california academy of sciences
energy efficient
environmental engineer
what next
March 27, 2012

What Next?: Environmental Engineer

With this kind of engineering job, going green is the priority.

Scott: This is Scott Evans from Channel One News. We are going to send you to the California Academy of Sciences for a day. And our tour guide is actually going to be the lead engineer on the entire project. Are you excited about this?

Nathan: Yes, yes. That is amazing.”

Scott: Congratulations! See you in a bit.

When I got off the phone, Nathan showed how he really felt.

Nathan: Woo!

Scott: I flew west from New York, Nathan drove west from Stockton, California, and we met in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

What’s up, man? I am Scott.

Nathan: Hey, man. Nathan. Nice to finally meet you in person.

Scott: Nice! In person, right? All this way. We are finally here outside of the California Academy of Sciences.

Nathan: Mind blowing.

Scott: So, we are going to go meet the man who kind of put the earth in the sky. You ready?

Nathan: Awesome! Let’s do this!

Scott: Now it was time to meet the man who helped make this unique looking building the most energy efficient musuem in the world.

“Let’s do it.”

Scott: In addition to an aquarium and a planetarium, the California Academy has a musical fountain. I just had to take a dancing break. Then it was time to go somewhere hot and humid.

We are here in a rain forest and no, not in Costa Rica or Brazil, but actually here in the California Academy of Sciences. It was so steamy we worried that the moisture might damage our usual camera, so we pulled out our flip cams and went inside.

And this is Alisdair McGregor, the lead environmental engineer on the project. And Fast Company Magazine listed him as one of the top 20 most creative business people. Just four behind Oprah.

An environmental engineer uses math and science skills to try to protect the earth’s resources. Some environmental engineers, like Alisdair, do that by designing energy efficient buildings. Those are buildings that are designed to operate with less energy than regular construction. But this building put his creativity to the test.

The California Academy wanted the building to be super energy efficient but it also wanted a rain forest. And the plants and animals need it to be pretty hot. It is about 85-degrees in the rain forest. But the rest of the building you want in the mid 70s. So, Alisdair, for this part of the museum did all this glass contribute to, like, a lot of heat buildup? Or what is the role of all this here?

Alisdair McGregor: No. Normally, yes, with a lot of clear glass and this is very clear glass. And the reason was from an architectural standpoint, they didn’t want the museum to look like a closed box, which a lot of museums look like. They wanted it so, you know, as you can see through here, you can just see straight through the building. You see the park outside.

Scott: So the challenge for Alisdair was to cool the building without a lot of air conditioning, which uses a lot of energy.

Alisdair: We found that it takes about one-sixth of the nation’s energy to cool buildings.

Scott: how did you combat that here in this building?

Alisdair: We have a pretty cool roof to help us deal with the problems of the heat.

Scott: We get to go on the roof? I have been waiting for that!

Wow! It is like…like a garden…like in the sky…on the roof!

This garden in the sky is known as a living roof. Not only is it home to thirty types of plants, it has something usually found on a boat: portals. Those portals do a number of things.

So, Alisdair, how do these portals help solve the heat buildup for the rainforest? Now, it has to be hot down there. And plus there are the people and the lights. How do these portals kind of, you know, deal with that problem?

Alisdair: Right. So, what you’ve got here is, you see, the ones that are open basically, there you get the hot air from, as you say, from the people, the rainforest and, particularly, the lights that sit above the rainforest giving off a lot of heat and that heat rises up. And it’ll come out of the portals. They are letting light into the rain forest which is below this hill here.

Scott: And since the portals can open, they also let out heat so hot air isn’t trapped in the building.

Alisdair: As it rises up, it has to pull in air from somewhere else. So, down lower, around the sides of the building, you’ve got windows that open automatically. And that brings the cooler air in.

Scott: So, by releasing hot air and pulling in cooler air, the building doesn’t need air-conditioning, making it one of the most energy efficient large buildings in the world.

Before leaving we had to visit the aquarium.

If I want to go later on in life and become an environmental engineer, what kind of schooling do I have to get?

Alisdair: In high school, you need math, probably some physics. But you also need writing skills and speaking skills.

Nathan: It is not just that one. There is this story. There is the whole entire forest. And there is the floor underneath that where everything is walking around. So, this has got to be the coolest, hands down. The coolest passively ventilated.

Scott: It get’s Nathan’s stamp of approval. I love that.

So what is next for Nathan?

High school students interested in becoming environmental engineers should study calculus, physics, chemistry and biology. In college, they should get a bachelor’s degree in engineering with a concentration in the environment. And after college? Environmental engineers earn between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.

So, Nathan, we spent the entire day here at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Do you think this is the career field for you?

Nathan: Yes! I might even build you a house.

Scott: Man, I need a house. In fact, let’s talk about this living roof.

Nathan: Would you want some portals?

Scott: I want some portals.

So, apart from the skylights, you have got pretty high-powered artificial lights shining down there, basically to simulate tropical sunlight. And that gives off a lot of heat.

To succeed in the field, it helps to be a creative, detail oriented, analytical person. Yes?

Alisdair: Yes.

Scott: Awesome. Now, I heard that you might even have some internship possibilities coming up?

Nathan: Maybe, maybe. I have to check with Alisdair. But he said probably.

Scott: Awesome, man. Well, I think I might need you to build me a house here pretty soon.

Nathan: Let’s talk about this.

Scott: I mean, that living roof thing…it was pretty awesome!

Nathan: You want portholes?

Scott: Yeah, I need some portholes.

Nathan: Atrium glass, all of that?

Scott: I need the big glass thing, you know?

Nathan: Self-ventilating.

Scott: I need…


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