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Southwestern Students Create Energy Efficient Water Recycling System

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Southwestern physics majors use energy efficient water recycling to protect Fountainwood Observatory equipment from Texas heat.

Susana Beltran, Class of 2018, Diana Beltran, Class of 2018, Kyle Zarosky, Class of 2017 and Michael Meason, Class of 2016, recently received a $760 grant from Southwestern’s Green Sustainable Advancement Funding Endeavor (SAFE) to complete an energy efficient water recycling project. It focuses on protecting $89,500 worth of Southwestern’s Fountainwood Observatory equipment.

Southwestern currently uses dehumidifiers in each of the observatories to protect the valuable equipment stored inside from the Texas heat. Until now, Associate Professor Mark Bottorff, Ph.D., the Fountainwood Observatory Director, would make frequent trips to Southwestern to manually empty three gallon cisterns.

These four students wanted to find a way to eliminate the many trips Professor Bottorff makes to the observatory, while also finding a way to protect the equipment and lower energy consumption.

To achieve this, the students planted viburnum suspensum shrubs around the east building to shield it from direct sunlight which could overheat the observatory. By lowering the heat index in the building, they were in turn able to lower the energy consumption of the air­ conditioning and the dehumidifiers. They also installed a drip irrigation system which will recycle the waste water from the dehumidifier to water the screening shrubs without the help of humans.

“By protecting the equipment inside the observatory from being damaged by the central Texas elements, Southwestern will not only help protect their current assets, but will allow for further student and faculty research,” Susana Beltran says.

This is just one of eight Green SAFE projects happening this year on campus.  The University recently distributed more $17,000 in grants to make student sustainability projects possible. Other projects include:  

  • Recycling at the Athletic Fields
  • LED Lighting for the Student Lounge
  • Water Bottle Refill Stations
  • Raised Bed Garden Plots
  • Single Use Water Bottles
  • Sustainable Lighting in Jones Theater
  • Student Worker to Improve Sustainability Rating

For more information on Southwestern’s sustainability programs, please visit: