Lehigh students create EcoRealm to reduce stress
A project created by a Campus Sustainable Impact Fellowship team called EcoRealm established a prototype for a series of self-maintaining plants and is now being tested in Fairchild-Martindale Library. The goal of the project is to decrease stress hormones of the students working around the plants.
In spring of 2021, Sebastian Wick, ’24, Evy Rahmey, ’23, Giavanna Gast, ’24, and Ella Fabozzi, ’22, developed the idea to find a way to add a low-maintenance system of plants into existing buildings on campus.
Brian Slocum, managing director of Design Labs, and Nicholas Sawicki, professor and chair in the Art, Architecture and Design Department, are co-principal investigators on the project and assisted the students in developing EcoRealm.
Slocum said when the students began the project, research was conducted to discover the benefits that these plants will create. He said they found that introducing nature into spaces such as libraries can help reduce stress in students who work there.
Gast, the project manager of EcoRealm, said the project came from a creative inquiry course, where research is conducted with positive social and environmental impacts. She said according to studies, being around plants reduces stress, promotes mindfulness and increases psychological benefits in people.
“The goal is to create biofillic or plant incorporated infrastructure that is easily incorporated into the work environment,” Gast said. “The idea with this is to merge the indoors and outdoors and provide a way that students and employees can have means of actually decreasing stress.”
Currently, the project prototype is on the fifth floor of the Fairchild-Martindale Library.
Gast said this location was chosen due to the high volume of students spending time there. Also, the plants were placed to fill the darkness between the library’s windows in hopes of more students gravitating toward their areas to work.
Rahmey, a member of the EcoRealm team, concentrates on research into support of nature’s ability to heal humans. She said according to the qualitative data the team has collected, students have shown an overwhelmingly positive response to the plants.
“The plants create a relaxing environment which makes it easier to get work done,” Rachel Forman, ’25, said.
Forman said she typically visits the Fairchild-Martindale Library about six days a week and chooses to sit in the section of the library near the plants because of the plant’s scent, which relaxes her.
Both Gast and Rahmey said there were many learning aspects of the project. Gast said she learned leadership, networking and communication skills through working with the team.
“I learned that I want my future career to have a direct impact on people,” Rahmey said. “Doing something very hands-on made me really realize how much that is important to me.”
Slocum said the EcoRealm team is ever-evolving, as new members can join. Advertisements to join the team are put out each spring with the hope being to transform the project into a business venture, he said.
“In my many years at Lehigh working with student teams, I think this is probably the project I see that is most right to turn into a business venture that actually has a potential to create a lot of money,” Slocum said.