CS + Sustainability

Coding for change

People are using computer science to build a greener, more sustainable future.

By Laura Boness

Sustainable computing is a rapidly growing research area using computer science and data analysis to find solutions for some of the world’s most urgent environmental and social problems.

It can help us build greener cities, track the impact of climate change, improve renewable energy and target emergency medical help in a disaster. It’s also being used to map wildlife populations and predict how they respond to threats such as habitat loss and disease.

Marine biologist Alicia Sutton learnt CS skills to help her research krill in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia. These tiny crustaceans are found across the world’s oceans and are an important food source for whales, seals, penguins, squid and fish. They’re also a major indicator of ocean ecosystem health.

Alicia used computer modelling to look at factors affecting krill diversity, but describes herself as “a late starter” in CS.

“I taught myself coding and began using it to look at temperature, oxygen and other variables that could be relevant,” she says. Her research will contribute to marine conservation, climate change studies and sustainable fisheries management.

Alicia’s advice is to look for workshops or online coding tutorials. “You can pick up the basics reasonably quickly, which broadens your choices for further study.”

Andrew Craig is a graduate of UNSW Australia, and has used CS to test the most effective way to vaccinate koalas against chlamydia. The disease is linked to infertility and high death rates among koala populations, and presents a significant wildlife conservation challenge. Andrew is working on a computer simulation where “hundreds of koalas interact, have sex, transmit chlamydia, have joeys and die,” he says.

“This simulation runs really fast. It can simulate 50 years in just two seconds,” says Andrew. “This makes it possible to mimic the effects of tens of thousands of different vaccination strategies to find the best ones.”

CS can also be used to create buildings that use less water and energy, and generate less pollution, or to improve renewable energy technologies. Irvan Bastian Arief is doing a doctorate degree at RMIT University in Melbourne through their Sustainable Urban Precincts Program, looking at reducing energy consumption in buildings.

“In Australia, energy consumption charts have identified that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) consume the highest amounts of all energy usage,” he says.

Irvan says that if the number of people within a room is known, HVAC systems can be adjusted to be more efficient and save power when the room is empty.

“In the future, smart homes will have built-in ambient sensors for CO2, noise, light, temperature, humidity, pressure and doors opening or closing.”

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CAREERS

Renewable energy engineer, conservation manager, green building designer, urban planner, smart water systems designer, marine biologist, sustainable fisheries manager, environmental policy advisor + more!

BACHELOR of…

Engineering (Hons) (Mechatronic), University of Adelaide 

Marine Ecology (Spatial Ecology), University of Western Australia 

Applied Mathematics, UNSW Australia 

Science (Marine Science), Murdoch University 

Mathematics (Applied and Computational Mathematics), Queensland University of Technology 

STEM Contributor

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