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June 9, 2020

Two CEE students named Planetary Health Scholars

Written By: Alex Holloway

Civil and environmental engineering doctoral students Jonathan Lala and Ramin Ghamkhar are working to improve the interconnected health of humanity and planet Earth. They have earned recognition for their research as two of six Spring 2020 UW Planetary Health Scholars.

 Ramin Ghamkar
Ramin Ghamkhar

Planetary Health Scholars are nominated and selected for outstanding research into ways to improve the interdependent health of humans and of the planet. The Planetary Health Graduate Scholarship Program was launched in January 2020 and is administered through UW-Madison’s Global Health Institute and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

Ghamkhar is researching sustainable food production with Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Andrea Hicks.

Growing populations, particularly in Asia and Africa, are projected to continue driving increased demand for global food production in the coming decades. Such heightened demand is expected to drive more food production, which will lead to more natural resource utilization and waste generation.

Aquaponics systems, which grow fish and produce in a closed loop, offer considerable waste reduction potential compared to conventional farming methods. In a flash lecture, Ghamkhar says additional sustainability efforts, such as using green energy or effective space heating methods, can reduce aquaponic systems’ potential environmental impact by up to 60 percent. The research measured the impact through life cycle assessments, which can project a product’s environmental impact from raw material acquisition through end-of-life.

 Jonathan Lala
Jonathan Lala

Lala is researching the connection between human activity and extreme weather events with Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Paul Block.

His research, highlighted in a flash lecture, focuses on extreme rainfall in Peru and improving local forecasting to better predict when such rainfall events might strike, using a model based on seasonal, monthly and short-term forecasts. That research is being conducted in partnership with the Red Cross to optimize early action responses for extreme rainfall.

In Ethiopia, where severe droughts can trigger devastating famines, Lala’s research is focused on determining the onset of the rainy season and optimal forecast-informed planting windows to optimize maize yields. The work includes communication efforts through the creation of easy-to-understand forecast calendars that highlight optimal planting windows.

More information on the Spring 2020 Planetary Health Scholars cohort is available at the UW-Madison Global Health Institute’s website.