Campus News

Carbon Emissions Art Fills Morrell Lounge, Inspires Course Work

Story posted February 23, 2010

The concept is simple: rope off an area representing one ton of carbon dioxide gas emissions in order to make a point.

The brainchild of senior Madelyn Sullivan, the installation's execution is elegant in its simplicity.

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Details of Madelyn Sullivan's installation, A Ton of Carbon Emissions, in Morrell Lounge, Smith Union.

A cube, 27 feet per side, (the space occupied by one ton of CO2 gas emissions at 25 degrees Celsius and Standard Atmospheric Pressure, per the exhibition's description) is marked by thick red tape, accompanied only by short columns to anchor the corners and a sign informing visitors that, on average, each U.S. citizen emits one ton of CO2 every two weeks, and that the College emits 24-thousand tons every year.

The resulting red-framed cube itself occupies the bulk of Morrell Lounge, Smith Union. Sullivan had originally envisioned the installation as a cube of books, 27 feet wide in each direction.

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"We need all of the books in Bowdoinís library, plus a lot of good information that hasnít even been written down yet, to begin to solve this problem," says Sullivan.

"Knowledge is Bowdoinís most valuable resource, just as carbon is lifeís most valuable resource. We are made of carbon. Carbon isnít the problem; in fact, it is the building block of life. Itís how much carbon we use that is the issue."

The exhibition made an impression on Assistant Professor of Chemistry Laura Voss, who incorporated the project into an assignment for her General Chemistry course.

Calling the installation "an excellent example of how to show the scope of an individual American's impact on the composition of the atmosphere," Voss challenges her students to explore ideas about volumes, ideal gases and carbon footprints in other campus buildings.

Voss' atmospheric chemistry class is working on a demonstration using the cube as a box model to show how combustion of fossil fuels causes CO2 buildup in the atmosphere.

Sullivan's project is part of the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good's Seeking the Common Good: Innovation for Change series.

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