Green Liaisons Sustainability Lecture features sustainable landscape expert

April 18, 2014 under Events

Sue Barton will give a lecture on Friday, April 25 on sustainable landscapesThe second University of Delaware Green Liaison Sustainability Lecture of the spring will form the climax for Earth Week 2014 activities and will feature Susan Barton, assistant professor and Cooperative Extension specialist in plant and soil sciences.

Barton’s talk, “Rethinking Laird Campus,” will focus on incorporating sustainable landscape practices into the UD grounds. The lecture will be held from noon-1 p.m., Friday, April 25, in the Perkins Student Center Alumni Lounge.

Barton will discuss the implementation of the project on the University’s Laird Campus and how this concept has been extended to residential and corporate entities.

Barton has worked closely for the past 12 years with the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) to research and implement new roadside vegetation management strategies.

She has also worked with partners to develop the Plants for a Livable Delaware Program, designed to provide alternatives to known invasive plants species and to promote sustainable landscaping.

She teaches on plants and human culture, nursery and garden center management and the environment, and coordinates UD’s landscape horticulture internship.

Barton also works closely with the nursery and landscape industry, writing newsletters, organizing short courses and conducting horticulture industry expos with the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association.

She received the Nursery Extension Award in 1995 from the American Nursery and Landscape Association and the Rutledge Award for service from the University of Delaware in 2007.

About the Green Liaisons Sustainability Lecture Series

Once a month, Green Liaisons are invited to attend a lunchtime presentation on the small steps that can be implemented by every student, faculty and staff member in order to make UD a greener place to learn, work and live.

All lunches in the Green Liaisons Sustainability Lecture Series are open to Green Liaisons and will be held from noon-1p.m.Topics and locations change monthly. Drinks and dessert will be provided.

Members of the campus community who are not currently Green Liaisons but want to represent their department can contact Francis Karani at fkarani@udel.edu or Amy Snelling at snelling@udel.edu.

More information regarding the lunch schedule, past events and general information on the Green Liaisons programs can be found on this website.

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UD class presents award-winning display at Philadelphia Flower Show

March 4, 2014 under CANR News

UD class presents award-winning display at Philadelphia Flower ShowThanks to an interdisciplinary class and a new registered student organization (RSO), the University of Delaware again has an exhibit at this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show, which runs through March 9 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. This year’s educational exhibit takes on an ecological theme, specifically the key role of American shad, a fish that once held a prominent place in the Brandywine River but has seen a drastic population decline in recent years.

The project aims to raise public awareness of the issue by helping educate those in attendance on the importance of shad and the ecosystem services they provide to the Brandywine, which supplies the city of Wilmington’s drinking water. The UD group received a “Special Achievement: Best Achievement in Social Change Messaging” award for the display.

The class is called Design Process Practicum and is taught by Jules Bruck, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; Anthony Middlebrooks, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration; and Jon Cox, assistant professor in UD’s Department of Art.

The newly formed RSO is called Design and Articulture (DART) and its members — many of whom are also in the class — helped with the creation of this year’s display.

The exhibit examines the Brandywine River and features flowers native to the Brandywine Valley that would naturally grow along its banks in the spring, as well as showing how shad once populated the river in large numbers. “Prior to settlement along the Brandywine we’ve read accounts of the water ‘boiling black’ with shad,” said Bruck, who explained that a lot of the dams along the Brandywine have prevented the shad from swimming upstream.

Some of these dams are historical treasures that can’t be removed — such as the dam at Hagley Museum — and part of the exhibit displays an alternative to dam removal known as a fish ladder. Bruck explained that a fish ladder is one of several techniques that can be used when there is a dam impeding fish trying to upstream.

“A fish ladder has short steps that the fish can flop up and over and get through them pretty easily, and depending on how high the water is, it’s easier at some times than others,” said Bruck, who explained that the group’s version of a fish ladder was a very contemporary version, not a realistic one. “It’s an idea that we just want people to be aware of,” she said.

The reason the group chose to focus on shad is that the fish is important culturally, historically and as indicator species to the relative health of the Brandywine.

Culturally, the shad were once linked to the Brandywine much like blue crab are linked to Baltimore. Middlebrooks explained that Gerald Kauffman, project director for the Water Resources Agency, was a guest speaker at a class session and explained the historical significance of the shad. Kauffman related to the class a story about how Washington’s troops were starving at Valley Forge and the shad migrated north just in time to provide a food supply.

Shad are also a very important indicator species. “Of course we’re interested in the species and their success but as many experts have now told us, shad are very indicative of water quality in the Brandywine watershed, which, of course, supplies all of Wilmington’s drinking water,” said Middlebrooks.

UD class presents award-winning display at Philadelphia Flower ShowDART

DART is a relatively new RSO and Weber Stibolt, a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and club president, said that its members wanted to form a group to get more recognition for the project. “It’s been kind of an underground project these past couple of years; not a lot of people have known about it.”

Stibolt said that the club has 12 members right now and that his favorite part of working on the project has been learning about aspects of agriculture that he doesn’t get exposed to in his major.

Sydney Bruck, freshman in CANR and member of DART, said the RSO offers students who are in the class now and want to help out with the exhibit next year — but might not have room in their schedule to take the class again — a chance to participate. “If you don’t want to take the class again next year to be involved, you can still be part of the RSO and be involved,” said Bruck.

Bruck also said she enjoyed the interdisciplinary aspect of the project. “I think when you get a bunch of landscape designers together for a flower show, it’s missing something. It’s not complete. Or if you have a bunch of designers or art majors for an art project, it’s still very one sided. But I think we have a very well-rounded exhibit because of all the people, and I think the students really enjoy learning from each other, too.”

Future benefits

Another reason the professors enjoy having the students work on the flower show is that it looks great on their resumes when they apply for future jobs or internships.

Jules Bruck said that a student who worked on the show in the past came to her and said he applied for an internship and the Philadelphia Flower Show project was on his resume. “There’s no doubt in my mind that I got my internship because of the Philadelphia Flower Show. When I got my interview, that’s all they wanted to talk about,” Bruck said the student told her.

Middlebrooks said that the project is “really much more consequential for students long term. It provides yet another opportunity for them to get engaged with professors, get engaged outside the University. They make a variety of connections and I know a number of students have explicitly credited the flower show being on their resume with landing internships, even a Disney internship.”

Middlebrooks also noted that the interdisciplinary and creative aspects of the class help the students in the long run because, in his experience, when people apply for jobs, companies are looking for two main things: creativity and collaboration. “So we’re always looking for ways to really maximize that. And that’s really limited if you just do that in your own discipline, or in a single class, so the flower show has always and continues to serve as an opportunity to cross disciplines,” said Middlebrooks.

Hometown roots

The project is particularly important for Cox who grew up along the Brandywine and said that he remembers playing in the river as a child.

“Some of my earliest memories are actually going down the Brandywine in this little inflatable Sevylor two-person boat with my sister,” said Cox. “So the Brandywine has always been special to me and we go canoeing a couple times a year and we started taking my son there now and he is two and a half now and so he’ll be able to grow up and have some of the same experiences.”

Group effort

Of course, the flower show couldn’t happen without the flowers, and getting the native plants to bloom and look like they would in the spring was no easy feat, especially during such a rough winter.

Bruck was in charge of growing the plants and the students helped out as well. Bruck also thanked Rodney Dempsey, Bill Barts and Joyce Zayakosky, members of the UD Greenhouse staff, for all that they did to get the flowers blooming on time.

The group also thanked the Center for Teaching and Effectiveness and Learning (CTAL), the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society for help funding the project, and Kauffman and Sherri Evans-Stanton, director of the Brandywine Conservancy, for speaking to the class about the shad.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Jon Cox

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UD professor seeks holistic understanding of disease resistance in maize

February 25, 2014 under CANR News

UD professor seeks holistic understanding of disease resistance in maizeThe University of Delaware is leading an interdisciplinary project aimed at unraveling the biology of a durable form of disease resistance in maize.

A grant from the National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program (NSF-PGRP) has brought together a team of experts in breeding, genetics, pathology, bioimaging and computer science to generate new knowledge that can be leveraged in the staple crop when breeding for disease resistance.

Randall Wisser, assistant professor in UD’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences is leading the five-year, $3.9 million project.

Working with seven other investigators at Iowa State University (ISU), Cornell University, North Carolina State University (NCSU), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), Wisser explained that the group is trying to gain a holistic understanding of disease resistance.

“To date, we’ve focused on dissecting the genetics, trying to figure out what the genes are,” said Wisser. “In some cases we’ve been successful, but there are many more genes we have not yet identified; we still don’t understand how the genes work or how they act together to cause resistance.”

How cells react

A significant component of the project at UD consists of the researchers adapting bioimaging technologies to study natural genetic variation in disease resistance. For this, three of the labs are collaborating.

In controlled environments, Rebecca Nelson, professor at Cornell University, and Peter Balint-Kurti, research geneticist with USDA-ARS at NCSU, perform genetic experiments from which infected tissue is sampled and shipped off to UD.

Wisser and Jeff Caplan, director of the BioImaging Center at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI), work together to analyze microscopic images of the samples.

Studying hundreds of tissue samplesthe team captures numerous snapshots across each sample in microscopic detail and in 3D. Then, from more than 1,000 separate images taken on each sample, the researchers use computational techniques to reconstruct the images into their original form.

With these large format images, the team initiated a collaboration with Chandra Kambhamettu, professor in UD’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences and director of the Video/Image Modeling and Synthesis (VIMS) Laboratory, to adapt methods from computer vision research that allow features within the images — such as the number of cells the pathogen has infected — to be characterized.

In the end, the team is able to gain an understanding of how a specific resistance gene or a group of resistance genes act to cause resistance.

Wisser summarized the technique’s important effect, saying, “We’re not just taking a picture of the surface, we’re actually taking pictures as though we are peeling layers off the tissue one at a time. Also, because of the relatively large area of the leaf we can now image, we can observe plant-pathogen interactions at an unprecedented scale and gain a better understanding of variation in the interactions between pathogens and plants.

“Essentially, what we’ve been able to achieve is the development of an imaging and analysis platform that allows us to quantitatively examine the effects of different genes at the tissue and cellular level. It’s eye-opening, and we’ve only begun scratching the surface.”

Gene identification

The team is simultaneously trying to shine light on the specific genes that underlie disease resistance.

Jim Holland, research geneticist with USDA-ARS at NCSU, leads a component of the project on genetic mapping. Holland, Balint-Kurti, Nelson and Wisser collaborate on sequencing and comparing the genomes of over 250 maize varieties using advanced techniques in genetic mapping, when researchers try to determine the specific genes that control a characteristic like plant disease resistance.

There is typically uncertainty in the process. Therefore, Balint-Kurti and Nick Lauter, assistant professor from ISU, are validating the effects of these genes by searching for extreme mutations and deregulating the gene. If disruptions of the gene cause a change in the plants’ resistance to disease, then they know they are onto something.

Lauter and Alicia Carriquiry, professor from ISU, are also working with Cornell and NCSU to study how the genes are regulated when the pathogens infect. A gene may be turned on or off in response to infection, which further clues the researchers in to the genes that underlie resistance.

Looking at all of these results together allows the researchers to understand the genes associated with resistance, how they function in terms of their internal wiring, how they connect to each other to form a network, and how that network gives rise to disease resistance or susceptibility.

An applied impact

The work on this project addresses issues that relate to the global sustainability of agriculture. Pathogens often evolve quickly to overcome the resistance genes in the cultivars breeders produce, resulting in a constant tug-of-war between the breeder and the pathogen.

This basic research project intersects with applied efforts to have greater durability in disease resistance. The knowledge, methods and resources from the project can be leveraged in the breeding of varieties that have longer lasting resistance, resulting in better food security.

Wisser said that while the group is using maize for its study, the results could have positive effects on many plants. “The things we find are not just applicable to maize and diseases we’re working on here, but there are also some general rules that are likely to surface. So we think that our project has more to offer than helping to solve the issues associated with these specific diseases and the crop that’s the focus of the project.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

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Charter student completes research in Seyfferth’s lab

February 19, 2014 under CANR News

charter student completes research in Angelia Seyfferth's labWhen Rohith Venkataraman, a junior who attends the Charter School of Wilmington, decided to search for research being conducted by University of Delaware professors, he did not know what he would find. By chance, he came across Angelia Seyfferth’s research and sent her an e-mail asking if he could help out in her lab.

Now, about a year since that e-mail was sent, not only has Venkataraman completed his research with Seyfferth, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Gang Li, a postdoctoral researcher in Seyfferth’s lab, but that research helped him place first in the plant science section of his school’s science fair. He will now be presenting his research project at the 19th annual Delaware Technical Community College Science Expo in February.

“It’s safe to say that email was a great decision,” said Venkataraman. “Dr. Seyfferth has been encouraging and helpful right from the get go and I have had a wonderful research experience under her guidance and Dr. Li’s tutelage.”

The research began last summer when Venkataraman worked with Seyfferth and Li on a plant science project dealing with the arsenic uptake mechanism in rice plants. Venkataraman said that Seyfferth’s previous work suggested that one can decrease the amount of arsenic assimilated by a plant if one adds silicic acid to the growth media of rice plants.

“This promising research could lead to new ways of growing rice in areas with high arsenic contents in the soil,” said Venkataraman. “As a means to confirm literature and test our own variables, we designed and grew plants over a period of 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 9 weeks. The plants were then flash frozen and stored in a freezer for further RNA analysis of oxidative stress genes and total arsenic content analysis.”

Venkataraman said that the procedure for extracting RNA and analysis was “quite complex. There were many steps each requiring careful attention to details. The procedure required adding small quantities of many solutions and centrifuging the tissue numerous times.”

As for his favorite part of the project, Venkataraman explained that he enjoyed assisting Li with changing the nutrient solutions for the plants and assisting with the liquid nitrogen flash freezing.

“The attributes of chemicals and their properties have always amazed me,” said Venkataraman. “I have always looked forward to Dr. Seyfferth’s insight on scientific aspects of the research, which she has enthusiastically shared with me. Dr. Li has guided and explained about various processes that we were working on. Both of them have expanded my horizon of knowledge and made my experience at the lab and research something that I have looked forward to.”

Seyfferth said that she was “impressed by Rohith’s questions and scientific inquisitiveness, he is a highly motivated young student.” Seyfferth added that she is “eager to continue providing research opportunities for high school students across Delaware.”

As for his plans for after high school, Venkataraman said that he is not sure what he wants to do yet but that he is exploring studying molecular biology along with a pre-med track.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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UD’s Ernest receives USDA grant for research on lima beans

December 11, 2013 under CANR News

Emmalea Ernest Research Assistant for Vegetable crops. Plant and Soil Science, Cooperative ExtensionEmmalea Ernest, extension agent in the University of Delaware’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), has received federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) Program for a project aimed at developing heat-tolerant lima bean varieties.

“Lima beans are Delaware’s largest acreage vegetable crop and anchor the state’s processing vegetable industry,” said Ernest. “The varieties that are currently available to growers suffer yield loss or delayed yield when they are exposed to high temperatures during flowering.”

In order to be eligible for funding from the program, grant money had to be used toward specialty crops as opposed to field crops, such as corn and soybeans, or animal agriculture. Specialty crops are a wide-ranging category that includes fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, tree nuts, horticulture, and nursery crops.

With her funding, Ernest aims to develop procedures for heat tolerance screening in the existing lima bean breeding program, examine the physiological mechanisms for heat stress tolerance or susceptibility in lima beans, and investigate the underlying genetic basis for heat stress tolerance in lima beans. Her findings could greatly impact Delaware vegetable farmers’ yields.

Ernest said she has collaborated on multiple USDA Specialty Crop Block Grants in the past six years and acknowledged that the program has been a vital source of funding to the Extension Vegetable and Fruit Research Program. The money has allowed Ernest to help address production problems many Delaware fruit and vegetable growers have experienced, as well as explore new crop prospects.

The SCBG program seeks out projects like Ernest’s in order to promote and enhance the local agricultural economy.

“My past and current grant projects through this program have included work on lima beans but also on a variety of other crops, including processing sweet corn, blueberries, snap beans, cucumbers and cantaloupes,” said Ernest.

Her research with lima beans will be over the course of the next three years and take place on UD’s research farm in Georgetown.

Ernest said that in the genetics portion of the project, which will be built off of work funded by the Building a Better Bean SCRI Grant awarded to UD researchers last year, she will be working closely with colleague Randy Wisser, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, and Gordon Johnson, extension vegetable and fruit specialist.

Article by Angela Carcione

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Interdisciplinary team uses OEIP Spin In program to create iPhone app

October 23, 2013 under CANR News

students turn professors' iDEA Fan Deck into an iPhone appIn 2012, University of Delaware faculty members Jules Bruck and Anthony Middlebrooks created the iDEA Fan Deck, a handheld design-based tool that provides prompts for people needing problem-solving help in any field.

The tool was a success but those who used it all had the same observation – that it would make a great iPhone app.

To make that suggestion a reality, Bruck and Middlebrooks, in partnership with the University’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP) Spin In program, teamed with three UD students.

Through Spin In, OEIP matches entrepreneurs who are developing innovative early stage technology with a team of UD undergraduate students to further develop both the technology and the marketing strategy.

The student team is mentored by UD faculty and works side-by-side with entrepreneurs to provide solutions to challenges that need to be overcome on the path to commercialization.

After a project has been completed, the technology is spun back out of the University, and the entrepreneur moves forward with plans for product development.

“Spin In arose out of part of our mission, to provide a unique experiential learning opportunity to undergraduate students in the areas of innovation, entrepreneurship and product development,” said David Weir, director of OEIP.

“Working with Spin In is a really amazing opportunity for a business,” said Bruck, associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, explaining that while their product is a useful tool as a physical fan deck, “it could be more accessible as an app, and more iterative, so we can make updates and be more fluid with it.”

The iDEA Fan Deck is color-coded and icon based, dividing the problem-solving process into three major phases: understand, imagine, and iterate. The tool can be used to address problems from pre-start to implementation, or as a prompt to spark a stalled process.

The graphic design of the original fan desk was created by Keefer Charneau, a visual communication major who graduated from UD in 2012 and has since moved on to work at a design firm in New York City.

“We thought if we could prompt people to pay attention to all the phases of the problem-solving process, then that would be a more effective way of helping them innovate,” said Middlebrooks, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration in the College of Arts and Sciences, who explained that the fan deck went through 17 iterations before the final version was created.

“The fun part about working with Spin In is that it prompted us to really advance the tool itself,” said Middlebrooks. “The app has two or three major features that are above and beyond the physical fan deck. It has a decision tree, a brand new design thinking development facet that is a major feature, and the Spark Me random question generator. The app allows us to do some things that we couldn’t do with the physical fan deck.”

Interdisciplinary student team 

The students assigned to work on the project included Candace Galentine, Sarah Minnich and Jacob Nachman.

They all agreed that working in an interdisciplinary team — something Middlebrooks and Bruck stress in their combined leadership classes — was greatly beneficial to their educational experience.

“It’s something that you don’t get in the classroom,” said Galentine, an Honors Program junior double majoring in finance and management information systems. “When you work in groups in classes, you’re working with people who are in a similar major. When I’m in a finance class working with a group, they’re finance students, but for this I’m working with a graphic designer and a computer engineer, so it’s completely different.”

Minnich echoed these sentiments, saying, “Working in a multidisciplinary team was probably the most beneficial aspect of the project. I learned a lot about Jake’s discipline and Candace’s discipline, I learned a lot more about their fields, and I’m sure they learned about my field and my background as well.”

Galentine said she started working part-time on the project in February. As the project manager, she worked on many aspects ranging from facilitating meetings and communication between IT, design and entrepreneurs to working on market assessment, developing potential business models, finding business opportunities, forming a project plan, and helping create a wireframe for the project.

Galentine also focused the project on the end user by performing research and testing — both with people who had heard of and used the iDEA Fan Deck and those that had not. It was through this research that Galentine decided to make the app available as a “freemium.”

“The app is free to download, with limited content, and then the rest you have to purchase for $2.99,” said Galentine. “We felt that this would eliminate the barrier for people who don’t know what the iDEA Fan Deck is so they can download the free version, see if they like it, and then be able to purchase it.”

Summer project

Nachman, an Honors Program sophomore majoring in computer engineering, came aboard a month after Galentine. By summer, Minnich joined the team and they were able to work full time on the project.

As the programmer, Nachman was in charge of writing the code and adding functionality to the app, something that he said took anywhere from 200 to 300 hours of work.

Not only did he have to invent the code for the app, something that he had never done before, but he also had to get that code approved by Apple.

“That was a little bit difficult — it got rejected once and then it took a several updates to get it up to date with everything they wanted,” he said. “But learning how to do the work was great because I had no idea how to do it when I went in to the project; I just had to figure it all out.”

Spin In students conducting a presentation for President Harker about an "iDea Fan Deck" app for the iPhone that they helped develop and market.Nachman also said that working with a problem-solving tool came in handy when the group encountered problems of their own on the project. “The iDEA Fan Deck was helpful during the process because when we got stuck, we were already looking at information that could help guide us through the process. I think it’s a very useful tool. I’ve used it for a few projects that I’ve worked on during the school year to get my thoughts started.”

Minnich, who received a bachelor’s degree from UD in 2010 and a master’s in plant and soil sciences this year, and who and now works for OEIP, served as the project’s graphic designer. Having worked with Bruck and Middlebrooks in the past to create one of the first fan deck prototypes, Minnich was familiar with the product from the outset.

“In past courses they’ve taught, they have structured the curriculum to be design challenged-based and the fan deck is a really helpful tool in guiding the students along the way in their design process,” said Minnich.

As a previous teaching assistant for some of those courses, Minnich said that it is interesting to see how students from non-design backgrounds utilize the iDEA Fan Deck. “I think that it is most helpful for them because it pushes them to think in a different way then they’re used to in their regular curriculum.”

As for this project, Minnich said that it was great to work with Bruck and Middlebrooks, who gave the three students the autonomy to make the project their own. “They trusted us and we felt very responsible for what we were creating and we had a real handle on it,” said Minnich.

As designer, Minnich worked closely with Nachman, who would input the code. “Our jobs were pretty intertwined,” she said. “I would design some of the graphics and then he would import them, including things like the buttons, the layouts, fonts, and the backgrounds.”

Minnich said the students agreed that they benefited greatly from working on the project, getting real-world, hands on-experience and learning how to work as part of an interdisciplinary team.

“The whole process started out really rough and there was this level of uncomfortability because none of us had ever worked on designing an app before and we weren’t really sure what it was going to entail,” said Minnich. “But we sat down and made timelines and benchmarks, and the whole process of seeing it come together was really satisfying.”

Click here to download the app.

Article by Adam Thomas

Video by Adam Thomas and Danielle Quigley

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UD plant and soil sciences researcher receives two USDA grants

October 7, 2013 under CANR News

Yan Jin is awarded two USDA grantsThe University of Delaware’s Yan Jin has received two awards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for her studies on wetlands waters and for cross-disciplinary research on fresh produce and microbial contaminants.

The funding for both projects is being provided through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Initiative (AFRI) Competitive Grants Program.

Jin, professor of soil science and an environmental physicist in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) said the four-year wetlands project is funded under AFRI’s Renewable Energy, Natural Resources and Environment program area and is titled “Colloid Mobilization and Biogeochemical Cycling of Organic Carbon, Nitrogen and Phosphorous in Wetlands.”

This is a new collaboration developed with Bruce Vasilas, UD professor of plant and soil sciences and a hydric soil scientist with extensive research experience in wetland hydrology and water chemistry.

The project design incorporates extensive sampling of both ground and surface waters at three wetland sites with complementary laboratory experiments.

Wetlands are vital components to the ecosystem because they can remove nutrients and pollutants before those can enter downstream waters. Jin’s research will ultimately focus on how the mobilization of colloidal particles within the soil can influence the transport, retention and cycling of essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and dissolved organic matter.

A comprehensive assessment of wetlands and a clear understanding of their geochemical and hydrological mechanisms controlling nutrient retention/removal and carbon cycling is valuable in developing integrated management strategies of water resources at the urban-ecological interface.

Jin said she is very excited about the opportunity to team with Vasilas, who is a nationally recognized expert on wetlands and has well-established field sites for which long-term monitoring data of hydrological, water chemistry and soil properties are already available.

She is confident that their work will generate a better understanding of the role colloids might play in natural wetlands in the cycling of essential nutrients and carbon.

“We are a nice match in terms of us having very different skills. My expertise is in the lab while his is in the field,” said Jin. “By working together and combining field measurements and laboratory investigations we will understand things each one of us individually could not understand as well.”

Produce research

The second grant, awarded by AFRI’s Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health Program, evaluates the processes contributing to the microbial contamination of fresh produce. “Receiving this award is very encouraging, and a bit surprising because this is the first time we applied and we are being funded by a program that is outside of our discipline. The project is a new cross-discipline attempt to link environmental physics to the field of food safety,” Jin said.

With the increasing association of food-borne illness outbreaks with fruits and vegetables, the mechanisms allowing pathogens to attach and colonize on these surfaces has come into question. The goal of the project will be to link crop surface properties, physics of small-scale water organization and subsequent nutrient availability with the attachment, growth and colonization of bacteria.

The three-year project will be a joint effort with two young scientists, Volha Lazouskaya, a former Ph.D. student and postdoctoral researcher in Jin’s group, and Gang Wang, who will join Jin’s group early next year from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

John Xiao, professor of physics in UD’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, and Kali Kniel, professor of food microbiology in CANR’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences, will also participate in the project. The goal of this research is to provide insight to improve risk assessment methods and pathogen control protocols of produce contamination.

Jin’s work takes a systematic approach and applies physics and colloidal theories. “In this project, we will apply our knowledge of colloid/bacteria attachment and transport processes in porous media to understand how microbial pathogens attach and colonize to fruit and vegetable surfaces,” she said. “We will use natural produce surfaces and create model surfaces using state-of-the-art nanofabrication techniques to mimic surface features such as roughness, hydrophobicity and water distribution, which affects bacterial attachment, colonization and growth.

“We will compare those properties across different produces to evaluate their vulnerability to pathogenic contamination. We also expect to develop a computational model, which will provide a quantitative and predictive tool for addressing the key biophysical factors influencing bacterial attachment, survival and colonization on fresh produce.”

Although Jin’s office is currently located in Townsend Hall, she soon will be making the move to UD’s new Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory (ISE Lab), where she will utilize state of the art technologies during her projects.

Research group

The Jin group’s general research interest is in measurement, modeling and interpretation of mass and energy flow and transformation in soil and groundwater. A special focus in the last decade has been on the behavior of colloids, microscopic particles that include natural soil mineral and organic particles, manufactured nanoparticles, and biocolloids or viruses and bacteria.

The basic and systematic nature of their investigation on the mechanisms of colloid mobilization, attachment, and transport from their previous research built a strong foundation that led to the award of the two new NIFA grants. The new projects will allow Jin’s group and their collaborators to apply their fundamental knowledge of colloid behavior to address larger scale environmental issues and to new systems they had never worked with before.

Article by Angela Carcione

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Rodrigo Vargas joins CANR faculty

August 29, 2013 under CANR News

Rodrigo Bargas joins CANR facultyIn October of 2012, Rodrigo Vargas joined the community of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) as an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Since joining UD, Vargas has successfully secured over $1 million in grants as a principal investigator supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the University of Delaware Research Foundation (UDRF). His research group has active study sites in Baja California, Delaware, and Maryland and collaborates with scientists across the United States, Asia, Europe and Mexico to understand how land ecosystems respond to climate variability, extreme events, and global environmental change.

Working at CANR, he has actively taken on multiple research endeavors. First, supported by a NASA grant, he is testing different approaches to improve a framework for monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) to support implementation of Reduction of Emissions by Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) across a gradient of forests in Mexico. This research involves collaboration with the US Forest Service, the Mexican Forest Service (CONAFOR) and multiple research institutions in Mexico.

Secondly, funded by a USDA grant, he is investigating the effect of extreme climate events on greenhouse gas fluxes in a watershed near UD’s campus by using state-of-the-art instrumentation for continuous measurements of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide fluxes from soils. This research involves collaboration with Shreeram Inamdar, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Lastly, funded by a UDRF grant, he is looking at the size, age, and use of nonstructural carbon reserves (NSC’s) in long-lived plants in the deserts of Baja California, Mexico.  His results are providing insights about the physiological mechanisms of carbohydrate allocation and long-term plant survival in water-limited ecosystems.

“Several plant species in the central desert of Baja California can live for over 400 years under limited water availability and climate variability including decadal droughts,” said Vargas.

Preliminarily results show that new fine roots of desert palms and cactus are produced using “old” NSC reserves that are more than 20 years old. Vargas’ group has also found that the age of NSC reserves inside the plants can have a mean age of over 60 years.

“This means that these plants can store NSC reserves and keep them for a long time and then use them to produce new structures such as fine roots,” said Vargas.

Vargas said he is extremely lucky to have rapidly found friends among the UD community who support him and have made him feel welcome in Newark. His time here has already afforded him the opportunity to be exposed to and apply an array of various research techniques from multiple disciplines such as computer science, micrometeorology, remote sensing, and soil ecology.

Offering a sincere thanks to all of his new friends here at the CANR, he said “I have found amazing colleagues, leaders, and students across UD, and the working atmosphere is excellent to nourish and develop high quality research.”

As an undergraduate, Vargas studied biology in Mexico at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM), one of the largest universities in the world with over 350,000 students. It was there that he began his research career, studying nitrogen fixation of microbial mats in a tropical wetland at the Yucatan Peninsula.

He went on to earn a PhD at the University of California-Riverside where his research focused on how extreme events such as fires and hurricanes influenced carbon dynamics in regenerating forests. Through a combination of biometric forest measurements and experimental forest management techniques, he demonstrated the large capability of these forests to store carbon above and below ground.

Vargas also studied the effects of hurricane disturbance on CO2 fluxes within the soil, finding unprecedented rates of CO2 emissions from soil to atmosphere. Lastly, he demonstrated the unexpected capacity of plants to allocate old stored carbon to produce fine roots following a hurricane disturbance. In light of the east coasts’ late experience with Hurricane Sandy, Vargas’ past work shows the implications these weather phenomena’s have on the fate of stored carbon in plants.

In addition to this work, Vargas also worked on a side-project funded by the National Science Foundation studying belowground carbon dynamics in the San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California. This study allowed him to use a wireless network of soil sensors to measure CO2 fluxes and the relations with fine root dynamics.  “One of the most exciting results is that we demonstrated that fast and continuous fine root measurements (daily and sub-daily) are needed to quantify and understand belowground carbon dynamics,” said Vargas.

Following his PhD, Vargas was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California-Berkeley where he interacted with scientists around the world within FLUXNET, the international consortium of eddy covariance scientists.  “My work focused on regional and global synthesis studies on water and CO2 fluxes of terrestrial ecosystems, combining measurements and ecological process-based models,” said Vargas.

Before arriving at UD, Vargas returned to Mexico to work as an assistant research professor at a national research center in Baja California, Mexico (CICESE). Here he led synthesis studies on ocean-to-atmosphere CO2 fluxes while also continuing measurements of water and CO2 fluxes in a shrub land ecosystem in Baja California. His interest in the effects of land use change on such fluxes also led him to coordinate the consolidation of the Mexican eddy covariance network (MexFlux), where his research group is working on a first generation of nationwide synthesis studies.

Article by Angela Carcione

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Mark Isaacs receives John Warren Award

July 23, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Award-Mark Isaacs_John_Warren_AwardA staff picnic at the University of Delaware Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown on July 16 included a surprise announcement for the center’s director, Mark Isaacs. Tom LaPenta, interim associate vice president for human resources at UD, recognized Isaacs with the John Warren Excellence in Leadership and Service Award.

The award recognizes significant accomplishments and notable contributions in leadership by University supervisory staff. The award includes a $1,000 gift.

“I am very proud to name Dr. Mark Isaacs for this award,” LaPenta said. “In my decades here, I have seen how Mark leads with respect and dignity. I can say that there are very few natural leaders, and Mark deserves special distinction. His passion for the mission of the University has motivated the highly skilled staff of the Carvel Center.”

LaPenta quoted from the three nominations letters submitted as a requirement for the award. These letters acknowledged Isaacs’ passion for agriculture and his extraordinary and visionary leadership.

One of the nomination letters read, in part, “He is a remarkable relationship builder and an astute financial manager during very challenging times. Mark leads with a clear sense of direction and purpose.”

The award was a surprise for Isaacs who was at the Carvel staff picnic with approximately 70 full- and part-time staff present. Isaacs received a standing ovation from his colleagues and staff.

“I am honored to accept this,” Isaacs said. “It is a very big surprise. I could not lead without a great group of people to work with.”

Isaacs has been director for the Carvel Research and Education Center since 1992. The Carvel Center serves as the southern campus for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, where Isaacs is also an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. Its 344-acre campus is an agricultural experiment station and home for Sussex County Cooperative Extension and the Lasher Laboratory, a poultry diagnostic center. In 2012, the farm was renamed the Thurman Adams Jr. Agricultural Research Farm in honor of the late Delaware state senator. Isaacs close relationship with Adams helped to foster key support in state funding for the facility’s growth and success in the community.

The Warren Award was established by the University in 2011 to recognized significant accomplishments by supervisory staff in the areas of leadership and service.

A second Warren Award for 2013 will be announced in September.

Article by Michele Walfred

Photos by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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3 CANR professors awarded UDRF projects

July 17, 2013 under CANR News

Jeff Buler studies ticks across newark, delawareDelaware has one of the highest incidence rates of Lyme disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The tick-borne disease can have debilitating consequences in humans, dogs, even cats.

University of Delaware scientist Jeffrey Buler aims to see the number of infections decline.

“In urban areas, humans face the greatest exposure to infected ticks along forest edges,” says Buler, who is an assistant professor of wildlife ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

With funding from the University of Delaware Research Foundation (UDRF), Buler will use radio telemetry to track bird movements in a network of 21 fragmented patches of forest in and around Newark, Del. He wants to better understand the role that birds may play in dispersing ticks in these forested areas.

UDRF, a private corporation chartered in 1955, awards seed funding on a competitive basis to researchers early in their careers at UD.

“The University of Delaware Research Foundation is tremendously valuable to our research community, particularly in these times of federal funding austerity,” says Charlie Riordan, UD vice provost for research. “These seed funds are critical for our new faculty to collect the preliminary data necessary to establish proof of concept and convince the funding agencies their ideas are worth further investment.”

A holistic approach to reduce tick-borne diseases in an urban landscape. Wildlife ecologist Jeff Buler and doctoral student Solny Adalsteinsson will study bird movements in 21 forest fragments in and around Newark, Del., to better understand how birds influence tick survival and distribution. This project will contribute to the development of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy to manage ticks that spread Lyme disease.

Impact of land-use activities on pollinators. Deborah Delaney, assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, will survey pollinator communities in northern Delaware to determine pesticide exposure levels in spring-summer 2013 and 2014 during the bloom periods for many trees and shrubs. Exposure risk will be linked with land-use activities such as agriculture, suburban lawns and gardens, roads, parking lots and other impervious surfaces.

Exploring plant immortality. Although climate-induced stress has caused plant mortalities worldwide, some plants native to the Baja desert can live over 500 years. Rodrigo Vargas Ramos, assistant professor of plant and soil science, will conduct experiments to understand the physiological mechanisms of resilience of long-lived plants in arid ecosystems, with special emphasis on carbon allocation.

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photo by Danielle Quigley

To read about the rest of the UDRF projects, check out the full article on UDaily.

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