this research experience to any student who has even the slightest interest in pursuing sustainability research and initiatives, I promise you will at the very least, learn something new and feel proud of the work you do!

Philine is a USC Environmental Studies major, Class of 2018. Her spring project was titled: Vegetarian or omnivorous? A study on the quantitative impacts of eating animal products vs. ‘meatless Mondays’

Creating Artificial Photosynthesis

By: Nick Orchanian

Hi everyone! My name is Nick Orchanian and I’m a PhD student in the Chemistry Department here at USC working with Professor Smaranda Marinescu. This summer I’ve been lucky enough to focus all my time on new and exciting research, thanks to the Norma and Jerol Sonosky Summer Fellowship, and I’m writing this post to hopefully get you excited about it as well!


Here I am in my natural habitat: an air-free “glovebox”

I’ve always been interested in the ways we generate energy to power our world and build new products and materials, so my research now ties together these very different problems. Although fossil fuels have allowed us to achieve some amazing things as a society (building skyscrapers, powering hospitals, creating anything imaginable with the discovery of plastics, and many others), they can also trap us into depending on foreign powers for their oil or giving up our beautiful natural environments to dig up our own. To make an energy-independent America, we need new technologies to harness the greatest resource we already have here waiting for us: the sun!


Photosynthesis turns carbon dioxide into food (sugars) and oxygen using solar energy. Image:

My research focuses on using sunlight to power chemical reactions on a big scale. There are all kinds of reactions you could try to power with sunlight, but my main interest is “artificial photosynthesis.” Photosynthesis is a series of chemical reactions that plants use to turn sunlight into sugar, which they (and we!) use to live and grow. Plants are able to do this using special “catalysts,” chemicals that act like little factories to change one kind of molecule into another (carbon dioxide gas into sugar). What we’d like to do is make our own catalysts that can convert CO2 into a huge range of important chemicals, including synthetic petroleum. By making this work, we could ultimately recycle the CO2 waste that’s generated by burning fossil fuels back into usable fuel.


This is what one of our catalysts looks like: a small, flat molecule It has one cobalt atom (pink) sitting between two organic molecules made of selenium (yellow), carbon (gray), and hydrogen atoms (left out for clarity). By switching out one type of atom for another, you can change the way the molecule behaves. Image from our paper “H2 Evolution by a Cobalt Selenolate Electrocatalyst and Related Mechanistic Studies”

But making new catalysts is hard work. Sometimes a synthesis can take several hours or even days to finish, and growing nice crystals of your new molecule can take weeks! And the catalyst doesn’t always behave the way you’d like it to, so you need to take the time to rethink your design, sketch out a drawing for a new molecule with a different shape or size, bounce ideas off your coworkers, and then jump back in the lab to try again. This process opens up a lot of room for creativity: there’s 118 elements on the periodic table and infinite new ways to arrange them into brand-new molecules and materials. So even if your first try fails, there’s plenty more to discover.


Some crystals of a new catalyst that I made this summer

The nice thing about our catalysts is that we use metals like cobalt, iron, and nickel mixed with small molecules (called “ligands”), and structures like these usually have bright, pleasant colors and grow into really cool crystals – like the ones I made above. We also get to use giant lasers, powerful magnets, X-ray guns, and extreme microscopes to study the new molecules we make.

Thanks for reading, and check out our other projects at if you want to learn more!