Cornell University

May 14 2012

High Energy

ILR student leads Cornell team in national geothermal competition

Katie MayerWhen Katie Mayer '14 was in high school, she participated in a science research program and started developing an interest in sustainability.

"The summer before the program started, we were asked to find 10 articles on science topics we were interested in. I had remembered an article I read in sixth grade about electric-powered cars, and I really liked that subject."

Mayer is now team leader of a Cornell undergraduate research team in the National Geothermal Student Competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The team, part of the Cornell University Sustainable Design group, is among 10 national finalists vying for top honors. A graduate team from the Cornell Energy Institute is also competing.

The competition focuses on geothermal power, a sustainable, environmentally friendly source of energy that harnesses power from the earth's internal heat. Many scientists believe using this source more could lessen the impact of global warming.

Geothermal energy research and ILR's world of work focus might not seem a likely fit, Mayer said. "But, it connects to green jobs, where there will be a lot of potential and opportunity for students in the future."

The team's project involves compiling and analyzing satellite images to determine optimal placement for a geothermal system or power plant. This process is less expensive, greener and easier than the conventional drilling method, Mayer said.

"We hope to create a mapping model that could be used anywhere, in any region of the world."

The team received a $10,000 research stipend to cover expenses for the project, which will be completed over the summer. Final reports will be submitted by Aug. 31, and judges will then select the top three.

As the only non-engineer on her team, Mayer says she can bring an “external perspective” that adds value to the group’s work.

"It's the ILR perspective, where you're given a problem and then you look at that problem and say, 'how can I fix it?'"

"I've been able to apply a lot of what I've learned at ILR -- how to negotiate, analyze and write well, and present ideas clearly."

Mayer, who is developing a career interest in energy policy, adds that she is getting practical leadership experience and learning lessons along the way about the importance of collaboration.

"I'm the team leader, but the project is us, it's about the group. We want to hear everyone's ideas, and it's my role to help facilitate that discussion."

For more information on the Cornell University Sustainable Design group, http://cusd.cornell.edu/. Read more about the National Geothermal Student Competition at http://www.nrel.gov/geothermal/competition.html.