Carnegie Mellon University Student Builds C02 Fence

One of Carnegie Mellon University's campus icons is the Fence — found in the center of the "Cut" and used as a billboard for student groups.
CMU now has another fence that's getting some attention. This one spans a stretch of real estate along Oakland's Forbes Avenue and has recently been transformed into a timeline going back hundreds of thousands of years into Earth's past.
Sculpted by chemistry graduate student Longzhu Shen (MCS'12), the latest installation at CMU's ArtPark Lab uses environmentally friendly lighting to illustrate the fluctuation of carbon dioxide levels in Earth's atmosphere over the past 800,000 years.
Shen hopes that it draws attention to the unprecedented rise in carbon dioxide levels since the Industrial Revolution and stimulates public discussion about sustainability.
"If you look back over 800,000 years, the carbon dioxide level fluctuated between 172 and 292 parts per million (ppm). It never passed 300ppm," Shen said. "But the current level is about 393ppm. That is really, really striking evidence for people to consider how our behavior can impact nature and what changes need to be made toward a sustainable future."
The art installation — What's CO2 Got To Do With It? — comprises six 33-feet-long solar-powered LED ropes that glow a brilliant blue at nighttime. Shen and his artwork faculty sponsor, CMU Research Professor of Chemistry Mark Bier, came up with the idea.
Shen downloaded the CO2 data gathered from ice cores in Antarctica and used the computer program Mathematica to scale the data to fit the fence. Each dip and climb in carbon dioxide concentration is as scientifically accurate as he could meticulously fasten the LED rope using nearly 500 tie wraps.
"What makes this work special is the integration of art and science. The aesthetics of art makes the scientific information fun to look at," said Shen, who studies under the direction of Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry Terry Collins.
Shen's work is just one example of CMU's longstanding commitment to the environment and a sustainable energy future.
"We wanted to get people to think about this topic through art," Bier said. "Almost every night when I walk by I see people stopping and looking at it."
Natasha Kholgade (CS'12) did just that on a warm evening in late April.
"I saw the timeline and then I looked all the way to the right and saw this big jump," said Kholgade. "Every day people buy new cars and they don't think about how it is affecting the atmosphere. I think this [artwork] is a good statement to provoke emotions from people."

Download Center

  • Monitoring and Reporting on Air Emissions for Regulators and the Real World

    When it comes to managing compliance and regulatory issues surrounding air emissions, there are no easy jobs. With interviews from practitioners from American Electric Power, Red Cedar Gathering, Trinity Consultants, and Cority, this eBook provides practical advice to advance your air emissions monitoring and reporting programs.

  • What Every EHS Professional Should Know About ESG

    Join experts from Arcadis and Cority on April 27th to learn the most common ESG reporting frameworks and how technology can help you improve reporting efficiency, identify areas for improvement, and create defensible audit trails.

  • Green Quadrant EHS Software 2021

    Read the new report by independent analyst firm, Verdantix, to get an unbiased comparison of the 22 most prominent EHS software vendors in the industry.

  • RFP Template for Waste Management Software

    Learn the essential questions to ask when evaluating waste management software solutions with this free, ready-to-use RFP template

  • 5 Keys to Best-in-Class Chemical Management

    Running a safe chemical program is challenging and complex: from knowing what's on-site to proper handling and disposal - all while navigating regulatory changes. Learn the best ways to mitigate chemical risk, get the most value out of your data, and gain buy-in for a chemical management solution.

Featured Webinar