Humboldt Welcomes New GreenLab

Research institute focuses on innovative design and partnerships both local and global
Dr. James Russell, of the Applied Technology Department, holds a brick made of styrofoam and Portland cement. The brick, when compressed into a thin sheet, may be used as an insulating material. The GreenLab will be testing this idea, along with many others, for market viability. Photo Credit: HSU Marketing & Communications
Dr. James Russell of the Department of Applied Technology holds in his hand a brick that looks like leftover supplies mashed together after art period, but it's more than that. It could be a great way to repurpose used styrofoam for building insulation.

The idea, originated by Roger Pryor of Bayside Builders, is exactly the sort of thing that Russell and others behind the GreenLab hope to see students, faculty and community members working on in the near future.

So far, the styrofoam-as-insulation idea has some legs: the material is relatively light weight and keeps its form when compressed. As far as its R-value goes, a measure of the material’s insulation properties, that’s yet to be determined — ideally in the design and prototyping courses offered by Applied Technology and undertaken in the GreenLab. And what’s emerging here is a unique partnership between Humboldt State and the environmentally conscious business community.


The GreenLab is Humboldt State’s newest chartered research institute and Russell, along with John Ash, architect and head of the John Ash Group and Dr. Susan Higgins, dean of the College of Professional Studies, are welcoming the public to the grand opening this Friday, April 18 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. in Jenkins Hall, Room 101.

Officially known as the Green Product Design and Development Laboratory, GreenLab grew out of a partnership between the School of Business’ Department of Applied Technology, the John Ash Group and HSU’s Office for Economic & Community Development.

Maggie Gainer, director of the OECD, says, “the GreenLab adds a new dimension to HSU’s impact on the region’s economy — innovation of green technologies and environmentally sustainable products. I’m excited about the GreenLab’s potential for partnerships with local business and industry.”

Dean Susan Higgins concurs: “GreenLab is based on the premise that our best thinking arises when diverse teams of professionals who share a common vision work together to solve real-world problems. Our goal is to bring products to the mass market that are attractive, efficient and clever in their use of smart technology and good design,” says Higgins.

“The idea isn’t just to look at things and write a paper, it’s to look at ideas and try to make them real, make them available,” says Russell.

Russell, who’s background includes bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, worked for Pilkington Glass designing equipment and eventually taking on the role of environmental and safety manager. “It was a glass manufacturer, so safety was paramount. There was never any time for anything proactive, environmentally,” says Russell.

The young South Carolina native had always been interested in environmental issues, and saw that through work in Industrial Ecology, in which he would write his Ph.D., he could have more of a positive impact than his work with the glass company. By focusing on an area of study that looks at how people use resources in their business and personal lives, and combing that with a passion for teaching that goes back several generations, Russell’s work will have a long reach.

Most recently, Russell’s career took him to Ireland, where he worked at the Jordanstown campus of the University of Ulster on solar thermal projects, which tried to make the leap from the technology’s ability to serve residential purposes to being viable in commercial and light industrial applications.

Back in Arcata, Russell hopes to bring some of the principles of the European Union’s model of scientific research — that of multinational, multi-disciplinary cooperation — to the GreenLab. Already, plans are being laid to partner with the Swiss canton of Vaud. A student exchange program is also in the works.

But for now, pressing matters pertain to all things local. With the opening of the lab at the end of this week, Russell wants to put the word out to local businesses that those seedling ideas for product designs and innovations are the perfect grist for the GreenLab.

“Ideally I’d like to have a stack of these ideas for my students to work on,” says Russell.

Students in the product design and product prototyping classes, the capstone experiences for the Applied Technology major, would, no doubt, be well suited to projects like investigating a reclaimed, styrofoam-based insulation.

Already, Applied Technology’s impact on the local community is being felt. Ben Davis, who graduated from the program this last fall, designed a heat recuperator for Fire & Light’s three production furnaces. The design has the potential of shaving 30 percent off the company’s $15,000-per-month energy bill.

By working on real-world projects like this, students get first-hand experience in essentially the same setting any business would develop a new idea. This work is enhanced by student groups like the Industrial Technology Club and the Construction Management Team, the latter of which made a laudable showing last February at the Associated Schools of Construction competition in Sparks, Nevada.

Class and laboratory experiences and face-to-face contact with industry professionals through such conferences are paying off big for the students. With offers coming in for internships and post-graduation jobs at top construction and manufacturing firms, it’s only a matter of time before a graduate of the Applied Technology program comes in with his or her own firm, looking to the GreenLab for help developing their next million dollar idea.