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Through combined engineering and economic analysis, Nathan DeLong ’04 (Lebanon, Pa.) has worked to reduce the impact of wood pallets on the environment, and recently presented his yearlong research at a national conference.

In his honors thesis, DeLong examines the life cycle of wood pallets, applying a policy model to evaluate various alternatives to reduce their environmental impact without taking away economic incentives for a company to implement the policy.

An A.B. engineering major with a minor in chemistry, DeLong presented his research at the 18th annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research, hosted April 15-17 by Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. He was among 42 Lafayette students accepted to present their work at the conference.

In order to find a policy that was both economically sound and environmentally viable, DeLong says he broke the two issues into four stages: raw materials, processing, distribution, and disposal. He employed game theory, which uses mathematical analysis to select the best strategy for minimizing losses and maximizing winnings in a game, war or business competition. Economists often use it in the context of pricing and production decisions.

DeLong says, “It was determined that the most effective stage to implement policy is the disposal stage. By giving incentives for the industry to reuse, repair, or recycle pallets, fewer would be landfilled. More reuse of pallets would then have effects on the other stages as well, since there would not be as much of a need to produce pallets from new wood.”

DeLong is conducting this research with Sharon Jones, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. A recipient of many grants and awards, Jones received a NASA Summer Faculty Fellowship last year to conduct research at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. She has been chosen as a mentor and instructor for this summer’s Washington Internships for Students of Engineering in the nation’s capital, a program sponsored by the National Science Foundation and several engineering organizations.

“I chose this project because of my interest in environmental issues,” says DeLong, captain and four-year member of the men’s swimming and diving team. “I did not have an exact project in mind, but my adviser (Professor Jones) helped me come up with this topic, because it was something she was planning on working on. I am excited, because game theory allows you to predict what certain players in the game will do, so in that sense you can apply a policy based on what you want each of the involved players to do. It kind of gives a sense of control.”

Of his thesis adviser, DeLong says, “I am very glad to be working with her. I think she is a more than qualified person to be working for, and she has helped me out a lot with this project.”

Lafayette, DeLong says, “is a good environment for academic projects because of its size. Professor Jones is not the only professor I consult with. Because the school is so small, it is not difficult to schedule times to discuss questions I might have with a number of professors.”

“I like my major a lot because it gives me a wide range of opportunities once I graduate from Lafayette,” he adds. “Lafayette is an excellent place for this field and is one of the few schools that offer this kind of degree at an undergraduate level.”

He is a member of the campus chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, a DJ on campus radio station WJRH, and plays club baseball.

DeLong previously collaborated as an EXCEL Scholar with Ricardo Bogaert-Alvarez, assistant professor of chemical engineering, studying whether polished steel would develop surface pits more slowly, and whether high concentrations of salt would pit more quickly. In Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, students assist faculty with research while earning a stipend. EXCEL has helped make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their research through academic journal articles and/or conference presentations.

DeLong hopes to work in the field of environmental chemistry after graduation.

He is a graduate of Cedar Crest High School.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year.

Categorized in: Academic News