Student Travel Grant Recipients Conduct Research Projects Around the World

Student Travel Grant Recipients Conduct Research Projects Around the World

Tanzanian government ministers and other leaders discussed solar energy and its impact on rural villages with Columbia University graduate students Sivan Achor and Sarit Birzon, both students in the SIPA Master of International Affairs program, during their recent trip to Tanzania. This trip, during which the students were able to help bring solar technology to rural villages, was funded in part by the Earth Institute Student Research Travel Grant, which is distributed to several students each academic year.

Travel Grant recipients for the 2007-2008 year have begun conducting their research projects in sites across the world, including parts of Africa, Europe, South America, and Asia. Thirty-six students from the university were awarded $500 grants that will support them as they travel to more than 20 countries throughout the world.

Achor and Birzon traveled to Tanzania to meet with ministers, NGO directors, village leaders, and water contractors to identify potential rural villages that would benefit from the installation of solar water pumping systems and a supply of solar-powered lighting to medical clinics and schools. Currently, less than 2% of rural Tanzania has access to electricity, and many regions have recently suffered from severe droughts. The electricity provided to the medical clinic will light and power a vaccination refrigerator which stores vaccinations for tuberculosis, yellow fever, and other prevalent diseases. Achor and Birzon also plan to install solar well systems in two villages, providing clean water for over 1,000 people in each village.

In their first week in Tanzania, Achor and Birzon met with Dr. Shukuru Kawambwa, Tanzania’s Minister of Water, in order to identify areas in need of immediate assistance. They spent three days touring villages with Dr. Kawambwa, meeting village leaders and speaking with women, who are usually responsible for traveling long distances to collect water. “From the time he took to meet and tour with us, and from the way he spoke with the villagers, it was clear to us that the minister cares deeply for his people and is trying his very best to improve their living conditions,” Achor said. 

During their travels in Tanzania, they found a medical clinic that serves approximately 3,600 people, but lacked any access to energy.  “Even during the day, certain rooms were dark and the medical supplies are limited and almost inexistent,” Achor recalled. In another village, the residents were traveling miles to a hand-dug well to manually draw out muddy buckets of water. The well was shallow, making it susceptible to groundwater contamination, and often ran dry. It became clear that these were the two villages that would benefit most from their project.  

Their solar well has been calculated to provide enough water for not only drinking, cooking, and washing purposes, but also for livestock needs and irrigation. Agriculture is a main source of survival in Tanzania, and providing these villages with year-long access to irrigation will help secure their food supply and allow for additional income from the selling of crops. Enabling the medical clinic to store vaccines would increase the number of people vaccinated and potentially increase lifespan of the village. Through this project, Achor and Birzon hope to promote the sustainability of solar energy as a reliable source for Tanzanian rural development.

PhD candidate Tim Rappold (SEAS EAEE), another recipient of an Earth Institute Travel Grant, traveled to La Palma, Spain this January to attend the Mineral-fluid Interface Reactivity Early Stage Training program, sponsored by a network of European universities. This workshop provided important networking and educational opportunities that linked work currently being conducted at Columbia's Lenfest Center of Sustainable Energy with Iceland's CO2 sequestration project at Reykjavik Energy, a geothermal power plant. The workshop also focused on a type of mineral-fluid reaction chemistry that is highly pertinent to Rappold’s doctoral work on mineral sequestration as a means of lowering waste product sulfur into a thermodynamic ground state, while harnessing the energy output of the process. “A number of the field's leading researchers gave excellent presentations on basic and advanced concepts and illuminated–and frequently argued over–the frontiers and unknowns in chemical weathering mechanisms and kinetics. It was a great opportunity for me to put the current state of knowledge in perspective,” Rappold said.

Nearly $18,000 in funding was provided by the Earth Institute for student travel associated with research projects related to degree studies at Columbia University for the 2007-2008 academic year. The Earth Institute initiated the travel grant program in 2005 in response to requests for student research support. Since that time, the Earth Institute has allocated funding to support a wide range of student research projects dealing with issues of sustainable development and environmental protection.

If you would like more information about the Earth Institute Travel Grant, please contact Amanda McIntosh at or 212-854-8177.