New environmental named professors to give joint seminar Nov. 1

October 22, 2013 under CANR News, Events

Kent Messer, Applied Economics & Statistics.The Delaware Environmental Institute invites the University of Delaware community to a special seminar and reception saluting three outstanding young faculty who were recently appointed to environmental named chairs.

Each of the honorees will present a short talk on his or her area of expertise designed for a broad, interdisciplinary audience beginning at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1, in 104 Gore Hall.

Following the talks, a reception will be held in the Gore Hall lobby from 5-6:30 p.m.

The three chairs are five-year career development chairs made possible through the support of the Unidel Foundation. DENIN Director Don Sparks chaired the committee charged with selecting the honorees.

“We are extremely grateful to have been able to attract and retain such outstanding faculty in all areas of environmental research here at UD,” Sparks said. “The committee was particularly pleased to be able to recognize researchers in natural science, social science, and the humanities, and we are looking forward to having a stimulating, interdisciplinary discussion at the event.”

Kent Messer, Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair and associate professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, will present “Maximizing Conservation: The Economic Science of Doing More with Less.”

He will be followed by Holly Michael, Unidel Fraser Russell Chair and assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, who will discuss “Water for a Thirsty Planet: Our Vulnerable Groundwater Resources.”

Adam Rome, Unidel Helen Gouldner Chair and associate professor in the Department of History, will round out the event with “Why Do We Have Environmental Problems? Lessons from History.”

Each talk will be approximately 20-25 minutes long with time allowed for questions from the audience.

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Global symposium held at UD leads to publication of nutrient management papers

August 12, 2013 under CANR News

Nutrient Management symposiumTom Sims, professor in the University of Delaware’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, recently served as the guest editor for a special collection of papers for the Journal of Environmental Quality (JEQ) titled “Nutrient Management Challenges and Progress in China.”

The collection is the result of work completed after leading researchers from China attended the Global Issues in Nutrient Management: Science, Technology and Policy symposium hosted by UD in 2011.

The symposium was co-sponsored by UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the University of Pennsylvania, the Delaware Environmental Institute, China Agricultural University, Wageningen University and UD’s Institute for Global Studies.

The goal of the symposium was to foster global discussions on nutrient management-related research and policy issues pertaining to the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population while protecting environmental resources.

“After the conference, a number of scientists from China who attended were quite interested in publishing their findings in a major international journal,” said Sims. “I approached the editor of the Journal of Environmental Quality and asked if he would be interested in a special collection of papers that could be published as a group and focus on the topics that were covered at this conference, specifically about the agri-environmental situation in China.”

The special collection for the JEQ featured six papers in all, two co-authored by Sims and the rest authored by scholars from China and Europe who attended the symposium.

The papers included:

  • “Advances and Challenges for Nutrient Management in China in the 21st Century” by J.T. Sims, L. Ma, O. Oenema, Z. Dou and F.S. Zhang;
  • “An Analysis of Developments and Challenges in Nutrient Management in China” by L. Ma, W.F. Zhang, W.Q. Ma, G.L. Velthof, O. Oenema and F. S. Zhang;
  • “The Driving Forces for Nitrogen and Phosphorus Flows in the Food Chain of China, 1980 to 2010” by Y. Hou, L. Ma, Z.L. Gao, F.H. Wang, J.T. Sims, W.Q. Ma and F.S. Zhang;
  • “An Analysis of China’s Fertilizer Policies: Impacts on the Industry, Food Security, and the Environment” by Yuxuan Li, Weifeng Zhang, Lin Ma, Gaoqiang Huang, Oene Oenema, Fusuo Zhang and Zhengxia Dou;
  • “Phosphorus in China’s Intensive Vegetable Production Systems: Overfertilization, Soil Enrichment, and Environmental Implications” by Zhengjuan Yan, Pengpeng Liu, Yuhong Li, Lin Ma, Ashok Alva, Zhengxia Dou, Qing Chen and Fusuo Zhang; and
  • “Nitrogen and Phosphorus Use Efficiencies in Dairy Production in China” by Z.H. Bai, L. Ma, O. Oenema, Q. Chen and F.S. Zhang.

The papers represent the latest in an ongoing collaboration between CANR and China Agricultural University (CAU) that dates back to 2008, when Sims was invited to make a keynote presentation at the Second International Nutrient Management Workshop, held in Shijiazhuang, China.

At that time, Sims said, “At CANR, our nutrient management efforts have been recognized globally. By using our years of research and extension experience on nutrient management in Delaware, we hope to put China’s researchers in a better position to solve their agri-environmental problems.”

Since then, the relationship between CANR and CAU has grown.

In 2009, CANR signed a general agreement with CAU and also formalized, in cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania, a memorandum of understanding with the CAU College of Resources and Environmental Sciences (CRES).

This memorandum outlined a range of joint research and academic activities between UD, UPenn and CAU.  It led to the initiation of a variety of collaborative activities and supported multiple trips to CAU by CANR faculty.

CANR also hosted a CAU delegation, sponsored a symposium by leading CAU scientists at the 2009 international meetings of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America, and hosted four young CAU scientists — one for 18 months — to discuss and design joint research projects.

A “3+2” master of science degree program between CANR and CRES has been discussed that would allow CAU students to complete their undergraduate degree in three years at CAU then enter a two-year master of science degree program at UD, receiving two degrees in a five-year period.

Article by Adam Thomas

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Department of Plant and Soil Sciences adds Seyfferth to Staff

November 19, 2012 under CANR News

Angelia Seyfferth has joined the faculty in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

Seyfferth previously conducted postdoctoral research at Stanford University under the Department of Environmental Earth System Science. She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Towson University, and received a doctoral degree in soil and water sciences from the University of California, Riverside.

In addition to being an assistant professor in CANR, Seyfferth is also affiliated with the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN), which she says she looks forward to as it will open the door for interdisciplinary research opportunities, especially with regards to environmental issues.

“UD has started a strong focus on environmental issues with the creation of DENIN and the Critical Zone Observatory and it just seems like a really exciting time to be here, to be affiliated with the environmental movement that’s happening on campus,” said Seyfferth.

One of the areas that Seyfferth’s research focuses on is arsenic levels in rice, and she said that interdisciplinary collaboration can help inform this research. “I think you can learn a lot about a particular topic if you’re narrowly focused on it but to solve some of these big issues, you need to think trans-disciplinary. So if you think about the arsenic in rice issue, you have to understand what’s happening in terms of the soil chemistry but also the plant physiology and if you were just closed to one or the other, you may not understand how they interact.”

There is also a social aspect for communities–especially those in South and Southeast Asia–when it comes to rice that Seyfferth said can only be solved through interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Typically natural scientists and social scientists have little interaction.  One of the great things about DENIN is that natural scientists have the opportunity to interact with people on the social side,” said Seyfferth. She explained that in Cambodia, the word for “to eat” is the same as the word for “rice” and having outsiders come in and simply tell the residents to change their practices won’t work without understanding the social science aspect.

“So again, just like not any one scientific discovery is going to fix the problem, it’s not just one field, it’s going to be several different people coming together with different experience and expertise to solve some of these complex environmental issues,” said Seyfferth.

Seyfferth said that her research “focuses on understanding the processes that dictate contaminant and nutrient cycling in the rhizosphere and lead to uptake of contaminants by food crops.” Another part of her research is “looking at ways to minimize the amount of contaminants that are taken up by food crops.”

One such contaminant is arsenic.

As far as arsenic in rice, Seyfferth explained that rice is very susceptible to arsenic because of the way in which it is grown. Most soils contain arsenic, but when arsenic is present in soils that are aerated, the arsenic is bound to the solid soil particles and doesn’t move.

Rice, however, is mostly grown in flooded conditions.

“If a plant is going to take up arsenic, the arsenic needs to be in the soil solution,” said Seyfferth. “The process of flooding a soil sets up a whole different suite of biogeochemical conditions which allow the arsenic to be released from the solid and move into solution where the plant can take it up. So rice tends to accumulate more arsenic than other cereals because it’s mostly grown under flooded conditions.”

When it comes to the risk that arsenic in rice poses to Americans, Seyfferth said that the arsenic toxicity has to do with a variety of factors, among them is the concentration of arsenic in whatever a person may be ingesting, and the amount of tainted food and water ingested.

This is one of the reasons that Americans are at less of a risk than citizens of South and Southeast Asia. For one thing, the water quality standards are safer in the U.S. than they are in, for example, Bangladesh and Cambodia. Also, Americans do not depend on rice in their daily diet as much as those in Southeast Asia, where they eat rice 3 times a day, everyday.

That doesn’t mean that Americans should not be concerned, however. “I think it’s important to be concerned, to be aware of any chemical that you’re being exposed to,” said Seyfferth. “But the amount of rice that we tend to eat, typically in the U.S. is much lower. If we have it a couple times a week, it’s probably not going to have a huge impact.”

Seyfferth also notes that brown rice, while more nutritious than white rice, is also higher in arsenic concentration. “The act of polishing the rice to make it white removes the micronutrients that are located on the outer layer of the grain,” said Seyfferth. “So if you polish it, you’ve removed much of the arsenic but you’ve also removed many of the micronutrients that we actually need.”

Article by Adam Thomas

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University of Delaware holds inaugural One World, One Health symposium

August 23, 2012 under CANR News

The University of Delaware held its inaugural One World, One Health animal, human and environmental health symposium, titled “Global Thinking for the Greater Good: Interdisciplinary Health Discourse and Research,” in the Townsend Hall Commons on Wednesday, Aug. 22.

The event was sponsored by the UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), the College of Health Sciences (CHS) and the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS).

The day started off with two concurrent morning sessions running from 9-11:30 a.m. The first, titled “Plugging In,” dealt with regional interdisciplinary health efforts and outlined ways in which University departments and individual researchers can “plug in” to ongoing and future projects.

Speakers included Karl Steiner, senior provost of research development for the Research Office; Kathy Matt, dean of the College of Health Sciences; and Bob MacDonald, coordinator for partnerships and grants at USDA-ARS.

Steiner spoke about the importance of having multiple principal investigators on research projects, noting that National Science Foundation (NSF) funding for multi-principal investigator projects has gone up 29 percent in recent years, while funding for single principal investigator projects has gone up only 7 percent. He noted that the NSF mirrors a national trend toward awarding multiple-principal investigator projects.

Steiner said that pilot funding is available for researchers through the University and statewide, with programs such as the Delaware Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), supported by NSF, and the Delaware IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), supported by the National Institutes of Health.

He said that with more than 60 academic departments and schools and numerous institutes spread across the University, there is a need for collaboration between researchers.

Steiner also stressed that in the jungle of securing competitive grants, it is important for researchers to “use all the help you can get” and to “work with colleagues to do something innovative, because if you’re doing the same thing that somebody else is doing,” you won’t succeed.

Interdisciplinary work

Matt discussed the interdisciplinary opportunities available at UD specifically through the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance (DHSA) and the future opportunities that will be available at the Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus. Matt said it is important to not limit partnerships but to expand them, and spoke to researchers about the importance of pilot funding to help show initial results with their work.

“The challenge is when you have a new idea and you have to partner with other people, you don’t have a track record,” said Matt. “That’s why in every situation I’ve been in, seed funds, angel funds — these pilot funds — are greatly important so you can get together, get the data, get your publications, get an abstract, get your presentations and you can show that, ‘This isn’t fictitious, I didn’t just write this on the proposal, we’re already working together and we have some data and we know that we can do this.’”

Matt also talked about successful collaboration projects at CHS, such as the “babies driving robots” program that is a collaboration between the Department of Physical Therapy and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, as well as the possibility for future collaborations between UD departments and the community in general as afforded by the new STAR Campus.

Matt said it is hoped the campus will demonstrate “healthy living by design,” and said that will come about through a cooperative effort with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

In the other concurrent morning session, “From Here to There: UD Graduate Student Resources and Career Planning,” speakers presented information on UD resources available to graduate students, career planning and the transition from graduate school to the workforce.

Next came lunch, which gave participants a chance to network with fellow researchers and look at research presentations on display.

Tips for researchers

From 1-3 p.m., there was a panel discussion titled “From Good to Grant,” which explored real world experiences and the logistics of developing and administering interdisciplinary research projects and grants.

The session was moderated by Leigh Botner, research development director for the Research Office, and panelists included:

  • Kali Kniel, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences;
  • Manan Sharma, research microbiologist in the Environmental, Microbial, and Food Safety Laboratory (USDA ARS);
  • Steven Stanhope, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology and lead scientist in the Bridging Advanced Development for Exceptional Rehabilitation (BADER) Consortium (CHS);
  • Carl Schmidt, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences; and
  • Dan Flynn, associate dean of research (CHS).

Kniel said that it is important to know one’s personal strengths when working in a collaborative setting and that “patience is very important when dealing with different personalities.”

Schmidt stressed that talking to fellow researchers and going to meetings is very important, and said research should aim to have a broad impact. He also noted that it is important to establish a laboratory and get papers published as well as find people in the research field who complement you.

“My area of expertise is sequencing and bioinformatics and I knew that we had to use some quantitative genetics in my research and so I actively pursued one of the leading quantitative geneticists at Iowa State as part of this project,” said Schmidt, referencing a $4.7 million research grant he received through the Climate Change Initiative of the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) to study heat stress in poultry.

Flynn spoke about programmatic grants, saying that the three most important aspects of securing a programmatic grant are to have:

• A grant leader who has very strong credentials;

• A compelling vision, something that addresses an important issue that scientists and the people of the society are looking at and talking about, allowing regional assets to guide the growth of the research program, and;

• Strong credentials among the faculty who participate on the program and high quality of their ideas.

“That’s what’s going to drive this and get that grant funded,” he said.

Flynn also said that it is important to remember that as the leader of a research group, you need to help to advance the careers of everybody on that team. “At the end of the day, the real lasting legacy of leadership is the careers of the people that you advanced behind you and then that’s a culture of leadership that you pass on.”

The symposium closed with a poster session and refreshments from 3-5 p.m., with tours of the CANR farm and gardens also available at that time.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

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UD’s Sparks one of six soil scientists honored at international meeting

July 3, 2012 under CANR News

Donald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Soil and Environmental Chemistry in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN), was recently elected an honorary member of the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS).

The honor was announced at the IUSS meeting on June 6 in Jeju, Korea. It is the highest honor awarded by the professional society, which represents more than 50,000 soil scientists from around the world.

Sparks was one of just six soil scientists presented with the honorary membership this year, and he is only the 15th American so recognized since the IUSS was founded in 1924.

“I am told that I am the youngest soil scientist ever elected for this honor,” Sparks said. “To say the least, I am deeply honored.”

In his letter nominating Sparks for the recognition, Paul M. Bertsch of the U.S. National Academies Committee for Soil Science, cited Sparks’ research in the areas of kinetics of soil chemical processes, surface chemistry of soils and soil components using in-situ spectroscopic and microscopic techniques, and the physical chemistry of soil potassium.

Sparks has pioneered the application of chemical kinetics to soils and soil minerals, including the development of widely used methods, elucidation of rate-limiting steps and mechanisms, and coupling of kinetic studies with molecular scale investigations, particularly synchrotron-based x-ray absorption spectroscopy.

“His discoveries on the formation and role of surface precipitates in the retention, fate and transport of metals in natural systems have received worldwide attention and had major impacts in the areas of sorption models, metal speciation and soil contamination and remediation,” Bertsch said.

Bertsch also cited Sparks’ extensive service to the International Union of Soil Sciences. He has served as president (2002-06) and past president (2006-10) of IUSS, and was a member of the Presidential Election Committee (2010). He currently serves in the Electoral Committee and chairs the Committee on Statutes and Structures. He received the society’s von Liebig Medal in 2010 for career achievements in soil science research.

Sparks was also vice chair (elected in 1994) and then chair (elected in 1998) of the Soil Chemistry Commission of the International Soil Science Society. He assisted in organizing a number of symposia and presented plenary and keynote lectures at IUSS Congresses.

From 1999 to 2008, he served as ex-officio member in the National Research Council’s U.S. National Committee for Soil Science, serving as full member of the committee since 2010. He also served as president of the Soil Science Society of America.

Among his many honors, Sparks is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Soil Science Society of America, the American Society of Agronomy, the Geochemical Society, and the European Association of Geochemistry. He is the recipient of UD’s Francis Alison and Doctoral Student Advising and Mentoring awards, the Sir Frederick McMaster Fellowship from Australia’s CSRIO and the Sterling Hendricks Medal from USDA.

Article by Beth Chajes

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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