DeCaluwe Research Group
Science and Engineering Values
Biodiversity and Sustainability · Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion · Open Science
Science and engineering are, at their heart, value-laden enterprises. When I decided to leave my position as an elementary school teacher, I had two major criteria for the next phase of my professional development: (i) it had to engage my love of science and mathematics, and (ii) there had to be a significant social impact. Tackling problems related to clean energy and clean water as a mechanical engineer addressed both.
As scientists and engineers, our work touches lives and impacts our environment on a very broad scope. Our work has implications for environmental sustainability, social justice, and public policy, among other spheres, and can be used to improve the lives of those around us. At the same time, poorly considered or perfunctory work which fails to fully consider its own impact can have significant negative consequences for those around us.
Below are some of the values and themes that inspire my work. They influence both why and how I do what I do. As you will see, they are all highly interrelated.
They are also all largely aspirational — they indicate ways in which I would like to grow, as a researcher and teacher, not milestones that I have already achieved. If you have suggestions, corrections, or would like to collaborate with me in any of these endeavors, please do not hesitate to reach out!
Conservation Biology and Environmental Sustainability
A major driver for leaving elementary education for academia was a passion for preserving biodiversity on Earth, both for moral/ethical reasons and also because of the vital role that this biodiversity plays in supporting and enriching human life on Earth. However, even though these concerns are shared by many in clean energy research, they are typically given little more than lip service in our research, which instead typically focuses on improving device efficiency, durability, or cost. While these aims are important for limiting humanity’s environmental impact, they are inadequate. ‘Sustainable energy’ goes further, incorporating approaches such as life cycle analysis (LCA) to understand a technology’s full impact on the environment, typically in terms of global warming potential (GWP) and resource extraction/utilization.
However, there is still another level to consider. At its heart, preserving biodiversity is about modifying human behavior. The fundamental role of technological innovation is also to change human behavior. While approaches such as LCA and GWP capture the major ways that western societies interact with and impact the environment, this is but a small slice of human-environment interactions, and ignores the majority of the human population, in particular those who interact directly with some of the Earth’s most fragile and diverse habitats. More thought is required on how device design impacts behavior in these populations, and in turn how this new behavior impacts local ecosystem health. Would such a lens, alter the design criteria for a particular technology?
To answer these questions, the first step is enabling and fostering better communication and collaboration across the diverse fields involved, including technology research, conservation biology, environmental science and engineering, and social science (among others). I am a member of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) and led a Knowledge Café at the International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) in 2017, titled “How can we foster collaboration between energy technologists and conservation biologists?”
I am also a member of SCB's Conservation Technology Working Group. Conservation Technology is an emerging topic at the intersection of the fields mentioned above, which covers three main topics (in my view; others may legitemately disagree!):
- Horizon scanning: identifying and understanding the public and ecological health risks posed by existing and emergent technologies
- Conservaation tools: design of technologies to aid in conservation work, including detectors, sensors, and analytical measurement systems and other technological solutions.
- Conservation-inspired design: integation of engineering, biology, and social science perspectives to incorporate the full conservation impacts (including LCA, GWP analysis, and techno-economic impacts on human behavior) of a technology into the design process.
- Disseminating best practices to practitioners and researchers.
There is great work being done in this space by groups such as Conservation X Labs and Wildlabs, to name just two, and I'm excited to contribute to the field and see how it can help preserve Earth's biodiversity, going forward.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
While it is tempting to think of science and engineering as purely objective pursuits, the truth is that they are human endeavors. The work is conceptualized and carried out by people, and a scientist's or engineer's background can influence the questions asked (and those not asked), what methods are used to collect data, how that data is interpreted and applied, and how the work is executed. For many reasons, then, it is essential that diversity, equity, and inclusion be a cornerstone of our science and engineering practice (note: for brevity's sake I will henceforth just use the terms 'science,' 'scientist,' etc. to refer to both 'science and engineering,' et al.). Among many other factors, this includes who practices science, how science is communicated to the public, and which stakeholders are given a voice in deciding how scientific findings are applied.
At first glance, the case for diversity, equity, and inclusion can be made along moral lines. Science is a way of understanding, making decisions about, and changing the world around us, and giving only part of the population access, training, and opportunities to advance in the field is at its heart unfair. It restricts access to the levers of power, increasing inequality and bias in society at large, and also prevents entire segments of society from being able to realize the full range of their talents, interests, and passions.
Beyond that, there is a strategic case for improving access to science, as diversity is a key driver of progress; more diverse science = stronger science. Diversity brings new ideas, understanding, and perspectives, and diverse teams are less likely to fall prey to 'blind spots' arising from blind adherence to conventional wisdom. A more diverse body of scientists will also be more effective at considering impacts of their work on society and in communicating scientific results and ideas to the public.
This problem has been centuries in the making, and the solution will likewise require persistent, sustained committment and action. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has compiled a list of best practices (website here, and a pdf 'action grid' can be found here.). The National Academies' Framework for K-12 Science Education has a chapter on 'Equity and Diversity in Engineering Education' (link here; the lessons apply equally well at the university level), and the universities and federal labs can be engines for new ideas and best practices (The Colorado School of Mines's page is here; Lawrence Berkeley Lab also has a particularly helpful web page on the topic).
In my own work, I will admit that this is still an aspirational goal. There is a lot that I have yet to learn on the topic, and many steps yet to take in improving the culture in my research group, department, school, and broader scientific community of which I am a part. My focus thus far has been on mentoring and encouraging students from underrepresented groups and on improving the diversity of seminar speakers for our department's seminar series (which I run). As my career develops and I assume greater leadership roles in the various organizations I am a part of, my goals are to:
- Improve the diversity of the students recruited, accepted, and attending Mines, both graduate and undergraduate.
- Ensure that the demographic makeup of my research group better reflects that of society at large.
- Push for greater diversity in faculty hires in my Department
- Help institute broader cultural changes in my Department and University to increase inclusion, so that all who study and/or work here feel welcome.
- Help improve the diversity, equity, and inclusion in the professional societies of which I am a part: greater diversity in society leadership positions, conference invited speakers and session chairs, and inclusive language in all society communications.
- Greater outreach and SciComm to underrepresented groups (I will be particpating in Skype a Scientist, beginning in Spring, 2018).
Lastly, I encourage all who are reading this to help me in these pursuits, either through your own independent actions, by collaborating with me, or by helping me improve my own practices with constructive feedback. Thanks!
Science plays many roles in our society, but perhaps the most important role is to unravel the mysteries of the world around us. To understand the physical, chemical, biological, and social forces which influence a whole range of phenomena around us, and to share our findings with others. Unfortunately, many practices onloadedmetadata="" in the current research climate are uantithetical to this goal. To varying degress, researchers keep their work under wraps, perhaps for fear of getting 'scooped,' or fear of harming their chances to publish in a 'high impact' journal. When it is time to publish, researchers commonly sign away their copyright to for-profit companies who then put their results behind a paywall.
While some of these aspects are understandable and perhaps reasonable (I will admit that I am guilty of all of them, on occasion), it is worth asking: is there a better way to conduct and share our research? Do these practices get in the way of our ultimate goal, which is to share our findings and processes with the world to increase knowledge about the way our world works? If so, are these practices avoidable? In short, can we simultaneously increase our impact (and thus build a sustainable research career) while also being more open?
Open Science is a movement whose aim is to increase the openness of the entire scientific process, from the planning of a research project, through the execution, and up through the publication of scientific findings. When done well, these principles have been shown to increase impact, increase access to your findings to reduce inequality, while also improving the quality of the underlying science.
There are a great many resources available, and those with much more expertise than I have written extensively about Open Science. The Open Science Wikepedia page gives a rather thorough overview, presenting different approaches and arguments for and against Open Science. There are also an number of scientists on Twitter who passionately advocate and educate on behalf of Open Science. For example, Jeffrey Spies (@JeffSpies) is a co-founder of the Center for Open Science. Jon Tennant (@Protohedgehog) advocates passionately (and vociferously!) on behalf of Open Access publishing. This is just a sample - there are many, many others, and google is your friend. :)Some other ideas and resources, for various stages of research process:
- The Center for Open Science is an excellent resource for pretty much anything Open Science related.
- You can pre-register your research plan beforehand, which not only gives an opportunity to think through your research plan more clearly and also solicit feedback from others in the field.
- Their Open Science Framework is a free, open-source project management tool that helps you collaborate, but also lets you make parts (or all) of your project (data, protocols, materials, preprints) publicly available.
Speaking of pre-prints, they are a great way to publish preliminary findings. They build awareness for your work, enhancing the impact of the eventual peer-reviewed publication, and are also a great way to solicit feedback for work in progress. They are also an easy (and legal) way to share a version of paywalled articles. A great many pre-print servers currently exist. See if one relevant to your field exists, or Please note, though, that some articles do consider data published as a pre-print to be "previously published," so if you have a particular journal or set of journals in mind, check their pre-print policy.
All available preprints of my work are uploaded at the DeCaluwe Research Page.
Publish Open Access. There are a number of open access journals available, and many 'traditional journals' have an open access option, which typically involves an article publishing fee. For exhorbitant fees, consider publishing a pre- or post-print of the article instead, with a link to the doi of the official version. Jon Tennant gives a nice visual overview of Open Access options here.
Make your software publicly available by posting on public repositories, such as GitHub. Even better, use open-source software options, when possible.
You can view my publicly-available codes at by visiting the DeCaluwe GitHub repository. Making more of my codes publicly available is a near-term goal.
Finally, share your conference slides! FigShare is a great way to publish and share slides, posters, and other non-paper outputs of your research. It offers a doi for all shared items, so you can receive proper credit (i.e. citations) for your work! A recent approach I've taken is to upload my presentaiton before giving it, and then posting a link to the FigShare upload on the slides that I present.
Visit the DeCaluwe FigShare profile.
As with diversity, equity, and inclusion, please feel free to provide feedback and suggestions for how I can improve this list!