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For a number of years, game theory has been widely used to shape economic and governmental policy, but through her honors thesis, Kristen Tull ’06(Sicklerville, N.J.) is breaking new ground by applying the model to environmental policy.

A double major in international affairs and A.B. engineering, Tull is rooting her thesis in how wooden shipping pallets impact the environment compared to their plastic counterparts.

“I am first evaluating the policies and market forces that influence the shipping pallet industry in order to determine if changes in the public policies are needed,” she explains. “If they are needed, I will then attempt to develop a game theory model in order to suggest alternative policies that might work better given the known market forces.”

Tull’s thesis adviser Sharon Jones, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, says using the case studies in the shipping pallet industry as a way to apply game theory could be useful for policy makers.

“It’s really novel research to look at the model she is building,” Jones says. “She’s using a game theory model, which is based heavily in economics and is a way of modeling the interaction of different stakeholders, and hasn’t been applied to environmental issues very much. The work has more potential in showing others how this nice tool for economics, this model, can behave under different environmental policies – or to help regulate and anticipate what policy would be more effective. It’s already applied in international affairs, government, and in fact, this year’s Nobel Prize in economics went to two famous game theorists.”

The basis for Tull’s thesis was inspired by research conducted by Jones and recent graduate Nate DeLong ’04, in which they developed a policy that was economically and environmentally more efficient in the use of wood shipping pallets. Tull is excited about conducting research that combines economics and engineering on another level.

“I am really challenging myself by applying game theory, which I didn’t even know existed until I started to work on my thesis,” she says. “I am learning so much on my own and I feel as though my thesis experience will prepare me for my intended graduate studies in environmental public policy.”

Following graduate school, Tull aspires to pursue a career in evaluating environmental policy or providing objective analysis to help policy makers make informed decisions for organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I’m hoping to become an expert in the field of policy-making or evaluating someday, so this first exposure to it is [good preparation],” she says.

Jones adds that Tull will be well equipped for her post-graduate career.

“Kristen was very mature from the time I met her, which was the fall of her sophomore year,” Jones says. “She already had the research skills and confidence that many students only begin to acquire when they realize they have to find information on their own and they have to become the expert on a subject. But given the growth I’ve seen in terms of her knowledge of environmental policy, I think when she goes to graduate school she will have such a good foundation in environmental policy, both the science and politics of it, that she will be able to get more from a graduate program than other students might.”

The EPA awarded Tull the National Network for Environmental Management Studies Fellowship for her graduate-level research on storm water policies last summer. She also has conducted research on treatment for contaminated-water systems and coauthored Perchlorate Treatment For Domestic Water Systems with David A. Veshosky, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and chair of A.B. engineering, and Arthur D. Kney, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. She was part of a multidisciplinary student team that presented this work at the 18th annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research April 15-17, 2004. The group developed a cost-effective treatment technology to decrease the concentration of perchlorate in water, which has been linked to health problems concerning hormone production. Based on this research she participated in an EXCEL Scholars project with Jones and Kney to develop a cost-effective method of removing arsenic from drinking water.

Tull spent a semester at International University Bremen in Germany last spring through a study abroad program led by Rado Pribic, Edwin Williams Professor of Languages and chair of the international affairs and Russian and Eastern European studies programs. She is the founder of Society of Environmental Engineers and Scientists and has served as president of International Affairs Club and Leonardo Society and competed on the club soccer team. She is a member of the Sigma X international honor society for scientific and engineering research was also a member of Lafayette’s McKelvy Scholars intellectual community and worked as a tour guide for the admissions office.

Honors theses are among several major programs that have made Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. The College sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year; 39 students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

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