ND LEEF prepares for Science Sunday at St. Pat's

Author: Gene Stowe, South Bend Tribune


ND LEEF, a unique environmental research collaboration between the University of Notre Dame and St. Patrick’s County Park, will hold its second annual public Science Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 5. Construction has also started on an outdoor education and outreach pavilion that will enhance year-round community engagement at ND LEEF.

The Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility, with an initial investment of $1 million on six acres in the park, includes two state-of-the art experimental watersheds designed to bridge the controlled environment of a laboratory with the uncontrolled environment found in nature.

Each watershed replicates the complex natural system of ponds, streams and wetlands while allowing scientists to manage such factors as water temperature and flow for their research. ND LEEF is part of the university’s Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI), aimed at applying cutting-edge research to improve environmental management and provide innovative policy solutions.

Science Sunday, which attracted more than 150 visitors last year, includes tours of the facility, descriptions of research by 10 to 15 scientists from the Colleges of Science and Engineering, and hands-on activities especially for children.

“It’s our annual event to translate the research that’s occurring at ND LEEF, along with other environmental and ecological research at Notre Dame, to the public,” says LEEF Assistant Director Brett Peters. “We have a great venue at ND LEEF where people can see firsthand how we do the research. Visitors can talk to the researchers themselves about what the research is, how it is conducted, how it might impact their lives. We’ll have several different stations set up,” including small pond insects sampled from the facility’s ponds.

The 700-square-foot education and outreach pavilion that breaks ground this month will in future provide more opportunities for individuals, teachers, and classes to engage the research.

“It’s going to be the first place people stop when they visit LEEF,” says director Jennifer Tank, a biology professor whose research focuses on stream ecology. “Kids can come out and learn about an experiment at the beginning of the semester. They can follow it online in their class all semester long. They get their hands dirty. They do experimental stuff. They meet with the scientists who are doing the work. It’s really great for those kids who are interested in science or think they might be interested.”

Aimee Buccellato, an assistant professor at Notre Dame’s School of Architecture, designed the building as well as the master plan for the future growth at ND LEEF. The pavilion will be built with Midwestern hardwood and traditional framing methods, and will play a central role in the campus, and be part of the environmental research conducted there. Cutting-edge solar technology on the rooftop will power an interactive touch screen, where visitors can learn about the experiments being conducted at the facility, as well as the innovative construction of the pavilion.

“This small structure is meant to articulate the mission of the Environmental Change Initiative on many different levels, and also help educate the public about how building design impacts the natural environment,” she said, adding that visitors may observe the construction later this fall.

“This structure is intended to be the centerpiece of a larger research campus which is being planned for the future. The education and outreach pavilion is the beginning of a broader vision.”