Kevin Kinsella, rock star-slash-scientist
As an engineer-slash-rock-star, Kevin Kinsella’s life is a balance of art and science. For example, when his band PointDexter—a rock, funk and fusion act for which he sings and plays sax and keys—plays Concerts in the Park, he will take the chance to display an aquaponics system that he designed. A Sacramento State graduate, Kinsella works in his day job as a commercial sales engineer at Mitsubishi Electrics. He is also a member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, a group dedicated to promoting sustainability in heating, venting and air conditioning. The climate, how often modern society takes A/C for granted and using fish waste to sustain the world all tie in together for Kinsella.
Tell me a bit about aquaponics.
Aquaponics is a self-sustaining ecosystem between plants and fish. The reason why I’m doing this research on the side is because I really see it as the future of agriculture. You are using a reserve water system and you are feeding the fish, but the fish waste goes up into the plants, breaks down and then the plants filter out the fish waste. With a compost, it is essentially self-sustaining—you don’t need any excess food to do it.
Why are you so excited about it?
It has a small footprint and it has the potential to literally end world hunger if done right and it’s completely self-sustaining. … When I go into the greenhouse, it’s actually very calming. You are sitting in an ecosystem and an environment where it’s not—you know, you can feed off that energy where it’s not stressing, it’s in balance—that’s why I like aquaponics.
Tell me about your display model.
I built a sample system to bring to Concerts in the Park because it is cutting edge in the science community right now. [Look at] how it was displayed with the solar panels—completely self-sustaining—no excess energy.
How do people respond when they see the displays you’ve made?
A lot of kids would just come up and they would be really excited and their eyes would light up. Especially little girls. One of the things about STEM is that we know that, in the engineering community, it is very male-driven. I think that pop culture really drives women not to further their education in the that field sometimes, and the great thing about STEM is that I’ve seen these little girls come up to me and they would say, “Oh, wow, that is really cool,” and I would ask them what they would want to do when they grew up—“Oh, I want to be a biologist,” “I want to be a veterinarian,” “I want to be a scientist,” and it’s great to see that inspiration in them and to just to have a display there for just a moment to really change somebody’s life.
Did engineering factor into your childhood life?
I was in Sacramento before it was as big as it is now. I feel like I got the best of both worlds, because it was very rural when I was growing up, so I got to get in some trouble that you can’t get in nowadays. We were not afraid of getting dirty—my dad, he did tractor work when I was growing up, so a lot of the developments around here I actually worked on as a kid. Shoveling dirt and tractors. My dad always said, “When you grow up, you never want to be too good where you don’t want to pick up a shovel, but you also don’t want to be doing what I do as a living when you are 57,” and that’s why I went into engineering and because there is a lot of community in Sacramento—you find the right niche and I feel like I’m able to be myself. You feel like you are not being judged and I feel like that’s what shaped me.
How does your display tie into your work with ASHRAE?
[Our] purpose is to bring science to the public. A lot of things get buried in mainstream society. People don’t really realize how much science impacts them on a daily basis. We are kind of the industry that gets taken advantage of the most, when you think about it: You don’t really notice the air and the conditioning unless it is too hot or too cold. … You kind of just go through the building—there is a lot of science that goes into that.