Turning Over a New LEEF

Author: Rachel Novick


ND research facility at St. Pat’s to offer educational opportunities

By Allison Nanni

The Environmental Change Initiative at Notre Dame and the St. Joseph County Parks Department are launching a new partnership to build a cutting-edge environmental research and education facility. The new facility will be called the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility (ND LEEF) at St. Patrick’s County Park.

Jennifer Tank, director of ND LEEF, describes the partner initiative as an ideal way to engage in cutting-edge science while meeting the overarching goal of translating science for the public.

Tank says, “It really started with a kernel of idea, one that we’ve nurtured together for more than a year. We think the result is going to be a facility that truly serves the community in a unique way.”

The field-based environmental research facility will allow Notre Dame scientists, graduate and undergraduate researchers, visiting scholars and other area academic institutions to study the interrelationships of land, water and wetland ecologies in the face of environmental change. It will also allow scientists to simulate what future environmental challenges might look like and how to plan for those impacts.

The center will use cutting-edge sensor technology to monitor experiments in real-time, allowing students and community members to participate as virtual researchers through the Internet. Although ND-LEEF will be one-of-a-kind for its science, Tank explains that the park’s setting will allow the initiative to reach a lifetime of learners with a hands-on educational approach about environmental change. Notre Dame will provide an on-site program manager who will help local educators develop curricula for schools.

Evie Kirkwood, county parks director, says her team is always looking for ways to attract new and innovative programs that align with their mission, “We’ve had some really tough budgetary cycles the last few years, so the opportunity to bring a world-class research facility without a significant financial investment on the part of the parks is tremendous.”

Under the terms of the agreement with the parks administration and parks board, Notre Dame will lease 28 acres of undeveloped park land on the east side of Laurel Road inside the gates of the park. Notre Dame expects to invest $1million in the initial phase of the project and the county is expected to incur no costs during construction or maintenance. Construction of the new facility will begin spring 2012.

ND LEEF at St. Patrick’s County Park is part of the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI), which conducts policy-oriented research designed to help decision-makers manage environmental challenges.

This article was originally published by the Office of Public Affairs. The photo pictures Gary Lamberti, professor of biological sciences at the University of Notre Dame, and Brett Peters, assistant director, ND Environmental Change Initiative, conduct a stream capacity study at St. Patrick’s County Park.