For UMass iCons senior Matthew Yee, his interest in sustainable food and farming began with tomatoes.
“I was taking an exam for a food science class, and one of the questions said something about 10,000 tomatoes, and I just stopped and thought ‘that is so many tomatoes’” Yee said.
From there, he thought about how farmers and would logistically harbor so many tomatoes, which interested him in the idea of sustainable agriculture.
Originally a declared chemistry major, he decided to switch focus after his experience in a chemistry research lab.
The work focused on making compounds that could potentially increase the efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells. While Yee enjoyed this work, he discovered his interest in developing ways to more immediately reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
From there, Yee declared Food Science as his major with a sustainable food and farming minor.
His iCons capstone project focuses around sustainable farming. Yee is installing a solar, hot water heating system into a greenhouse on the UMass Student Farm. The goal of the project is to provide the agriculture in the greenhouse with warm soil all year. Hot plate collectors are placed outside the greenhouse to capture sunlight, which is then generated into heat for the soil.
“They’ll generate about 2,500 British thermal units on a perfect day,” Yee said, “and this will be stored into 150-gallon hot water tanks in the greenhouse.”
This is similar to the amount of energy that could fly a jet from Berlin to Paris.
iCons has their students focus on filling gaps in scientific knowledge, and that is a main focus on Yee’s project.
“The main scientific gap here is that we don’t know how these solar thermal hot water systems work in an operating greenhouse, there isn’t too much work on that. So, we’re trying to understand the efficiency of that,” Yee said.
However, iCons is not the only thing to give Yee the ability to design and work on a project of his interests. His work with high school chemistry teacher Ed Schmidt during his time at Brewster High School in Brewster, New York helped him first gain insight into the world of research.
In high school, Yee worked on independent chemistry projects. This experience later benefited him as he applied to be an iCons student.
Having similar teaching methods between Schmidt and iCons has helped Yee grow. Both provided a hands-off approach, allowing him to develop his projects independently.
“It wasn’t ‘go bud your head in and get in the way,’ Yee said when describing the teaching style of both Schmidt and iCons, “it was much more on the student to go figure it out.
With the freedom to explore varying interests and pursue his passions in sustainable agriculture and food science, Yee is able to make a strong impact on UMass and the Amherst community.