The Interview: Marie-Odile Fortier | College of Nevada, Las Vegas

The Interview: Marie-Odile Fortier | University of Nevada, Las Vegas

It was at a lecture by indigenous Canadian activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier throughout her freshman 12 months that Marie-Odile Fortier realized the influence that local weather change had, not simply on the setting, but in addition on underrepresented populations. And, regardless of her preliminary reluctance to pursue a Ph.D, she has since turn into enamored with analysis surrounding (and the instructing of) life cycle evaluation — a course of that appears at a product’s influence from extraction of uncooked supplies to manufacturing and distribution, to its disposal.

She joined UNLV in July 2022 as civil and environmental engineering and building assistant professor after stints on the College of California, Merced (2018-22) and State College of New York Faculty of Environmental Science and Forestry (2015-18). Right here she’s discovered a spot of optimism and inclusion, crucial parts in fueling her analysis and instructing.

What’s your position at UNLV, and may you stroll us by way of the duties of that position?

I got here to UNLV because the engineering school member of the Sustainability in Arid Lands cluster rent, which efficiently employed three new school members in numerous schools at UNLV with potential to generate new collaborative and interdisciplinary analysis on this subject space. 

As a school member, I stability my time between analysis, instructing, and repair. I train undergraduate and graduate programs associated to sustainability in engineering. In my analysis duties, I meet with and information graduate and undergraduate researchers and supply suggestions on manuscript drafts, brainstorm analysis approaches, collaboratively develop fashions of the life cycles of power techniques in Python code with college students, prepare on new abilities, and share skilled improvement alternatives. 

I’m rising my crew at present, so I’m actively recruiting new members, as properly. I meet with collaborators and stakeholders (often just about, however often touring to satisfy in individual), put together grant proposals, and sustain with current developments in my subject. We current our analysis at conferences, which brings me to the service a part of my work. I serve on the Range Committee of the Worldwide Symposium on Sustainable Programs and Know-how, serving to to plan the June annual convention all year long. I peer overview manuscripts submitted to journals upon request.

No day is kind of like yesterday, besides that I’m most ceaselessly at my laptop.

Previous to UNLV, you based GERLCA. What’s that and who’re the individuals working behind the scenes?

GERLCA is the identify I gave our analysis group, which stands for Geospatial Vitality Sources and Life Cycle Evaluation. My analysis group is at present unfold throughout UNLV and UC Merced, as my two Ph.D. college students Amir Sharafi and Alyssa Pfadt-Trilling are finishing their levels there. The group contains myself, graduate pupil researchers, undergraduate pupil researchers, and generally postdoctoral researchers. 

We primarily deal with researching the life cycle local weather change impacts of power techniques and the way they range geographically. Life cycle local weather change impacts (or the “carbon footprint”) will be calculated utilizing life cycle evaluation (LCA), a quantitative methodology that tracks emissions from cradle to grave, from uncooked materials extraction by way of to disposal, together with the impacts of background processes. It’s notably helpful in power techniques analysis: LCA can determine hotspots for bettering environmental efficiency throughout the life cycle, information design and set up location choice for brand new power techniques, and permit for comparability of the carbon footprints of novel power techniques to different sources of power. 

What impressed you to get into this subject?

I first turned deeply curious about local weather change after attending an invited lecture by Sheila Watt-Cloutier throughout my freshman 12 months of school. I had not beforehand thought of how local weather change was resulting in disproportionate impacts on indigenous populations or actually totally grasped the huge environmental adjustments arising from local weather change earlier than her discuss. I used to be struck by how completely momentous the difficulty of local weather change was, and the way it was additionally basically an environmental justice disaster. 

Initially, I had not been planning to pursue a Ph.D. I had the wrong notion {that a} Ph.D. can be years of learning a minor part of a subfield of a subfield, and that I might be caught eternally engaged on the identical factor consequently. I additionally was actually intimidated by the concept of doing analysis, considering that possibly solely the easiest and most devoted individuals had the “proper” to speak new information and that it will be really easy to make a mistake that affected engineering design eternally if printed. I later realized how analysis was ever-evolving and the way research construct upon prior information or reanalyze previous assumptions.

My longtime good friend Wilton Mui, now additionally a Ph.D., and his undergraduate analysis advisor Ben Koopman allowed me to volunteer with Wilton in his lab analysis and attend analysis group conferences throughout my senior undergraduate 12 months [at the University of Florida]. This expertise took away a number of the irrational ideas I had about analysis and made me see how analysis happy my mental curiosity. I discovered how dynamic a analysis profession could possibly be. I credit score Wilton for giving me that perception, and I attempt to make researching accessible to undergraduate college students, as some individuals may need the identical epiphany that I did and go on to pursue analysis careers that profit human information.

[Learn more about UNLV undergraduate research opportunities.]

What’s your favourite or essentially the most rewarding facet of the work that you just do?

I reside for LCA. One thing about this strategy has completely merged into my persona and methods of considering. Sharing that zeal with college students and serving to them develop abilities on this space is one thing that tends to make me lose observe of time, as I can’t assist myself from moving into the small print and from going off on relatable and teachable, however ceaselessly tangential, anecdotes to drive dwelling essential factors. 

My college students are most likely uninterested in listening to this assertion, however I’m such a life cycle individual that I inevitably share and clarify the internal workings of all the pieces behind the scenes, particularly after I consider this data might help others perceive varied processes. I discover the sort of mentoring enjoyable, and it leads me to prioritize coaching college students. I’ve PowerPoint displays galore breaking down issues like how we develop grant budgets, find out how to adapt codes to make particular forms of graphs, find out how to deal with sure difficult modeling features in LCA codes, and so on. 

I additionally love studying about different individuals’s analysis, the strategies that they use, and the massive questions of their fields, even outdoors my very own self-discipline.  

You reference inclusive values in your web site; how vital is it to have researchers on this subject who can contribute a wide range of views?

Inclusivity is each a private {and professional} worth to me. Society is improved when persons are empowered to their full potential and never restricted by unjust limitations to entry and retention. As talked about on my web site, GERLCA welcomes and helps girls, LGBTQ2SIA+, BIPOC, neurodivergent, undocumented, and first-generation members, researchers with disabilities (together with non-apparent disabilities), and different identities which were systematically minoritized/marginalized in science and engineering.

Our analysis being primarily computational permits for flexibility in our work setting as an alternative of requiring our members to be onsite throughout common daytime weekday hours. This goals to offer wanted flexibility for neurodivergent members, members with caretaker duties, members observing spiritual holidays that aren’t nationally acknowledged or culturally vital occasions, and members with disabilities.

I set conferences primarily just about and meet recurrently individually with every member of my group. I purpose to seek out alternatives for GERLCA members to additionally work together and collaborate when attainable. This helps make this versatile setting much less isolating and extra welcoming. 

There’s a social justice factor to the work you do by investigating potential “greenwashing” by firms. Why is it vital for individuals to know the life cycle of merchandise or processes touted as “inexperienced” or “carbon-reducing”?

Greenwashing refers to touting one thing as being environmentally pleasant when information is unavailable to help that declare. For instance, a product may use a low proportion of recycled materials, but it surely is perhaps extra fossil energy-intensive to offer and improve that recycled materials, resulting in a better carbon footprint than its different with none recycled materials. If the corporate producing this new model with recycled materials both has not calculated the life cycle environmental impacts as compared with the opposite model, or is aware of that these impacts are greater, however nonetheless markets the product to the general public as extra environmentally pleasant, then that will be greenwashing.

Each human-managed system or product has some sort of “hidden” environmental impacts, which life cycle evaluation can carry to gentle by accounting for impacts from cradle to grave. 

Many types of power are being labeled as “zero emission” resulting from not producing greenhouse gasoline emissions instantly throughout electrical energy technology. Nonetheless, there are greenhouse gasoline emissions concerned in uncooked materials extraction, manufacturing, transportation steps, upkeep, and finish of life administration. We should decide their cumulative results so as to not overlook doubtlessly high-emission processes that could possibly be additional improved as soon as the difficulty is recognized.

With a number of renewable power techniques, the carbon footprint is far diminished in comparison with fossil power techniques, however nonetheless not zero. As a result of the majority of renewable power’s emissions happen in uncooked materials extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and building, that are upfront within the life cycle, these greenhouse gasoline emissions happen virtually as a pulse, which have to be mitigated by the local weather advantages of the renewable power offered. Simply placing up a brand new renewable power system doesn’t assure decrease greenhouse gasoline emissions per unit of power. In some situations, renewable power and bioenergy techniques can have greater greenhouse gasoline emissions on a life cycle foundation than their fossil gasoline options, and in different situations, there is perhaps internet adverse greenhouse gasoline emissions or internet carbon elimination from the ambiance — it’s unknown till a life cycle evaluation is correctly performed. 

Is that this the kind of work you imagined doing whenever you had been youthful?

I used to be curious about completely all the pieces after I was youthful. After I discovered about environmental engineering, that was an ideal match; you must learn about biology, chemistry, physics, and the way they apply to engineering in varied functions. Such a engineering is on the interphase of people and nature: making issues protected going from nature to people (like water therapy) and from people again to nature (like stable waste administration). To me, it felt just like the essential, bottom-line accountability of the engineering occupation as a complete. It’s innately conscientious, value-driven, and interdisciplinary.

For the longest time as a child, I used to be most curious about changing into a author. Contemplating how a lot I write, from manuscripts for peer-reviewed publication, grant proposals, new lecture and presentation supplies, pupil trainings, and stories to collaborators, I feel I obtained what I wanted for indirectly! 

What are a few of your targets — profession or private — as we enter 2023?

I’m excited to construct up my crew at UNLV! This fall 2022, I got here in with one graduate pupil, Santiago Cisneros Castillo, who was beforehand considered one of my stellar undergraduate researchers at UC Merced. We can be gaining new graduate and undergraduate college students in 2023. My two Ph.D. college students at UC Merced may also be coming as much as finishing their dissertations this 12 months, which is thrilling as they are going to be my first two Ph.D. college students graduated. I’ve beforehand graduated 5 grasp’s diploma college students and served on a number of Ph.D. college students’ committees. I’m additionally wanting ahead to placing ending touches on a number of ongoing research with my pupil researchers and submitting the manuscripts for publication. It’s vital to me to assist my college students and mentees construct their method to impactful and fulfilling careers.   

My private targets for 2023 contain staying on high of my well being. It’s straightforward to miss when issues get very busy, and we discuss brazenly concerning the significance of psychological and bodily well being inside my analysis group. I can be ensuring that I stroll the stroll and set a superb instance.

What do you love to do for enjoyable?

I’ve solely lived in Las Vegas since July 2022, however I used to go to extra ceaselessly earlier than transferring. Whereas my partner was working within the central valley of California and I used to be working in upstate New York, it allowed us to see one another extra usually after we met up in Las Vegas because the flights had been extra direct. We hiked in Valley of Fireplace (we had a behavior of doing the Prospect Path out-and-back on Thanksgiving earlier than having a giant meal on the finish of the day!) and Crimson Rock Canyon Nationwide Conservation Space and loved the vegan eating places inside the metropolis. We love all the pieces Las Vegas has to supply. We fell in love with the desert, and throughout the pandemic, we spent fairly a little bit of time touring and tenting in state parks within the southwest in an RV with our pets whereas working remotely. 

Since transferring, we’ve saved up the identical sorts of hobbies that we had whereas visiting Las Vegas: exploring mountain climbing trails, making an attempt new eating places, and performing some buying. I’m just about a homebody in any other case, and I get pleasure from staying dwelling with our pets, swimming in our pool, listening to nonfiction audiobooks by way of the Clark County Library’s Libby app, and watching each award-winning TV reveals and trashy actuality TV to unwind.

What’s your favourite factor about working at UNLV?

UNLV has an optimism and group spirit that invigorates me in my work. UNLV has the entire features that I beloved essentially the most in my two earlier positions multi function place, and it’s in my favourite pure setting (the desert), in my favourite metropolis, in my favourite state.

UNLV displays the character of Las Vegas in being numerous, welcoming, entertaining, and having a singular identification that’s in contrast to anyplace else. Southern Nevada is a superb place to deal with renewable power improvement and evaluation, as properly. On high of that, there may be a lot potential for collaborations on life cycle evaluation initiatives with different researchers and with trade companions.

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