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e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry

ESF-NASA Partnership Helps Launch New Ideas


SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Businesses large and small throughout the Northeast have a new way to put Space Age technology to use in developing and marketing innovative products and services.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in an effort to increase the competitiveness of American business, has designated the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) as an Affiliated Research Center. The designation puts the college's high-tech remote sensing and mapping technology within reach of companies with fresh ideas.

image of remote sensing"This center provides a low investment, low risk opportunity to investigate high technology with a goal of commercial development: making money," said Dr. Paul F. Hopkins, director of the center at ESF. "This is a resource for companies with an idea. They can come here and investigate modern geographic data and analysis, and then prove the idea's feasibility. It's all done at a relatively low risk to the company. In the end, they can decide if the idea has merit."

ESF is one of nine colleges and universities around the country serving NASA in that role. It is one of only two ARC facilities in the Northeast. The other is at Brown University.

The ARC program aims to introduce American companies to a variety of geospatial disciplines and to integrate university research activities with industry requirements. Geospatial disciplines include satellite surveying, computer-based mapping, and advanced remote sensing technologies, which use imaging to obtain information about such things as terrain, environmental condition, and land use.

The program's applications cover a broad span.

  • Police agencies can use geospatial information to plan emergency response routes.
  • After a debilitating storm such as the Labor Day derecho, utility companies can use it to prioritize repairs.
  • Companies-even pizza chains-can use it to plan delivery routes.

"The industries we're trying to attract go from one-person companies to multibillion dollar corporations," Hopkins said. "The key is to have an idea that has commercial potential."

The projects completed through ARC partnerships at other universities include an assessment of winter road conditions, a wetland restoration monitoring study, mineral exploration, a study involving the siting of a commercial development, landfill and storm sewer overflow monitoring, and use of high resolution remote sensing for gas line route selection.

The commercial partners have included utility companies, technology and consulting businesses, and real estate groups.

Typically, an ARC partnership lasts several months. It costs the corporate partner nothing other than the time its staff members devote to it. Companies or non-profit organizations that would like to work with the ARC in Syracuse can submit a proposal that will be reviewed by both a local committee and NASA officials at the agency's Commercial Remote Sensing Program at John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

"We would expect at any one time to have two or three projects going," Hopkins said. "They need to be very focused so they can be completed in three to six months."

Hopkins is assisted in the operation of the ARC by Lindi Quackenbush, a recent graduate of ESF's master's program, who acts as coordinator.

The program will involve faculty members and students from several of ESF's academic departments: environmental resources and forest engineering, environmental studies, forestry, environmental and forest biology, and landscape architecture.

The first ARC was established at the University of South Carolina in 1994. Two years later, three more universities were chosen to participate: San Diego State University, the University of Wisconsin, and Utah State University. In addition to ESF and Brown, research centers were established this year at Oregon State University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the University of New Mexico.