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Museum of Science Partners with UMass iCons Program to Tackle Climate Justice Problem

Mapping regional disparities in Boston’s transportation system

September 14, 2022

On September 13, 2022, the Museum of Science, Boston (MOS) and the UMass iCons Program published their findings from a project that investigates climate injustices in the Boston transportation system. The data are now available to the public on the iCons Innovation Portal.

The project is an outgrowth of the Go Carbon Neutral Challenge, a competition organized by the MOS and General Motors that solicits student proposals on innovative ways to reduce the transportation sector's carbon footprint – the biggest source of emissions nationally.

“Science museums have traditionally exhibited breakthroughs in knowledge, but we believe the Museum of Science can also play a role in the discovery of new knowledge,” said Jonathan Fanning, the project lead from the MOS. “We’re excited to work with the diverse teams of students and faculty from the UMass iCons Program to bring the Boston area one step closer to carbon neutrality.”

The MOS-UMass iCons partnership created new ways to quantify and map access to Boston-area public transportation – an essential tool for reducing carbon emissions. The study also identified Boston regions with insufficient access to public transit as focus areas for future Go Carbon Neutral student proposals. The work was carried out by interdisciplinary teams of undergraduates majoring in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and business in the UMass iCons Program, with guidance from UMass faculty experts in transportation engineering and regional planning.

“This is a critical and timely problem at the intersection of technology, equity, the environment, and public policy,” said Dr. Michael Knodler, director of the UMass Transportation Center and associate dean for research and graduate affairs in the UMass College of Engineering. “It’s an exciting opportunity for our UMass undergraduates to work together on one of the grand challenge problems their generation will be facing for years to come.”

One iCons team researched a novel accessibility score: a mathematical function of factors like density of bus stops and quality of pedestrian road crossings.  The team discovered a correlation between this accessibility score and average household income across neighborhoods of downtown Boston, finding that less affluent neighborhoods provide weaker access to public transportation. 

“Making progress on this problem requires data collection and analysis on physical transportation infrastructure, community perceptions, and public policy options,” said Dr. Justin Fermann, the project lead from the UMass iCons Program. “That’s why it’s so critical to open this problem up to fresh ideas from our iCons students and their faculty advisors who come from a broad spectrum of disciplines.” 

Another iCons team discovered a gap in the data presented by the MBTA, which has information on the location of “T” stops but does not include information on the area served by each stop – critical for assessing needs in underserved communities. The iCons team created a “blob” map, connecting each point in the greater metro area to the nearest metro station. They work presents a new view into the area served by each station, highlighting disparities in service across communities.

The next step in the MOS-UMass iCons partnership involves creating a detailed online map for MBTA and policy makers to see exactly where accessibility to Boston public transit is lacking, to guide new investments for making Boston more equitable and environmentally sustainable.

“We’re very excited about working with the UMass iCons Program on this and future projects," Fanning added. "The MOS and iCons missions are basically the same – inspiring love of STEM across diverse populations. Becoming partners was natural.”

About the UMass iCons Program

The UMass iCons Program is a certificate program on real-world problem solving in biomedicine and renewable energy, open to all students at UMass Amherst in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM), and business. The mission of iCons is to inspire a diverse generation of innovators in STEM and business, with the attitudes and skills needed to solve problems facing society. iCons, which is in its 13th year, has graduated 270 alumni who have found career success in education, entrepreneurship, industry, law, medicine, policy, and research. The program is supported by the UMass College of Natural Sciences, the Mahoney Family, the Chleck Family Foundation, and members of the iCons Industry Consortium.

About the Museum of Science, Boston

As science and technology increasingly shape our lives, the Museum of Science strives to equip and inspire everyone to use science for the global good. The Museum of Science believes that everyone has a role to play in the world of science and technology – as learners, as future scientists or engineers, as citizens of our nation, as community leaders and members of the workforce, as consumers, and as stewards of our planet. Throughout New England, the Museum of Science forms partnerships with all sectors to enrich our offerings, to represent the cutting edge of science and technology, and to take our invitation into science and technology out to schools and neighborhoods in order to build and strengthen our community.

Media Contacts

If you would like more information on this topic, please contact Dr. Justin Fermann at fermann@umass.edu and/or Jonathan Fanning at jfanning@mos.org.

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