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Russ Professor of Chemical Engineering Gerardine Botte led a discussion of climate change and energy conservation themes at a free screening of the futuristic science-fiction film Soylent Green on March 31 at the Athena Cinema.
Theevent was part of the first-of-its-kind national Alfred Sloan Foundation’s Science on Screen series, with support from Arts for Ohio. Seventeen independent theaters across the country screened films that night.
Soylent Green follows a murder investigation set in 2022 New York City, depicting rampant overpopulation, climate change and food scarcity that has led to rationing of processed foods, including the namesake Soylent Green wafers.
“It’s a great movie because it’s an iconic movie, and even though it was done in 1973, it was already predicting all these problems that our society was going to face,” Botte said.
Before the screening, Botte gave a charismatic multimedia presentation on energy consumption in wastewater treatment. She discussed the drawbacks of traditional ammonia removal methods such as wasted energy, high operational costs and carbon dioxide emissions.
Her proposed solution is the GreenBox, an electrical on/off machine that removes ammonia from water while producing an alternative and clean fuel -- hydrogen.
“The beauty of it is the byproduct of the reaction is hydrogen, which can be reused as energy and used back in your waste water treatment,” she explained.
She said the next step for the “pee-to-power” technology is to actually implement it into water treatment facilities, which will happen this month.
“We’re going to be privileged by doing it here in the waste water treatment facility in Athens,” she said. “So we’re going to be the first and only city in the world that’s going to have that machine, which is pretty exciting.”
After the discussion and film, the packed theater engaged Botte in a lengthy Q&A.
One important question came from sophomore in chemical engineering Justin Martin, who asked how he could get involved in Botte’s work in alternative energy and global sustainability.
“It was eye-opening for me,” he said. “I didn’t know we had this kind of stuff going on, on campus. So, it’s exciting for me that I got a look in on some of the upcoming possibilities.”
Martin had come to the event along with a friend who was attending for class extra credit. He believes he has now essentially found his career path.
“For the longest time I’ve wanted to find ways to take waste products and turn them into either usable products or ideally energy, because energy is kind of my thing,” he explained. “I am going to follow up with her to see how exactly I can turn that into a career.”
Botte said that Martin’s enthusiasm for her presentation made her day.
“I went back and told my husband about it,” she said. “To me, when I teach a class or when I’m talking about research and I see the spark in the kids’ eyes, that’s the best reward.”