Going Green: Researching Living Roof Ecosystems

Emily Chudzik, News Editor

As Millikin students meander around campus, junior biology major Jessica Kerr incorporates her passion for the environment into her latest and largest research experiment.

Since late January of this year, Kerr has been researching and developing a green roof ecosystem for the rooftop of the Leighty-Tabor Science Center, LTSC, with the help of Dr. Judy Parrish, a professor of biology. Green roof ecosystems are great for research, aesthetics and, perhaps the most important, the environment.

“I knew that I wanted to do something green. Leighty-Tabor is the most energy-consuming building on campus, and green roofs help with heating and cooling, and conserve energy, so this is a good way to give back,” Kerr said.

The green roof ecosystem is the basis of Kerr’s JMS Project, as well as her Leighty-Tabor Scholar research and senior seminar project for biology.

“We’re testing the depths of different certified group light medias and conducting stress tests,” Kerr said. “It’s a lot different for a plant to grow on the roof than in the ground. There’s much less space for them to grow.”

After conducting the initial research, Kerr began to build wooden boxes for the plants. With help from a few others, the boxes were set up with a specific layering system. Kerr and Parrish then began planting around late June.

“We planted different Illinois native plants and produce plants to test the stress resistance of living on a roof. I’m testing the survivorship rates this winter, and then planting more in the spring,” Kerr said.

Although the project’s focus is narrow right now, Kerr plans on expanding it in the future.

“I’m planning on writing to a bunch of nearby organizations to get some grant money to expand [the project] even more. We want to make it even bigger,” Kerr said.

Kerr would like the green roof to be an open area where students can do their homework or read a book. In the future, she hopes to see a green roof ecosystem on every flat top roof building here on campus.

“The benefits of green roof make this extremely worth it,” Kerr said.

Overall, the project has been a great hands-on learning experience. “I love that I learned how to do things hands-on. I never thought I’d learn how to do this at a university. The fact that we’re actually developing green roof research on top of the science building is the most exciting part,” Kerr said.